On Sunday I headed to Alexandria, Virginia for the .US 12km National Championships. This was my culminating race of my fall season. At this same race two years ago, I had a break through performance placing 3rd. This year I came in with high hopes of improving on that place.
The morning of the race was near perfect conditions, high 30’s and sunny with no wind. I knew that it would be ideal conditions to run fast, but that was not the goal for the day. I was there to race, so I stuck with my plan to hang in the pack for the first 5 miles.
The close finish!
The gun went off, and I found myself at the front in the first few hundred meters. The pace was slow and it seemed that no one wanted to lead. Eventually I tucked back into the pack, where I would stay until a mile to go. We went through the first mile in 4:52, well slower than what I would have liked, but I knew that my training this fall had prepared me for any type of race. I could handle a hard even pace, or a slow kicker style race.
After the mile, the pace began to quicken as Jon Grey went to the front and pushed. Over the next few miles the pack began to shrink as the pace steadily increased. We went through 5km in 14:52 and 8km in 23:28 (17:50 at half way). Over these few miles, it seemed that someone would take the lead and surge for a minute or two then slow down after it was clear that no one else would help them. Eventually defending champ, Brian Shrader, made a big move that began to get the ball rolling. Another few people fell off the pack between 8 and 10km (29:12), and from there the racing for the finish began.
I had focused staying as relaxed as possible for the first 10km, even when my legs began to feel the pace increase (I clocked a 4:30ish in there somewhere, 5 to 6 miles I think), I kept repeating my mantra, “Relaxed, Strong, Fast.” Around the 10km mark, Jared Ward, the overall winner of the circuit, made his first appearance at the front. He is a skilled downhill runner, and made his move on the first of two declines. I stayed tucked in, until almost exactly a mile to go Sam Chelanga made a surge up a hill. I saw him start to pull away from everyone and not wanting him to get away, I chased up after him. The hill ended up being short and I carried my momentum up and over the crest. I led the charge down the second hill and in to the final turn, which was around ¾ of a mile to go.
The final straight away passed by much too fast but seemingly took forever. It was nearly a straight shot to the finish and only a slight bend in the last couple hundred meters disguised the finish. I settled from the momentum that the hill provided, but there were still four on my heels. We began to pack up and I found myself sharing the lead with Sam and Jared. With 600m to go Sam put a surge, and I went with him, and after only a few seconds I was even with him and continued to push. The field was strung behind me, with Sam directly following. I knew that my push for the finish had started. Even so, I was still trying to save one more gear for the final sprint. Sam passed me with 200m to go and got a few precious steps on me. Even though I thought I was saving an extra gear, it was not there immediately. Eventually, I ever so slowly began to gain ground. With the hope that Sam would run out of gas in the last few meters, I continued to push, but I ran out of real estate before the finish line. Once again, Sam had finished just in front of me in a sprint finish, but it was much closer this time. Only 3/10 of a second separated us!
The finish line photo. So close!
I came into this race with one main goal: To improve on my finish from two years ago (3rd), but with my eye on winning. I was able to achieve that goal, and was less than 3/10 of a second from winning. Overall it was a great performance. I ran a smart race, putting myself in the best position to win, and just as importantly, I left everything I had in the race. Other than that, I feel there is not much more to say than, “Watch the race! It’s exciting!”
Being my final race of the season, I feel like it an apt time to look back at the season. Especially what I was accomplished. I entered the fall season with some very high goals. At ZAP, each of us has a goal board in the dinning hall with our goals for the season. On mine is written:
- Win 2 National Titles
- Top 3 at all races this fall
- Make the Olympic Team
All three are measureable and straightforward, but the first two were the relevant ones for this fall. While I was not able to fully accomplish them, I do not view the fall as a failure. On the contrary, it was a rounding success. During this whole year, I have been building positive momentum, and it cumulated in the last three races. I started the year off with a nagging Achilles, which forced me to take a month off and not race for a few months. When I did race, they were unexceptional performances at best. After a few rust busters, I moved from the roads to the track for my most intensive track season at ZAP (a whole six races!). I was able to build through out track season and finished with personal bests at the mile, 5000m, and 100000m. I then capped off the season with a great performance at the Peachtree Road Race. The fall season started out well, but as the season moved forward, I was running better and better. I finished the last three races of the year with two runner-ups and one victory. Now I need to keep this positive momentum flowing in to the winter season and into the Marathon Trials.
My last goal on my board is clearly one that I could not accomplish this fall, but it was there as a constant reminder of main goal. A reminder that this fall was to be used as a foundation that I could build from towards the Olympic Trials.
Over my last few blogs, I have talked about how Pete has wanted me to develop different running systems. This means that he wanted me to be able to be competitive at many different distances. Hence the reason I was running 5km all the way to 20km. But the system that Pete wanted me to develop the most was my ability to finish my races. This spring was a big step in the development of my “speed”. I had a breakthrough in both the mile and 5000m, setting big PRs. Now I just needed to be able to transfer that “track speed” to the roads. In my early season races, I struggled the last half mile, but I was still in the mix near the front. Once I rounded into shape, I was able to find extra gears and was within a combined two seconds of winning two national titles.
From here, I can use this fall as a springboard into marathon training (after a break of course). This fall, and the last year in general, both Pete and myself have figured out what works for me. Knowing what works well for me has helped make me consistent, both in training and racing. It is consistency that brings success in distance running. After my break I will get back to the monotonous life style that defines a professional athlete, but one that thrives on consistency. As long as I my training stays consistent, I know that even with the numerous guys in the mix to make the team, I can achieve that final goal.
Here is a good blog by Liz Costello (8th this weekend) about the “Robotic Lifestyle” of a professional athlete.
One thing I noticed, and maybe because I was tuned in only to my own name, was that I felt I had a ton of support during the race. I heard my name numerous times in the first half-mile, even over the white noise of the crowd. First, Pete was there with his inarticulate whoops and hollers. Over the last three years, both Pete and myself have learned much about me as an athlete. Three years ago, I choose to accept ZAP’s invitation to join the team, with the confidence that Pete’s training would be the correct fit for me. Looking back, I made a good choice. Coming from Colorado, I could have easily stayed there and joined one of the countless teams there. Instead I headed east, against the advice of Horace Greeley, and it has paid dividends.
Pete is only part of ZAP, albeit an important one. We had several campers there, who live in DC and some who flew in to run the race and support ZAP. Their support is fundamental to my and ZAP’s success. People coming to camp and giving donations are the two main ways that we fund ZAP. Without our campers and donors, ZAP would not survive.
Also watching was Patrick Joyce, the Senior Manager of Global Sports Marketing at Reebok. He flew down from Boston just to watch and support us. ZAP’s near 11 year partnership with Reebok has helped all of us continue to train and beyond the awesome gear that they furnish us with, they help with much of our travel to races.
The whole gang! I am extremely appreciative of their support!
For the first time since my marathon victory in 2014, my parents were able to see me run. I was hoping their presence would help me win another national title, but it was not to happen this time. Along with my parents were some family friends in attendance. It means so much to me that they were there and were able to see me race. Seeing how happy they were about my race is one of the reasons I love to run.
Beyond just the personal support, this race would not have happened with out USATF and the race sponsorNeustar. Three years ago, USATF decided that they were going to finish the USA Running Circuit off with a high level race, where one has to qualify to be in the invited field. Since most USA Running Circuit Championships are part of already existing races, they created the .US 12km out of thin air. I feel that they have done a fantastic in promoting and expanding the race. The open race has expanded every year, and more elites are running. With the three year contract between Neustar and USATF at an end, I hope that something can be figured out to continue this race. It has potential to become one of the premier road races in the USA, like Peachtree or Bolder Boulder.
I would be remised if I did not mention my teammates. Both George and Griff ran this weekend. We all came into the 12km at different points in our seasons. I was running my finale. Griff is in the middle of a short racing season while transitioning between two marathons cycles. George is at the beginning of his winter season. While I think that we all had higher hopes for the race, each one of us still ran well.