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51.25km Gift of San[i]tee

Today I made my debut in the 50km Racewalk. A year ago: I had no plans to do a 50km--ever. Though as an adolescent I would watch the IronMan and dream of running multiple marathons, I did not have an interest in doing anything that exceeds 26.2 miles. But you know that saying....

Never say never.

For example: From the date of my retirement in 2003 I was convinced that I was NOT going to return to professional sport, and I had absolutely no interest in doing so. But April 2015 happened. A few months prior to that April 2015 event I had entered myself into the 2014 Pacific Association/Western Regional 20km Racewalk Championships purely for the purpose of regaining a sense of fitness after a head injury immobilized me for four months. The race ended up being a success--I not only won the race but my time qualified me for the 2015 Pan Am Cup Trials, 2016 World Team Trials, and the 2016 Olympic Trials. Before I could muster protest I was being reacquainted with my former self--the elite athlete self. As a Junior I had admired only two American racewalkers: Susan Armenta and Curt Clausen. Susan and Curt had the smoothest racewalk form of professional racewalkers I had seen, and the ideal persona--they are fast yet humble and down to earth people. When my Youth coach, Claudia Wilde (and now again my coach), introduced me to racewalking; they were the two I'd watch compete and I had learned the racewalk technique by watching them.

So, when Rio 2016 came knocking at my door (with or without my permission), and Susan Armenta gave me a call to offer herself as coach and mentor, I couldn't pass on an amazing and life altering opportunity. Susan is the first American woman record holder in the 50km Racewalk but it wasn't officially recognized until 2016 because women were denied the 50km distance at international championships. Regardless, Susan is who began the path for women in the 50km, and who's record Erin Taylor-Talcott aspired to beat as she embarked on a mission for equal representation for men and women in the 50km both Internationally and Nationally. Erin eventually broke Susan's record by only a few minutes and several years after Susan had retired to become a full-time fitness instructor. For fun and to entertain sheer curiosity, Susan jumped into the 50km last year without doing much training--yes, that's right, for FUN. I had done the 20km that day and after watching her waddle from the restaurant to the car post-50km I swore I was definitely NOT EVER going to do a 50km. But days rolled into months and months rolled into an injury to my left Soleus and Gastroc muscle two months before Olympic Trials. Since I had pretty much jumped into elite-level training after twelve years of complete hiatus, there had been no solid base, the months from July 2016 through January 2017 felt like an optimal time to finally obtain some solid base mileage. My journey post-injury began with a pleasant surprise 3rd place finish at the 30km National Championship in November. Susan's training plan she provided me and her tips made the 30km feel easy compared with shorter distances--no stressing about walking fast or being distracted by others because having a successful race is entirely due to proper pacing and fluid intake. Upon completion of that 30km feat, I decided I needed to try at least one 50km. Pursuing at least one 50km is only fitting given my coach is the original 50km record setter. So, I told Susan "Okay, tell me what I need to do to not only attempt but finish my first 50km...." And where violins do there best impression of whimsical: This 50km is the last race Susan will coach me through (for unknown length of time if not forever). She has family obligations that interfere with her ability to provide me the focus she feels elite athletes deserve to have from their coach. Doing this 50km became a no-brainer.

And if this race was not yet poetic enough: January 28th is also my Golden Retriever's birthday. My dog, April, passed away three years ago after a strong and admirable fight against cancer. What better way to commemorate her wonderful soul and imprint on my life, and to celebrate her spirit, than to go on a long stroll around a 1.25km loop for 40 laps plus an additional for 41 total laps--which makes me the proud possessor of the 51.25km World Record! Ha, I can't think of anything else she'd have preferred I do other than prancing through the rain, which I did a few days prior the race. Today, January 28th of 2017, marks the day I simultaneously competed in my first 50km and 51.25km --and also marks my first time walking or running a distance longer than 34km.

This race is also the first time my best friend of over 25 years, scream queen actress (and Hollywood Blvd. Wonder Woman) Ashley Mary Nunes, has seen me compete professionally as a racewalker. Since racewalking is not yet available in high schools and junior highs on the West Coast, Ashley had only seen me run during my Junior days as an elite runner and internationally ranked racewalker. Additionally, my former West Wind Flyers youth club teammate and current Skechers Performance rep, Cheyne Inman, showed up to cheer Miranda and I before he needed to show his face at a nearby Skechers sponsored PGA tournament. And if Vacaville High School XC alumni wasn't represented enough by us three, Erin Grassi was also there with her adorable Husky named Mochi, cheering me with encouraging mantras as I looped around and made my way through 51.25km. Cheyne, Erin, Ashley and I ran together in high school. The cherry on top of all this is who coached me through training for this 50km and through the race itself, Susan Armenta. While this 50km may be my first 50km and first race of the year, it is the last race that my adolescent racewalker version of myself's role-model--Susan Armenta--would be coaching me through.

The goal going into the race was simply to finish an entire 50km. Top 7 finishers win prize money, so, a Top 7 finish is a bonus for accomplishing my goal.

Goal accomplished! And now for my review of the race itself:

[Stay tuned]

Local journalist, Braydon Ross, reports:

50km National Championship 2017 finisher, Robyn Stevens, sets the American and World Record in the 51.25km. While she placed 6th in the 50km she is the indisputable WINNER and record setter for the 51.25km.

When asked about the lap counter miscounting her laps, Stevens commented with a hint of humor and good spirit: "What can I say? I'm an overachiever! Ha...I had a feeling something wasn't right because my splits didn't make sense...I had been closing on Stephanie Casey in my pursuit of a 5th place finish. She was five meters ahead of me with what I thought was four laps to go for the both of us. We passed the lap counter and I heard [the counter] say 'four laps!' to her and then she told me five laps. I didn't remember Casey lapping me...but since I had been walking so many laps, I figured the lap counter would be more accurate than I am at this point. The 50km is renown for creating a feeling of brain fog. So, instead of pursing her as planned, I slowed down to keep my 6th place position solid and my first 50km free from a DQ...If [Casey] was an entire lap ahead of me instead of what I thought was only 5 meters, wheeling her in was no longer worth a risk because 5th place was, within the perceived now, no longer within reach."

What was supposed to be a 50km debut extended into a successful 51.25km debut when Stevens' laps were miscounted by the lap counters.

Photo credit: Cynthia De LaCruz, 2017


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