Nerves, Dry Heaves, and Adrenaline: Inside a Track Meet

I always wake up before my alarm, overcome by nerves and nausea; it happens every time. This time, it was my roommate dry heaving in the morning, not me. I couldn’t escape the nerves, not even in a dinky Super 8 hotel room in Salem, Ore. It was 8:17 a.m., the throwers, 1,500 runners, and 5K runners had already left the hotel to warm up at the host school, Willamette University.

Senior Katie Sandfort and sophomore Alyssa Warling compete in an event over the weekend at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Photo courtesy of cctigers.com

My teammate emerged from the bathroom clutching her stomach. She frowned at me. When our eyes locked, I looked back and said, “I’m so sorry. I know exactly how you feel,” with a sympathetic expression. We put on our spandex and singles and slid our new Adidas warmups on over them. Despite the nerves, I knew it was essential to get food into my system—a lesson I’ve learned the hard way through extensive trial and error. The continental breakfast at the hotel consisted of cereal, waffles, bagels, and bananas. Unable to digest both gluten and dairy, I dipped a banana into the jar of peanut butter I purchased the night before at Walmart. I watched my teammates slather cream cheese on bagels, pour cereal into yogurt containers, and down coffee. I envied their carb intake, but I knew better than to eat things my body can’t digest, especially on meet days.

Most people had their headphones in to get into the zone before their much-anticipated races. Because this was the first outdoor meet of the season, everyone’s expectations were just as high as their spirits. The second van departed at 9:30 a.m. with the middle distance squad aboard. 20 minutes later, the third van headed to Willamette with the sprinters and jumpers. The car ride was silent; my fellow runners listened to music as they stared out the windows, gazing at the gray clouds heavy with coming rain. It was 65 degrees and sunny when we left Colorado Springs for cold, damp Oregon. No one likes running in the rain, and sprinting even less so. We hopped out of the vans, slung our black track & field travel bags over our shoulders, and got blasted by a cold gust of wind. I’m from Colorado, so I expected myself to be accustomed to the cold. However, we stuck out from the other teams while we sat in the bleachers wrapped in towels.

The women’s 1,500 was the first event of the day and senior Emiko Smukler beat her previous PR by 30 seconds with her whole family in the stands. The wind picked up during her race, but the track remained dry. The men’s 1,500 was the next event, in which senior Conor Terhune and first-years Ethan Holland and Max Blackburn ran solid races. Terhune snagged a season’s best as the temperature dropped lower still. It started to rain as seniors Leah Wessler, Katie Sandfort, and Allie Crimmons stepped up to the line with sophomores Allysa Warling and Leah Veldhuisen in preparation for the 5K. Seasons flew by as they ran. With rain pounding down for the first few laps, the sun shone through the clouds for several moments only to be driven out by a harsh, chilling wind. Wessler, Sandfort, and Warling took first, second and fourth place respectively in the 5K: an impressive performance for the CC women in light of the weather. For the first time in CC history, five CC girls ran the 5K in under 19 minutes, and Wessler and Sandfort are now ranked second and third in the nation.

About an hour before the 100m, scheduled to begin at 12:50, I started warming up with my fellow sprinters. We focused on toe walks, A, B, and C skips, and 40 meter strides on the turf during our warm up. Within 20 minutes, rain started falling again. The four of us racing the 100—junior Justin Nguyen, sophomore Noah Shuster, first-year Liza Huschle and myself—exchanged looks of disbelief, as we shook our heads and continued stretching with slight smiles playing across our tense faces. The pre-race anxiety was compounded by the prospect of running in weather that I had little experience with. The anxiety itself was enough to deal with, but strong winds and wet warm ups added even more emotion. Our sprint coach, Ron Jules, approached Huschle and me to tell us to keep our warm ups on until the last possible minute before the race. “Stay as warm as possible,” he told us. With the race 15 minutes out, I got nervous. The combination of nausea, excitement, and fear, is truly unique to track meets. In writing, I cannot do justice to the sensation associated with preparing for the main event.

It was time to put our spikes on. Our fingers shook from the cold as we unlaced our running shoes and pulled on our spikes. We took some final strides on the turf and headed over to the starting line to situate our starting blocks. ‘Stay focused, keep breathing,’ I told myself, as Migos and Gucci Mane blasted in my ears echoing the encouragement. “First call for women’s 100,” boomed through the venue. My stomach flip-floppped, but the fact that I hadn’t dry heaved or thrown up yet was a huge success. We removed our warm-ups and lined up behind our blocks. “Runners take your mark,” the announcer cried. ‘You got this,’ I said to myself. “Runners take your starting block.” I inhaled and exhaled. “Set!” said the announcer. For a brief moment before the gun went off, time stood still. All was silent. The pit in my stomach was vast and overwhelming, but I knew that in less than 20 seconds it would disappear.

Boom. The gun goes off and for the next 13 seconds, I was not in my body. Of course, I was aware that I needed to stay low for the first 15 meters, drive my arms, gradually straighten out my posture and keep my knees high, but while I’m sprinting, everything is muscle memory.

And just like that, the race was over. My name materializes on the big screen, second from the top with my time, 12.99 seconds, next to it. All that build up for just 13 intense seconds. The race ended and my appetite came back. I yanked off my spikes, pulled on my warm-ups, and returned to the stands to eat Clif bars dipped in peanut butter while I watched the rest of my teammates race. Shuster and Nguyen sprinted their hearts out, running the race in 11.39 and 11.75 seconds respectively.

When it comes time for the 400, second only to the 800 in difficulty, I watched junior Asmeda Spalding-Aguirre spring forth from her blocks, and I cheered as she ran a 59.77 second personal best that landed her at first in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) and fourth in the DIII national ranking. Then, four CC boys mounted their blocks for the 400: sophomore Quin Gattey, and juniors Ethan Holland (who also ran the mile), Sean Fite, and Stefan Jandreau-Smith. While Jandreau-Smith ran a PR and Fite a season best,  Gattey ran under 52 seconds, closing in on his sub 50-second goal. Gattey also ran a personal best in the 200 meter just 20 minutes later. However, the real star of the 200 meter was Shuster, who, after much debate with coach Ron Jules, was convinced to run the race—an event that he hadn’t run in four years. Despite his reluctance, he did extremely well and is now ranked fifth in the SCAC for both the 100 and 200. While Shuster was initially dreading the race, once he finished, he bounded over to me and said, “You know, that really wasn’t so bad at all,” with a big smile on his face.

Around 2 p.m., the meet finally came to a close. Drenched, tired, and hungry, we all congratulated one another and huddled together outside the vans while we waited for our coaches to finish collecting times. Finishing a track meet is the ultimate relief. A light, giggly feeling replaces the nerves. The sensation inspires me to love those I am surrounded by. Traveling for track meets can be exhausting and overwhelming, but it’s always filled with love, support, and encouragement. As fun as the meet was, I think I speak for the whole team when I say I’m very thankful I go to school in a state that’s just a bit sunnier than Oregon.

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