Run Like a Girl - June 1977
After the first meet in Davenport dad had a surprise for me at Monday’s practice with the Iowa City Striders Track Club.
“Sarah, I think it’s time we made the move…so I’m going to have you try the 880 this weekend.”
I could feel heads pivot towards me.
“What?” I puckered my face.
“Listen.” Dad held up a hand. “Remember how you worried about the quarter last summer and you ended up winning both times you ran it?”
“Yeah, but…” He cut me off.
“We’re going to try it. If it doesn’t work I won’t force you to do it.” Dad smiled. “But I’ll be shocked if you don’t do just as well. Actually, better.”
That day I did two 660’s while the other girl’s worked on exchanges for the 440 relay, our high jumper replacing me on the leadoff spot. Helen was well-versed in using the blocks since she also hurdled, so the move made sense. But it was hard to watch someone take my place. I felt left out.
I got through the first 660 without struggling but the second one was certainly going to be tougher. Before I started dad motioned to me.
“Sarah, all I want you to do on this one is focus on the first lap and run a sixty-seven.” He looked at me sternly and nodded. I was too tired to give him a face. “After that just give it whatever you’ve got left.”
Somehow I did, approaching dad afterward with skepticism, yet he seemed quite pleased with my performance, claiming a good time this weekend was “in the bag.” I wasn’t so sure.
Saturday morning we left from the East High parking lot at 7am for the meet in Des Moines. Normally I sat sideways in the passenger seat so I could talk with the girls in the bench seat behind, but today I stared out the side window at fields of corn and pastures of cows, too nervous to talk. Why does he always do this to me? Why can’t I just run the 100 and 220?
When we arrived at the track the girls headed towards the locker room, dad patting me on the shoulder with a quick smile, turning towards the finish line to register everyone for events. The girls crowded around me saying how good I was going to run as we walked towards the gym; that I would win – just like I always did. I wasn’t as convinced. All I could think about was two laps.
I sat in the shade up near the press box for the first event, jealously watching our girls get second in the short relay, our boys taking first with a strong anchor from Steve, dad walking up towards me in the stands after the 440 yard relay finish.
“Okay, here’s what I want from you today. First lap 67 and the 660 at 1:42…the exact same splits you ran on Monday.” Dad paused. “There’s a decent half-miler from Spencer who is here…so you may not even have to worry about splits.” I scowled at dad. “I’ll be on the backstretch and let you know what to do.” He looked at his watch. “Your race is in forty minutes so it’s time to warm up. I’m going over to help Helen measure her marks in the high jump.” He hustled down the stairs, shouting something across the track. I took a deep breath and sighed before I got up. This sucks.
Forty minutes later I was standing at the waterfall line on the all-weather track, anxiously shaking one leg and then the other, sliding a thumb under the strap of my bra to make sure it was in place, wishing I’d peed one more time. God was I nervous. I turned to the girl on the inside lane and wished her good luck, taking a big breath, slowly letting the air out. Here we go.
“Runners set.” Everyone leaned forward. “BOOM!”
The girl on my inside took off fast, but not so quickly I couldn’t stay with her around the first turn, the initial sprint ridding my body of the built up tension. The fragrance of Loves Baby Soft drifted by as she cut in front of me on the backstretch, her scent a pleasant change from my pre-race BO. Dad planted himself in lane four about two-thirds of the way down the straight, cupping hands to his mouth as I approached.
“Perfect Sarah, stay right on her.”
Twenty yards later I could hear her coach shout.
“Good tempo Wendy. Keep it going.”
I followed her around the corner and down the homestretch, both of us passing the white line with the timer shouting, “One-o-seven.” Around the corner I continued in her wake, staring at her ponytail swinging side to side, squinting my eyes as the pain began to grip my body. Dad skipped towards us on the backstretch, hands cupped as he shouted.
“Awesome Sarah, you’re doing awesome. Stay on her.”
Now I was tired, the thought of another 220 almost overwhelming as I leaned into the final corner. I’m dead. I’m so dead. Wendy picked up the tempo as her coach shouted, but I responded immediately, my only instinct to keep close as possible. Stay on her heels. Don’t quit.
As we came out of the corner I pulled out to lane two so I had a clear path to the finish line, preparing my mind for the effort it would take to race her down the homestretch.
She responded at the same instant, fighting my best effort on the last straight, refusing to give in to my entreaties. I was so close I could have tapped her shoulder, but could never cut the distance, Wendy’s speed just as good as mine.
Seconds later we were across the white line, hands dropping to my knees as I slowed to a stop, breaths coming in quick bursts as the pain hit me like a sledgehammer. Oh man that hurt. I am never going to run this again. Never! Wendy stood up and cantered sideways towards me with a hand extended. I was still bent over, staring at the track.
“You ran an awesome race.” She had to pause to take a big breath. “Who are you?”
“Sarah Tucker.” I turned my head, the sun making me squint as I looked at her. “It’s the first time I ever ran an 880.”
Wendy’s eyes got big.
“Whoa, congratulations.” She shook my hand and walked away as dad approached with a big grin on his face.
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable.” He gave me a big hug. “Do you know who she is?” I shook my head. “Wendy Jensen was the state champion in the half-mile a month ago. She also anchored two relays that won state at Drake stadium. Sarah, she’s the real deal.” He nodded his head.
I finally smiled. I guess I did okay. As if he read my thoughts dad continued.
“She won 3A State in the 800 with a 2:14.1 in May.” The time didn’t mean anything. “Guess what she ran today?” I shrugged my shoulders. “2:15.3! You ran 2:15.7! You would have placed at State with the time.”
Shelly, Sandra, and Rachel crowded around me after hearing dad’s words, shocked to think I might be fast enough to be state champion next spring.
Wow. Maybe dad was right. Maybe this is my event.