A Personal Account of Filling an Olympic Athlete’s Shoes - Destination Race Preparation 101

What happens when you wake up the morning of race day to discover not that you forgot your running shoes, but you flew all the way across the country with two right shoes?   You might laugh at how ridiculous and far-fetched this sounds – but it’s possible – and it happened to yours truly last weekend after flying across the country from NYC to Portland, OR to run in the Eugene Women’s Half Marathon the following day.  For proof, check out the race recap newspaper article featuring my story.

How does this happen?  When packing my shoes for the two-day trip, instead of grabbing a right and left shoe from the shoe basket filled with three pairs of the same running shoe, I looked at the tread on the bottom of each of the six shoes and packed the two with the least amount of wear and tear.   Not smart - I realize this now especially since the tread on all of my left shoes is significantly more worn down in the same spot than my right shoes.

Unfortunately, I packed the morning of my flight and mentally spaced on this important piece of information.  So, the night before the race, I laid out my gear including my timing chip, bib, running shoes and even my hair rubber bands failing to notice what was missing - my left shoe!   It wasn’t until I went to put my shoes on before walking out the door thirty minutes before the race started that I became aware of my ridiculous mistake.

How do you fix this problem? It was too early and there wasn’t enough time before the start to buy a new pair of shoes.  My cousin, who was running the race with me, had a bunch of extra pairs of running shoes in her car, but she wears a full size smaller than I do.   At this point, my only options were to run in two right shoes or cram my size 9.5 feet into size 8 running shoes.   Neither of these would get me through the race uninjured, or even to the finish line.  I was only running this race as part of my training for the NYC marathon in November.  On the other hand, how could I forgo running in the race when the entire point of my trip was the race???  So I put on a pair of muddy size 8’s and headed to the start.

By the time we arrived at the start, my feet were going numb and I was losing circulation in one of my big toes.  My cousin, still determined to find me a pair of shoes that fit well enough for me to make it through the race still standing, walked right over the announcers at the starting line who were busy getting the runners fired up with enthusiastic yelling over a loud speaker system and asked them to make a special announcement.  Moments later, over a thousand runners and spectators heard, “if anyone has an extra pair of size 9.5 running shoes to lend to a runner who just flew in from Brooklyn, please come see us at the starting line.”

At first, all I could hear was the sound of several runners sympathetic sighs for the runner from Brooklyn without shoes.  Then a woman holding a newborn walked over to me and said she wears a size ten and asked if that would work.  Without hesitation, I immediately accepted her offer and began to take off the size 8’s that were killing me.  As I was lacing up the size 10’s, another woman started telling me how I was borrowing the shoes of an Olympic runner (who also happened to be the race director), Nicole Teter.  This wasn’t intimidating or anything!

The race was starting in less than three minutes, so I thanked Nicole profusely and confirmed that she would be at the finish so I could return the shoes before moving into the crowd of runners waiting behind the starting line.  As they played the national anthem over the speaker systems, my cousin and I fumbled with the plastic zip tie that attached my timing chip to the shoes I had just borrowed (from an Olympic Athlete!).  Official race photos from the start show all the runners bouncing up and down waiting for the gun to off except for the two of us who were bent over dealing with my shoes.  The actual race turned out to be a beautiful course and my time was right on target for my goal pace that I’ve set for the NYC marathon and my feet felt great the entire race.

Although the race was amazing, the most memorable part by far was the finish.  Apparently, my story caught several peoples’ attention and when they announced Jessica Green from Brooklyn, NY as I crossed the finish several people I’ve never met before came right over to celebrate my finish and ask for a race recap.  I was then shooed over to the tent where my shoe donor, i.e. the race director and Olympic athlete, was sitting.  We exchanged laughs, talked about the course and the freight train delay less than a mile into the course (see linked article for more details).  Then the press came over to interview me about my shoe debacle for the race recap article in Eugene’s newspaper.  For a brief moment in time, I felt like I had stepped into the spotlight as a professional athlete – and I LOVED every second of it.

A very special thank you to Nicole, for your generosity and charitable giving (she told me to keep the shoes!) and my cousin for coming up with the idea to ask the announcers to make a request over the speakers for an extra pair of size 9.5 shoes and for all of those responsible for a great race experience.

Next time I travel out of town for a race, I guarantee you that I’ll be wearing my running shoes during the drive or flight there and when I line up at the start of future races I’ll be smiling about the time I successfully filled an Olympic athlete’s shoes for the Eugene Women’s Half Marathon!

By Jessica Green - Hot Bird Running Co-Owner & Coach