Last Saturday, the Brooks PR Invitational brought together many of the top high school athletes in the country to compete head-to-head with each other in their signature events. The races were incredible to watch: Tight packs of runners sped around the oval at a blur, everyone in contention until the winners accelerated away with smooth power. Off the track, the young athletes congratulated each other, watched and cheered on other events, and enjoyed the company of like-minded and talented co-horts.
No description of the races would be better than watching them—which is well worth the time, and will leave you pumped and itching to put yourself on a start line as soon as possible. When you do toe the line, here are a few lessons to keep in mind that emerged after a day of watching these stellar athletes compete.
1) Seize the Day: Stay Flexible and Run the Race that Emerges
Race day plans rarely follow a pre-determined script. In pre-race interviews, many athletes talked about visualizing the race, planning out splits, and their preferred strategies for leading or following. But the ones who succeeded were those who were able to adapt to what happened on the track and seize the day.
Nick Foster of Michigan took the lead in the mile just after the first lap and never relinquished it en route to a 4:03:11 victory. Asked if that’s how he expected it to play out, he answered quickly, “Not at all—I was not planning on taking the lead.”
When no one else wanted to go with the rabbit who was there to set a strong pace for 2 laps, Foster didn’t fight it. “I felt good, better than I felt in the past,” he said, still breathing hard and unable to stop grinning giddily at his success. “So I said, ‘I’m going to go, try to push it as much as I can without really fighting it.’”
Leading isn’t his normal style. “I’ve never led like that before. It was more of a risk,” he said. “I felt good. I was hoping I’d stay feeling good. Didn’t know what would happen.” What happened was the leading mile time of the year, and a big PR—by being flexible and letting the race happen.
Ericka Vanderlinde, fellow Michigander, didn’t follow a plan out the race she ran either. “Honestly I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, sitting on the infield after her surprise victory in the 2 mile. “I knew the field was really competitive,” she said. “I just wanted to stay on them, and then give it all I got.”
Biding her time at the back of the lead pack, she was able to move when favorite Katelynne Hart led a three-girl breakaway, then pulled away on the final backstretch and powered home for a PR victory.
2) Expect Anything: Stay Calm and Keep Running
Runners went down in distance races at least four times in the meet. We can only speculate on the reason for so many falls—too many runners used to being out front on their own and not in a pack? What is more interesting, however, is how runners responded.
Both the girls 2-mile and 1-mile were called back after the start due to falls. As it turned out, both of the runners who fell ended up 3rd in their respective races. In the 2-mile, Bryn Brown of Texas tumbled hard right after the gun and was visibly shaken. After the field was recalled and the race restarted, however, she ended up pushing the pace for much of the race, and was able to hang on when the top three separated from the pack.
Even elite coach Kevin Hanson, who was helping direct the race, remarked on her poise. “She went down, got skinned up really good,” he said. “You’ve got to regroup, get yourself together in 30 seconds—and she did. She was the aggressor for a lot of that race. Super impressed with that.”
Carlee Hansen of Utah got spiked and also fell right after the start of the mile. Underway again, she tucked into the back of the pack then found herself almost in another fall in the third lap. “I’ve never had girls trip like that,” she said. “Crazy.”
But rather than getting flustered, she moved past the pack and had her signature kick in the end to finish third in big PR of 4:42.86.
In the longer road races many of us run, there are even more chances for things to go wrong, and more time to make up for it. A mishaps doesn’t have to mean a missed opportunity.
3) PRs Are Rare: Don’t Judge Your Prowess on Every Result
Many runners PR’d in the meet—especially given the rarely run mile and 2-mile rather than more common 1600m and 3200m. But many more didn’t. And only one broke the tape each race, with the rest strung out far around the track.
Katelynne Hart came into the race favored to win with the fastest PR. It turned out Vanderlinde would run the best race of her life and beat her. But Hart was completely upbeat afterwards.
“I’m happy with the race over all,” she said. “It was good experience. I felt great, felt super comfortable—just didn’t have that final kick at the end.”
While she had wanted to win, and worked hard to win, she didn’t consider this at all a failure. A week before, she had said, “The last few years haven’t gone well [at Brooks PR].” Given that, she said that success would be: “I want to feel good and have a fast time.”
After the race, she came back to that. “I made tactical errors in the past,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with how I performed today.” Success comes in many forms.
Sam Gilman of South Carolina finished 8th in the mile in 4:14, well off his best of 4:06. Still, he said afterwards, “I’m not disappointed.” He had to dodge runners in one of the falls, and never quite got his rhythm back. “I couldn’t get moving today,” he said matter-of-factly. He accepted that as something that happens, and took satisfaction with being here, hanging on, and finishing as strong as he could. He’s had good days when he could move, and will have more.
All of these champions showed sportsmanship and poise. Even if disappointed, they didn’t look for excuses but saw it as experience and a chance for growth.
Too many of us expect that if we’re trained results will automatically follow. We expect to PR every time out. The closer you get to the top, you find out that you can count on a certain range of performance, but the PR magic is often doled out sparingly. The sooner we learn that, the sooner we can celebrate running well regardless of results, and accept days we don’t run well without questioning our abilities.