Before I get into the race report, I want to say congratulations to David McNeill for his 8th place finish in the 5k at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. Obviously Dave is a huge talent, but he is an even better person. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to train and race alongside him the last few years (even though I am often trailing way behind him).
We left for Flagstaff last Thursday at 2pm and arrived at our hotel in Indianapolis on Friday at about 1:45 am. A solid 9 hour journey. It wouldn’t be so bad, but whenever we travel we have to drive several hours down the mountain to Phoenix and fly from there. That always adds a good 3 hours to our travel. I guess it is just the price you pay to live in the beautiful mountains. Definitely worth it.
After sleeping in a bit on Friday we made our way to Terre Haute to check out the course. First impression was how brown everything was. I had heard that the area had been in a drought, but I did not expect this. The course was bone dry and quite hard. The consensus was that the races would be very fast.
The rest of our afternoon and evening were nice a relaxing. We made our usual pilgrimage to Penn Station for some delicious subs and Olive Garden for dinner. Thanks to Coach Mo “Co Mo” for picking up our dinner so we didn’t have to sit at the restaurant for several hours. We had a meeting with Coach Heins about the race and he told us to take some risks and go for it.
I woke up Saturday feeling good. We went on our usual 10 minute shakeout about 4 hours before the race and I had my usual breakfast: Coach’s Oats with cranberries and brown sugar and a bagel. (my key to success, take note Rube)
Before my last two races I have felt surprisingly relaxed. In high school I had a really difficult time with nerves before races. At times it got to the point where not racing sounded a lot better than toeing the line. “Why didn’t I pick a different sport?,” I would ask myself while warming up. It was definitely not conducive to racing well and I think some of my improvement can be attributed to a simple attitude adjustment before races. But before these last two I have been much calmer than I had expected. While training, I often think about, for better or for worse, how little time I have left — how few races remain — and I would anticipate this to make me really nervous before each competition. Perhaps this is a result of maturity and hopefully a new mindset will once again translate into big improvements.
Taking coach’s advice, I decided to get out hard off the line and really stick my nose in it. I wanted to feel like the race was right there, instead of being another guy in the middle of the pack. I hit 1k in 2:46, about 4 seconds or so off the leaders. After a blazing fast opening kilometer, the course winds its way gradually up some hills to the 5k mark. From 1k to about 4k, I was being passed by lots of runners. I didn’t stick with my original plan of competing with the top guys and should have been more aggressive during this part of the race. After the race I spoke with Eric Lynch about it, and we agreed that at that point I should have committed to my fast start and held my own up near the front. Lesson learned.
I came through the mile in 4:38 and hit the two mile in 9:32 (just 7 seconds off my high school PR). Once I fell back to around 50th or so, I began to move back up and came through the 5k in 15:07. The final kilometers I told myself I am strong, I have put in just as much work as these other guys. This was enough to keep me moving up through the field until I was in about 40th coming onto the finishing stretch.
The finishing stretch is about 500m long with a gradual incline. On Saturday it also had a bit of a headwind to make it a little more difficult for the fading to hold on. For some reason, I have a knack of getting to this finishing stretch with a nice gap in front of me to the next group. I always spend a good chunk of this stretch just trying to catch up to the pack ahead of me. Luckily there are always a few stragglers, so even if I don’t bridge the gap, I am able to kick down the less fortunate.
This time I ended up passing a few people and finished in 38th with an 18-second course PR of 24:20. I really wanted to finish in the top 30, but I was only 6 seconds back. I am right there!
The team finished 4th without Dave (still recovering from Commonwealth), thanks to a MONSTER effort by junior Diego Estrada, leading the team with a 5th place finish in 23:30. Diego has had to miss some training this season, but it is amazing how well he races despite it. He is a very tough racer and Saturday’s performance was very inspiring. Ahmed finished 13th in 23:58, junior Andrew Belus continued his great season by finishing 61st in 24:33, and sophomore Tim Freriks rounded out our top 5 in 75th at 24:42.
It looks like we finished well enough that our spot at nationals is almost guaranteed. Assuming we finish in the top-4 at our regional meet in a few weeks, we should have no problem being an at-large selection. As NCAAs come closer, I will take a good look at where I think our team stacks up with the rest of the field, as well as my chances of finishing top-40, and share my thoughts with you.