When you fall down, you get back up…
How you handle yourself in the face of adversity really defines you an individual, and this is true both on and off the course/track. So this small snippet of advice: when you fall down, get back up really has some truth to it. I have run a few steeplechase races in my day, and this thought is always at the forefront of my mind. The steeplechase barriers are 30″ high, while I am 63″ high. At nearly half of my height, you might see why overcoming adversity is at the forefront of my mind every race… makes for a thrilling 10 minutes! Rather comically, I have fallen down only ONCE during a race (track or xc) and it was during a 5k…. tons of barriers to trip on in those races *eye roll*… classic Grayson move. But not was it just any 5k, it was the NCAA Division 1 National Indoor Championships 5k. So lucky for you, I lived through your (and my own) worst nightmare to tell the tale, so now you don’t have to!
Making it to the NCAA Indoor National Championships in 2017 is one of my favorite race experiences thus far. Up until our conference meet, I had not broken 16:00 minutes in the 5k yet. In fact, I was pretty far from breaking that barrier. With a 2 week old PR of 16:16, I did not by any means consider myself the caliber runner of an NCAA Indoor Nationals Qualifier. So at our conference meet, which is basically the last meet in the country for NCAA qualifying times to be considered, my race plan was what it always is. I told myself what I always tell myself:
Just go try your best. Put it all out there. Whatever happens, you still mean something.
So when I crossed the finish line in 15:53, a new 23 second PR and a time good enough to get me into the National meet, I was ecstatic! Well first I was really tired, then upon realizing what monster I had just created, I was happy and a bit shocked (photos below for illustrative examples).
I had done it! I had qualified for the hardest NCAA Championship to attend in the entire country (only 1% of indoor track athletes get to go, or something crazy like that). On the day of the championships I was feeling very confident in myself, still riding the momentum that I had had from 2 weeks prior. I got to the starting line, looked up and smiled at my coach, and was ready to rip it. The race started out great, despite me being number 16 in the line-up, putting me at the highest place on the bank at the start line. Oh yeah… did I mention this was my first time on a banked track? Yeah, I would probably advise you to run on one before lining up for the National Championships, but I don’t seem to be one for orthodox ways of doing things. Turns out, banked tracks are pretty hard to run on. After some pushing and shoving I managed to find myself in the top 5, right where I wanted to be. But then BAM! — at around 1k into the race I found myself flying face first toward the girls in front of me, the rest of the field hurdled over the top of me, and I rolled off the bank onto the infield where I found myself in shock and disbelief. “Is this really, actually, truly happening to me right now?!” “Am I really lying face first on the ground, at the National championships?!” Answer: Yes’s all around mate!
But I did what I had to do. I had fallen, so I got back up. I got back into the race, and I raced my little heart out. I found out some cool affects of an adrenaline rush as well, turns out you can get lactic acid poisoning (think worst-hangover-ever type feeling). It took about a week for my body to recover from that, and now I can really say I know what it means to “redline” (see photo below for evidence of me redlining after I had blacked out mid-race). Even though I had fallen down at the National Championships, the biggest race of my season, I knew that I was going to finish that race. I had worked so hard and come so far to get to that starting line. I was NOT going to let one clumsy mistake take away my race from me. Had I not finished, I would not have been awarded 2nd team All-American honors, and I wouldn’t know that I am capable of pushing my body to the absolute limits.
I learned, in the hardest way possible that getting back up after you fall down is not only a good thing but it is necessary. It is your duty and responsibility to yourself. You have made it to the point that you are at, you have put work in to get there, and even when things don’t go exactly your way, you owe it to yourself to finish what you have started. I could have stayed on the ground, lying there, and let my competitors run circles around me. But I have integrity, and I was not going to let down my teammates, coaches, family, and friends who all supported me. And I was certainly not going to let down myself. So when you find yourself falling down (hopefully not at the National Champs, remember I already lived through that nightmare for you) get back up. Don’t expect getting back up to be easy, it was really hard. It hurt a lot. I felt like I had been mentally and physically tossed around by HULK himself for about a week. But it was worth it. I am a lot stronger now because of it, I know I can handle adversity, and it gives me confidence. If I can fall down at the most important meet of my indoor season but get back up and keep going, I can handle anything right?
So the next time you fall down, no matter how hard, painful, humiliating, or embarrassing it may be; get back up. It may sting for a couple days, weeks, or months. Your pride may be hurt. You may feel like the biggest idiot on the planet. But once you get over it, and realize what you have overcome, you will feel like your mind has climbed the metaphorical Mt. Everest that is life’s struggles.
Cheers to falling down!