Think about all your worst fears in racing. Perhaps it would include things like an upset stomach, missing the race, falling or even being stung by a bee.
I’ve experienced it.
How about hyperventilating so bad during the last mile that your face turns white, your mouth hangs open, your legs feel like they weigh a ton, and you collapse on the finish line?
That was me yesterday at the Deseret News 10K.
Because my hyperventilation issues started in high school and even followed me when I started college, I knew what was happening during the 10K. But an added confirmation came from those lining the parade route, who came out early to claim their spot and cheer for the runners.
The chanting soon turned from, “Way to go, first girl!” to “Ooh, keep going, girl.”
BYU coach Patrick Shane has a similar method. I always knew if I was on or off the goal pace.
“That’s another 80-second lap. You’re right on,” changed to, “Great job, Cecily, just take it one lap at a time.”
Yes, if coach stops giving lap splits, you now it’s going to be one of those races. If he had been there with a mile to go at the Deseret News 10K, he certainly would have seen my ghost-white face and my mouth hanging open in a desperate, but unsuccessful attempt to get more air into my failing lungs, and said something like, “Just take it one block at a time, Cecily.”
The only problem was the blocks suddenly felt like they were miles apart from each other. Downtown Salt Lake City seemed to grow before my eyes, and Utah certainly proved its chops as a desert. The finish line became an unreachable mirage as my legs turned to JELL-O.
Four years ago, coach pulled me into his office after a cross-country race with a similar outcome. He told me he knew what was happening to me. I thought, “Oh, good, just tell me what medicine to take.”
He went on to explain that I was most likely hyperventilating and that all I had to do was learn to control my breathing. His next few lines, something about and “easy fix” and “just wear this bracelet to remind you” were slightly drowned out by me trying to figure out what “control your breathing” actually meant.
I thought back to the times this so-called hyperventilation had occurred. I had always blamed it on something else like being too cold, too hot, having low iron, being unadjusted to altitude, etc.
My junior year of high school at the state meet: I collapsed with 800 meters to go, and woke up in an ambulance. It was the only race I didn’t finish. My 5K at the Robison Invitational my freshman year at BYU where I collapsed on the finish line and woke up in an ice bath.
My first time racing for BYU at a conference championship, I rounded what I thought was the last turn of the race only to learn I actually had 1,000 meters left. In each case and others, my journey to the finish line was accomplished by hobbling, sporting a pale face and wide open mouth.
“You’re telling me to prevent these things I only need to ‘control’ breathing?”
Coach explained it happened because of a moment of panic in the race. Almost being tripped, learning I had more to run than I thought or being passed. It was a mental problem manifesting physically.
He handed me a rubber bracelet. I wore it in the next race. With each upward arm swing, I thought about controlling my breathing. I thought about keeping it even, keeping it smooth and easy. I thought about feeling good, looking strong. I had my best race of the season. That is until the next meet, which was my first trip to a national championship where I had an even better race.
But that was in 2007.
After four years of mostly normal breathing races, I guess I forgot how to pull myself out of hyperventilating. It isn’t easy. And it certainly isn’t pretty. Just ask anyone cheering on the home stretch of the Deseret News 10K.
Besides slightly skinned knees, being carried like a corpse to the medical tent, throwing up twice, receiving an IV, and a lingering head ache, I came away with the win for my debut 10K on the road, and I was certainly happy and excited about that.
More importantly, my husband waited diligently for me at the finish line, and stayed with me as I lay deliriously on a cot. Perhaps my paleness and inability to stand on my own would’ve scared any normal husband.
Luckily, Matt’s been around the track a few times. It seemed a fitting way to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. But next year, I think we’re both hoping for a little less “excitement.” And hopefully a picture that doesn’t involve quite so much skin.
Thank you, Deseret News. It was an excellent Pioneer Day and anniversary celebration.
Cecily Lew is a recent graduate of BYU and a two-time All American in cross country and track. She also won the 2011 Women's Deseret News 10K.