It’s not often you’ll find me in front of a television, but this weekend I caught a few minutes of the Penn Relays. I was in for a treat. As a high school runner, I enjoy a good track meet and I immediately bond with a team or athlete, wringing my hands and/or cheering until a given event is over.
I tuned in just in time for the Women’s Sprint Medley Relay. For the uninitiated, each member of a relay team runs a specified distance, then passes the baton to the next member, who does the same. Sometimes all members of a relay run the same distance as in this brilliant world record win by the USA Women’s Olympic Team:
But for a medley, the legs vary, and you must employ different strategies depending on your distance. This particular race featured two 200s, a 400-meter and then the 800-meter anchor leg.
By the time Ajeé Wilson received the baton, she had a serious job to do. The final runner, she had 800 meters to run, and she was behind the leader by a good 15-20 meters.
You have to pace yourself on the 800. It’s two full laps around the track. If you start too fast, you’ll be completely out of gas by the final 200 meters. And if you go too slowly, hoping to keep some kick until the end, you’ll get too far behind to catch up. You’ve got to determine your pace and run your race.
I’d never seen Ajeé run so I didn’t know how it would go. She grabbed the baton and dashed off, then locked into a steady pace. I noted how comfortable she looked, as though that were her normal, speedy, yet measured stride. The problem was, she wasn’t making up any distance.
I was tense. This was my team and I wanted us to win! Was she going to dig a little and pick up the pace, or maintain this speed and distance and possibly never catch up?
Me, mesmerized. She, calm, composed, maintaining her stride, looking almost relaxed. “She looks really comfortable,” I repeated twice more. But I had no idea if I was glad of that or not.
That is until the back turn.
Suddenly there she was, kicking on the final stretch. She closed the gap, walked down the front runner, and went on to win the race for her team. It was truly a magnificent run. There were lessons in its brilliance:
- Don’t give up. There were time and distance left on the clock, and she didn’t sell herself short. Ajeé remained calm and composed. She ran through until the very end.
- Be undeterred. After the second 200, the team was behind, and although they made up a little ground during the 400, it looked bleak. Regardless of the circumstances, Ajeé knew her pace and ran it. I can only assume she experienced a fair amount of physical and mental stress, but she kept focus and heart, and excelled.
I’m proud of the team and inspired by Ajeé’s talent and confidence under pressure. May we all be so graceful during life’s daily races.