By Will Geiken
I went to my first track and field national championships in June of 1993. What makes that random statistic somewhat interesting is that I was born in May of 1993. Only a few weeks into life and my indoctrination by the Aggies was already well under way. Questionable parenting aside, it was also the first of many trips I've taken to watch some of the best athletes in the US compete.
Fast-forwarding a bit, the first national championships that I remember attending were the 2008 Olympic trials. Many thanks to my dad and the entire Aggie crew for welcoming me and showing me how enjoyable watching track can be. As those who were there can attest, it was a fantastic meet that had more than enough drama to enthrall a young track fan. By the end of the ten day spectacle, and I don't think I'm romanticizing the memory when I say this, I knew that I wanted to take part in the action on the other side of the railing at some point in my life. I also knew that, even if I ran a lot, it might never be a reality.
In the years since, I've had the privilege of attending several more national championships, and each one has increased my desire to qualify. Of course, the meets are also incredibly fun to be at, and I have many great memories with my dad and others that center around those trips.
Then, last year, my running took a dramatic step forward. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I was a part of the conversation for those last few spots at Nationals. While I didn't end up qualifying, what had been a distant dream was now a tangible possibility.
Starting this track season, I knew that I might be able to get in with my 10k time from the previous season, but I also knew that there were no guarantees. I still had to race well, and my early season times were far from confidence inspiring. By the time I got to June, I wasn't sure if I was ready to run anything close to my PR, let alone fast enough to feel like I would belong at Nationals. I went into my race at Portland knowing only that it was going to hurt. In my mind, if I ran anything close to my PR, it would be a good day. Some days though, we have it, and at Portland my lack of expectations led to my best track race of the spring. Not only did the race go well from a mental standpoint, I even eked out a one second PR. Now, 25 laps is a long way to go for a one second PR, but, as a friend said when I told him that I had PR'd but by just a second, "we take those!"
After that weekend there were four Aggies with times that put us in the conversation for Nationals. There was also one with an auto-qualifying time which, as we learned, is the way to go as far as minimizing anxiety. As an aside, props to Derek for a fantastic spring. Meanwhile though, Phil, Sean, Raj, and I entered our times with the USATF and waited to see who else wanted to run in Iowa. And we kept waiting. For almost a week after the entry deadline we watched as our times, despite being in the top 24, registered as "not qualified" and "not accepted." I won't speak for Phil, Sean, or Raj, but I haven't been that anxious since Christmas Eve 1998. Finally, the Monday just three days before the meet began, we were all notified that our entries had been accepted. 25 years after my first trip to the meet, I was going to run on the other side of the railing. A little poetic, right?
In this case though, my excitement probably worked against me. The race itself played out as anticipated with a moderate first half followed by surges and some aggressive racing at the front. I tried to be ready for it, but when the time came to latch on, I ended up falling behind. I think it's fair to say that I was too happy to be there, and, during the last eight laps of the race, I didn't have the necessary masochistic mindset to compete for every last spot. It hurts a little to say it, but, if I'm honest, I don't think I took full advantage of the privilege of getting to race at Nationals. I left the stadium that night with what I've learned to call "10k tummy" and some mixed feelings to match. Of course, it's hard to spend too much time mulling things over when you're at a track meet with Aggies, and we managed to have a pretty good time for the rest of the trip. Shout out to Joe, Sean, Phil, Derek, and Raj for making the weekend a lifelong memory. As special as it was for me to get to compete at Nationals, it was made even more so by getting to go with teammates and our coach. I certainly learned a lot from the experience, and I intend to be back in Des Moines next summer for a little redemption.
I'm starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but I can't thank my family, friends, teammates, and coach enough for all the support they've given me this season. It's a special thing to feel so much love, and I'm incredibly grateful for it.