What a day. It’s difficult to describe the excitement that I am still feeling as I write this. The men beat Kenya and brought home the first silver team medal from the IAAF World Championships since 1984. The team had high hopes going into Sunday’s race, but none of us thought we were going to pull off second. I can’t say enough about the group of guys that I had the privilege of racing with. We did it with a group of six that were genuinely excited about cross country and absolutely wanted to be there. We were missing some big names from US distance running, which makes it all the more satisfying to accomplish what we did with a group of tough, gritty, cross country guys.
If you haven’t seen the course, take a look at the tour on letsrun.com. It was brutal. Parts of it were packed snow and ice, other parts thick and deep mud, endless turns, jumps, and a beast of a hill. This was 6 x 2,000 meter loops, so each element was repeated every time around. The footing was extremely challenging, and a high percentage of runners went to the ground. The 5 days leading up to the race were full of talk about how these conditions would play into our hands. All of this made the plan quite simple from the perspective of my coach (Dave Smith) and I; stay on your feet for the first two laps, and then start to race. I went out somewhere around 50th place, which is already as aggressive as I have ever gone out at the World Championships, but still far enough back to feel strong and in control early. Bobby Mack and I were able to work together and gradually move through the field each loop. After 4 laps, coaches Dave Smith, Robert Gary, and Jerry Schumacher were screaming at us that we had a shot at a medal. This was both encouraging and terrifying. I was in a scoring position and knew that I could not afford to lose any ground. Fortunately Bobby and I were able to continue moving up. Looking back, I’m glad nobody realized that we were in contention for silver, because this might have been too much to handle. I realize that on a harder and faster course, the odds of us taking silver are small, but we went into the race understanding that the conditions were going to give us a unique opportunity and we capitalized on it. I had the best race of my four world championship events, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We had strong finishes all the way through our 6th runner. It was pure business with this group (until it was time to celebrate that is).
The atmosphere in Bydgoszcz was electrifying. I am absolutely certain that the music being blasted before the start and during the race was straight from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. The coaches and USATF staff started out the first few laps with words of encouragement and practical advice, but during the last two laps they were running nearly as hard as we were to get to different parts of the course and yell us on. The support was truly appreciated. I’d also like to thank Robert Johnson and Weldon Johnson from Letsrun.com for flying all the way out to Poland and using the week leading up to the race to get people excited about cross country through their website. Their coverage and enthusiasm were definitely felt. They were in the tunnel with us when we were told that we had beaten Kenya, and they looked just as excited as we did.
No matter what the rest of my career brings, this will undoubtedly be one of the best memories I will have as a runner. I can’t wait to try out for the 2015 team heading to China.