Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going. When I first stumbled upon this quote all I could think was “yes, someone got it right, all of it.” I’m often asked what motivates you, what do you do when it starts hurting, how do you push through the pain?” I don’t exactly have the textbook answer to these questions but I go back to the arguments that take place inside our own heads.
March 19th my teammate Scott Fauble “Faubs” and I departed Flagstaff for our 30+ hour journey to Kampala, Uganda. 1 month earlier Scott and I raced the US Cross Country Championships in Bend and qualified for the World Team. We had 3 weeks of hard training filled with tempo runs, 20 x k (Scott) 12 x k (me), 10 x 800, massages, naps, weight sessions, painful ART sessions, smashed workouts and crashed and burned workouts. Flotrack even featured us before we left. PHX>ATL>AMD>KGL>ENT. Long flights are a great excuse to catch up on the last year of box office hits, blow through tissues (yes I watched 3 movies that I cried hard to), catch up on your training log, drink excessive amounts of coffee, and generally feel like absolute garage. We met up with TEAM USA in Amsterdam, arrived in Entebbe, Uganda at 12:45 a.m. on Tuesday 21st. We boarded a private bus rented for the team, and drove the 55 miles on the dark, 2 lane road that runs into Kampala. The air was warm, but refreshing. I let the wind from the cracked window on the bus blow into my face and hair as I tried to stay awake until the hotel.
The next few days I tried my best to adjust to the time difference (11 hour), napping only if desperate, setting alarms, hydrating, getting treatment, and bottomless coffee at breakfast. Our meals were buffet style, and USATF put me in contact with one of the chefs who accommodated all of my meals, cooking chicken, rice, potatoes, and ugali for lunch and dinner. I brought a bag of rice breakfast cereal and each morning they’d see me, nod, and make a bowl. It was outstanding hospitality. The coffee is traditionally poured by the servers cup by cup but as the days went on, they sensed we Americans were blowing through the sweet golden brown nectar so they left carafes on our table. Scott was happy. We filled our time with card games, mingling with other teams, and chatting about the race course and conditions. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being awful), the first day I felt 9, then 7, then 5, and finally by race day I was a 3. Meaning you never truly feel great or fresh when traveling and attempting to race in a totally different time zone and country. You can only trick your body so much into believing it belongs in the current place you are. I woke up every night there fairly wide awake. Yet I’m a big believer in mind over matter and investing energy into variables you can control. I knew I was prepared and fit and sometimes that’s all you can control.
Race day the sun was blazing, crowds were filing in, and the Kololo Airstrip was buzzing. The World Cross Country Championships is like a mini Olympics where athletes from all over the world from all events meet in one distance, one race, one battleground. I replayed several race scenarios in my head and how I was going execute a race plan. My goal was to be top 15 and help lead team USA. Having run the course the last few days I knew the ditch, jumping the logs, the uneven footing, and the heat were going to have a cumulative effect of fatigue on us. As I warmed up I was focused and distracted at the same time. The call room, the small play pen where over 100 women half naked were corralled in to do our pre race drills and strides, standing in the shade drenching ourselves with water, and peeing on the hill with my teammates while someone took pictures below. These were the moments we live for. (well not peeing in a ditch while being photographed). Standing on the starting line sandwiched between Ethiopia and Bahrain, I told myself be brave, you belong here.
The race was one of the hardest races I’ve ever run in, conditions, competition, and will power. The sun was oppressive, the women were fierce, the crowds electric. I shot out in the lead pack as the gun went off to establish position. I settled in after the first loop and was in about 40th place 2k into the race. Each loop I pressed and would pass one after another. I found some of my US teammates and worked with them. Elaina, Sarah, and Natosha thank you for battling with me. On the 5th and final loop I had 2k to go, 6:30-7 mins of hard running. I was hurting very much so, then I heard and saw a group of guys yelling and waving the American flag. Dammit, I could hurt a little more. I didn’t know what place I was in at this point and it didn’t matter. Just try to get every body you can and fight to the finish. With 400-500 to go I remembered this pain will be over soon, go get it. I starting kicking and passed a Ugandan athlete who answered back and we had this epic up on my toes, everything is burning sprint to the finish. She edged me at the line for 21st, 22nd for me. “Every battle to the finish is a great one, even if you’re not winning.” Lauren Fleshman Believe I am Journal.
Our team took 5th place, a showing that far outperformed what we were slated on paper. We showed up as individuals but achieved something special as a collective whole. I cooled down tired but ecstatic and just soaking up the moment. We often forget to give ourselves credit for our efforts. Yes I had a goal of top 15, but on the day I was good enough for 22nd place and felt damn proud of how I executed and fought the entire way. I cheered for Scott and our men’s team as he ran a smart and tough race to finish 33rd. As we departed the course in a quick turnaround, I paused before leaving the gates of the Kololo Airstrip. Moments of doubt, endless miles, tight calves, glute bridge after glute bridge. It was the sum of all these trivial procedures, acts of monotony that added up to this momentous occasion: The World Cross Country Champs. The race is the reward. So I smiled,before I hopped onto the sweaty and smelly Team USA bus, knowing the road that led me back to this World Stage and felt hopeful for the future.
You know the drill, 30 + hours later Scott and I arrived back to Phoenix, with Scott potentially having some ailment or just severe dehydration from consuming a whopping 1 beer post race then getting on 3 planes for 21 hours. Then pretty sure I got travelers diarrhea the next day, fun times! With the help of Spotify and In N Out Burger we made it back up the Mountain. I hugged my boys, relieved to be home, took a shower, and then around 8:20 p.m. laid in bed. Ben says I was asleep at 8:22:)
“Feet don’t fail me now. Take me to the finish line.” -Lana Del Ray
Oh and then 5 days later, I raced the 10,000m at the Stanford Invite and ran a 15 second PR in 31:59, placing 2nd. That’s for another blog! Needless to say it was one of the most memorable weeks of my running career to date.Check out Flotrack for full race and interviews.
Editors note (me being the editor): My teammates Craig, Marty and Kellyn raced the Stanford 10,000m as well. Craig didn’t have the performance he wanted but has a bright spring ahead, Marty ran 28:08, and Kellyn in heavy marathon training ran 32:11. My proudest moment of the night was watching Ben bust a huge PB of 28:09 in his only 3rd 10k after a week of being a single dad and taking care of our boys while I was in Africa. That is no small feat.
My roommate Emily Pritt was someone whom I’d never met before just got to spend 5 days fighting jet lag together. She didn’t have the race she wanted at World Cross but her journey to get back to a high level was astonishing and incredibly inspiring. She earned a spot at US Cross and I know this is just the beginning of her resurgence.
2 months prior to all of this, I sat down with Coach Ben and plotted out my season. I asked him if I made the World Cross Team, could I double back 5 days later and still race Stanford 10,000m. He laughed in my face and said “good one” Steph. At the end of our meeting, I brought back up the topic hoping he’s have memory loss and pushed the issue. I thank him for his trust in me and our plan for allowing something a bit crazy but turned out to be well worth it.