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The Olympic Trials: A Dream Come True (If I ever get there)

by Weldon Johnson

July 13, 2000

     Well, I've been promising to give my thoughts on the Olympic Trials and my race at Stanford two weeks ago, but I've been busy. No I haven't been busy preparing for the trials, I was busy making that Olympic Trials prediction contest. For a week, I was pretty much running, eating, and programming. I'm sure you're thinking that the contest didn't seem that complicated, and it's probably not if you have any programming experience. But I don't, and I'm in Big Bear, CA. There's one bookstore in town. I figured they don't have computer books so I did the whole thing off the web.
     Anyway I started this last night (Wednesday), but figured I should get some sleep so I could get an early start on my drive from Big Bear to Sacramento (480+ miles). I left at 11:30 am which isn't too bad. Lately, my "morning runs" have been around 12:30 or 1 pm, so it was early for me. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "What kind of idiot drives 8 hours the day before one of his biggest races of his life?" Well, I do. I did the same thing before Mt. Sac when I drove about the same distance from Flagstaff to California, and I set a huge pr there. It's not that big of a deal. I get in at night, do my run which stretches me out a bit, and then I still have the entire next day to kill because the race is at night.
     However, there is one thing I didn't calculate into the equation this time, and that is my car breaking down. Right now I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere, half-way between Sacramento and L.A. I was cruising along, until I heard a slight whining sound from the car. I didn't think much of it, but soon I couldn't steer (the power steering was out), and the AC was out. I pulled over at one of those roadside phones to find out I was 20 miles in either direction from a service station, plus I was at the last roadside phone for 20 miles. I decided to venture on myself instead of waiting for a tow truck. So, to make a long story short, luckily I found one place still open, paid the mechanic's cousin $60 to drive me 30 miles to get the 2 parts my car needed and now am waiting for them too fix my car. It's really been kind of interesting. I wouldn't recommend it, but my only regret is that now I'm going to get into Sacramento at 11pm which will be too late to see what the temperature is like around the time I'm supposed to run tomorrow.
      Perhaps, from my escapade, you can tell that I'm a bit laid back, and that I am. However, I don't see any reason to stress about things I can't control. I'm going to get to Sacramento at a decent hour which is all I care about. I'm approaching my race somewhat the same way, in a laid back way.
     Don't get me wrong, I'm really, really excited about the race tomorrow. All through college the goal was to make it to the NCAA national meet, and then to be possibly All-American. Well, I never even made it to NCAAs. I even tried an extra year as a graduate school student at the University of Texas and still came up way short. Well, now I've made it to my first natioanl track championship. This one just happens to be a bit bigger and for the Olympics. I've been to the last 2 Olympic Trials and thus it will be cool to actually run in it.
     I am going into it with a nothing to lose attitude. The marathon trials were my main focus this year, and I'm viewing the 10k as an added bonus. But that doesn't mean I don't expect to do well. I'm really satisfied with my training since the marathon, and relish the opportunity to run in perhaps the best 10k field ever assembled of Americans (that's one of our readers told me).
As for the race itself, I'm not sure exactly what to expect. Originally, I was focusing on whether Bob Kennedy was going to run. I figured that would dictate the race. For as long as I can remember, I've looked up to Kennedy as being the best. Thus, it would be a tremendous honor to run in a race with him. Almost, like some recent college kid getting to play in a basketball game with Michael Jordan. Now, however, I realize that with his injury even if he runs that he won't be head and heels better than anyone else. His injury to me, is perhaps a good thing, because now I'm treating him just like some other competitor (which he is) instead of some super human athlete.
     As for my preparations, I'm as ready as I can be. Under ideal conditions, I wouldn't have run a marathon 2 months ago, and would have had more time to prepare, but I'm extremely pleased with my preparation. Things have gone as well as I could expect coming off a marathon. I've raced twice since the marathon and steadily improved both times. A 19:03 4 mile road race about 5 weeks ago, and a 13:59.03 5k at Stanford 2 weeks ago. To be competitive in the 10k, I'll have to be in condition to run twice as far as I did at Stanford at the same pace. I honestly think I'm ready to do that. My training is always centered on peaking at the right time, and my speed and condition come around fast. 3 weeks before I ran 28:27 at Mt. Sac, I could only manage 4 miles (6400m) at 28:20 pace. I don't see why I'm not going to have that same kind of improvement this time around. Plus, Mt. Sac gave me the confidence I needed and always lacked. It showed me that I can run with just about anyone in the country at 10k. The question is: how well can I do it while recovering from a marathon?
     As for my race at Stanford, I was pleased. Technically, the race was a 30 second pr, but I had gone through the 5k at 14:06 at Mt. Sac. Going into Stanford, I would have expected to break 14:00. Nonetheless, it's the one race this year I didn't have a clear mental plan and thus I suffered a bit in the middle as a result. Meb Keflezighi was way out in front trying to get the Olympic A standard of 13:29 and then there was the rest of us just kind of out there. Obviously, you're trying to run as fast as possible, but I didn't have a clear mental picture of exactly what I was trying to accomplish, who I should be running with, what type of pace I could handle, etc. My first mile was fine, but in the 2nd mile, I fell behind some of the guys chasing Meb, and remember thinking "Why am I out here?" Luckily, I snapped out of it a bit, as I started gaining on some guys in front of me, and all of a sudden thought that I felt good. I decided to see how fast I was running and saw it was a 70 second lap (which is only 14:35 pace). No wonder I felt good. But fortunately, now there were only a few laps to go, and with 2 laps to go I saw that I could still break 14:00 if I ran about 2:10 for the last half. I now had an immediate goal for the rest of the race. I figured I should pick it up a bit that lap, and then really kick the last lap.
       With a lap to go, I looked at the clock and thought I needed around 63-64 seconds to break 14:00. Actually, I needed 62 seconds (I didn't take into account the time it takes to get to the clock from when you last see it). I really started moving the last lap, and passed quite a few people. I was feeling good. With 200 to go, I needed about 31 seconds I thought. I finished really strong and was amazed at how much ground I had made up on people and how many people I passed. When I finished I thought, "That was good, but not good enough (to break 14:00). However, I looked at my watch and was pleasantly surprised. 61 seconds for the last lap.
     Thus, because I had such a strong finish and the fact I broke 14:00 I was happy with the race. I gave myself a goal with 2 laps to go and accomplished it, so I was satisfied. If I had run 14:01 I don't think I'd be feeling as confident. 14:00 is a nice barrier to break. On top of it, I know that I had perhaps a little too much left in the tank, and could have run faster. Also, I love to play games with my coach, John Kellogg, calling him and not telling him how I did, but asking him for a prediction on how I did or asking what a good time would have been. This time I asked him what would be a good performance for me. "13:54 would be really, really, really good." Well, I wasn't too far off, and finished strong, so I'm where I need to be. It should be fun tomorrow. That is if I ever get there. It's now 8 PM, and I'm still at the car place. The guy was supposed to be done at 7pm at the latest. Oh well, at least 3 more hours driving, and then I still have to run 5 miles. Hopefully, you all will see me on the t.v. performing well.
(Editor's note: Weldon finally made it to Sacramento at 2:15 am. We'll proofread this tomorrow)

Comments? Send them to to Weldon at [email protected]

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Weldon Johnson is a co-founder of LetsRun.com. Read his bio here.

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