Alexi Pappas: Sometimes, race decisions can be invisible

Oregon Track Club Elite's Alexi Pappas paces the runners in the 1,500 meters at the UO Twilight Meet at Hayward Field last May.

A race is a series of decisions. Decision making during a race requires energy and commitment: mental energy to assess your situation and then commitment to execute your decision strongly and confidently.

Sometimes, these decisions are big and theatrical. Three weeks ago, I ran a 1,500 meter race on Hayward field at the Oregon Relays.  I made the decision to surge with 450m to go, playing to my strength as a distance runner by kicking early. It was evident to all of Hayward Field that I was taking off, and bold moves like these are just as exciting to the racer as they are to the many eyes watching. It was fun to kick early and hear the crowd cheer – I felt brave and energized. (My fellow racers eventually made their own big moves, and I was valiantly caught during the final 100 meters of the race. The 1,500 is often fun that way.)

Two weeks later, I ran my first 10,000 meter race on the track. Coach Ian Dobson explained to me that the race was going to hurt – and that in order to make it through, I would need to face down a big decision point where my mind might want me to stop. He explained to me that this decision would look different than my big decision in the 1500.

Some race decisions, I learned, are not to surge, but to stay. In the 10k, the decision to stay would require just as much energy, commitment and bravery as the decision to surge in my 1500 – but instead of zooming ahead to the sounds of cheers, my decision would be undetectable to everyone but me.

Oregon Track Club Elite's shows off the bumps, bruises and blood from her 10,000-meter track debut at the Payton Jordan Invitational.

Oregon Track Club Elite’s Alexi Pappas shows off the bumps, bruises and blood from her 10,000-meter track debut at the Payton Jordan Invitational.

Sometimes, the bravest race decisions can be invisible.

In my April column (“Trust Your Race Plan”) I wrote about the importance of committing to decisions before the race even starts. That outlook was more important for me in my 10k track debut than it had ever been before. The 10k hurt in a different way than a race has ever hurt. It felt sort of like when it starts to lightly rain and you hardly even notice the raindrops, but slowly, the frequency picks up and before you know it, you’re soaked. With the 10,000 meters, it was important that I committed to the decision to “stay” even though I knew it might pour.

And even more importantly, I had to know that my decision to run even when the pain arrived would not be evident to anyone but myself and my coach.

I finished the race in 32:02, an Olympic qualifying time. It was wonderful to have a strong debut and get a feel for the event. But most of all, what I took away from my 10k experience was the understanding that our most heroic race moments won’t always be flashy on the outside.

Often, nobody will notice at all. But, if you happened to be looking closely somewhere between the 17th and 19th laps, you might have noticed a smile on my face. That was me deciding to enjoy the rain and keep on running.

Previous TTUSA stories by Alexi Pappas:

Trust your race plan 

Outside my comfort zone

On budgeting willpower

What the President said

Channelling your inner racing bug

No easy way to prepare for marathon pacing

Alexi is an avid tweeter and her thoughts can be  found @alexipappas.

Alexi Pappas graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College before running off to compete in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. Alexi then joined the Ducks as a University of Oregon fifth-year student, helping lead the team to two NCAA championships in 2012 and 2013. She currently runs professionally for the Nike-sponsored Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, Oregon, with her eyes on 2016.

Alexi is also a writer, filmmaker, and actress. She co-wrote the script for the award-winning feature film Tall as the Baobab Tree, and is currently in post-production on her second film,Tracktown. Alexi was a Top 9 Nominee for the 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year Award, and is also a graduate of the UCB Theater improv program in LA/New York City.