Last week I had my first professional meet in Guadeloupe, an island in the Caribbean. Now, I have never written a blog before but I had such an amazing experience on this trip that I had to write about it.
To begin, I must say that I now understand why Seattle, WA is not a great place to train in. Not only because the weather but because the trips are a looonnnggg haul seeing as though Seattle is placed in the northwest most part of the United States. I had to leave on a red-eye flight at midnight in order to make it to Miami before noon to check into the charter flight to Guadeloupe that leaves at 4 pm to arrive on the island by 730 and our hotel by 8. That’s already 20 hours of traveling and not to mention I don’t sleep well on planes. My first pro meet was in two days and I’ve spent nearly a full day sitting on a cramped flight awake.
We get to the hotel (which is the nicest hotel I’ve ever been in) and I only know about 3 people of the 100+ athletes on this trip who seemed to ALL know each other, I was the newbie. So this left me with two options, to be a loner or to introduce myself to as many people as possible. It was weird to meet athletes who’s careers I’ve followed for years in real life because I’m not only an athlete but a HUGE fan of track and field. Even though I am now an elite athlete in the world, I still feel as though I’m on the outside looking in at the gods of track and field. I’ve now learned that these athletes are approachable and just as friendly as anyone outside the track world. Just introducing myself to all these athletes helped rest my mind of the track meet and it helped me make new friends.
On the off day, the day before the meet, I wanted to enjoy the opportunity of being hosted on a beautiful island. Typically, before meet day I try to minimize activity and save all my energy for my run but this time I couldn’t resist. All day everyday they provided us with a delicious selection of food prepared in front of you and all you can eat. With their french roots the cuisine was excellent and the bread was so good, it was my dessert. Next, I had to adventure out and explore the beach and hotel outskirts. I went swimming and snorkeling, something coaches would cringe to hear. After the fun it was time to practice and the practice track was 20 minutes away so I finally go the chance to see more of the island. It was eye opening as the first thing I noticed was almost every building’s windows were boarded up, weather that’s because the hurricanes or something else, I never looked into more info about it. It seemed like everything was crammed in a spot. The house crammed full of people, was crammed into a small lot gated with typically metal sheets. When we reached the practice track the first thing I noticed was it was sealed off from the public with a concrete wall at least 6 inches thick on the outskirts of downtown. It was a fantastic track with little bleachers for a few spectators. This must be where the “celebrities” come to practice, I’m thinking they must really love track. So then I practiced, the humidity was intense, coming from where I’m from, its a different type of humidity. Here, as soon as I started jogging I was wiping sweat from my eyes, it burned my eyes the entire practice session. Practice did not go well for me, my steps were off and I realized I was wearing myself out trying to get them on point so I cut practice short. We went home and got prepared for tomorrow.
On the day of the meet, I sat around for hours waiting for the meet, these times are the most nerve racking. I didn’t move from my bed most the day as I started to feel the fatigue from yesterday’s swim in my legs. I tried not to think about it too much. When we got on the bus to go to the meet at 4Pm everyone was doing their typical pre-meet routine of being to themselves with their headphones on. While I’m over here looking out the window recording everything I see. I just want to remember what it was like on my first international meet. We exited the bus to see a huge concrete wall fencing off the entire sporting complex, there was no way to see inside unless you got tickets to enter though the metal gates. Of course I’m still recording off the bus and our walk to the track, then I felt awkward like a real newbie so I put the phone away. We’re in the practice area now just sitting down and I find a wall to sit by myself, rest and hydrate. I sat down for only a minute before I looked up and saw how many people were there. It was like Eugune, OR the way they love their track but they seemed more enthused and excited than even the people of the mighty Track Town USA! I look to my right and already there are two kids holding out a pen and paper waiting for my autograph. Of course I give it to them and they run off with huge smiles! I go to warm up and jog a lap with my (also fresh out of college) friend Scottie. While we’re jogging we noticed we picked up of trail of kids running up and down with us. We struggled getting our warm ups in because where-ever we went, they followed and tried to do the same. I had a little fun and raced with the children, played, and signed more autographs and their eyes lit up and teeth were showing the whole time! It was incredible, here I am, just a no name and these kids look at me like I’m already a legend, honored to run along side of me.
I finish my warm-up, and it starts to sprinkle a little bit of rain. Final calls were in and the gang of eight 400 hurdles on this trip gather under the tent. I found out I have lane 2, which sucks but I came here with a plan to win. I was so nervous about this meet earlier, but the kids helped me relax and have fun with it. We walked under the stands and the crowd above was roaring as if it were a football game. We then came out the tunnel with ten minutes until the gun goes off. While were walking down the 100 meter area the track was beautiful, brand new. I did a practice start at the 400 meter start and the track changed. It was the hardest track I’ve ever seen. Like concrete, all you hear is our spikes making clicking noises as they hit the track. I tried not to think about it too much. When the call us to the blocks my mentality changes and I am no longer that guy playing with the kids, I’m an aggressive animal who want to win more than anything. BANG, the gun goes off and automatically all I hear is the clicking of the spikes hitting the tough track as I progress through my drive phase. When I hit the halfway point it start sprinkling again. In my head the guy in front of me was spitting and it was hitting me in the face. That made me so mad. I took off, the only way he cant spit in my face is if I’m in front of him right! We got to the last 100 when the track changes to the good surface and you can tell it throws everybody off. I stumble for a second then sprint. Coming from 3rd I had to run down 2 more people. Both of which have faster PR’s than me. I knew if I could clear these hurdles correctly I could catch them off my finishing speed. And that’s exactly what I did. Pulled off an upset win in my first every international meet. It was awesome, I didn’t know what to do. The camera man wanted me one way, the director another and the official to stay put. All I wanted to do was celebrate! I got interviewed by a few French channels and I really didn’t know what to say, “I ran fast?”, “I’m happy I won some money and can officially call myself a professional athlete”. But the stadium was electric, I couldn’t help but give them credit. It seriously was as loud as a football game for every event! These people REALLY LOVE TRACK! and I love it!