Conditions Didn’t Faze Irby: She’s Had Worse Days

A miserably wet & cold Saturday in Eugene was even better than her last birthday, says Lynna Irby. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

She charged around a chilly, wet Hayward Field track in a stunning 49.80 that ranks as the No. 2 collegiate time ever; Lynna Irby felt like a kid on her birthday. Well, a kid on her 19th birthday, which came almost exactly 6 months earlier on a reasonably miserably memorable December 6 in Athens, Georgia.

“Today, while it was raining, I kept thinking about my birthday,” the Georgia soph said shortly after she had followed up her record 400 with a 3rd in the 200. “Me and my coach all year have had a running gag: on my birthday it was raining and cold and all I could do that day was study for finals and practice. And it was a long practice.

“I was like, ‘Nothing’s worse than my birthday.’ So that’s what I was thinking today: Nothing can be worse, no matter how cold, no matter how rainy it gets, nothing can be worse than my birthday. Today I pushed through, I wanted to do well for myself and my team.”

Just 3 days after turning 19½, 2 days after running a 50.11 semi that surprised her, Irby wore the cold and wet like a badge of glory, grabbing the lead from the gun and powering home with the third collegiate sub-50 ever, leaving the question open as to how fast she could have gone in better conditions.

“Honestly, I can’t even remember what the track felt like,” she said. “I just remember I wanted to be first across the finish line. All I could think about was the execution of our race plan today, whether that was coming through the 400 in 56 or a 49. Coming off of prelims with a 50.11, I was really excited. It was a really smooth race for me, probably one of my best races all season. So, since Thursday, I’ve been really excited for today.”

In the process, Irby surprised herself. She was an outstanding high school runner, earning No. 2 All-America status as a soph and No. 1 as a junior (before not rating as a senior), but even she didn’t realize how quickly she would step up to the top of the next level. “Honestly no, this complete freshman season has been a shock for me,” she said. “Once I surpassed all my outdoor goals indoor, I knew I can’t tell where I’m going, I can’t tell how far the times are going to drop. I’ve gotten away from wanting times versus trying to focus on the process of each race.”

Some 35 minutes later she even found a little more in the tank for a 22.92 200 in even worse weather, completing a rather remarkable 400/200 double, but even that brought back a bad memory: “About 6 weeks ago, I knew I was going to double but I didn’t know how much time would be between them. Coach told me it would be 30 minutes. I can’t lie, I cried that entire night. I was like—oh my gosh—I cried for 2 hours straight. But after that I realized my coaches wouldn’t put me up to this unless they thought I could do it. I had to trust in them.

“It was more of a mental rather than physical thing. I wasn’t thinking about it, if I had to run a 4×4 now I’d be completely fine.”

No Des Moines For Irby

At any rate, there is nothing left for Irby to do until next year, as she’s not running in the USATF Championships. “Coach said he wanted to see how my body would perform this year, how my freshman body would take this season,” she explained. “So we’re going to shut it down, take it easy and then next year get ready. Right before the day started I told coach I only had 600m left in my season so I was pretty ready.”

Ready, as it turns out, for something spectacular. □