Laura Thweatt: Good Days, Bad Days, and Truly Great Days
April 9, 2013
There are good days, there are bad days, and then there are the truly great days where all the butt-busting miles, tears, and sacrifices are worth every enduring second. A great day can happen at any moment and that is the beauty of the sport. Suddenly a training run can transform into a runners high, a workout leaves you glowing with new gained confidence, or the usual dreaded long run mysteriously doesn’t feel long enough. These are the days that give us hope and can somehow make all the bad days and all the low points finally worth something more than mere discouragement. However, it is when in the midst of the gut wrenching agony of a race that the great day comes to mean so much more.
Lets rewind about six years to my freshmen year running at the University of Colorado. I came into the program believing I was a 1500 runner largely due to my perceived high school success in the mile. Needless to say my dreams of becoming the next great middle distance star were shattered when my college coach proceeded to enter me in the 5000-meters at the first Stanford Invitational. The goal was to run a regional qualifying mark of 16:52.00, which would be besting my high school 5K PR by close to two minutes. Sure, sounded really do-able except that I wanted to curl up and die just thinking about it. Yet it wasn’t until all the adrenaline wore through at the 3k point that I truly did want someone to shoot me. I felt as though I had lost all control while the flurry of girls around me flew by at top speeds I believed impossible for the distance. I somehow eventually flung myself across the line with everything I had left and stopped the clock at 16:54. Boom. I had done it. I had run my very first 5k around a track and had somehow lived to talk about it. At that point I was thinking never again would I put myself through that type of prolonged misery and pain. I even remember telling my coaches that I never wanted to run one again. Thank God they never listened because six years later here I am having run yet another 5k, this time though with a completely different attitude.
Time has a funny way of changing our perspective on things. This past weekend I once again found myself toeing the line at the Stanford Invitational, the difference being my experience and strength gained in the last year and a half. Coming out of college I was frustrated and felt as though I had had one too many sub-par performances to even think about continuing on with the sport. Don’t get me wrong, my time as a collegiate athlete was one I wouldn’t change for the world. Over those four years I truly did grow and develop into a smarter, stronger, and tougher athlete. Time however has a way of going by much faster than we anticipate and before I could really understand what I was capable of those four years had vanished. Fortunately, thanks to Lee Troop and the Boulder Track Club I was given another shot to run the way I knew I could. The past year and half I have taken the career I thought I would never have to whole new heights. From racing in Scotland and Trinidad, to racing side by side with Kara Goucher and Julie Culley, and this last weekend in Palo Alto was another huge stepping stone towards making my dreams a reality. I was able to take advantage of the strength I gained over this last year and run another PR (15:36) in the first 5k of the season, while simultaneously qualifying for the US National Championships. Yet, when I reflect on all of this it’s important to remember that without all the other 5k’s this one wouldn’t have been as sweet.
I came out of CU with a personal best of 15:56, a time I had worked four years to finally achieve. Therefore the goal going into track last year was simply to better my PR, the added bonus being a time fast enough to qualify me for the US Olympic trials. The mark was 15:34.00, which seemed realistic with the realization I would need to have a near perfect day to hit it. Going into the season opener I felt stronger than I had the previous year when I had dipped under the 16:00 minute barrier. However, as the race got under way I let the anxiety sink in, causing me to once again surrender my control to the other 24 elbowing bodies that seemed to be closing in around me. After running in lanes two and three for much of the first half it was a miracle I still dove across the line with a final effort of 15:55, a one second PR. Sure, I was a little discouraged and slightly stressed but really at the end of the day it was a one second improvement and I knew there was more in the tank. Eight days later I crossed the line at the Payton Jordan Invitational running a 15:43, this time an entire 12 seconds faster than my original 15:56. However, neither of those times were fast enough to get me to the starting line at Hayward field at the end of June. It was frustrating, and for a while it was hard not to doubt myself and ability, wondering if I would ever be good enough to successfully reach that next level. Sadly I went from being ecstatic with my 15:43 to upset and pessimistic only because I suddenly didn’t see it as good enough. I didn’t want to be patient, I wanted to have immediate success right then and there. These are the moments however, that I believe truly define us as athletes. I could be upset and negative about my track performances, beating myself up that I didn’t get to where I set my original expectations. Instead I looked at them for what they truly were, which was stepping stones that I could learn from and experiences that I would be better for having. I took an entire 12 seconds off my previous personal best, an improvement that showed I was getting faster and slowly becoming a stronger athlete. Without these races I would not be the runner that I am today, which is why I believe that every race whether great, decent, or bad teaches us something about where we are and who we want to be.
The point of all this is, that if it weren’t for the highs and the lows and the good and the bad we would never learn to truly appreciate and reflect on the days that are great. If there were not great days where we run outside ourselves, pushing beyond what we think we can do well then where the hell would we gain the confidence and belief in ourselves to keep chasing after what we want. I had a great day this last weekend with a new 5k PR and qualifying for my first National Outdoor Track championships but it never would have been possible if it weren’t for all the other sub-par performances, tough workouts, endless long runs, emotional downfalls, and self doubt that together create the beauty of the sport.