On the bus ride, all I could think about was last year. My range of emotions had placed me on the precipice of insanity. My legs were sore for days after, and mentally I was taxed beyond belief. However, it had pushed me to be better. Pushed me to run when I wanted to stop and pushed me to trust the process. Sadly, during the past year, I let some of those lessons fall by the wayside. I still run, but not as much or as far as I should. Between life and laziness, I had lost the flame that was ignited at Nike Zoom Camp.
This year, I prepped for the camp by running a few miles to get back into running "shape." My mile time had fallen to more than 8 minutes, 30 seconds, and my personal ego was badly bruised. I wanted to be better; just not bad enough to motivate myself.
After the two-plus-hour bus trip, we finally made it to Zoom Camp. The set-up was beautiful. A small pond surrounded by trees served as a backdrop to our tents that were actually more like luxury teepees. We wouldn't be able to enjoy it much as we were expected to be ready for yoga at 5:30 a.m. Considering it was already past 11 p.m., I took the opportunity to gain a few hours of sleep before the next day's festivities.
Waking to the sounds of birds is a refreshing experience, even when it is 5 a.m. When you're in L.A., you don't often get to renew your relationship with the outdoors unless it involves smog, honking horns and desert dry air. This was different. The air was clean, the grass was green, the dew was fresh and the birds were alive and chirping in the woods. After some light stretching (I'd missed yoga) we were ushered off to Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.
Coach Blue Benadum's job was to make us faster, and he wasn't hesitant to let us know we had to work for it. Jordan McNamara, a mile specialist, ran us through a series of quick exercises to work on everything from building stamina to how to approach getting faster mentally. Left in the hands of Coach Blue, things were turned up a notch as we ran through more drills to put theories into motion. At this point, I am starting to feel it and the burn is starting to creep up into my thighs. It hurts, but I expected it. I wanted to get faster and that wasn't going to happen if I didn't push myself.
In my head, there was no reason to look nice and pretty in all of my Nike Running gear if I wasn't going to actually perform at my best. Yes, I was fresh off ankle surgery, but if I listen to my body I should be fine. I had to get rid of self-doubt and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to allow the chirp of Coach Blue's whistle to mark a moment to be better and not a moment of pain. Armed with a new frame of mind, the turn-arounds started to resonate in a different way. They still hurt and were tough, but they also allowed me to work on my mechanics, breathing and technique.
We were given the Nike Zoom Pegasus 32 to try out. I've had experience in the Pegasus 31, and the 32 didn't feel drastically different than the previous model. Flywire, engineered mesh and Zoom all return for this model, though they have been moved around or readdressed in an effort to make you look and feel faster.
Later, we took to the streets and woods of Eugene and headed to Autzen Stadium for another workout. I may or may not have made a few wrong turns on my way to the stadium, which resulted in me running a little more than I should have. Then came the absoluteworst part of the workout: STAIRS! I have always hated stairs and the next workout wanted us to build up speed by using the stairs. It was a nightmare.
I ran the first set like a champ and things slowly got worse from there. Running up stairs, jumping up stairs, double-stepping stairs, coming down stairs, going back up stairs, it was grueling. At one point, I had to yell at my legs to jump because they were so out of it. They felt like Jell-O and jumping was the last thing they wanted to do. It is a strange feeling when you legs start to shake uncontrollably, but if you want to get faster, you have to fight through it. I couldn't wait for it to be over. It was great for my legs, but it was probably the hardest part of the weekend.
Back at camp, I took quick dip in the ice bath, received a full-body massage and got ready to head back to Hayward Field. Nike wanted us to see what faster looked like and escorted us to the Pre Classic. It is inspiring to see people like Mo Farah run in real life. We often see these distance runners on TV, but there is something special about seeing them perform right in front of your eyes. Galen Rupp, who broke the U.S. record at the Pre-Classic last year, took his talents to the track to show us what world-class athletes look like in motion.
Whether intentional or not, seeing those guys push through pain and pick up the pace when things went down to the wire provided the boost of energy needed to prep for my mile run the next day. I just needed to beat my personal time and watching these guys run just might have been the fuel I needed.
In my tent that night, I had a hard time going to sleep. I was thinking about the next day and what it would take for me to say I accomplished something during this trip. Running a time faster than my current time wasn't really saying much. I had been faster before and my current mile was a result of being out of shape. Would beating my current time be a goal? Yes, absolutely. However, I needed to do more than that to feel like I had made the most of this trip. Settling in to sleep, realized it would take me doing more. It would take me feeling like I had no regrets. That I had given 100 percent.
Back at Hayward Field, it was time to run the mile. No more pep talks, drills or mechanics to practice. As we all lined up, I locked it. It was time to shine. Bang! We were off.
I took the first lap like a champ. Stride was great, pace was great, I was feeling great. About half way through the second, things started to fall apart. The stride slowed down a bit and I wasn't running in proper form. Unfortunately, it took a good hundred meters before I realized this and had time to correct things. The pace was still slow, but the form was right. passing the starting line for the third lap, Coach Blue shouted out my split and it hit like a brick in the face.
The last lap was a full 15 seconds slower than the first. My first instinct was to get down on myself and fight through the rest of it knowing I had already failed, but the encouragement of the coaches and staff on the field took over and allowed me to get out of my own head. For the third lap, I pushed a little harder and came in just above my original time. I was improving. With the confidence of the third lap and the encouragement of the coaches, I pushed even harder for the start of the fourth, which in retrospect wasn't a good idea. I got about 150 past the line and slowed down dramatically. This time I knew it. It was over. I had pushed myself too hard and now I needed to stop.
During the weekend, Coach Blue had mentioned to us that 50 percent of running is mental. As a runner you get into your own head and it often results in you not doing your best because you are talking yourself out of it. You tell yourself to stop, you body doesn't do it. More often than not, your body has the energy and the will to go, but it can only do what you tell it to do. Yes, it may hurt and you are tired as ever, but your body won't stop until you tell it to. You may want to, but you don't have to stop.
As I struggled for the next 50 meters, I questioned whether I should stop. I had pushed to hard to try and do more and now I was paying for it. And then it happened. Coach Blue popped into my head, "It is mental. You may want to stop, but you don't have to." As if that was the push I needed, I started to drive even harder. I focused on fixing my form, picking up the pace, and doing what I said I would to the nigh before, give it 100 percent. Rounding the Bowerman Curve, I was giving it all I had. The sounds of the cowbell at the finish line ringing in the distance became a siren's call I was inextricably drawn to. Seventy-five meters to go. "Push, Jacques, push," is all I was saying. "Go hard, go hard, go hard."
Striding past the finish line, I hear coach blue yell out my time. I had improved my mile time by 30 seconds. I was proud. I had done it. Not only did I beat my time, but I had pushed through it in way in which I can be proud. Yes, I struggled and almost stopped, but more than that, I gave it all I had and did better than I would have expected. It is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. I have a long way to go. I want to be even better. I want to beat the new time by at least another minute and a half, but you have to start somewhere. This weekend was my start.
Thank you to Nike Running and all of the coaches for their help and hospitality. The Nike Zoom Pegasus 32 is available now on Nike.com and at select Nike Running retailers.