OCEAN CITY - Friday morning was as hot and sticky as it's been all year. Bugs swarmed the track at Ocean City High School and conditions were so bad that Renee Tomlin felt as if she were somehow running in snow even in the nearly 90-degree heat.
None of those elements mattered, however, because this was the Ocean City native's last workout before she left for Eugene, Ore., to compete in the 1,500-meter run at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Team Trials.
"We have been doing hard work all the way through," Tomlin, 23, said. "You have to think of it (the Olympic Trials) as just another meet. You have to still do the same things. But sometimes when you think about it, it's really cool. It's definitely an honor and a privilege to make it this far."
Tomlin qualified for the Olympic trials on May 30 when she ran a personal-best 4 minutes, 11. 31 seconds at the Road to London Twilight Series at Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island in New York. She finished third behind two of her training partners with the New York-New Jersey Track Club.
On Thursday at the trials, Tomlin will run in preliminaries with about 30 other women. That race will narrow the field for the semifinal Friday. The 1,500 final is scheduled for next Sunday, July 1, at 7:37 p.m. NBC will televise the final.
The top three finishers next Sunday will make the U.S. team for the Summer Games in London.
"My first goal is to make it out of the first round and get to the second. Then I'll take it from there," Tomlin said. "Within a championship round, the major goal is to compete tough and just make it through. I don't want to say, 'I have to do this' or 'I have to do that.' I just want to compete hard and make it through the rounds."
Tomlin finished her undergraduate studies in linguistics at Georgetown University in 2010 but redshirted and was able to run in 2011 as a fifth-year senior. For the Hoyas, she won seven Big East Conference titles and received four all-American honors. She was one of 30 finalists in 2011 for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.
In high school, Tomlin had been one of the best distance runners in New Jersey. During her senior year at Ocean City in 2006, she was the South Jersey Group III 800 and 1,600 champion. She finished third in the 800 at the season-ending Meet of Champions.
All that success has led her to this point - dodging bugs and trying to stay cool at the high school track while she trains for the Olympic Trials.
"It's been an interesting road to the trials, for sure," Tomlin said.
On Friday, Tomlin was at the track with Paul Minehan, who timed her. He's known Tomlin since high school when she ran with two of his daughters. The 69-year-old Minehan has been around track most of his life.
In 1964, he ran the mile at the Olympic Trials but didn't qualify. He also is a track official.
His advice for Tomlin is to get mean.
"She's too nice when she races," Minehan said. "In high school and college, if her teammates or one of her girlfriends was in front of her, she wouldn't pass them. I told her some of my experiences of running. You can have your friends, but once you get on the track, you'll all competitors."
Tomlin concedes that in the past she she may have been mentally unprepared to pass teammates or friends.
But she doesn't think that's going to be a problem at the Olympic Trials. She already learned that lesson when she ran her best time at the Road to London Twilight Series race. She didn't worry about who was around her.
"I do think part of it ... was a bit mental. 'Oh, these girls you know them so well; they're your friends,' " Tomlin said. "There is a delicate balance to staying competitive and remaining composed and delicate like it's done in practice. I think when it comes to something like the Olympic Trials, you really have to channel that competitive edge. That is something that I am learning at this level, whereas in college it might not have been as important."
Learning on the run
Hayward Field at the University of Oregon already holds special significance for Tomlin.
She ran the 1,500 at the 2011 U.S. National Championships there and had one of her worst races. She finished in 4:21.86 and didn't make it out of the preliminary round.
"It's a confusing moment when you finish your collegiate eligibility. It's a little but unnerving," Tomlin said. "You're not sure what you're going to do next. I think there is a transition point that is hard for collegiate athletes who continue to train on the professional level. I think I was just feeling it a bit that day and I wasn't on my game.
"Sometimes, the tough points and the tough meets are the ones where you learn the most."
Tomlin said she used that race as a wakeup call. It was time to get back to training hard and getting her mind where she needed it to be competitive.
Even though she had a bad race, Tomlin wouldn't change the outcome because she may not otherwise be headed to the Olympic Trials right now.
"It would have been great if I did better," she said. "At the same time, I learned what I needed to learn at that point and it's helped me get where I am today."
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