Summer Racing in Europe : The Backstory

6 years ago

(Editor's Note: WTS social media director Lesley Higgins embarked on an amazing adventure this summer. Ten years after she ran in the NCAA championships, she's resumed her competitive running career and is racing in such places as Germany, Belgium and Sweden. Follow her journey and cheer her on as she follows her dream.`~js)

I am sitting in a McDonalds (free wifi) watching some sort of festival building in the square in Leuven, Belgium. I am, for the most part, bored out of my mind. I have used 44% of my iPad battery today, mostly checking Facebook, clearing out my inbox, checking results from meets, more time on Facebook, updating my Brooks ID results, uploading pictures to Facebook, checking twitter, tweeting, hitting refresh. Figuring out how I'm getting to Karlstad from Stockholm tomorrow night. Checking Facebook one more time. I should point out that I check Facebook maybe twice a week when I'm at home in NYC, I'm not sure why Facebook grabs me here. Maybe because it was my soul communication with certain people who failed to activate their phones prior to boarding their international flights.

This is a glimpse of the reality of the situation, which I will come back to after dazzling you with expectations, excitement and the peak of my enthusiasm for what exactly it is that I'm doing over here.

Let me start by answering a question that I know many people have, that I am not blind to: what on Earth is a relatively mediocre track athlete doing spending money running races in Europe? Let me start by saying that I am not blind to my relative mediocrity. I mean, I am not mediocre if your vantage point is every runner on the planet. I would estimate that I have to be in the top 1% of all people who enter a race at some point during the year, right? My season best in the 3000m steeplechase as of boarding the plane to Brussels was good enough to automatically qualify for the USA Championships, as well as make the IAAF descending order list. However, I haven't made a US final since 2008 and I'm definitely in the bottom 1% of athletes that my coach coaches and has ever coached. Honestly, I don't even know why he does it sometimes.

However, I have been in the sport for a long time, at varying intensities. When I came out of college, though, the concept of racing in Europe was not on my radar. Actually, the idea of continuing to compete at all was pretty much off the table. That was reserved for the NCAA champions coming out of my college. I was merely a very lucky NCAA runner-up.

The landscape of post-collegiate running sort of changed over the last decade, though. Probably thanks to the proliferation of the Internet, social media, and the increased accessibility of training groups. The requirements for justifying your existence as a competitive athlete have somewhat declined. This is not a bad thing. I am strongly of the opinion that one should play as long as they can, and transition into a job later in life. Thanks to the linear nature of aging, the opposite is actually not possible if your definition of "play" involves being in the top 1% of athletes in the world. Now, if you're definition of "playing" involves golf and your private jet, then my approach to life only works in very lucky and unique circumstances.

Because of my previous view of racing in Europe being out of my league, and the slow transition over the years of me discovering that it's not actually out of my league, but mostly due to my own inaction, I had sort of reached a critical point in my life where it was just something that had to happen. It had become something that I was very envious of, and not something I was willing to put off any longer.

The words that came out of my mouth as I was planning this trip to Europe were "I want to run under 10 minutes in the steeple this summer so that I most likely won't be chasing the Olympic Trials standard next year." This is actually a very good approach. However, I had very little actual faith that this was going to happen. After my 10:07 performance at the Occidental meet in May, every race I ran was worse than then last. My sore ankle got progressively worse and my water jumps followed suit. I had a double whammy of feeling like crap while running combined with a fear of landing on my left foot, which is the foot I always end up landing on in the water pit. A series of 10:12-10:20 type steeples were capped off with a 10:42 at the USATF Club Championships in New York. This was my worst race since my pair of 11+ minute races last year. I realize it's an improvement on 11+ minutes, but coming off of PRs in the 1500m and mile indoors, I was not okay with running like such a weakling.

I could say that getting away from work and life stress in NYC would cut 45 seconds off my time all I wanted, but who was I kidding? I was going to Europe to play. Scheduled around races.

Ok, this is the end of Part 1. I suddenly feel the need to no longer be sitting in McDonalds. Part 2 will have pictures.

Lesley Higgins


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