Tuesday, March 26, 2013

First Silver Medal since 1984…

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.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gate River Run and IAAF World XC Championships

It was another great year in Jacksonville, FL for the USA 15km Championship at the Gate River Run. As always the race had a deep American field and was very well organized. The elite athlete coordinator, Richard Fannin, is extremely motivated when it comes to recruiting and has put together a seamless race experience for the 3 years I have participated.  As always, I feel like I could have raced a bit differently, but overall I am pleased with the result. The spring turned out to be a fairly full plate of racing, so it was important to me to not drop my mileage too much heading into Gate River. I have found that I can race well off of high volume, and I have also found that I have been able to race better later in the season by maintaining a higher volume early on, rather than constantly moving up and down. I did feel a bit flat during the race. We were not running terribly fast from 5k to 10k (mid 4:40s), and it did not feel as smooth as it should have. I consider myself a strong hill runner, so I am fortunate that this race finishes with a bear of a hill over the final bridge. This allowed me to pull myself into the lead pack and put me in a position to kick with the leaders. I came up short against two great distances runners in Ben True and Bobby Curtis, but was happy to be in contention considering how poorly I was feeling midway through. I am confident I will feel stronger in Poland for the World XC Championships as I allow myself to recover and rest.

Rather than flying all the way back to Portland from Florida before flying to Europe, I decided to head straight from Jacksonville. Having the World Championships in Poland turned out to be quite convenient as my wife's family lives relatively close in the Czech Republic. My wife met me in Czech, and we'll be staying with her family until the race. This will allow me plenty of time to get over the fatigue from traveling and the time change, and allow my wife and I to spend a month with her side of the family. The Czech Republic is a fantastic place to train, eat, and rest...my only responsibilities over the next couple of weeks.

It's difficult to explain my excitement for the World Cross Country Championships. First, I truly miss the camaraderie of being on an NCAA cross country team at Oklahoma State. After finishing college, there are very few chances to be involved in a race where your individual performance is overshadowed by the goals of the team. Rather than racing for individual glory or money, you are simply trying to perform your role for the greater good of group. Second, it provides a rare opportunity to represent the United States in international competition. No matter the level of athlete, these opportunities do not come often. For most athletes, running in Poland means sacrificing other opportunities, but for me the choice was easy. It will be a privilege to compete against the best XC runners from all over the world. The history of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships is riddled with incredible performances from the most impressive distance runners to ever grace the sport. This year will be no different. Everything will be decided on one day, in one place, over one 12km course, with many of the world's best distance runners. I can't wait.