Alexi Pappas: How I spend my Sundays

Alexi Pappas (center, with black baseball cap) leads a large group of runners and walkers down the backstretch at Hayward Field during a recent TrackTown Fitness session. The free community program attracts more than 150 participants each Sunday at 8 a.m.

EUGENE, Ore. – When I was growing up, Sundays were always about sports. It was one of the following: organized soccer, organized running, organized softball, or on the rare occasion that there was nothing organized to play, there was something organized to watch. Sunday was all sunscreen and commotion: quick breakfast followed by the layering of combinations of cotton and mesh (must find the jersey first – if you’re lucky it’s in the dryer, if you’re not, you’ll wear the dirty jersey from last weekend) and the gathering of leather sporting tools such as gloves, balls and shoes. Hopefully, the car has gas because there are two games and we are going to need it.

Today, for me, Sundays are still about sports – but my schedule is calmer than it used to be. There is just one sport now: running.

Coffee

Many people associate Sundays with sleeping in and brunch. I don’t have time to think of brunch yet because I’m already almost late to TrackTown Fitness which starts at 8 a.m. at Hayward Field here in Eugene, Oregon. I’ll definitely think about brunch later.

Good thing my yesterday-self did my today-self the favor of setting my coffee maker on automatic start so that I can bring some coffee to-go. I’ll also bring my toast with me. I use a toaster oven and not a toaster anymore, which is another big difference between my childhood self and my today self.

Navigating Eugene

There are usually between two to five different ways to get anywhere in Eugene, but the difference in driving time between any route rarely amounts to more than 30 seconds or so. The drive from my house to Hayward Field is about 5 minutes (give or take 30 seconds) so I’m usually able to chug my coffee in time, and even if I can’t, there’s the weekly 5-minute pep talk from Coach Vin Lananna and Coach Ian Dobson which will allow me enough time to finish.

TrackTown Fitness

The large number of people who show up to TrackTown Fitness seems out of scale with the hour of the day, or the weather, which is chilly with rain. On this particular Sunday, Vin and Ian have just driven straight from Portland to Eugene because they have been busy facilitating set-up for the IAAF World Indoor Championships. My dentists’ assistant who cleaned my teeth last week is also present and joins in the “walk/run” group. Here we all are, circling the track together.

Coach Ian asks me if I am tired, since I flew into Eugene late from my race last night, and he tells me to get some sleep tonight – which is ironic because it is he who needs sleep after pulling many work all-nighters in preparation for World Indoors. But then again maybe he doesn’t need as much sleep as I do because he’s done with his competitive athlete years. This is something that is wonderfully common in Eugene: so many former Olympians wander around not sleeping as much as they used to (but being so happy that they once did), having now pleasantly moved onto other ventures in life. I love this about Eugene.

There is still another ‘game’ to attend

Just like there were often two sporting events in one Sunday as a child, there are also two “games” to attend today. After TrackTown Fitness, it is time for me to do my own long run. My teammates and I will leave from Hayward Field to do a hilly loop along Ridgeline.

Jogging Boy

Along our run, we always pass Jogging Boy. I’ll tell you about Jogging Boy. There is a boy I see almost every day running (both of us are running) and I don’t know his name and I sometimes wave and say Hi and he sometimes waves back. And there are others like Jogging Boy, such as Blue (who always wears blue) and there’s Rolodex, who is the wonderful man who always has something to say and has a special ability to condense and clearly communicate entire theses about current events in running in the one second that we pass each other. Usually I reply, but occasionally, he will ask something that’s hard to answer, like why isn’t so-and-so running well? He knows industry lingo and goings on so I can’t exactly lie, and this is a situation that in any other town could quickly become something terrible and misunderstood, but then Rolodex responds and says there’s always another race, so I understand that he knows how this sport is full of its ups-and-downs.

I have a special place in my heart for those people I only know to exist on the trails. Maybe they live there. Maybe they think I live there.

The visiting athlete

There are always athletes coming to train or compete in TrackTown USA. On this particular Sunday, I have the chance to meet Konstadinos Baniotis, who is staying in Eugene during the weeks leading up to his competition at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland. He is my future teammate on Team Greece! I also learn that this is his first time to the United States.

I think it is amazing that his first impression of the USA is in Eugene, which he tells me he knows is the center for Athletics in the United States. He is friends with two-time Olympic high jumper Jesse Williams, who introduces us. Baniotis says he would like to see a few American things during his time in Eugene, so Jesse will take him out to a burger and also to Costco.

Egg expedition

On Sundays after a long run, I’m very, very interested in eggs. Monday through Friday is often something peanut buttery, fruity, bready. Sundays are different. I may go out to breakfast with good friend and role model (and Olympic silver medalist and overall legend) Lance Deal. Or, I may prepare my eggs at home.

Nap

I never know if I am actually going to fall asleep or not. It is the times when I worry about not falling asleep that I never do. Then I worry about the track season and my races coming up. In the middle of a particularly unsettling imaginary scenario, I wake up, which is how I know I have eventually fallen asleep. I realize that the thoughts I was having about running were actually from my dream (where I was running a race with clown shoes on – I’ve had this dream a few times before). The worry still counts, even though it happened in my dream, but worry is not a bad thing when it happens in a dream because worry means you care, a coach once told me. So I wake up having 1) slept, and 2) reaffirmed that I still care a lot about running. Good thing, since this is an Olympic year.

After running, writing

On Sundays afternoons, I write. I use a computer to write. And, oddly enough, it is here – in front of my computer – that I feel most surrounded by eyes. Even though earlier that day, I led a warm-up stretch in front of 150 people at TrackTown Fitness, and then ran with a whole group of teammates. I didn’t feel like I was being watched then. I felt like everyone in those gatherings was focused on their stretch or focused on not tripping over the branch ahead in the woods. We were all focusing on bettering ourselves together. When I sit down at my computer to write, it is the first time during the day that I face a world beyond Eugene. This world is one that I hope to contribute to somehow, as I now prepare to write. If I am brave, I turn off my internet.

Dinner at Home

The reason I would never go out to dinner on a Sunday is because it is the one day when I do not have to do a secondary run or lift weights or do anything outside of the house at all after my morning commitments. So I always stay in. The bread shop, butcher and fish market are closed on Sundays, but of course I know this and always plan ahead with adequate provisions.

I may even make it a “slow cooker Sunday” if I actually woke up early enough that morning to prepare and set up the pot. Sundays always feel like an exercise in slow cooking: a gradual preparation for the week ahead. Training for the Olympics is a full-time commitment that takes tremendous energy. And that’s why I take extra care to make my Sundays special, changing up the routine to set myself up for a successful week of hard work.

Previous TTUSA stories by Alexi Pappas

The longest run

Run like your best 12-year-old selves

On being happy to compete

Watching greatness

Staying connected

My growth as a runner

Running as a team sport

Race decisions can be invisible 

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.