Earlier this month, I went to Eugene, Oregon, with my dad and my 13-year-old son, Connor, where we spent four days watching the NCAA Track and Field Championships. As track enthusiasts (that may be a mild term, considering my son’s OBSESSION with pole vault, my dad being a track coach and having been to the NCAA Championships for nearly 20 straight years, and myself being willing to take babies, toddlers, and young children to our state track and field championships year after year, rain or shine), this was the perfect vacation!
Eugene is also known as Track Town, USA. Hayward Field plays host to many of the most prestigious track meets each year, and the town itself has a great history of track and field. Steve Prefontaine, the legendary distance runner from the late 1960s and early 70s, ran for Oregon. He and his coach, Bill Hayward, were instrumental in advancing running as a recreational sport, as well as developing innovative running gear, particularly running shoes, teaming up with the company that would eventually be called Nike. The people in Eugene are true track fans, something you don’t find in any city. They come out in droves to not only cheer on their Ducks, but all the competitors. Eugene also has an abundance of running trails that are well-kept, well-used, and beautiful! To put it mildly, Eugene is a track fan’s paradise.
Although my dad has been to Eugene many times, this was the first visit for both me and Connor. Despite the 11-hour drive each way, Crater Lake park being closed after going out of our way to see it, some cold, rainy weather, and an incident with a faulty bike lock (what a pain to get someone to come cut it!), our trip to Eugene was everything we had hoped for and more!
First of all, the meet doesn’t start until the afternoon each day, which gave me plenty of time to still do all my training runs in the mornings. Running the trails was a great way to see some of Eugene, and one trail in particular made running an exciting part of the trip. Pre’s Trail, developed by Prefontaine, is about a 6-mile trail that is the softest surface I’ve ever run on. It is a dirt trail covered with wood chips, and with their rainy conditions, the ground was incredibly soft and squishy. It was like running on clouds! Well, almost. Considering the running surface, the low elevation, being star-struck sharing the trail with elite college athletes, and the fact that this was Pre’s Trail (PRE’S TRAIL!), this was one of my most memorable runs. I felt like I could run forever! Running in Eugene was almost romantic, and being able to train there for a few days just enhanced my love for the sport.
Another fun aspect of the trip was riding our bikes all over the place. In my adult years, I have done very little bike riding. I am now cycling twice a week as part of my marathon training, but until this summer, I can probably count on one hand how many times I have ridden a bike in the past ten years. But in Eugene, there is very little parking close to the track. We could have ridden a shuttle from the football stadium, but where’s the adventure in that!? My dad’s solution was to bring our bikes and ride to and from the stadium each day. Although I was a little nervous, and definitely very cautious, especially compared to Connor, I enjoyed the cycling and gained a little confidence as the days went on. Riding bikes was invigorating, and made me feel like a kid, although I’m not sure if that is because bike riding makes you feel that way, or just because I’ve done very little of it as an adult. But either way, riding the bikes was awesome and I’m glad my dad taught us the best way to get to the stadium.
Although this was my first time to Eugene, it was not my first time at the NCAA Track Championships. I went with my dad and husband nine years ago, and again five years ago, with my dad and a sister. And every time I have gone, it has been an emotional experience for me, similar to watching the Olympics. Now, I know that watching the Olympics isn’t an emotional experience for everybody, but I bawl like a baby every time! I’ve never known why, and never really bothered to try to figure it out. But now that I understand emotions a little better, and the thought/emotion connection, I understand why I cry. And so, as I watched and cried this year, I paid attention to the thoughts I was having, the thoughts that were creating such intense emotions inside me.
I saw an athlete run the fastest time in the world this year in the 100m, and I cried a little. I saw two teammates in the 800m, just 200 meters from the finish, tangle up feet. One went down and finished last while the other became a champion. I cried. I saw a favorite relay team drop the baton. I saw people fall on the hurdles, a steeplechaser fall on the water barrier, and a pole vaulter get carried off on a stretcher. I saw a runner cross the line in 2nd place in the 10k, and you might have thought he was the champion by his expression of shock and joy. I saw champions defend their titles. I saw underdogs have the best performances of their lives. There were spectators all around us cheering on their family members. Some performed their very best, and others did not. And through it all, I cried.
At all kinds of sporting events, I find myself saying two contrasting statements: “Sports are the best!” and “Sports are the worst!” This week in Eugene was no different. Athletes work for weeks, months, and at this level, years, chasing dreams. And we tend to think that that dream culminates in a moment. One game, one tournament, one meet, or one race. And those kinds of thoughts are part of my emotional response. As I witness athletes fulfill their dreams, when I see all their hard work pay off in just the way they had hoped, I think of what it must feel like to achieve your greatest goal. And as I do, the emotion is overwhelming and spills out my eyes. And on the flip side, as I see athletes who have paid the same price, who have the same big dreams and goals, and their dreams slip away from them in a moment, I think of the disappointment they must be feeling, and I can’t help but shed some tears for them.
But there is something more. I realized there is some other thinking going on as well. Because although it seems that the joy of victory and the agony of defeat are polar opposites, the welling up of emotions I feel as I witness these two contrasting outcomes feel very similar. And so as I tried to truly define what I was feeling, I realized that it was pride. I’m not talking about the type of pride that is concerned with being more or less than another. Rather, I felt proud of them. Proud of them for setting big goals. Proud of them for facing their fears and putting themselves out there. Proud of them for not quitting along the way, when the challenges arose. Proud of them for getting this far, a goal thousands of others continue to only dream of. And proud of them for giving their all on that day, regardless of the outcome.
While I am not an elite athlete, I still have goals. Most of us do. But as we chase those goals, I think it is important to remember one of my favorite quotes. Ernest Hemingway said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” The end result does not define the athletes I watched in Eugene. Nor does it define any of us. It is the journey, and how we travel it, that ultimately will make us who we are.
Set big goals. Face your fears. Put yourself out there. Don’t quit along the way, although challenges will arise. Recognize how far you have come. Give it your all, regardless of the outcome. Be proud of yourself. And above all, enjoy your journey. Because “it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Love your body, and your body will love you. ♥