The gun went off, it felt kind of surreal this was the moment I had waited for and it was finally here. I had a half a second of delay and then my legs began moving instinctively. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking or if I was thinking at all. I went out controlled and feeling comfortable and loose. The game plan was to sit in the back, hitting constisent splits and pick people off one by one. Tim anticipated that the first 1k would be okay, one large pack and then the leaders would drop the hammer and set a blazing pace. Around 600m I passed Tim, he gave a nod, reassuring me that I was sitting in a good position.
When I had spoke to Tim before the race he told me that he saw my family, flags and everything down by the personal aid table. After passing Tim I began scanning the crowd for my family. Another 100m or so down there were some people that screamed out go USA, and then I think I heard Chris Vaccara another Sachem Grad who planned his own Europe trip to pass through London
to watch me race in the Olympics. Without even thinking I broke out into a huge smile, this was awesome, I loved the crowd! Then another few 100meters and I spotted them, my HUGE cheering section my entire family and Joey’s all festive with their flags, and hats and personalized Maria shirts. It was so incredibly moving that once again I broke out into another beaming smile, a smile that made me glow inside and out! Then it was time for my first 1km split, 4:40 is what I clicked off on my watch, perfect exactly A standard pace, my heartrate was low and I felt incredible. After the 1km mark it was only a little bit before we hit the second turn around and then before I knew it we were cruising down a slight down hill into the personal aid station.
The personal aid station is in ABC order so the USA table was at the far end, all it meant is I would have to be patient to grab my bottle. I didn’t actually feel I needed my bottle yet but it’s smart to take fluids early in small amounts rather then wait for the feeling of thirst to set in. My bottle hand off went smoothly and now I was rounding the turn by the Palace, the Palace which I never actually saw because all I was aware of was my compeitors and the huge crowd of people cheering. There was a misting station on the course but required you to not walk the tangent inorder to passs underneath it. Since it was about 70 deg at the start and would only get cooler because it was already after 5pm I decided that the wind blowing some of the stray mist onto the tangent was good enough.
After going around the turn there was once again another section of people cheering USA, and once again I got a giddy excited feeling as I heard them cheer. As I came down the long straight away towards the start finish line I looked forward and saw that my TEAMmate Rachel was a few seconds ahead of me with another group of competitiors. She was maybe 5 seconds ahead and the few girls I was racing with seemed to be dropping our pace and closing in, I hesitated for a moment in my head if I should walk my own race or stay with the girls I was with. We came through 2k in 9:15 which meant that I dropped a 4:35 second 1km, but took a glimpse at my heart rate and it was still low so I decided to stay with the girls I was around. After crossing the start finish line coach Rose screamed out my split and told me that I was on pace. I sat there comfortably with the girls and continued racing forward. I came pass Tim again, he screamed out my split that he had taken and told me I was doing well. I gave him a nod and continued feeling loose and moving forward. The crowd was so incredible and continued to keep me excited feeling. Before I knew it I came up to my family again, I was loving it, I gave them an “I Love You” in sign language and looked forward to my next split, 4:39, good another effortless A Standard split, and wow 13:53 for my 3k, sweet! Then it was time for another one of my bottles, this time it was a little trickier to get because I was in a tighter group of girls, but in the end I just remembered to stay calm and relaxed and after getting my bottle had to surge a little bit to regain contact with the girls I was racing with. Our next 1km was again right on A standard pace in 4:39. I passed Tim again, he read out my split and didn’t seem concerned about my pace so I continued to race with the girls. Our next 1km was fast, 4:30, honestly this freaked me out a little bit but my heart rate once again reassured me that while I felt pumped and excited mentally my body was infact on cruze control and I wasn’t pushing too hard too fast. I also realized that we hit 23:03 for 5k, wow if I kept up this type of pace I was not ony set for a 20k PR but also a 10k as well. I didn’t want to get too excited to0 soon because while I still felt strong and relaxed there was still 3/4th’s of the race left and crashing was still totally a possibility. At this point I had already passed my TEAMmate Rachel, which kind of made me nervous thinking that she should be ahead of me and maybe I was being foolish too early and that instead of racing forward with the Irish girl Laura I should hang with Rachel. It was a fleeting thought because my racing instinct took over and I continued to race with Laura.
We hit 4:34 and still I felt amazing, not to mention the crowd kept my spirits on cloud nine. Wow I was actually enjoying racing, I didn’t know that that could be possible. Just after the start/finish line there were water bottles and sponges, I decided to grab a sponge to wet my head, it felt refreshing but either the water they wet the sponges with was incredibly gross our I was sweating a lot becaue a salty warm stream trickled down my face into my mouth, this was not such a pleasant refreshing feeling. Again I passed by Tim, he again yelled out my split I was waiting for him to yell,”what are you doing or why are you going so fast,” but it never came. I’m not sure if he was in shock and didn’t know what to say or what. I kept moving on eagerly waiting to pass my family. Another excited giddy feeling passed over me when I would hear them, wow this was my 4th lap and it wasn’t getting old hearing everyone screaming me on, I loved it, it was such an incredible rush when I would race passed them! 7k split clicked on and things were still going well, way under A standard pace. At this point in my head I committed to this pace and this balls out racing strategy, hey at least I would get a 10k PR and most likely a 20k as well, even if I did wind up crashing I would just have to hope that I would be able to rely on the crowd to carry me through. After all, Michelle a previous US race walk Olympian told me to race the first 10k with my head the second 10k with my heart. I may have only raced 1km or so with my head, but was pretty confident in my heart to carry me through!
Before 8k just around the aid table I came up to TEAMmate Sabine, once again this freaked me out because I was not suppose to be near her, I managed to get out the words, I don’t know what I am doing but just come with me, although I cannot be sure this statement was actually audible or comprehensible mid race. I passed Sabine and felt great going around the turn by the Palace! One lap to go until I hit 10k, I was still pumped and still feeling controlled! I came through by Tim again and literally raised up my arms in a shrug, and said I don’t know what I am doing. Tim couldn’t actually hear me and thought I was telling him that I didn’t hear his split. Nope, I meant, OMG!!! How is it that I am racing this pace and feeling so amazing! Again I passed pro USA cheering sections in the crowd and just kept feeding off all the positive energy in the crowd. Even the crowd sections that were cheering for Laura from Ireland were pushing me on. I know they were saying her name but still it felt that they were rooting me on too. I absolutely loved it! Laura faltered for a little bit, and I exclaimed, “come on lets go, do it together”! I needed her to keep going to help keep me pushing. This past year for whatever reason I really struggled racing alone and pushing myself when I was solo. Good thing this was the Olympics and there were lots of people ahead of me to look forward towards. I wound up coming through 10k in a personal bet of 46:02, my watch split 46:00 but apparently my first 1k was 2 seconds slow, I guess from my delayed start at the back of the pack. I honestly held a steady pace and didn’t push in that 2k, although I did want to break 46min in the 10k, guess I needed another race to do that. I was still feeling strong and in crontrol. Laura fought back up and pushed me to drop a 4:31 1k! Wow we were booking! Technically if you take my splits from 1k through 11k I walked a 45:51 for 10k, pretty freaking cool! I’ll take that any day for sure, well at least for now that is!
Then we hit 4:40 for our next 1k. At this point my legs began to loose their fresh feeling. Laura seemed to drop the hammer after seeing that slow split and picked it up. I let her go, I was honestly afraid that with 8k left that if we walked 4:31’s it would be too much, and I wasn’t about to throw away a huge PR at A standard pace. To my pleasant surprise my next solo lap was a 4:37, still sub A standard pace. Then I hit 4:42, whops, a little slow. At this point I focused on reeling in the other girls, but it was mainly them slowing down then me picking it up. I even hit a lap as slow as 4:47 it was when I had re-caught the Guatemalan girl in front of me and hung with her, but I hadn’t realized that she had slowed, so then it was time to drop a 4:36 right after that. My 2k’s were overall pretty consistent but my individual 1ks were all over the place. Oh well that’s competitive racing, and aside from 3 slow laps everything else was faster than A standard pace. While my body was beginning to fatigue at the end, my adrenaline high from the crowds allowed me to feel as if I was racing on cloud nine. I definitely was not in the zone, but it was so much better to be able to experience the rush and roar of the crowd then zoned out racing. My family was incredible and to thank them I signed “I Love You” this time with both hands! With 4k to go I found out that I was in 29th place, there was a Mexican girl on my heals and an Australian girl way up ahead. I locked my eyes on the Aussie and began to reel her in. Then I saw a judge with a yellow paddle, and wasn’t sure if it was for me or the Mexican girl I was racing with. I backed off a little bit, but then before I knew it, I was on my last lap and my competitive nature kicked in. By the last lap I was still pumped and managed to shout out, “Happy Birthday!” to Joey. It was at that moment that I realized how hard of an effort my race really was because my Happy Birthday was more of a struggled croak then and exhuberent shout! I guess I was breathing heavy and working hard afterall. I was closing in on the Aussie but she had too much ground and I ran out of real-estate, another 2k and I think I would have caught her. I edged out the Mexican although I felt controlled at the finish because the last thing I wanted to do was be DQ’d at the end. The last 100mdeters you step onto a yellow mat to allow the head judge to know that you are finishing. I wound up holding off the Mexican girl and closed my last lap in 4;27.
Anyone who saw me on TV know’s I was beaming in a huge smile! I immediately exchanged thanks and congratulations with the Mexican girl and then looked up to the sky. The sun was still out and I knew that there was Dziadzi watching me the whole time. It was such an incredible race, and I can actually say I enjoyed every minute of the race. I attribute this to the crowds, especially my entire family, each and everyone of them screaming their heads off, rooting me on, fueling me with a rush of adrenaline and excitement like no other. I could not have asked for a better race senerio, it was all I hoped for and even more. That day I officaily became an Olympian, infact I became the fastest American Woman at the Olympics in the 20k race walk, and walked my first A standard, in a time of 1:32:27, a time that rank’s me number 2 on the all time American performance list. Along the way I also got a 10k and 15k PR and was only 9 seconds off my 5k PR. It was such an exhilarating experiencing and I am so thankful to each and every person who helped me over the years, to all the people who believed in me, the people who cheered me own both at the Palace lining the crowds as well as those back home sending good vibes across the Atlantic to me! Thank you everyone for allowing me dream to come true, on August 11th I became and Olympian and got to put the A in became as I achieved the A standard! I may have caught “five ring fever” but I just learned that this condition is chronic, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon! Rio2016!…?