Failure to Quit

I’m not going to apologize for the length of this post. There is barely anything written about Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis (EIA) out there and this lack of information (and therefore lack of validation) has forced me into silence. If this personal account fills any part of the large void, all the better.


A pro runner having EIA isn’t funny; it’s a tragic irony. My allergy onset in 2009 and at first it was mild hives brought on by exercise. My initial trips to the allergist proved fruitless and I was misdiagnosed and dismissed. I was declared a perfect physical specimen with ridiculously large lung capacity. This was the first time a medical professional dismissed my valid concerns and made me feel crazy. Shamefully, it would not be the last.

My allergy went from annoying to debilitating in 2012. The mild hives turned into bright pink full body hives that spread from scalp to toes. Like someone allergic to bee stings, my face swelled. Sometimes the swelling left me with pouty lips and big eyes, a quite attractive result. More often than not, the swelling and hives turned me into a pink version of the Michelin Man.

I look gooooood.
I look gooooooooooooooooooood.

I always knew that my allergy was more serious than dermatological changes when I didn’t even have the time or luxury to be embarrassed that running transformed me into a French tire company mascot. My real problems began when my tongue and mouth swelled, my body began to seriously overheat, and I became disoriented and quickly exhausted.

Imagine you are running with a swollen tongue in a sauna wearing a 150lb weight vest. Now add the knowledge that the activity you are currently participating in has the ability to narrow your airways. Welcome to my personal hell.

What I understand about EIA is that it is a rare immune disorder in which my mast cells malfunction and flood my system with histamine. No doctor has been able to explain this to me because no doctor I’ve encountered has ever heard of it. Everything I have learned has come from the a few studies on the Internet that are limited in scope, sample size and conclusions.

To add to the confusion, my symptoms do not clearly align with the studies. Most recommend that those afflicted quit exercise, the way many people avoid peanuts or bees. Yet I’ve learned through trial and error that stopping exercise is dangerous as my lack of fitness makes small physical activities—like climbing a flight of stairs—a stress on my system that triggers an attack. Message boards (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) have been my saving grace. There I learned from others with EIA about Sweat Therapy. This kind of “therapy” suggests that purposefully triggering an attack daily through heat or exercise reduces the severity of attacks. I can either exercise every day and maintain a small amount of fitness with moderate, frequent attacks, or I can avoid exercise and have less frequent but extreme and severe reactions.

In my mind, my allergy is a floodgate. I can keep the gates open and have controllable allergic attacks every day of my life or I can stop exercising and close the gates and pray that they hold back the water as it builds in volume and magnitude. In four years, the gates have never held for long and a simple physical activity, like walking to work, leads to severe and dangerous reactions. The floodgates have failed most notably twice and sent me to the ER both times.

The worst part about all of this isn’t the hives or the exhaustion; it’s the panic attacks. EIA messes with your mind in a chicken or egg kind of way. For me, exercise can lead to anaphylaxis but if I don’t exercise, I increase my chances of experiencing an anaphylactic episode. Every single run is a test of will power and attempting to control the very real hysteria that bubbles to the surface. When I run I have to convince myself that today isn’t the day that my throat closes. I have to remind myself that the Benadryl and cell phone tucked in my sports bra are enough to save me. When my daily allergy meds fails, as they often do, I grip my Epi-Pen with sweaty hands and stand in a freezing shower praying for the symptoms to abate. Running with EIA means being in a constant state of heightened stress, which is dangerous as stress is a trigger for EIA.

According to the limited studies, only one person has died from EIA. This is no comfort because I’m positive that unless I collapsed in the office of a doctor who specialized in EIA, my death would be misclassified. I don’t feel confident with any statistics surrounding EIA when every doctor I’ve met still gives me the “say what?” expression.

My EIA symptoms have gotten worse by the year. Multiple allergists have failed to diagnose it correctly or suggest relief. All have laughed when I tell them I’m a runner with a running allergy. Only a sports doctor out in Oregon believed me and used a treadmill stress test to induce my symptoms. When I started to turn pink, his research staff filmed it and he declared, almost delighted, “it’s real!” To him, I was the medical equivalent of a unicorn. I left his office with no answers but at least proof that my EIA symptoms weren’t in my head.


As an elite runner, I have called upon my body to do so much and it has answered my prayers without exception every time. I asked it to be good enough to run in college and it ran 66.6 over the 400m hurdles with basically no training. I asked it for All-Americans and it gave me four and the unasked fastest 800m time in D3 in 2008. I asked it to be good enough to train as a pro and it raced perfectly in Hayward and earned me a spot on a US National Team. I have asked my body for personal records and it has given me not just 1 second PRs but 10 second personal bests two years in a row (4:34 to 4:24 in 2010, 4:24 to 4:14 in 2011). With the advanced progress of EIA, I have lost control over my body. I now only ask that it works and that I can keep running at all, even for two miles at ten minute pace.

To lose control over my running has been like losing myself very slowly. I have self-identified as a runner since I was 5. My mother remembers me sprinting up and down our long driveway when I was in pre-school shouting “I like to run fast.” In kindergarten, the first thing I remembering wanting to be when I grew up was an Olympic gold medalist in track. In 2nd grade, I made a terrible statue of a runner crossing the finish line in victory. In 3rd grade, my dad let me use his very exciting word processor and I penned my first bio.

unnamed
My middle name is Coe, a family name. I was destined to be a miler, obviously not an artist.

I still don’t quite understand where my passion for running came from. My parents weren’t runners and my older brothers didn’t participate in organized sports (unless Nerf Gun attacks and teasing count). I didn’t have TV to watch the Olympics and I didn’t join the track team until freshman year of high school. I can only assume I was born with it. I dreamed of running before I dreamed of anything else, and in that regard very little has changed.

With EIA, I have questioned my identity as a runner. Are you a runner if you can’t run? Are you a runner if running is trying to kill you? If your body is failing because of what you love most and you don’t reject this love, are you an idiot? I did some thinking on the matter and I decided one thing: nothing has changed. I was born a runner and I will die a runner. This sport will never defeat me and I will not forfeit in the face of EIA. Like all competitive athletes, I have the option of declaring myself retired from competition. That announcement will never come.


I have not told many people about my EIA. Generally, most people laugh when they hear and their laughter cuts me. Even my doctors have abandoned professionalism and chuckled in my face. People I trusted told me it was time to quit trying. Others suggested my change in fitness was because I wasn’t trying hard enough and I was lazy. Even after I explained how EIA made me feel, I was told I obviously didn’t want to be a competitive runner again if I couldn’t even run a few miles.

Fortunately since 2012 and in the darkest time of my life, a few people have appeared like saints. My coach in Portland, Bob Williams, refused to give up on me. Even when my races fell apart, he stayed by my side. When my workouts became too much, he still met me at the track to try anyway. When even my runs became too difficult, he still met me for coffee. When I left Oregon, he still called to check-in. Bob believed in my abilities even as I was losing them.

Stubborn to the core, I joined a small elite group in Philly believing I could still race with EIA. When I failed out of workouts and runs, I told my coach, Rob Hewitt, in a moment of weakness that perhaps he should take me out to pasture and shoot me like an old racehorse. Rob rebutted that he’d lead me to pasture but I would have to pull the trigger. When the macabre jokes were done, he made a call and got me an interview for a job coaching middle school runners. Rob said that coaching brings you back to this sport and he was right. Coaching the Germantown Friends middle school team was one of the highlights of my entire athletic career, All-Americans, US National Team, 4:14 and all. Rob strengthened the very thin thread that held me to the sport and I was able to hang on.

If there existed a perfect example of how sports parents should be, my parents would be it. They have never once pushed me in this sport and have only opened doors. When I graduated college as a D3 scrub with no sponsorship, agent or connections, my mom and dad saw what I was up against and stepped in. They became de facto sponsors, bus drivers, travel agents, and sports psychologists.

Everything I have done in this sport is because of their unwavering love. When I was diagnosed with EIA, as they have done my whole athletic career, they followed my lead. When it was too painful to talk about, we were silent. When the loss of competitive running was too great, they let me cry. When I beat myself up, they defended me even against myself. Perhaps the greatest gift of all was that my parents have always kept the faith. These past four years have been the hardest of my athletic career and yet my mom and dad still believe in me and my running fiercely. They know that it’s interwoven with who I am and it cannot be separated. They never told me to quit or to get over it or to stop running. They have protected my dream even when it could barely exist.


Last month, I went for a run with a Haverford alum who predated me by 6 years. I accidently ran into him and as we had never really met I was so excited to share stories of Tom, Riz, sub-4s and to learn about his training post-pro running. We ran 4 miles in 7 something and even though I knew I was going to pay for it later, I stuck the pace. I was desperate for my version of normal before EIA where I could do anything I asked of my body. I was desperate to talk about Haverford running, one of my favorite topics. When the price became too much to pay, I bowed out of the run and walked home. I spent the next two hours talking myself out of a panic attack, trying to lower my core temp and monitoring the state of my swelling face and tongue.

The next day I called my parents to tell them about my run with Karl and my worst EIA reaction to date. At the end of the conversation, my Dad mentioned that my mom had been reading about 14 person study done years ago in Japan that implicated gluten as a trigger for EIA. I scoffed as the Head of Allergy and Immunology at Oregon’s biggest hospital cleared me of a gluten allergy 3 years prior. (That doctor will be receiving a strongly written letter soon.) I had even tried removing gluten from my diet for a few weeks at some point so I didn’t believe gluten was part of my EIA. Then my Dad asked if I could get clear of my symptoms, what would I do? I couldn’t verbalize my answer because it made me so sad but I very clearly saw myself standing on a starting line again. My parents asked me to keep the faith so with nothing but a 14-person study and a prayer, I quit gluten.

Three weeks later, I stopped experiencing EIA symptoms.

During my first symptom free run, I waited for my internal temp to rise but it never did. Hives did not take over my body. The 150lb weight vest that I had been wearing for four years was thrown off. My running form, bedraggled from years of EIA and the exhaustion it causes, changed. I was lithe. I floated. I covered ground silently and easily. I sprinted. My heart rate hit 154bpm and kept going and I was the runner I remembered. It was—quite simply—one of the best days of my life.

I am not allergic to gluten but it is a trigger. I don’t understand why gluten brings on EIA symptoms and for now I’m not overly curious. That is the question for next month. This month is just for running free.


The other night I was speaking my mother and I was bemoaning the loss of 4 years of training. I had always imagined my late 20s as when my best running would occur. Now, although delighted that I can run freely, I felt the terrible weight of trying to regain some of my prior form. My mother, without missing a beat, said, “Annick, you have rested your legs for the past four years. You have had no injuries. You have fresh legs.” My mother, the pragmatic optimist, knew exactly the right words to say.

Since that conversation I have been recalculating my running age. While my contemporaries went to Footlocker and states, I only began running volume (over 15 miles a week) at 18. I took four years off at 26. In terms of mileage and workouts, I’ve got the legs of a 22 year old. Either I can despair that my 30th birthday is a few months away or I can decide it is time to address my entirely too soft 3k PR.

After all, I too am pragmatically optimistic. I have never been fair weather with my running. I have hung with it even when it’s literally tried to kill me. Four years of desperate runs and failed workouts and I never gave up on my identity. Doubted, absolutely. Abandoned, never. I’d be lying if I said that I knew for sure that I would escape EIA. I believed I wouldn’t and still I kept my sense of self, and my running shoes and my dreams. I don’t know if my symptoms can be held permanently at bay by restricting my gluten intake.

I just know that—for now—it begins again.

Wrinkles.

It has recently come to my attention that I am being to age. My body has shared this Breaking News with me by revealing the very beginning of wrinkles in the corners of my eyes. While I continue to be a vastly superior athletic specimen than my 17 year old self [see attached photo], I have come to terms with the fact that I am aging and that I will never be 20 years old again.

And to this realization I say: HALLELUJAH.

Getting older isn’t like anything I imagined. I spent my childhood years anticipating college with the kind of youthful desperation that made me the living embodiment of Springsteen’s Born to Run. At my elementary school’s 5th grade graduation my friends nostalgically signed yearbooks while I, the angst ridden 10-year-old, anxiously paced Mercerville’s gym thinking, “It’s time to get this show on the road, people!” The Boss’ escape from his hometown was a chrome wheeled, fuel injected suicide machine. Mine was a liberal arts education. The only downfall to my “last chance power drive” is that I romanticized college so effectively that I never thought about life post-college. For one who so fiercely craved the future, my post-graduation years were left unimagined.

So for four years I reveled in my Eden, my Haverford, which my brother Cyriaque once lovingly called “a utopian version of the wild west” for its lawless yet peaceful nature. Everything was copacetic until the day I received my college degree and my pride turned to horror as I realized my diploma was a glorified eviction notice.

Having been handed a diploma written entirely in Latin (keeping it classy, H-ford) and promptly kicked off campus, I decided to pursue the most lucrative profession I could find: elite runner. Beside the handsome paycheck that racing brought in (ha!), it gave me the perfect opportunity to stick it to that professor who lectured me on priorities and informed me that athletics wasn’t a career and, no, I could not have an extension on my history paper. Armed with a ludicrously difficult goal and a healthy dose of spite, I set out for the real world in a state of abject horror and confusion.

As I look at my other friends, who from time to time scratch their heads and have that WHAT IS HAPPENING look plastered on their faces, I know I’m not alone. Even my mother admitted that her 20s were “disorienting and strange,” while her 30s were “where all the fun happens and you’re not so freaked out.” Hell of a pep talk, Ma.

The closest anything has come to describing the post college years confusion has been the immortal words of the Talking Heads:

And we know what knowing/ But we can’t say what we’ve seen

And we’re not little children/ And we know what we want

And the future is certain/ Give us time to work it out

What does that even mean? It’s cryptic and it’s terribly confusing and it implies you’ve lived and yet still have so much road left to travel, and that you, my friend, are totally lost. Welcome to your mid twenties!

Once I got a grip on that fact that there’s no getting a grip on your twenties, things became easier. The previously overwhelming Choose Your Own Adventure aspect of a 20-something-year-old’s life became less stressful and more liberating. I was startled to realize that I enjoy aging. I have more fun, I feel more attractive, I’m 20 seconds faster in the 1500m, and I am better version of my younger self. I let nagging teen insecurities go along with grudges and my motivating but emotionally draining spite that I’d been carrying around. And while I do have the to urge to yell, “How ’bout them apples?” at Mr. History Professor when I see him around campus, I now know, like me, he’s just trying to navigate his life.

Getting older looks good on many people and I’m determined to wear it well. I look to my grandfather, a newly minted 90, for guidance, and I pray daily that being a Powerhouse is genetic. My own parents are better dressed, wittier, and smarter versions of their 40-something selves, although my two siblings and I are entirely to blame for any poor fashion choices made in child-rearing-fueled states of exhaustion.

Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for aging. A young woman I coached once remarked, “I don’t ever want to be 25.” I remember thinking turning 25 sure beats not turning 25. At 27 I’m aware that many of the kids born in 1985 are not as lucky as I am in celebrating this milestone, so I never begrudge a birthday and I happily take a step closer to 30. So yes, young runner, you want to be 25. And 35. And 65, and you want every damn birthday you can get your hands on. But who wants to listen to person with almost-somewhat-wrinkles.

So happy birthday to me and all my comrades in celebrating the 10th of December. May this year be wonderful and new and totally unpredictable.

Live and live well, TrackFans.

Annick

Left: 2002 / Right: 2012 Who said getting older wasn't more fun?
Left: 2002, Right: 2012

Camp On!

Happy Fall, TrackFans!

It’s been a great summer of racing and traveling and I closed out the season by working at two cross-country camps in the Pocono Mountains. Running camps have long been one of my favorite ways to spend my summers and I was very lucky to get the opportunity to help out at these great camps!

The first camp, Cross Country University, invited me to speak to their campers. I shared my running journey to full house of high school runners and had a Q&A session after where they asked some great questions.  After my talk/slide show I toured the beautiful camp and was delighted to discover my good friend  Jena Peacock ( multi time All-American for Rowan University) was working there as a counselor.

I was also interviewed for The Track Show by the camp director, Jim Schlentz. We discussed my evolution as a runner in high school to college to post-collegiate athlete and importance of patience in training. Here’s the link to the interview: http://thetrackshow.com/interviews/L/alamar/415postcollegiate1500.html

The second camp, RunningWorks, holds a very special place in my heart. As a 5x counselor there the RunningWorks staff feels like family! Working this camp has been the highlight to the end of summer, year after year. This year I did double duty as guest speaker/comedian and counselor. Thanks to Marc Pelerin for Instagramming my talk!

The chance to address 200+ high school runners also gave me an opportunity to showcase my most recent discovery in the the archive of Embarrassing Things Annick Did In High School. In this video I’m either helping land a plane or receiving a relay baton. You be the judge.

And I couldn’t talk about RunningWorks without sending a shout out to my Group A Gazelles/Giseles and my fabulous co-counselor and Syracuse All-American, Lauren Penney! Don’t let the good looks throw you, this is a group of tough and talented runners.

In less than 10 days I’m heading out to Portland and I’m taking with me a summer’s worth of great running camp memories! These camps always remind me why I started in this sport and they motivate me to keep going. I hope to see y’all next year!

Camp Off!

Annick

Go West.

a dream deferred.

I did not see 2012 coming. After joining NJNYTC and earning a spot on the USA Pan American team, I anticipated great things. Races won, records destroyed, seconds dropped, accolades earned. Instead, I was injured, I suffered from overtraining, I had dreams deferred, and the Olympic Trials slipped through my fingers.

Success is a slippery thing. Gold medals and first place finishes nail it down but success can slink its way into the strangest places. A stress fracture stole two months of winter training, so this spring I found myself this in the interesting position of possessing very little fitness but a great hunger to win. And in the face of injury, win I did. You didn’t see me on the medal stand, and the times didn’t impress you. You never saw me break the tape first, yet there was victory after victory this spring. You didn’t see the workouts I did, the endless intervals that threatened to break me. Workouts I shouldn’t have been able to stick, but I did repeatedly. My greatest athletic achievements this year occurred on the practice track, where a very stubborn woman ran miles and miles of repeats that she should not have been able to accomplish.

And you didn’t see my most proud, most private moment this year when I fought every urge to keep pushing and I stopped training for three weeks. You didn’t see the horror on my face when I realized I’d been overtraining, that there is such a thing as too much, that my adrenaline levels were shot and the final lap of every 1500m I ran was a soul crushing crawl to the finish. And you didn’t recognize my parents, both brunettes to my red hair, who watched every race, offered every aid, and gifted me a gold medallion of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, which struck a match to help light the way through the darkness.

And somehow, after injury and overtraining and three weeks without a workout, I ran .71of a second off my personal best in the 1500m—success—and then watched as an amazing field of mid-distance women unseated me from my position on the Olympic Trials start list—a dream deferred.

So the Trials came and the Trails went, and my sojourn to Oregon on the off-chance that six women might abruptly all decide that they in fact did not want to be Olympians appeared to bear no fruit.  Mercifully, I was given the gift of distraction by whitewater kayaking on the Deschutes River during the exact hour I had anticipated racing. Let it be known that the fear of drowning is a highly successful way to forget about a foot race.

Having survived, perhaps even thrived on the river, I found myself on the other side of the Trials and in the high desert of Central Oregon. And aside from a miraculously short crying jag—one afternoon where I had to stop mid-run and sob into the arms of my boyfriend for ten minutes—I stopped mourning lost opportunities and started to plan for new ones.

I had presumed that post-Trials Oregon would represent my past, but after falling in love with its cities and countryside, it very much represents my future. This fall I will call Portland my home and I’ll discover what the rest of 2012 holds in store.

Running Her Dream.

I was recently interviewed by Paul Franklin of the Trenton Times about my running career as it leads up the Olympic Trials. It was great to sit down at my high school track with him and discuss running, my not so small obsession with Bruce Springsteen, the Olympics and my hometown. This fall I made the decision to get back to my roots and train from my childhood home. It wasn’t an easy choice but it was the right one. Here’s my story:

By Paul Franklin/For The Times

HAMILTON-Annick Lamar hasn’t forgotten her roots. But then, how could she? She still works out on the high school track where her running career began.

She has run in Europe, Puerto Rico, Mexico and across the United States since graduating from Nottingham High School eight years ago. But her most important runs are less than a week away, when she competes in the 1,500-meter event at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon.

That’s a long way from Klockner Road.

Seated on a wooden bench next to the Nottingham High track recently, the Olympic hopeful, now 26, looked out across the field, thinking back to the 14-year-old girl of her youth who first stretched her legs in early enthusiasm for the sport of running.

“This was a really big scene of, I want to say, development, and kind of truth-finding,” she said with a wistful smile. “I loved running since I was a little kid. There was no middle school program, so this track was the first time I really got tested about whether or not my love of running was actually grounded in my abilities or I was delusional.”

For somebody trying something new, with no particular skill or training at the time, it took a while to become comfortable with the sport.

“So the first couple of years it was terrifying just because I had had no formal experience — just racing against my brothers or my poor friends who didn’t want to run with me. So this track really was humbling in the beginning. Then, toward the end, it was my home.”

Now 26 and a professional runner for the past four years, Lamar has come a long way since those awkward first steps on the Nottingham track.

She’s now sponsored by the New York Athletic Club and the Brooks shoe company, and runs for the New Jersey-New York Track Club, a group guided by well-known track and field coach Frank Gagliano.

She works out a couple of times a week at Rutgers University with the club and runs every single day, averaging 50-60 miles a week. For diversity, she hits the trails at Mercer County Park and Washington’s Crossing, or sometimes Central Park in New York City. She does strength and conditioning workouts at her local gym, Crossfit Hamilton.

Lamar ran four years at Haverford College, where she took up the 1,500 meter event. She was an assistant coach at her college for a while, but since the fall has focused strictly on her running.

“You have to be very sure about what you want,” she said. “You are not going to make a lot of money in track and field. It has to be very fulfilling on a personal level. Living at home at 26 would seem unappealing, but for me, chasing my dream, living with my parents and on a low budget, it’s not upsetting or concerning. It’s part of the game.”

“People never mean this in a bad sense, but they say, ‘Are you really going to keep doing this running thing?’ It’s a curiosity. I mean, I could be a clown and that would make more sense to people — joining a circus rather than being a professional runner,” she said.

With a personal best of just over four minutes (4:14) for the 1,500, she will probably have to cut close to 10 seconds to make the Olympic Team. She acknowledged that the goal might be too ambitious — but there’s always the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil.

“I’m not counting myself out. You never do that,” she said. “You always go to the line believing you have the ability. But it’s going to be hard to make the team.”
Lamar is perfectly willing to do whatever it takes to make the team this year.
“I’m determined, I’m gritty, and stubborn,” she said. “And stubborn in the sense that I refuse to give up.”

Sometimes that means that practices are not going to be enjoyable.
“It’s insanely painful. It’s very lonely and very exhausting, and if you don’t enjoy it you’re going to stop pretty quickly,” she said.

But it’s always been worth it, she said.

“I’ve never regretted the decisions I’ve made. I’ve never felt I’ve missed out on anything. My experiences have greatly outweighed any of that,” she said.

She has represented the U.S. at the Pan American Games, and said there is nothing like wearing the letters USA.

“All the opportunities are amazing and you want to do them all over again. You want to make another team and represent the United States again, whether it’s the Olympics, Pan Am Games or the World Championships,” she said.

“But the closer you get to the Olympics, the farther away it seems,” she added with a laugh. “I’m in a position to be at the trials; and being on the starting line, that is a huge goal in itself and an amazing dream in itself. But then you look forward and see all these women in the field … and you realize how much further you have to go.”

There is no stopping now, so she continues to run after the dream, negotiating with pain as she goes.

“In the 1,500,” she said, “the last two laps your body starts sending signals that it is ready to stop and it would like you to step off the track. My body will say to me at some point in every race, I think we’re done here. I think we should go home.”

Here’s the original link to the Trenton Times article with a few more pics. Thanks Paul!

 

Just like Eddie.

Dear TrackFans,

Long time, no write.

With the Olympic Trials looming at the end of this month, and with my position on the 1500m entry list in question, I’ve been racing my tuckus off and there’s lots to report. But tonight I don’t really want to think about races that are yet to come; instead, I’d rather consider races of the past.

I found out today that a young man I went to Haverford with passed away at the age of 29. I was a freshman when he was senior, but during that one year overlap he made a huge impact on my racing. During that first year of college I was the fastest 800m runner on the women’s team. The 800m was a new event for me, and the intensity and stamina it required scared me. I was at a loss at how to handle it. I wasn’t at a loss for exceptional teammates to look up to, but I needed an 800m role model, so I chose Eddie Papalia.

Almost all of my memories of Eddie revolve around Centennial Conference Championship relays, in which both Haverford teams were in complete hysterics over the outcome. Goats and Bees jumped and shrieked encouragement to each new leg. And during all this intensity I’ll never forget how I felt when Eddie would get the baton. Despite the unknown race outcome, the advancing competition, and the screams from the sidelines, I was overcome with the feeling that it was all going to be okay when Eddie got the baton. I would relax because the thought in both my mind and in the minds of many other Haverford runners was: “It’s okay now, Eddie’s got this.”

After seeing him race just a few times I began to try and emulate his style of racing and his fierce kick. I wanted to be that strong runner that my teammates could entrust with their faith. I wanted to be fast like Eddie, aggressive in races like Eddie, and humble, so modest that you’d think I was detached from winning until you witnessed how hard I tried, how much I gave. I wanted to be reliable in just the way he was, and I wanted to be as valuable to my team as I knew he was to the men’s team.

I remember celebrating when he took 3rd at Outdoor Nationals that year behind Nick Symmonds (http://scripts.mit.edu/~hwtaylor/otf/04-05/ncaa.res.html) and I remember his amazing Dad cheering for me when I raced. I remember my parents consoling me after I lost my junior year of indoor track to injury and illness by saying, “Remember how Eddie had a really hard junior year, too, and how he went on to get 3rd at Nationals his senior year.” I remember how this made me feel instantly better. And I remember going on to get 3rd at Nationals my senior year and thinking, “Just like Eddie.”

With the Trials just weeks away and with more races down the road, I’m reminded of a role model who made me less scared of racing and the possibility of winning. I’m in his debt for showing me how to be a better athlete, and I send my thoughts and love out to his family.

So TrackFans, choose your role models well. Let them be fleet of foot and steadfast, unassuming and excellent, just like Eddie.

May the Penn Relays be ever in your favor!

This Saturday I’ll be racing in the Olympic Development Mile at the 118th running of the Penn Relays. It will be my 6th appearance at the Relays (three times with my college 4×4, twice in the mile), and I anticipate it will be, like every time before, absolutely and without fail, utter pandemonium. With over 100,000 people attending the 3 day racing carnival and with over 400 races taking place, this is the most insane track event in the United States. Warming up for USA Nationals at Hayward Field last summer was downright civilized when compared to the mayhem that is the Penn Relays’ paddock system. The crowd at Pan Americans this fall seemed like attendees of garden party when compared the riotous crowd in Franklin Field.

(http://news.pennrelaysonline.com/2009/04/24/high-school-boys-4×100-heats/)

Hell, even the Penn Relays’ website calls their paddock “controlled chaos.”

Let me be clear. The noise, the crowd, and the intensity are exactly why I love the Penn Relays. If you can successfully warm-up through the packed streets and food vendors, handle the potentially extreme heat or freezing rain that is April weather in Pennsylvania, make it to the starting line and navigate a huge a field of racers, AND race well, then you can race well ANYWHERE. A win at Penn Relays is a win against the odds and a huge confidence boost. My parents and I joke that the Olympics have nothing on the Penn Relays. As far as I know, no Olympic stadium has broken out into a deafening choir of “whoops” when a runner makes a decisive pass on the top turn and catches the leader.

The Penn Relays are like a mini-Hunger Games. There are 23 women in my race on Saturday, just 1 person shy of the 24 tributes featured the books, and only one gold-watch winner. And while no one dies at the Penn Relays, there are a fair amount of injuries. I’ve been spiked twice, fell once, and received a bruise from another racer last year that made me look like I’d been in a bar fight. And if you think the Penn Relays aren’t dangerous, don’t tell this girl:

(http://www.runnerspace.com/news.php?news_id=2173)

So Happy Penn Relays, Track Fans! And may the odds be ever in your favor!