At the end of a race, all competitive distance runners want to feel they had run to the limit of their abilities. Few ever do.
Lori Miller, a Cal State Northridge senior, is an exception.
"She will give you 1,000%," Northridge cross-country coach Don Strametz said. "Not 100%, but 1,000. She'll give you everything she's got. At Stanford, she passed about 10 girls in the last 200 yards, and that's very hard to do."
Miller, who runs today in the American West Conference cross-country championships in Cedar City, Utah, paid dearly for her closing rush at Stanford four weeks ago.
After slicing 30 seconds off her personal best over the 5,000-meter course, Miller was too drained to even walk through the finish chute. She sat down on the grass, then began to vomit. Later, she hyperventilated and started to lose feeling in her arms and legs.
"I'd blacked out a few times before, but Stanford was the worst," Miller said. "I was really scared at first because I really couldn't breathe. And the times before, I'd had the dry heaves, but this time I was throwing up. And then I couldn't feel my arms and legs. . . . I'd definitely given it my all and then some."
Doctors at the Stanford Medical Center, where she was treated, hypothesized that Miller was suffering from a combination of a cold she was nursing, being improperly hydrated and competing on a warm day.
Despite the traumatic experience, Miller proudly says, "I finally had a really, really good race at Stanford."
The ability to focus on the positive is part of Miller's personality, Strametz said.
"She has a great wit about her," he said. "She's the type who always sees the silver lining in everything. She's just a very, very pleasant person to be around."
Miller's optimistic outlook has been severely tested over the past 14 months. After two relatively healthy and injury-free seasons at Northridge, Miller was hampered during the 1994 cross-country season by a knee injury and during track season by a case of endometriosis that required surgery last summer.
A 1992 graduate of Bakersfield North High, Miller ran a personal best 5 minutes 1.12 seconds to place sixth in the 1,600 in the State track and field championships as a senior. She ran 4:43.08 in the 1,500 as a freshman and 4:35.26 as a sophomore to place third in the inaugural California-Nevada State championships in 1994.
She was Northridge's top runner in two of the Matadors' first three cross-country meets last season, but dropped to the No. 4 position in the final two races after missing two meets because of her knee injury.
Miller figured that she was ready to break 4:30 in the 1,500 during track, but Strametz said that the endometriosis and a training regimen that didn't work like he thought it would led to a disappointing season best of 4:40.46.
Although she is hesitant to use the endometriosis as an excuse, Miller said the disease caused "horrible" cramps in her back and hips after races.
"I don't know if I'll ever know what happened last track season," Miller said. "All I know is that I didn't run well."
Endometriosis occurs in women when endometrial tissue grows and functions in areas other than the uterus. It can cause severe pain and infertility if left unchecked.
In Miller's case, endometrial tissue had grown near her left hip socket and wrapped itself around part of her intestines and pulled them up.
The surgery to remove the tissue went well, but the month of not running afterward exasperated Miller.
"I knew that I couldn't run, but it was hard," she said. "I felt like a lazy slob just laying around."
Once cleared to resume running, Miller trained with a vengeance. Strametz expected her to be a redshirt this cross-country season, but she came back to school in such good shape that he changed his mind.
"I didn't want to miss this opportunity," he said. "I figured that if she could establish a good training base during the fall and winter, she could have an outstanding track season."
Miller was the Matadors' top runner at Stanford and in the UC Riverside Invitational on Sept. 23 and the No. 2 runner in two other meets. She also is a leader during workouts.
"She's the type that will say, 'Let's get up and go,' and try to make the workout that much better," Strametz said. "Even if she's not leading a particular part of a workout, she'll try to encourage whoever's leading to do their best."
Those vocal exhortations carry over to races, said Miller, a liberal studies major who has a 3.0 grade-point-average. She said that she, sophomore Jamie Whitmore and freshman Ellen Muench frequently tell each other to "run this downhill, get up this hill or go after that girl" during races.
"We have a very close-knit team," Miller said. "And that makes running easier because you always know that you have that support out there."
Miller is shooting for a top-five finish at the conference meet today. Northridge is hoping to challenge defending champion and heavily favored Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the team standings.
One thing Strametz knows for sure is that Miller will be giving her best effort in the women's 5,000-meter race at Cedar Ridge Golf Course.
"She will go until she hits the wall," he said. "She's going to go to the wall."