I had the pleasure of accompanying Pacers Running//GRC-New Balance superstar Emily de La Bruyere to the USATF Outdoor Track Championships in Sacramento last weekend, where Emily competed in the 3000 meter steeplechase. It was a major accomplishment for Pacers//GRC to have an athlete qualify for nationals, and Emily represented the team with great distinction, finishing 19th in the elite field.
Success as a distance runner does not happen by accident, but there was an element of good fortune at work in Emily’s case. Despite the fact that she was an excellent steepler during her collegiate career at Princeton, Emily intended to focus on the 5000 meters this year because she had no access to hurdles, let alone actual steeple barriers or a water jump. Emily was doing graduate work in Paris this spring, and accepted an invitation to run what she thought was a flat 3000 at an international meet in Belgium. A few days before the race Emily discovered that the 3000 was actually a steeplechase, and we were both wary of her racing a high-level steeple with literally no hurdle practice whatsoever. She felt that competing in the meet that it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up, and she decided to give it a go. Her time of 10:02 was not only a big PR, it was also fast enough to qualify her for nationals. With the experience Emily gained running in her first nationals, and with even a few sessions of hurdle work under her belt in the weeks before the meet next year, Emily will be prepared to make some major noise at nationals in 2018.
The USATF meet served as the trials for the World Championships, which will be held in London in August, and the top 3 finishers in each event were named to the US team for worlds. After Emily finished competing, I was able to watch the meet as a spectator, and despite the oppressive heat in Sacramento, it was a wonderful experience to see the best athletes in the country competing with so much at stake. There is no margin for error in selection meets because (with rare exceptions) even defending Olympic champions and world record holders must finish in the top 3, or they are excluded from the US team. As a life-long track fan, it was thrilling to witness such an intense competition.
Many dedicated runners are not track fans, and as much as I love the sport, I can understand why. Track has done a poor (some would say terrible) job at marketing itself to the running community, and track meets can be long, drawn out affairs with only intermittent action. But track on the highest level makes for compelling viewing. The sheer athleticism of the best runners, jumpers, and throwers in the world is undeniable, and if you watch the World Championships this summer, you’ll see what I mean. Give the sport a chance to prove itself to you, and you just may find that you enjoy it.