Shelley Taylor woke up at 5:30 Saturday morning and headed to the kitchen for her usual pre-race meal.
Oatmeal? Pancakes? Pop-Tarts?
Try toast and Tums.
When it comes to preparing for a major race, Taylor, an Edison senior, knows she needs to load up not only the carbos, but the bicarbonate, too.
Since she was a freshman, Taylor has been a nervous Shelley. At first, it was just the usual race-induced jitters. But increased success brought greater stress, and soon Taylor was losing sleep, weight and sanity over races.
It’s not nearly as bad this year, Taylor says, and it shows. She’s undefeated this season and won her second Southern Section cross-country title Saturday at Mt. SAC. She even smiled before the race--a major change.
“Last year, I’d be so nervous I’d be snapping at people,” Taylor says. “I was a mess. And that was a whole week before a race.”
It made no difference if a race offered her little competition. Taylor, one of the premier runners in Orange County history, got spooked before every encounter.
“Shelley could be racing against sixth-graders, and she’d be nervous,” her father, Dennis, says with a smile.
The pre-race stress might have been bad, but the aftereffects were worse. After nearly every race, Taylor had to rush off to, ahem, toss her toast. Fran Taylor was always there to offer motherly support.
“Shelley would give me the signal, and I would take her to a tree where no one could see,” Fran Taylor says.
Last December, doctors diagnosed the problem as a hiatal hernia--stress-induced, of course. Taylor started taking medication, including a good many Tums.
“The cherry Tums are my favorite,” Taylor says. “But I always take yellow and green before a race. You know, school colors.”
Those colors were flying Saturday at the section finals. Led by Taylor’s first-place finish, Edison won its first section title since its powerhouse years of 1977 and 1978, when it was the nation’s top-ranked team.
Taylor’s time of 17 minutes 29 seconds was not only a career and county best, but the fastest of the day and the sixth-best three-mile time in section meet history.
She led from the start, with Sunny Hills sophomore Carrie Garritson on her shoulder through most of the first mile. When they hit the start of the Switchbacks, Mt. SAC’s infamous zig-zagging, leg-zapping hill, Taylor surged ahead, leaving Garritson to hang on for second place, where she finished nearly a minute behind.
Unlike years past when her body was weakened by sickness and stress, Taylor looked strong Saturday, as she has all season. A year ago, with the hernia putting the clamps on her appetite, Taylor’s 5-foot-6 frame looked almost sickly at 110 pounds. Now 125, she’s lean, muscular and strong.
But it’s her increase in mental strength that has really made a difference. A few years ago, you couldn’t convince Taylor that she had exceptional talent. She downplayed each victory, pushed aside every compliment.
After she won her first section title as a sophomore, she turned around and praised the runner-up for hanging on as long as she did. It was as if Taylor did not want to admit victory, not even to herself.
Now, she says, she understands this gift she has been given. And she wants to make the most of it. She hopes to win next week’s State meet--a goal she never would have disclosed a year ago--and place in the top five at the Kinney Nationals.
Although she still gets nervous, it’s nothing like a year ago, Taylor says, adding that she has finally learned to put pressure and expectations aside and just run.
“I am enjoying it more,” Taylor says. “I’m starting to realize how important it is to relax. Maybe it’s because I’m a senior, I don’t know, but now I can say to myself that I did a good job where before I’d say ‘Geez, Shelley, you sure slowed down there,’ or ‘You could’ve made a better move there. . . . ‘ “
After Saturday’s race, Taylor was besieged by well wishers.
You looked great, they said. You’re amazing, they told her. And didn’t you even sweat?
Taylor handled the compliments as she handles her competition--with strength and a smile. Although her teammates say they wish she’d be more selfish--Shelley’s always thinking of them first, they say--Taylor says she’d rather not play the star.
But she also knows she can’t run away from her ability. That overall maturity should continue to help her in the years to come.
“I guess I’ve learned to depend on myself a little bit more, instead of others,” Taylor says.
“I look back and remember how I was. How I had to call Stan (Stauble, Edison coach) every day and how I worried about everything. Now I’m realizing that I can make my own strategies. That I have the talent.”
And soon, perhaps, that she can do without the Tums.
Barbie Ludovise’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Readers may reach Ludovise by writing her at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626, or calling (714) 966-5847.