Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Storm known as the Olympic Trials


If I had to pick one word to describe my Olympic Trials experience I would say overwhelming.  I’ve competed in front of that many people before, but never with the possibility of an Olympic Birth, the pinnacle of our sport, on the line.  I can honestly say I’ve never felt so much love standing in front of 22k+ people each day.  I didn’t even get a big cheer during announcements, but I knew there were thousands of people worldwide that had their eyes on #TeamBrandon.  I’ve had some brief moments of success over the last 2 years that have brought moderate amounts of exposure and media attention, but just mentioning the word Olympics gets people excited.  Telling random people that don't know anything about the sport that I was training for the Olympic Trials this summer immediately got their attention. Because of the lack of publicity our sport receives, most people don't understand how hard it is to make the Team. 30 people in my event qualified for the Trials, 27 went home with different levels of disappointment. As we saw one race after another at the Trials, even the heavy favorites that on paper look like sure beats, don't make it. This is why I always hesitate to answer "yes" when people ask that question. I was training for a chance to represent my country at the Olympics, everyone in that field had a chance, some a lot more than others, but statistically everyone had a chance.


With it being an Olympic year people care more about the Trials. I have had numerous big races and big results over the past 1.5 years, but non of them at all have gained as much interest as when I was officially in the Olympic Trials. It's not to say that people haven't paid attention to my moderate amount of success, but because that moderate amount of success lead to me being able to use the words "Olympic" Trials, people took more notice. Just a quick glance of my social media profiles and one will quickly notice the sharp contrast in followers and reactions leading into the Trials. I don't fault people for this, it's just an unfortunate circumstance of our sport. Leading into the Trials I got hundreds of texts, calls, emails, and social media messages of well wishes headed into the Trials.  If I had been a big name super star heading into the Super Bowl or World Series, I'd have been accustomed to this, but being a distance runner who rarely receives much media attention, it was shocking, but not unsuspected. It was humbling at the least to see the impact myself and my family has made. If you are one of the people that sent something during that time and I haven’t gotten back to you, I promise I am going to find time to respond to each and everyone of you personally.  All of you have given me purpose beyond my wildest expectations this year, and each one of you has earned a response with your out pouring of love.  

When I partnered with the Vasculitis Foundation this year and we created #TeamBrandon as part of the Victory Over Vasculitis Campaign, I had no idea it would grow so quickly.  Though my Olympic Dream will have to last another 4 years now, we still have a long way to go to raise Vasculitis Awareness and the millions that suffer each and every year.  I told Ed and Joyce when we started this campaign that if we could just inspire a few people that I would consider the campaign a success.  Well if the messages I have gotten over the last few months are any indication of the number of people we have reached, we surpassed that number by a landslide.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart from everyone who has become invested in #TeamBrandon and my journey for Olympic Glory.

Qualifying for the Olympic Trials has been a goal of mine since I was in high school.  I dreamed of making Olympic Teams and wearing the USA singlet in the Olympic Games.  Well life happens and dreams get murky.  As many of you now know, I watched the last 2 Olympic Trials in 2008 and 2012 from the comfort of my living room.  In 2008 I was hell bent on one day getting back to that level.  In 2012 I didn’t know if it would ever be possible.  I was tired of training and trying to get ready to qualify, only to have my health with my Vasculitis flare up and me not get the chance.  So to walk out on the starting line for the 1st round of the Olympic Trials, at the Holy Grail of track and field Hayward Field, was overwhelming to say the least.  

Hayward Field in all it's glory 
Hayward Field and the University of Oregon are the track and field equivalent of University of Alabama and Paul Bryant.  Bill Bowerman coached there, and later helped found Nike Running, Steve Prefontaine ran their and captured the nation’s heart while chasing Olympic Glory.  The list just starts there and runs to present day.  They are the only place in the country that can continuously put butts in seats for track and field.  Eugene, Oregon may be the only place in the USA where you can tell a casual person that you are a professional track and field athlete and they understand what that means.  The fans and spectators know when to clap, when to yell, they understand race tactics, they have favorites and enemies.  I’ve seen them boo athletes and boo races when they turn into jog fest.  They are knowledgeable and paid to see good races.  Everywhere you go in town there are relics of track and field legends.  Restaurants have dishes named after famed Oregon stars, pictures adorn the walls of legends eating in the restaurant.  It’s the only place in America where a track and field athlete can feel like celebrity.
"No pre-race nerves here"
 Even Brandon Hudgins who was ranked 16th in the 1500m was recognized numerous times out eating and running on the trails.  You contrast this environment with my pre trials tune up race at Princeton University, where there was a handful of fans in the stadium and the athletes outnumbered the fans probably 3 to 1.  Hayward Field seems like the Super Bowl even at a non Olympic Trials meet.  So even if I had stepped onto the starting line on July 7th as a novice without my painful journey to the line, it could be a bit nerve racking.


I was naive enough to think going in that I was going to be able to keep my nerves in check.  But boy was I wrong.  It’s not the most nervous I have ever been (that title still belongs to my first race back from my first bout with my GPA back in 2010, where I nearly threw up on the starting line I was so nervous), but I hadn’t been that nervous in years.  It’s not that I was at
My "Oh Shit moment"
Hayward Field, it’s not that there was 22k people in attendance, it’s not that it was the Olympic Trials, it’s not what all I had been through to get to the starting line, it was all of it, wrapped into a nice little nervous ball in my
chest.  Normally the nerves go away as soon as the gun goes off, but I didn’t get lost in the collective of the race until after about 400m.  In fact, I had a thought after passing the finish line on the first lap as I glanced up at the jumbotron video board and around at the stands,


“Oh shit, I’m racing at Hayward Field in the Olympic Trials right now, and it’s not a dream.”  Of course with the falls and pushing and shoving in my 1st round race, my stray mind quickly turned to the task at hand, getting to the finish line on my feet and in the top 6.  As many you have seen now from the race footage, several collisions happened during my 1st round race that resulted in falls and me not getting an automatic
qualifying spot for the semi final.  Luckily enough our heat went fast enough for me to nab a time qualifying spot for the semi final without filing a protest (something that plagued the distance races).  
Carnage on the track

The 2nd round turned out to be a race much more like I thought would happen.  The pace was slow from the gun and no one was interested in leading in the rain and letting others draft off them.  I thought I had worked myself into a good position with 600m to go to get ready for a big last 400m.  The move came a little earlier than expected as we rounded the home stretch turn with 500m to go.  In a lot of races I have run in the past few years, when people make moves that hard that quick, they generally start to fade over the last 200-300 meters of the race and I can pick them off one by one.  Well that simply wasn’t the case.  I made the decision to not follow the lead and I paid for it.  All of the guys in the field were capable of a sub 55 second last 400m and accelerating into that from 500m shouldn’t have been a surprise.  
It was hard for me to admit it right after the race, but experience got me on that day.  I thought I could out smart people, but in reality I needed to not think and just race.  It was disappointing getting knocked out earlier than expected.  My goal was to come to the Trials and finish in the Top 10.  I knew it would take a perfect race on the perfect day for me to get one of those Top 3 positions that are going to Rio, but those things happen.  So not being in the final was a big blow.  My body was ready.  There is nothing that I would change in training or racing in retrospect, so the only person I have to blame is myself and my decisions.  It’s something to learn from going forward.  Something that will serve me well in races over the remainder of the season and at National Championships and Olympic Trials in the future.  I may be 29 years old, but my professional running career is probably only 1.5 years old, so I really have the experience of a 24 year old.  So with that math I’ll be 28 at the next Olympic Trials and in the prime of my career.  

Since I was done racing with 2 days of the Trials left, I actually got to spectate at the event. I saw 2 high school kids get 4th and 5th in the 200m, the ageless wonder Benard Lagat make his 5th Olympic Team (that's right, I said 5), wonder how I would've done in the 1500m final with a fast pace, and watch Brenda Martinez make the 1500m team after falling in the 800m final and missing on berth in her strongest event. In fact, that race was probably the highlight of the meet for me. Seeing Brenda in her 6th race in 9 days fight for the last spot on the Olympic Team was a true tear jerker. I don't even know why. There is stories of triumph and tragedy in every race. I just could see the fight in her as a person and athlete. To watch an athlete with everything on the line, get every
1500m from my seat in the stands
ounce of energy out of her body, was truly inspiring. Luckily the sun was out for a bit and I had sunglasses on, because my eyes were filled with tears. Probably because on some weird level I thought that I would have tears for my story that day. Tears for my story came later that day at a much more unexpected time. After I dropped my coach, James Snyder, off at the Portland airport Sunday night, I drove away and just started crying. For me that was my moment when it all came real. The experience was now behind me and it was time to move on. All those years on the roller coaster of comebacks, celebration, anxiety, training, running, and suffering to get to that point and it was over, and not to be found for another 4 years. Gone faster than I could truly take it all in, but so is the way of life. While I was there I thought I would be able to enjoy it all, but it was hard for me to when I was there to accomplish my goals on the track. In retrospect maybe that was a bad thing, maybe it was a good thing. I'll never know. But it was the right decision at the time and I am happy to live with that decision.


I am not done this racing this year, and I’m not going to be done anytime soon.  I’ll race as long as these legs will allow me.  I still have things I want to accomplish in the
sport and off the track.  So my legs better hold up for at least 4 more years.  Cause I don’t have time for them not to!  Below you will find my tentative race schedule for the remainder of the season. If I haven't gotten to your area of the country yet, maybe there is a race in your area soon.

I’d like to also take the time to thank everyone that contributed to #TeamBrandon’s success this year.  Whether we shared miles, races, words of encouragement, laughs, tears, wisdom, nonsense, etc… you should all be proud that we made it!  I’d also can’t thank everyone enough that helped my Family make the trip.  In the midst of all the chaos of the week of the Olympic Trials, it was amazing to have my family there with me.  I’d wouldn’t have been the same without them there.  They have all seen me at my worst, so I am truly grateful that they got to see me compete.  Without my family I am nothing.  So from the bottom of my heart I thank each and everyone of you that donated or helped make the trip west possible.  

We aren't done yet!
BHudg

2016 Race Schedule


7/23/16 - Beat the Heat 5k / NC USATF 5k Championship - Kernersville, NC

8/5/16 - Sir Walter Miler - Raleigh, NC
8/11/16 - Service Now West Chester Mile - West Chester, PA
8/20/16 - Falmouth Mile - Falmouth, MA
9/11/16 - Grandma's Minnesota Mile - Duluth, MN
9/17/16 - Liberty Mile - Pittsburgh, PA
***More to come***