Not to brag, but I can now add “gold and silver medalist” for Team USA to my resume. Long story short, I competed in the 2019 World Regional competition in Toronto last week and won a gold medal in the 8K cross country, and a silver medal in the 10K road race.
Disclosure: I’m actually a rookie when it comes to running, I started running about 6 years ago. I never competed any sport during high school.
In 2015, I started training with the Run Club at Lifetime Fitness, coached by world-ranked and All-American, Tina Klein. Coach Tina helped me improve my running form and endurance which eventually led me to complete the NYC Marathon on November 4, 2018 (26.2 miles). I posted a video about my NYC Marathon experience here.
Fast forward to June 2019, Coach Tina proposes the idea of me competing at the World Regionals in Toronto. I thought she was completely out of her mind. Imposter syndrome hit me like a ton of bricks. My inner monologue told me very clearly, “Caroline, you’re just a marketing geek. You’re not an athlete, and you can’t compete on the world stage.”
But Coach Tina persisted. BTW: She’s former military, a captain in the Army to be more precise. She explained that I met the criteria to compete, and I had a realistic shot at getting myself on the podium (gold, silver, or bronze), if we worked together strategically. This was about one month before the world regionals competition; I would have to listen to my coach, work smart, and work hard in order to pull this off.
Events range from 100 meter, to pentathlon, to 10,000 meters (aka 10K). We looked at the number of people registered and noticed that 5X more people registered for the shorter distances than the longer distances. Since I ran the 26.2 mile NYC Marathon last year, I could definitely cover more ground. It was simply a numbers game. Fewer competitors increased my chances of winning a medal. From the slew of hundreds of individual events, and 1,100 other athletes, we narrowed down my best chances to medal to the 2 longest distance events, the 10K and 8K.
Data Driven Research
I researched each of my competitors, as previous race finish times are frequently posted online. I researched the event, past event records, and all of the rules of USATF and the international meet. When the competitor handbook was released, I read it cover to cover to ensure that I knew the rules inside and out.
In preparation for the competition, I had to prioritize my training, eating, drinking, working, and sleeping with my goal to get on the podium at world regionals in Toronto. I got up at 5 am 5 days a week to train, met with a nutritionist, and cut back on everything else in my life. Since I was competing in 2 events, I also had to prioritize which event was my “goal race,” the race that I would “go all-out” to run my best.
Note: Just to be clear, prior to my decision to compete on the international stage, I was already working out 4-5 times per week, and had competed in the state track meet in June. I was not starting from scratch. The difference was that my workouts were now more intense, and I improved the quality of my food and drink intake.
What did I learn out of this experience?
1. Train hard, run hard, but not too hard. Work Strategically.
My first event was the 10K road race at Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto, Canada. We lined up at the start line, and I saw my 2 Canadian competitors with faster previous race times (than myself). I resolved myself to competing for the bronze medal. The start gun went off, and they both ran way ahead of me. About 1.5 miles into the race (25% of the race), I saw one of my competitors limping in front of me. I had caught up. I ran past her, knowing that at any point she could start running again, and possibly pass me. I had to create enough margin between us to give myself a shot at the silver. Unfortunately, she decided not to complete the race, and was marked with a DNF (Did Not Finish). We as runners are accustomed to running through excruciating pain to achieve our goals, but winning today was not her goal. She was actually training for a bigger goal race, the New York City Marathon, and decided to forfeit this race to stay healthy. As athletes, we train to our peak performance, and there is a careful balance between training and over training.
2. Was I an imposter?
If I’m being completely honest, part of me still feels like an imposter. The “imposter syndrome” sometimes never fully goes away, even with that gold medal around my neck. No athlete wants to win because the competition got hurt, but training smart is more important than training hard.
3. What was the best part?
Meeting the other athletes was absolutely the best part. We met other athletes from the US and Puerto Rico, as well as athletes from Mexico, Canada, and Jamaica. My husband, Paul Dunn, out-ran the Jamaican athlete at the 10K and won the bronze medal.
Thank you to my husband, Paul Dunn, for supporting me in this crazy endeavor. He was literally a “good sport” about all of it. He also competed in the same events, and ran faster than me, and won the bronze medal in the 10K.
Thank you to my Coach Tina Klein for encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone (way out), and for those hard workouts in the Atlanta heat. Coach Tina won a silver medal.
Thank you to my fellow athletes from Team USA, Team Puerto Rico, Team Canada, Team Mexico, and beyond for exemplifying great sportsmanship, win or lose. Thank you to the meet organizers (led by Doug Smith) and volunteers who made this event happen. It is no easy task to coordinate events in 4 different locations around Toronto! It was an honor to meet and compete with so many great athletes from around the world. Thank you to everyone who worked “behind the scenes” to make my trip happen from the hotel staff, pilot, train conductor, and bus driver.