Well, this race was very different than my last race in California.  It was my first time traveling internationally since Covid.  I was headed to Slovakia, but because of travel restrictions there are only very select groups of people allowed to travel into Slovakia, as well as all the countries that I would need to transit through to get there and back, and they all required special clearance.  There were also specific Covid testing requirements that were difficult to plan and arrange.  I had lots of help with the preparation, but in spite of that I still managed to get myself in trouble getting into Hungary because I didn’t have the correct transit paperwork.  There was a few moments of panic, but I was able to figure something out (although not communicated well in English) and get through border protection and into Slovakia.  Phew!

Park in Dudince

Once I was safely in Slovakia, it started to feel somewhat more like a normal race.  People comment a lot how exciting it must be to travel to all of the places that I get to go, and it is fun to see so many different parts of the world, but race trips are nothing like vacations.  Athletes are there purely to focus on getting ready to race, which means optimizing sleep, nutrition, and training in the days leading up to competition.  Those things all stayed pretty much the same, with or without Covid.  We did have Covid testing performed pretty much every other day, so had to get used to a lot of nasopharyngeal swabs.  The big difference for me was that even with all the testing, there was not a lot of together time for the athletes, we were kept pretty separated.  Everyone does race preparation differently, but usually there would be people relaxing playing cards, watching movies, socializing, but we really didn’t have any of that.  The first few days were really lonely, a lot of sitting in my hotel room, not able to talk to my family with the time difference, feeling like I had made a big mistake by going.

Another Covid test

As the race got closer, I got more and more excited for the chance to compete.  After all the events of the last year, it felt like such a privilege just to be there, to have the opportunity to go out and represent my country, represent so many people who have supported me along the way.  And to have the chance to watch so many other people compete and achieve their dreams felt so surreal.  I made peace with all the down time and saw it as a chance to relax and take some time for myself, which is what my husband thought I needed all along and why he thought this race would be a good idea for me.  As a mom of 4 young children it is rare for me to get a break, especially during this pandemic where the parenting demands have been intense and there hasn’t been a babysitter in over a year.  Much love to my husband for taking the kids and allowing this trip to happen.

Saying goodbye to my kids at the airport

The social highlight of the trip turned out to be arranging and obtaining Covid tests for the trip home.  I was the only athlete traveling back to the US, but there were 2 guys traveling back to Canada, 2 to Great Britain, 1 to Ireland, and 1 to South Africa that all needed PCR tests for re-entry into their home countries.  The race organizers were going to arrange the PCR testing for us, but as our departing flights approached there was still no plan to get us tested.  A couple of the guys realized that they needed to take matters into their own hands, and through an amazing team effort they helped all 7 of us to navigate the Slovakian healthcare system (when none of us spoke Slavic) and arrange to have us all tested the morning prior to our race in a town about 30km away from where we were staying.  I think the longest amount of time that I got to spend with other people during my time in Slovakia was the 2 hours with all of us lined up in the hotel hallway on our laptops trying to coordinate everything.  And then of course we got the excitement of an early morning trip out of town for another nasopharyngeal swab (some sarcasm there).  Much thanks to all of these guys on Team PCR for figuring it out, I might still be stuck in Slovakia otherwise!

Waiting in line for our PCR tests

With everything that had been going on, I didn’t really know what to expect from the race.  My goal was to have fun and to really enjoy the experience.  My race was in the afternoon, but the men’s 50km walk was that morning and I showed up at the course in time to catch the last hour or so, it was so inspiring to watch.  So many amazing performances.  It started snowing towards to end of the men’s race and it was getting worse in the hour before I needed to start warming up.  I messaged my coach and told him and he just replied something about liking the challenge.  I was feeling ready, except maybe I wasn’t dressed appropriately, but too late for that!  

Marc Mundell finishing the 50km walk with a PB and new South African record

I had drink bottles filled and labeled with my name for my race, and I had left them in a bag at the drink station when I went to watch the finish of the 50km race.  I was going to head over and set them all out on the table for my race and start warming up, but someone had come through and cleaned up everything between races and they were nowhere to be found.  So, instead of warming up, I hunted around and found 12 bottles of water, carried them over to the drink station, and was able to re-mix my electrolyte and carbohydrate drinks for my race.  Lesson learned there!  I snuck in about a 1km warm-up, called it good, and headed to the start line.

My coach had sent me a race plan the day before, so really not too much time to overthink things.  I stuck to the plan, reminded myself to relax and enjoy it, and managed my best 20km performance ever (over 4 minutes faster than I had ever raced before!).  In a way it felt too easy, but I think that is because I finally let go of all of the fears of failure and anxieties of not measuring up that I usually bring to races.  There was a lot of uncertainty about what lay ahead for my race walking career going into this race, part of me felt like it was going to be my last, I just wanted one good shot at a 20km personal best and I could be done.  I am still not entirely sure, but my heart is changing and I’m making plans to keep my racing legs going for the 2021 season.

Immediately post-race

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