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Friday, September 29, 2000

It's over! I'm done! I finished!

Sydney, Olympic Village

Today's Olympic Village Headline:

It's over! I'm done! I finished!

What an amazing, exhilarating, and thouroughly exhausting experience. I am so tired now. (Or as they say down here in Australia, "I'm stuffed, mate!" The Aussies are full of odd little sayings.)

I don't know where to begin telling my story of today's 50k race. Let's see. I'll start at the end and then jump around to the beginning and then just try to piece together a jumbled narrative.

I finished 28th out of 56 walkers who started the race, right in the middle of the pack. My teammates Curt Clausen and Andrew Hermann finished 21st and 31st respectively. My time was 4:03:10 which was the second fastest 50K I have ever walked and the fastest this year.

During the race, there were several disqualification for breaking one of the two racewalking rules. Several other athletes dropped out before the finish because of the weather conditions. It was hot. The sun was up early and the humidity at the start was pretty high. By the end of the race at noon, it was nearly 30 degrees celsius, about 90 degrees fahrenheit.

Okay, to the beginning: I woke up this morning at 6am (after my roommate shook me awake because I didn't hear my alarm going off... oops, that would have been bad). After a wake-up shower, I ate a Clif bar, a banana and wandered over to the cafeteria for some toast ala PB&J. At 6:30 I was on the bus to the staging area, a training track adjacent to the Olympic Stadium. Two of our athletic trainers were there to help stretch out the U.S. walkers (thank you!). Suddenly it was 7:20 and time to go through the check-in process.

All the walkers were ushered into a tunnel that runs from the practice track to the main stadium. Coach gave us out last instructions and a hug. And then my Irish racewalk friend, Pierce O'Callaghan, wished me good luck.

When I walked into the Opening Ceremonies two weeks ago, I had expected to be overcome by so much emotion. I thought that all the years of work, all the painful workouts I had endured, all the memories of training with so many wonderful people, all the joys and failures of my walking career would come rushing in a torrent of emotion, tears, laughter. It happened today when Pierce said, "There are so many people who would kill to be in your shoes right now as you enter that stadium. Go get 'em!" I laughed and then the enormity of it all hit me and I had to wipe the tears away as I walked down the long, quiet tunnel.

Once underneath the stadium, I had a few minutes to collect my thoughts, change into my racing shoes and uniform, and do a few warm-up strides. Then we were introduced to the audience in the stadium. Because of our 8am start, the place wasn't full to the gills, but the people who were there made plenty of noise.

The three Americans were lined up on the front row. It was a bit nerve-racking since I was ranked 55th out of 56 starters, but hey, if I was going to be scared it would have already happened when I entered the Olympic Stadium.

Bang, we were off on five laps of the track inside the stadium. The crowd cheered in a wave as we came around and around the track. Then we walked into the tunnel, up the ramp, and one kilometer alongside the Stadium and SuperDome to the 2 kilometer loop where we would spend the next three plus hours sweating it out.

My plan was to walk very steady, consistent splits for each 2k loop and finish up in under 4 hours. After the first 10k, I was right on target, 47:33, and had gotten into a nice rhythm. In a 50K, it is critical to establish a good steady pace and put your brain on cruise control. So I was focused, relaxed and feeling pretty good by 10k. At 20k, I was still feeling loose, was trying to stay well-hydrated and cool. I could tell that it was getting warmer but I tried not to think about it too much. I put ice in my hat, ice in my shorts (brrr!) and kept drinking my electrolyte solution and water.

By 30k, I was getting tired (wow, big surprise!), but I felt good, relaxed and was still clicking along at my goal pace. People ahead of me were starting to struggle. I caught a few people and then a few more dropped out. The heat and an ambitious early pace started to take its toll.

At 40k, I started to have some problems moving my legs the way I wanted to move them. I kept saying, "Okay legs, keep the pace, keep it moving, let's go." But my legs had stopped listening. They had their own ideas about what would be fun, things like stopping, lying down, soaking in cold water. They began to voice their opinion more and more vehemently and I kept having to tell them to "be quiet, do your job, walk, one foot in front of the other." I slowed down to about 5:15-5:20 per kilometer over the last 8k and fell off my goal time. But I was still gaining on other people, surged up the last hill onto the road for home, and cruised into the Stadium to the roars of an appreciative crowd that had grown to near-capacity.

My racewalk buddy Elizabeth Paxton, a promising Junior (under 19) girl who trains with us occasionally in San Diego, had dared me to finish into the stadium with little American flag deely-bops on my head (I don't know what they are called, but they look cool). So I wore them the last kilometer into the Stadium, just for Elizabeth.

So that's it for now. I need to meet my family in town and then get some rest.

Cheers to you all and thanks SOOOO much for your emails and support.


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