The Altitude Attitude

Two weeks ago I travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the USA Indoor Track Championships. I was thrilled to compete since a month or two ago this meet was not even on my schedule. Indoor track, after all, is usually just a tune-up for the outdoor season. Not only that, but Albuquerque’s altitude is a mile high, so racing a mile is a lot tougher with less oxygen!
But after my season was going so well, Coach Gags and I figured why not give USA’s a shot, after all, the top 2 finishers make the world team and anything is possible.
Once I decided to compete I was really excited and full of confidence that I actually had a shot at making a team. But just a few days before I was scheduled to fly I started feeling ill and suddenly the whole trip was in jeopardy. It was frustrating, because these big races only come every year or two, and getting sick between the two biggest races of my season (Millrose and USAs) seemed to be the worst possible timing. Luckily, after sleeping 11+ hours for a few days I started feeling better and hopped on the plane to New Mexico.

During the long flight my stomach churned, but I just kept telling myself to think positive, that it was probably just turbulence and not to worry how I felt since the race was still a few days away. As we prepared for landing and I looked out the window I couldn’t help but smile as breathtaking mountains peaked into view. This was my third trip to Albuquerque,  since my Aunt and Uncle live there, but the first time I went there to race. I’ve always loved the area. People complain that its a boring city of desert and cactus, but its probably one of the coolest places I’ve been. With the mountains, cliffs, mesas and desert there are actually a lot of awesome things to do and see. This trip, however, was mostly business. Short and sweet, I was here to COMPETE.

My first few runs I definitely felt the altitude, but kept telling myself it didn’t matter. Even though I don’t train at altitude or sleep in an altitude tent I figured there was nothing I could do. I reminded myself that you can’t change the conditions, only your attitude.

You’re attitude can have such a profound effect on how you live your life. Just like I talked about the importance of confidence in my last blog, a good attitude is also essential to happiness and success. There are a lot of people in the world who appear to be smart, athletic, or gifted in many ways, but deep down they are lacking one thing: a positive attitude. Without a positive attitude, all of your skills, talents and hard work are going to waste. Imagine an iceberg. The tiny tip of the iceberg that floats above the water represents these talents and skills, but the gigantic chunk of ice that is hidden below sea level represents your attitude. Your attitude is like a secret weapon, unknown and hidden to others, it is actually more powerful than all of the talent or skills you possess.

Going into my race at USA’s I decided to focus on my attitude rather than the conditions. By the time race-day came I was feeling good physically and mentally. I was ready to just go out there and have fun on the track. Then as I was headed to the track I became aware that there was a lot more on the line than just a simple race.The day before Gabe Grunewald had won the women’s 3000m but after a protest she was disqualified for contact with another runner. In championship races, pushing, shoving, banging elbows and clipping other runners’ heels is a normal part of the race. Obviously intentional and overly aggressive behavior can result in a DQ, but it rarely happens. In Gabe’s case, nearly everyone who had seen the race or watched video footage agreed that there was no basis for a valid DQ. Instead, there were rumors that corporate pressure caused the USATF to change their initial decision (which was that there was no foul contact) and suddenly she was DQ’d. Its sad, because a sport as simple as running should never be tarnished by the overwhelming power of a certain sponsor, coach or governing body. I can’t imagine what it feels like to win a USA Championship only to have it taken away when 90% of the public disagree. Although it must have hurt, and Gabe could have easily given up on the matter, instead she took something positive away tweeting that…

This quote is such a wonderful example of what it means to have positive faith. Instead of asking “Why would you allow this, God?” when something goes wrong, we need to be able to accept challenges knowing that God doesn’t give us anything we cannot handle. If he puts us in a difficult place we can be sure that he thinks of us as a strong enough soldier to get through the fight.

As my race, the women’s 1500m approached, there was a lot of talk about how we could “fight” this corruption. There was talk about a protest, but Gabe met with those of us racing the 1500m and told us she didn’t want any of us jeopardizing our own races for hers. Instead, we all agreed to just go out there and race hard, and that’s what we did.

I got out hard and put myself in position to be within reach of the top two spots. I felt surprisingly good given the altitude, and with a lap to go I was in third place trying hard to gain just one more spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it in me that day, and ended up finishing 4th overall and collapsing after the finish. Normally I never run to the point of lying down and refusing to get up…I guess that’s what altitude feels like! I couldn’t lay for long, however, because several of us women decided to hold hands as we walked off the track as a sort of silent protest in honor of Gabe and her unfair treatment.

Sometimes the best way to keep sport pure is to just go out there and be a good example. Even when cheating or scandal tarnishes sport there are always athletes out there doing things the right way. It’s a shame to see our sport get some negative light lately between this incident, along with recent episodes of athletes getting caught using performance enhancing drugs. However, I think the best way to bring out the positive aspect of our sport is to keep encouraging athletes to compete fair and eventually the good shines through.

After my race, I felt sick to my stomach, but I knew that feeling couldn’t have been as bad as the feeling of finding out you’re disqualified. Still, it was the first time I’ve felt so sick I literally couldn’t finish my cool down. Although I wish I’d run a second faster (which, now that Mary Cain dropped out of the World Championships, a second was all it would have taken for me to make the World team!) I was still happy with my first pro indoor track season, especially after I puked my guts out on the cooldown. I figured that was a sign I ran “all-out.”

The next day I was supposed to leave Albuquerque early in the morning, however when I got to the airport I was informed my flight had been mis-scheduled for the wrong month! Luckily, I’m not the kind of person to freak out in these situations. Instead, I kept a positive attitude and said, “You know what, I have no reason to rush back to New Jersey so why not stay a few more days and get in some more warm weather and altitude training?” It seemed crazy, but I have family in the area, and I was able to visit my college friend Violah, so it worked out perfectly. Getting to run in shorts and a tank top and run on some of the most beautiful, scenic mountain trails made me so glad I decided to take this unplanned “mini vacation.” Sometimes things happen for a reason, after all.

Later that day we found out that the protest against Gabe had been dropped and she was restated as the 3000m champion. Although the experience of being crowned champion, having it taken away and then being re-crowned the winner must have been emotionally exhausting, like all things I believe it happened for a reason. Maybe it was to shed light on an issue that needs to be resolved. It’s amazing how many people stepped up and decided to take action. Hopefully something positive will come out of this whole event.

Sometimes in life you can’t change your conditions (racing at altitude you just have to deal with it). Sometimes you have to fight for change (fighting an unfair disqualification). Sometimes you just have to laugh at poor conditions, considering them unforeseen opportunities (mis-scheduled flights can mean awesome unplanned vacations!) In all of these situations, one thing is for sure, you have to stay positive! Just like the cactus (or cacti?) that fill the desert plains of Albuquerque, there are two parts: the thorns and the flowers. Instead of focusing on the thorns in life, take in the flowers, and think positive 🙂

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”   -Philippians 4:8

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