Olympic Goals & Dreams

This past Summer, two breakout runners from the Boulder-based, Zensah & Brooks supported Roots Running Project competed for their first time in the US Olympic Track & Field Trials. Alia Gray & Noah Droddy’s advice & inspiration was something we wanted to share with all aspiring runners.

“Put yourself in the company of good people, whether that be training partners, coaches, or sponsors. You may be the one on the start line, but it will take a village to get you there.”

– Noah Droddy

 

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We asked, they answered:

  • Have you ever run for a larger crowd?
  • Did the big stage inspire you to run faster or shell-shock you?
  • Are you already thinking about 2020?
  • (Alia) How do you deal with an injury flaring up so close to race day?
  • If you could do the race over again, what would you do differently?
  • What advice would you give any aspiring professional runners?

Alia:

I’d say the 2016 Olympic Track Trials definitely hosted the biggest crowd within any stadium that I have performed in. It was electric. Though there were more people there than I had performed in front of before, I felt like I had nerves relatively under control. I think that I’ve been able to put on some tunnel vision in this sense when it comes to competition. Also, I competed at Hayward Field for the first time last year, for the 2015 USA Track Championships, when we were selecting teams for the Worlds competition – this was my first taste of what the Historic Hayward Field feels like in a high-stakes race. So, maybe I got some of the jitters out the year before as well.

In the way of pre-race nerves, oftentimes it’s the caliber of the other women that I’m toeing the line with when I feel nervousness set in. But, I’ve seen many of these women throughout the years on the roads or track, so I felt like I was able to come into the competition with a reasonably level head. With any of the big competitions, I try to normalize things to a certain extent. It’s another day in the office. Another day to go to work. After I’ve established that inner-dialogue, I try to take in a little bit of the excitement and soak in the moment, especially once the gun goes off. It’s amazing to pull from crowd energy once the race is underway; the most difficult part of these bigger races for me usually comes in the moments before the start. Once I can get off of the line in motion, I have a plan to execute and a place to channel any extra energy that I may be getting from the crowd.

Hmm…am I already thinking about 2020? Well, my fiancee and I already downloaded an app to learn Japanese, so yes. Ha! Tokyo is already very much on my mind. I didn’t want to count myself of out the mix to potentially make a team this time around, but I know that by 2020, I’ll be in more of my sweet-spot age and experience-wise. In this post-trials period, where my personal “Olympic year” has come to a close (other than cheering hard for team USA in Rio), my focus is on constructing a plan with my coaches that will help me take big strides toward being a bigger, more commanding contender going into the next Olympic cycle.

I had kind of a “freak” injury in the days leading into my 10k race that Saturday. Following my Wednesday tune-up workout, my cuboid bone in my right foot dislocated, causing a ton of pain. When something like this crops up, it shifts perspective quickly. It’s difficult to not turn all eyes on the injury, but you just do what you can with the time and resources that you have. I’m fortunate that my fiancee and coach of Roots Running, Richey Hansen is a sport chiropractor, so he was able to adjust the bone back into place pretty quickly. Still, it wasn’t enough time to let the foot calm down to race a hard 10k on it. I wasn’t able to finish my race due to pain, but

Oh man, in any other race I would probably have some better take-aways to “do differently” next time. Unfortunately, this time around, when foot pain set in, my decision making turned from racing tactics to my eventual stepping off the track to officially take myself out of the race. I guess the only thing in the early stages of the race that I wish I had done a little better job with was staying relaxed; this is something that the majority of the field struggled with well through the first mile, I think. Usually within a 10k race, things settle in pretty quickly and you’re able to run with a fairly comfortable amount of space. In this particular race though, we had a huge front pack for quite a bit with a lot of really capable women, all jostling each other for too many laps (myself included). When the stakes are as high as an Olympic Team selection, I understand the increased tension, but it’s always good to try to stay free of the drama and make more methodical moves.

To any aspiring professional runners, my biggest piece of advice is this: fall in love with the grind. Find immense satisfaction in getting the best of yourself, whatever that may be on a particular day, week, month, year…you get the picture. I started with very modest marks and don’t feel nearly done yet. I don’t know that high school or even college “Alia” would have seen herself running the times that I am today, though in the moment now I’m not as surprised. I’ve really enjoyed the process of getting better – not necessarily knowing exactly where it would take me, but seeing progress has proved to be an incredible reward to myself and as close to controlling your own destiny as it gets. Heartbreak and failure are a natural part of this pursuit, but if you’re genuinely in love with the process, you’ll be able to recover from the “lows” of the sport and find solace in your ability to do the best with whatever you have in your control.

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Noah:

– The Olympic Track Trials were an electric experience. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans packed the bleachers of Hayward Field at the University of Oregon to cheer on Olympic hopefuls for those ten days in July. I have run in front of large crowds before, but if you factor in the televised coverage, this was by far my biggest stage. There’s certainly a period of shell shock, I tried to spend some time in the stadium and get used to the feel – but as you are led out of the holding area single file and paraded into the stadium before the race, it takes experience not to be a little intimidated.

– 2020 is definitely on my mind, runners live in a world largely governed by the four year Olympic cycle (for better or worse) and we’re all keen to take our shot at the biggest start line. That said, there are many goals to chase in the interim. Running fast and getting better across various race distances and surfaces is always the goal – hopefully that sets us up well to compete in 2020.

– I learned a lot from my Trials experience. I learned the importance of poise and patience on a big stage. That knowledge may even serve me better in the future than a more successful race would have. At the bottom of everything, I was disappointed in my performance on that day but inspired by the process and excited to continue the trajectory we have established within the Roots Running Project.

– My advice to aspiring professionals is to run for the right reasons. There is little fame in our sport, and almost no money. The life can be a struggle, but there’s beauty in the struggle. I chose to pursue running as a “professional” because it brings me personal fulfillment. Running gives me the opportunity to explore my outer limits, I haven’t found many other ways of doing that. Second piece of advice is to put yourself in the company of good people, whether that be training partners, coaches, or sponsors. You may be the one on the start line, but it will take a village to get you there.

Keep up with Alia Gray @aliagray,  Noah Droddy @noah_droddy, and the @roots_running