(USA Prep Team - photo by MikeScott)
The very possitive and cheerful Hannah Valenzuela (Sr., Apple Valley) was given the assignment to journal her trip to Spain for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Not only did she capture her favorite moments with words, she also brought back some great photos of her teammates. Enjoy and don't forget to read her introduction!
Well, here I am back from my amazing adventure to Punta Umbria, Spain for the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. I am pleased to inform everyone that I had the time of my life during the week that I spent there!!! (:
Leading up to the trip, I was walking on clouds for making the US Junior Women’s team. I got to be on the same team with some of the nation’s well known, and top runners. Aisling Cuffe, Katie Flood, Molly Grabill, Julie Nacouzi and Sierra Vega (pictured below) were my teammates. They are a group of very talented and sweet girls. It was such an honor for me to be a part of that group. These are girls that I have looked up to for the past four years that I have been in high school.
(From left: Aisling Cuffe, Molly Grabill, Katie Flood, Hannah Valenzuela, Sierra Vega and Julie Nacouzi)
For those of you who don’t know, Aisling Cuffe, from Cornwall Central, New York is the 2010 Footlocker Nationals Champion and 2010 Gatorade Athlete of the Year. She is an absolutely amazing runner, and I really enjoyed getting to know her. Aisling is just about the sweetest girl you could ever meet and I really admire her for how talented and humble she is.
(Hannah and Aisling)
Katie Flood is a top runner at the collegiate level, and attends the University of Washington. She is a lot of fun and I was able to learn quite a bit about what college is like from hearing about some of her experiences.
Molly Grabill and I were roommates, and we immediately hit it off....we are basically like twins because we have so much in common. (: It was neat to become so close with Molly because being that we are the same age and both from California, I really look up to her for what an amazing runner she is. I only wish that I could be as great as she is.
Julie Nacouzi is unlike anyone that I have ever met before. She was always making us laugh and it was definitely exciting getting to run with her after running against her at Footlocker West this past cross season, where she won the race and I got 13th; and also, watching her place third at Footlocker Nationals.
It was really special getting to know Sierra Vega because we are going to be teammates at UCLA next year. GO BRUINS!!(: Unfortunately, she was sick for the duration of the trip, but we still managed to have a great time!
The Junior Women were coached by Kelly Strong, who coaches at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. We couldn’t have asked for a better coach. She was so nice and very encouraging to us all. She always did little things for us that really meant a lot. We all got little goodie bags full of snacks for the plane ride, (the junior men were very jealous :p), colorful notes that she would write to us during the trip and she braided all of our hair on race day.(:
Our trip began together when the entire US team rendezvoused in Chicago where we flew to Madrid, then connected to Seville and took a bus to finally arrive in Punta Umbria! After 24 hours plus hours of traveling, yes, I said 24 hours!!!...we finally stepped onto Spanish land and checked into our beautiful hotel. Completely exhausted, jet-lagged and in desperate need of showers, all we wanted to do was collapse onto our beds and go straight to sleep. However, we decided it might be best to go for a run. The Junior Women’s team grouped up and found some great trails to run on near our hotel. The rest of the day was very low key. We all relaxed and spent time getting to know one another.
I am sure that many of you are wondering what the Spanish cuisine was like! Strangely enough, we didn’t experience any food that you wouldn’t normally find in America. Our hotel had buffet-style eating, and served the same things everyday for our entire trip....(yes, by the last day we were very tired of eating the same things everyday!!) There were a large variety of breads, pasta, pizza, salad, fruits, meat, desserts and FRENCH FRIES!! The only thing they didn’t have was peanut butter. I am a huge fan of peanut butter, so by the end of the week I had quite the craving for that wonderful peanut spread!! It was definitely nice to eat foods that we were already used to eating back at home so we didn’t have to worry about having any issues with it.
Throughout the week, we spent a lot of our time working on strategy and practicing the race course. The course was absolutely beautiful and was similar to the course at Mission Bay Park in San Diego, CA. for the USA Cross Country Championships. It was all on grass, and mostly flat with a few rolling hills. The Junior Women had to run 3 of the 2 kilometer loops to make a total of 6 kilometers. The course had a bit of a Spanish twist to it because each loop consisted of 9 obstacles that we had to jump over. These obstacles were fairly large logs that were positioned with three in a row throughout the course. I am not the most coordinated of people so this was kind of a challenge for me. The more I practiced it, the more comfortable I felt with it though.(:
On our sightseeing day, we got to explore the very historical, La Rabida Monastery in Huelva, Spain. The historical event that has undoubtedly left the greatest mark on the people of Huelva was the discovery of America, as, in 1492 Christopher Columbus undertook the first of his voyages to the New World from there. At the monastery of La Rábida, Friar Juan Pérez and Friar Antonio de Marchena promoted Columbus' plans for his voyage and he stayed there until just before he set off. We got to see a lot of religious architecture and the more exciting part, Christopher Columbus’ ships, The Nina, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria.
About half way through the week, we finally got the courage to talk to the Senior Women!! They all seemed very nice, but it was just a little intimidating to approach them at first because they are so talented and famous, and also my idols!! The conversation actually started over dinner after Shalane Flanagan commented on my painted blue and silver striped nails. Her words exactly, “they look sassy!” That definitely made my night!! Being able to have conversation with Shalane, Lisa Koll, Molly Huddle, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Blake Russell, and Alissa McKaig was such an honor for me! They are all so nice and I look up to them all so much. I hope that I can one day be like them!!(: I am so happy that I had the opportunity to meet them!!!!
(Junior - Senior Women)
With Lisa Koll (left photo, 2nd from left) and Magdelena Boulet (right photo, center)
As it got closer to race day, we spent a lot of our time relaxing at our hotel. Molly and I took ice baths in the unheated pools. Spaniards in speedos is not the most pleasant sight LOL. At one point we did make our way to the beach...it was only like half a mile from our hotel, if that!! We didn’t go on the warmest day, but the water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are much warmer than the Pacific, so that was a very nice surprise.(: Later that night, I assisted Ammar Moussa in shaving his legs! He HAD some of the hairiest legs I had ever seen before!!!...they are much better now! I still think that is part of the reason why he ran so well in his race.(; (Photo below)
Race day finally arrived!! I was extremely nervous, and there was some stress involved because I felt that if I didn’t run well then I would not only be letting myself down but my country too! Doing stride outs next to the barefoot Kenyans was very intimidating, and standing in between the South Africans (also barefoot) and Ethiopians definitely added to the intimidation. As I stood ready in position on the starting line, I was shaking with fear. I then reminded myself of what an honor it was to be there. Representing your country in international competition and competing on foreign soil is the highest honor an athlete can receive!!
The gun fired and the race was on its way!! I zoomed out of the starting line a little faster than what I was planning. I just couldn’t help it!!...I was excited, and the Kenyans were really pushing the pace!..(no surprise there) LOL. My original plan was to start off conservatively and work my way up as the race went on. I always have my best races when I run that way.
Unfortunately, the fast start really messed me up. Whenever I start a race out too fast, the rest of my race is usually ruined. To give you an example of how fast my start was, during practices when I would run my 1 kilometer repeats, I would run them in 3:30...the first 1k of my race (obstacles included), I ran 3:12!! After the first 3 kilometers I already felt spent.. I was racing in the lightest spikes possible, and my feet still managed to feel like a ton of bricks!! It was also very hot and humid...something that I’m not used to at this time of year. The humidity made it harder to breathe and I was drenched with sweat. The little voice was screaming inside my head to slow down, but I didn’t want to let my teammates or my country down. I didn’t give up, I kept giving all I had and I gave that race absolutely everything I had inside myself. It may not have been one of my best or smartest races, but I ran as hard as I could and I didn’t give up.
I was really emotional after my race because I had come all the way to Spain and I felt I ran a terrible race!! My amazing coach, Michael Dunne was waiting at the finish line for me to try and make me feel better. He reminded me that it was a huge accomplishment just making the team and that he was very proud of me. I am really happy that we were able to share the experience together; especially after he was there in San Diego cheering me on as I earned that last qualifying spot to be on the US Junior Women’s team!
Although I didn’t do as well as I wanted, the trip and race itself was an overall amazing and humbling experience!! I am extremely proud of my teammates!! Aisling came in 17th place, Katie came in 19th, Molly was 28th and Julie was 80th. Unfortunately Sierra did not finish because of her illness, but she did the best that she could. Our Junior Women’s team ended up in 7th place!! GO USA!!(: I am so proud of all of the girls!
So to all you readers, that basically sums up my trip!! Sorry it is so long!...I just wanted to include everything that I possibly could. If I could have, I would have written even more.(; Punta Umbria was absolutely amazing, and I enjoyed every millisecond of my time spent there!! I will always treasure my memories of being on the Junior Women’s team and competing at the World Cross Country Championships!!