After a long travel back from USAT Age Group Nationals, Mo and I made it back to Flagstaff safe and sound. Flagstaff is absolutely gorgeous this time of year, and it is great to be back to the familiar sights and smells.
Starting this new semester has been full of change for me. As all my loyal followers know, I am no longer competing for NAU’s cross country team; I AM COACHING IT! Coach Heins asked me last year if I would be interested in taking a graduate assistant position with the team. I have always been interested in coaching and this is a great opportunity to see if this is something I want to pursue in the future. My coaching duties include helping out at practices, recruiting, and getting some more publicity for the team via a blog (imagine that?). The blog is NAUTrack.com and I will probably include several more shameless plugs throughout the year.
The team has had one meet thus far, the George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park here in Flagstaff. Both teams are showing lots of new talent and I am looking forward to seeing them reach their goals this year.
Training has been going pretty well these last couple of weeks. I have been getting my feet wet with the masters swim team. I try to swim with them every chance that I get. I am able to do a bit of running with the team, which has reminded me why I ran 100 mile weeks in college instead of my current 40. I have also gone on a few great rides with Joe Withers and have found a great group ride on Saturday’s as well. (…which deserves its own blog post. It is that much fun!)
For the 4th of July I headed up north to hang with my girlfriend Mo and her family at their lake house at Clear Lake. We had a great time and I was able to get in a long open water swim in the algae-filled lake (my speedo was full of the green stuff after!)
Once the fun weekend came to an end, I stayed in Oakland to prepare for the San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island. This was my first triathlon away from home, but thanks to my “host” family, the Huber’s kept me feeling comfortable. I was able to get on the course a couple of times before the race to check out the very technical bike course. It was a six lap course with about a dozen 90 degree turns and one 180 degree turn EACH LAP! This was very different than anything I had raced before.
Aside from the unique course, this race was different in that there was actually something up for grabs besides my ego. The San Francisco Triathlon at Treasure Island is part of the USAT Elite Series, which means that a top-3 finish in the amateur field would earn me a pro card. Earning a pro card is the first step toward fulfilling my dream of competing as a professional athlete and making an Olympic team.
Everything considered, I was a bit more anxious for this race than my third running of the Breath of Life triathlon a couple of weeks ago.
I started tossing and turning at around 3:30 or 4 am. Like I said I was anxious for the race. I finally got going at 5 and was out the door half an hour later. Mo and I arrived to the race just before 6 and it was cold. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, jacket, tights and sweats and I was still chilly. After setting up my transition area I began my warm up a little sooner than normal so that I could heat up and get comfortable.
16th in 22:39, 2:10 behind the fastest
Leading up to this race everyone was telling me how cold the water in the Bay would be. I was pleasantly surprised when I dove in for a short warm up and my face didn’t freeze. It was actually very comfortable. The race announcer said it was around 60 degrees. I’ve swam in much colder.
The race started with a deep water start, which was a first for me. Compared to a beach entrance I found the deep water start to be a lot less hectic. I got out pretty well and eventually found myself swimming shoulder to shoulder with another guy. There was a group of three or four up front that I wasn’t able to hang with, and in the future I know that is where I need to be — hanging off the feet of the faster swimmers.
The swim course was two triangular loops. As I came around to start lap number two, the guy that had been swimming with me suddenly just dropped off. I have no idea where he went, so I figured he fell in behind me. The rest of the way I was swimming alone which made for a nice, calm swim.
11th 1:10, :07 behind the fastest
Like Breath of Life I tried to race into and out of transition, but be smooth taking off my wetsuit and putting on my helmet and sunglasses (as my coach Ian Murray says, “smooth is fast”). I was told I was down two minutes to the first swimmer, so there was some work to do on the bike.
4th in 1:03:59, 1:28 behind the fastest
I tried to be aggressive from the beginning. Since the course had six laps, as time went, more and more people would be heading out onto the bike course. This meant there was a lot of passing going on, and I had no idea where I was in the race relative to my competitors. Any open road I had I took advantage of. This made for a very atypical time trial bike ride, with lots of surging and then sitting up when I got stuck behind slower people that I was lapping. Adding to the whole experience were some pretty poor road conditions. Lots of potholes and very little smooth terrain.
In the end I had a great bike leg — certainly my biggest improvement over my last race. I have to thank Dusty Nabor for a lot of this improvement. Dusty is a local triathlete that swims with the Conejo Valley Mutlisport Masters (the same team I am swimming with). Dusty loaned me a sweet pair of carbon HED wheels and hooked me up with a very nice Specialized aerohelmet. I owe more than a few seconds to Dusty. THANK YOU!
11th in :41, :07 behind the fastest
Only thing to really say about T2 is that I WAS THE FIRST ONE THERE! Yep, to my surprise, I was leading! This was a first for me. With the run as my strongest of the three, I knew I had the win in the bag. Or did I? I thought back to last year’s Strawberry Fields triathlon where I lost to a guy in a wave behind me by six seconds! I couldn’t let that happen again.
2nd in 34:18, :26 behind the fastest
The only real downside of my race was that I didn’t have the fastest run split! I am used to taking huge chunks of time out of everyone’s run split, with the exception of my buddy Chris Baird of course. I started out feeling good, running about 5:15 pace. I decided I would hold it there, and then bring it home a little bit quicker.
Racing from out front is a lot different than trying to chase down guys. I knew I was running a decent pace and that would be good enough. Still, I was motivated to have the fastest run split once again. With about a mile to go, I felt good and decided to really press it. Shortly after, I felt a cramp coming on in my hamstring. The last thing I needed was to walk it in to the finish line. I decided to be smart and conservative and just hold my pace. The course was definitely a bit long, as the Garmin had me at 5:16 pace.
1st of 259 in 2:02:46
I finished the race with a huge smile, knowing I had earned my pro card. I had a little interview after the race and it is up on Youtube. I will share that with you guys in the coming days.
What the heck is a pro card?
For my readers that aren’t so triathlon savvy, you might be wondering what a pro card is. A pro card, or “elite license” as it is also referred to, allows athletes to compete in more competitive races. Basically, you get to compete against other professionals. It is the first step in reaching the top of the sport. To compete at the Olympics, you need to have great results at the biggest races in the world. To qualify for these races, you first need to accumulate points in smaller races. And to enter these smaller races, you need a pro card.
I have competed in two triathlons in 2011 and have two wins, plus a pro card. Things are going great! I still have so much work to do, but I am super motivated to do what I need to to reach that next level. Not just racing as a pro, but competing for podium positions. My next race will be Age Group Nationals, possibly my last race as an amateur. I want to keep my winning streak alive.
Sunday marked my third consecutive race at the Breath of Life Triathlon in Ventura. Two years ago I entered because I thought it would be fun, and was thrilled to finish 8th overall. Last year I won my first Olympic distance triathlon here, and thoughts of pursuing triathlons in my future were planted. This year’s race affirmed that becoming a professional triathlete isn’t just a dream, but a realistic goal.
My race report begins on Saturday afternoon. The brackets on my Quintana Roo CD 0.1 that connect the aero bars to the handlebars seemed to have some stripped threads, so my sister’s fiancee Dan (a fellow engineer) suggested I put some Locktite in the threads. As we retightened the screw, we really stripped it. 6 pm, the day before an early morning race, and I have an out-of-commission bike. We called a few bike stores and eventually found one that was open until 8. They were able to retap the hole and put a bigger screw in. The brackets held for the race, but I need to do something about it before my next one.
5:30 Sunday morning came around and I was up getting ready for the race. I owe a big thank you to my Aunt Britta for letting me stay at her house in Ventura. It is so much more relaxing staying just ~5 minutes from the race course, as opposed to 40. I went with the usual breakfast and made my way to transition at around 6:15.
Chris Baird and I did a short run of about 1.5 miles and then made our way down to the swim start with about 15 minutes to spare. I made sure to get in and do a good warm up (Coach’s orders!).
14th in 17:53, 1:37 behind the fastest
Like last year, I had a rough start. I initially started off well, but all the people swimming over each other took its toll on me. After taking a big swallow of sea water, I sort of let up a bit and regrouped. From there I got in a pretty good rhythm and felt much better on the second, less congested lap. I exited the swim in about 10th in my wave. I will need to be at the front of these local races if I want to be competitive at the next level.
4th in 1:43, :17 behind the fastest
My focus in transition was to keep racing. In my past few triathlons I think I have been too worried about what I need to do in transition. With a bit more experience, and some practice, I was able to run fast into and out of transition.
7th in 1:01:57, 2:21 behind the fastest
Heading out on the bike I had a good mount, passing one guy right out of transition, but then lost a bit of momentum by misplacing my left foot on the shoe. In a non-drafting race like this one, these couple of seconds that I lose in transitions are likely not a big deal, but it could make or break a race in a draft legal format. Since that is the direction I want to go in, I need to really perfect these skills.
The course was very flat and fast. There were a few spots with a slight tailwind, and I tried to crank it up and tank advantage of those sections, reaching 27 or 28 mph. I took a Gu at about 10 minutes into the bike and had planned to take another one with about 10 minutes to go, but could only get down about 1/4 of it. At this point I’m just trying to figure out how many calories I should take in a race and I will have to continue with trial and error to see what works best for me.
According to the Garmin the race was slightly long at about 25.5 miles. This works out to 24.7 mph, about 1 mph faster than last year. My coach Ian Murray has been slowing increasing my biking volume, so I have yet to do any really hard, long rides. I think once we throw a few more of those in there, I will be able to crack that 25 mph mark and feel fresher for the run.
14th in :55, :12 behind the fastest
I had a good dismount and was running pretty quickly into transition. Eventually I got behind a lady that was just heading out to start her bike ride (she must have been a Sprint competitor). She was awkwardly running with her bike in her cycling shoes, so I just had to be patient and wait until she passed my rack. I then quickly racked my bike, took off my helmet, put on my shoes and grabbed my race belt.
1st in 32:22, :25 ahead of 2nd fastest
Finally onto the run! The great thing about triathlons, from a runner’s background, is that you know you can always move up during the last stage of the race. I have yet to be passed on the run in a triathlon, and Sunday was not going to be my first.
Heading out of transition I heard that I was down 3 minutes to the leader. Shoot, that seems like a lot. If he can run a 35:00 10k, I will need to run under 32. I was in 4th at this point, so I focused on one runner at a time. I passed the first guy within the first mile, splitting a 5:03! Oops, I may have just blown the rest of my run. Then I saw the next racer up ahead. I passed him before the 2 mile mark with a 5:11. There was a nice long straight road for me to see how much more I had to make up. I could only see one guy and I passed him relatively quickly, before mile 3. Am I in the lead?
There was a turnaround at 5k, so this allowed me to see where exactly I was in the race. I was still in 2nd, but now just 50 seconds back of the leader. He looked good, but clearly running a much slower pace than me. I kept looking at road markers and counting the time it took for me to reach them. I was chipping away at his lead, but with 2 miles still to run, I was worried I was going to run out of gas. There were several racers out there yelling encouraging words to me, like “you can get him!”
I tried to think about how much more fun it is to finish with a victory, and I pressed on. I continued clicking off the miles in around 5:12 and eventually caught Jason Smith, the race leader, with about a mile to go. Since I was hurting at this point, I thought the best race tactic would be to go by him quickly so he doesn’t even think about trying to go with me. It worked, and I was able to cruise home the rest of the way. As I made the last couple turns toward the finish line, I saw my family and friends all cheering for me. What a great feeling. What a great memory.
My Garmin had 32:23 for 6.26 miles (5:10s), which surprisingly is a faster pace than either of the triathlons I raced last year. Since I haven’t done much run volume over the last two months, I figured I would run slower. To a certain extent, fitness is fitness, and all the swimming and biking seems to be keeping my run up to an acceptable level. As I move up in the triathlon ranks, I will have to work the run a bit more to compete with the very best in the sport.
1st of 352 in 1:54:47
After I finished I was called up on stage to speak with the announcer. He asked if I would be returning in 2012. “We’ll see,” I replied. If things go the way I want them to, a year from now I will be onto bigger and better things.
Saturday marked my final Big Sky Conference Championship, and depending on factors now out of my control, possibly my last track meet ever. I have known this moment was coming for a while now, but writing those words really makes it sink in. I may never wear an NAU Lumberjack singlet again.
But before I get too sappy, let me fill you in on the lead up to Big Sky and the races. About two and half weeks earlier, while doing a relatively easy steeplechase workout, I felt some soreness in my Achilles. I didn’t think much of it as it didn’t bother me too much during the workout. The next day it was worse, and by two days after the workout I wasn’t running. I decided to forgo my final tune up meet before Big Sky, the Double Dual Meet down in Tempe, so that I could get healthy. The pain persisted and I took to the pool and, whenever possible, the bike. I told Coach Heins that I felt my Achilles would hold up better in a 10k then the steeplechase, so the decision was made to effectively never race a steeplechase again — at least not for NAU anyway.
The Achilles pain continued throughout the final build up to Big Sky, limiting my running to just workouts, some of which I was unable to finish. In the two weeks prior to this weekend, I probably logged less than 30 miles. There were two possiblities: I would feel fresh or completely flat.
While warming up for the 10k on Friday evening my Achilles felt pretty good — probably the best it had felt in a week. The conditions were much better than the last time I raced at Sacramento State in 2008 when temperatures were over 100 degrees. There was just a calm breeze and the sun setting. With just 13 entries in the race, it felt like a very low-key affair. Orders from Coach were to take the race out at a respectable pace of around 74 seconds and picking it up in the 2nd 5k. My initial plan heading into the race was to go for a Regional qualifying mark, which I thought would take about 29:50. Once Coach told me his plan, I realized that if I went for the PR I could blow up after 5k and fade badly in the later stages of the race. Considering the lack of work I had done leading up to the race, this was a good possibility. Conference Championships are about team titles, not individual glory. The decision was easy.
Sophomore Tim Freriks took the lead the first mile and put the pace right where it needed to be. I took the pacing duties for a couple laps, followed by junior Ahmed Osman and freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns (aka “BB”). At around two miles, the group dwindled down to a pack of five: the four Lumberjacks and Nick Atwood from Montana State. I was clearly having a tough time hanging with them, and when Coach yelled to Ahmed to not press too hard as to not drop me, Atwood took that as a hint to surge. Great move tactically for him. That was the end of me and I would run all but the final 400m of the race alone.
About halfway through the race I began to feel a blister starting to form on the ball of my left foot. Since I have done so little running in the last few weeks, it was no surprise that I would suffer from a little blister or two. As the race continued, the pain increased with each step, and by the final mile it was affecting my stride. I was told by a few different teammates watching the race that they could tell I was limping the final 800m, but they assumed it was due to my Achilles.
While the blister on my foot was growing, my lead over 6th place was shrinking. I was dieing a slow and painful death. With one lap remaining, Bowe Ebding of Eastern Washington came by me with Ben Ashkettle. I tried to respond with a sprint. The pain in my foot suddenly increased tenfold and I limped home to finish 7th place, scoring just two points, in 31:03.98. I threw myself to the ground, looked at my foot, and saw blood on my shoe. “Blood has run through my compression socks and my shoe? This must be bad.” I ripped off my shoe and saw the damage. Somehow I managed to tear off the thick calloused skin on the ball of my foot, hardened from thousands and thousands of miles, right off. Below are a couple of pictures of the carnage. Sorry if you have a weak stomach.
After treating the foot and getting a tough night of sleep (Tim and I were suffering from cases of “gut rot.” Something about 25 laps…), I started to think about Saturday’s race. It was quite painful to walk, and I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to run. I talked to coach just before warming up and he said, “I don’t think you should run it.” I asked if it would make a difference and he replied, “Yeah, if you win it it will make a difference.” Well that wasn’t going to happen, but he said if we were within 30 points with just the 5k and 4×400 relay remaining, the team had a chance at winning the conference title.
At first I thought, “what if I don’t run and we lose by a couple of points. How would I feel if I hadn’t at least tried?” After beginning my warm ups, I turned that negative thought into, “what if I score a point or two and that is the difference?” Once again, from there it was an easy decision for me. I had six other teammates lining up for the 5k, maybe just by standing next to them on the starting line I could inspire one of them to be tough. Then it would be worth it.
In the end, I didn’t score any points in that 5k. I was almost last, finishing 18th in 15:10.03. This race could have been my last. I was injured and might as well have not raced. What a rough way to finish up my college career.
Or maybe not. I didn’t contribute to the team score, but there were my teammates. My teammates shined, scoring 29 points and setting three PR’s. What if I did have an impact on one of them? Maybe one of them dug a little deeper because they knew I was somewhere on that track limping behind them, hoping they could to it because I couldn’t.
On Sunday, Tim wrote this on my Facebook wall to wish me a “Happy Birthday:”
On the last day that you were closer to 18 than 30, I saw the runner that summed up Jason Pedersen for me. Determined to make a run at a point or two for his team with half his foot torn off??? More than talent, training regimes, or determination, that selfless attitude is what has allowed the Lumberjacks to be a top-10 NCAA team the last four years in a row. You???ve shown me the ropes, and as you move on to bigger and better things I feel like I have some size 17+ shoes to fill. As Coach (italicized) Mo would say, be proud of your legacy here on this team because you have left a burning impression on the minds of all those that come after you. Happy birthday big guy, 24 years isn???t all that many when you know the best is yet to come. To many more inspiring years, it???s almost time to show the triathlon world what J. PD is all about!
I am forever indebted to Tim for writing this and making me feel like my futile effort in that 5k was anything but. After reading this message Tim wrote, my Dad said to me over the phone, “It seems like a rough way to finish up, but it is clear that you made an impression on at least a few people by running that race. I wouldn’t have raced if I were you, but I’m proud of you for doing it.”
Before I continue on this path of I-will-never-race-on-the-track-again, I will wait to see if I have one more race. I am currently ranked 65th in the West Region for the 10k, and 48 people qualify. So 17 people need to decide they have better things to do in a week and a half than to run 25 laps at Hayward Field. Yes, it is a stretch. I will know for sure on Thursday.
Let me bring you up to speed on all PD-related running things (or is it running-related PD things?). About a week after the Stanford Invitational 5000, I went to University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to get a steeplechase in since I hadn???t raced the event in over two years. That race was mediocre at best, 9:27.02 converted, but I knew it was going to be rough: first steeple in a couple years AT altitude??? oh, and I did my first steeple workout the week prior. The steeple is one of those races with a learning curve, so I wanted to get a crash course before I really go for it.
After that meet, it was back to Flag to focus on 10k training. This weekend???s Mt. Sac Invitational was to be my first 10k on the track (speaking of learning curves). During those couple weeks of mental preparation for 25 laps, I was fortunate enough to share several meals with David McNeill & friends. As if sharing a meal of kale and Brussels sprouts with a two-time NCAA 5k champion wasn???t enough, the ???& friends??? made it extra special. On the first occasion ???& friends??? included a few NAU teammates, which was a lot of fun. The second time was with Ryan Fenton of Flotrack and Ben True from the Oregon Track Club, whom we had some great discussion with about the different levels of ???professional??? athletes in the sport.
But then a week ago, Dave asked if I wanted to join him for dinner with ???Kip and Abdi.??? You know, that???s short for double World Champ-3:26 1500-multiple American Record holder Bernard Lagat and three-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. I thought for about half a second of all the exams I still had to grade and the Smart Materials exam I had to study for, and I said, ???YES! I would love to!??? So on Sunday I helped put furniture together for Co Mo???s and Dave???s apartment (Lagat signed the bottom of one of the chairs), ate dinner, and then watched the 2007 Osaka 5000m Final, all with Bernard Lagat. (For the record, he was only worried about Kipchoge in that race.)
Since then I have come off cloud 9 and back to the reality of my own mortal efforts that include cruel truths like lactic acid. As I said, this weekend was my first 10k on the track, which should never be confused with a 10k in cross country. I know now that those are two completely different beasts.
Unfortunately for Coach Heins, NAU had 7 different people competing in the 10k???s on Thursday night, spaced out amongst 6 different heats. The first beginning at 8:10 and the final one concluding at about 11:50. Those of you that pay attention to the details will notice that those 150 laps almost spanned across two days. Coach handled it no problem, and was still spry and full of character by the end of the night ??? no doubt the marathon training for the 2008 Trials paid off that night.
My race was one of the last ones, scheduled for 10:40 pm. I would have liked to be in Tim Freriks heat, for so many reasons, but mostly because 10:40 is usually after my bed time, 8:50 is not. I was able to have a very low-key day and arrive at the starting line without a yawn. There was a little confusion about hip numbers, so the 40 or so of us athletes were held in purgatory a few more minutes while they cleared it up, awaiting our 25 laps of hell.
The gun sounded and off we went. As we rounded the first of fifty turns, I found myself in the lead and thought, ???Tim and Coach Mo are going to kill me for taking the lead, again.??? We came through in about 72 and about half a lap later someone else took over and I rode the train hitting 71???s. At about 3k I had a bit of a smirk because I felt great and I thought I could keep hitting those splits all night. I came through halfway in 14:52, which was exactly where I wanted to be. Then a few laps later, it started to get rough. 71???s turned into 73-74 and I was hurting bad. From 8 laps to go until about 2 was really rough. I had come unhitched and couldn???t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was well on my way to running a 30:15 10k or so, but was able to rally the last couple laps. I came to 200m to go in 29:30 and kicked with all I had: 31 seconds. 30:01.31 was my final time. Hurts just to write it.
30:01 is a solid debut, but it is currently only 50th in the West region and only 48 qualify (if I were in the East region I would be sitting pretty in 30th??? confirming what everyone already knows), which means it won???t get me into the Regional meet. So what now? The only other 10k I might run would be at Conference, and those are usually slow and tactical. So my next chance to qualify is in the steeplechase in a couple more weeks at the Double Duel meet down in Tempe. For at least the next two weeks, I will be a steeplechaser.
Saturday I opened up my 2011 track campaign with a 3000 at the Husky Classic at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was entered in an altitude converted 8:22 from 2008, which only put me in the 5th of 6 heats. This meant that I would be racing in the morning session at around 8:20. Luckily I had my young friend, and roommate for the weekend, Tim Freriks in my heat. Throughout the weekend we traded off reassuring each other that the race would be at 9:20 Mountain time. So much better, right?
We woke up at 6:15 and I got down a bowl of my favorite Coach’s Oats. At around 6:45 we hopped in Coach Mo’s van with a couple milers, Caleb Potts and John Yatsko, that were racing a couple heats after me and Tim. We arrived to the Dempsey (UW’s 307m indoor track) around 7 and Tim and I got to warming up after a little bit of stretching. After my warm up I had a Gu with caffeine. I am fairly new to the caffeine craze as I’m not a coffee drinker and I rarely drink tea. I have read some interesting articles professing that it boosts performance. Sounds shady, but if everyone is doing it…
When I finally spiked up and made my way to the outside lanes of the track I got that old, familiar feeling that you only get before track races. It had been too long. I took a look at some of my competitors and it struck me how young they all looked! How old am I? I should have asked if anyone was born after March 1993. (As loyal readers of RunPD I don’t have to tell you the significance of that date, right?) I thought to myself, “I wonder if any of these guys have raced at cross country nats three times?” Doubt it. Too bad I have already gone over how track is a different sport.
I should have known that my first race back on the track would have a false start. I think I could devote an entire post to false start experiences I have had and what goes on in my head after one… maybe if I have another false start this season. In trad-PD fashion, I got out great on the second start and made my way onto the leader’s outside shoulder by the first turn. The pace felt very comfortable, but I figured it was still honest as the first, and “slower” heat went out in 66. No such luck for us. “69!….70!….” It took me about half a second to realize this pace was unacceptable and wouldn’t even get me under the Big Sky qualifying standard of 8:30. I took the lead and pulled the field through the next 400 66. From there the original leader came back to the front and took us through 1600 in 4:32 — still just on 8:30 pace. The last kilometer or so things really started to heat up with a few different surges, including a valiant one by Tim. I really should have chosen one of those surges to latch onto, but instead I kinda just slowly picked it up. Poor form on my part. How many times has someone said “he just slowly picked it up toward the end of the race” when describing a great track race? Never. I ended up running 8:26, the same time that I ran here three years ago. Ughhh!
After feeling rather disappointed in my effort for a few moments, I convinced myself it was a good rust buster. I got a conference qualifier and this race was something to build on. I’m hoping my workouts will continue to get better and better and I can have my best Big Sky track meet yet.
We are now over two weeks out from the NCAA Championships, my last collegiate cross country race, ever. I am filled with mix emotions — happy for what I was able to accomplish, a little sad because I know I will never be apart of a team like that again, and so on. One thing I am not feeling, however, is regret. I have none. I have devoted myself to this sport for years, running my first cross country race in 1993 as a Simi Valley Running Rebel. I had to make some sacrifices along the way, missing out on some things and unfortunately putting strain on relationships at times. But if I had to do it again, would I do anything differently? Hell no. I did everything I could to be the best cross country runner I could be.?? I will never regret anything. The fictional running hero Quenton Cassidy said it best, or rather wrote it, in a letter to his ex-girlfriend Andrea regarding his final races:
I discovered early on that the truly great advantage of going all-out every time is that later you don’t have to waste a single instant second-guessing yourself. (Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr.)
I have made it no secret that this season I wanted to be an All-American, to finish within the top 40 in the nation. Based on what I have accomplished in the last few years it was a very lofty goal. However, when I came to NAU as a recruit in 2005, Coach Hayes, the cross country and distance coach at the time, said something that stuck with me. He said, “I don’t want you to come here if you don’t want to be an All-American.” I knew at that moment that NAU was where I wanted to spend my next few years. Before my final cross country race, these words rung in my head. Could I do it? Maybe not. But I was going to give myself a chance.
I think I will always remember the few minutes just before that gun went off. Obviously I did the normal strides and we clapped it up as a team one last time. But what is really going to stick with me is the exchange I had with my dad about 100m out from the line. He was out taking pictures of us, which is where this one to the right came from. He gave me a hug and told me to have fun, one last time and that he was proud of me. It was quite emotional for me and I fought back tears. He knows this, but I love you Dad.
I got off the line well and quickly tried to find a body to get behind as there was a strong headwind, probably close to 20 mph. Like I had for most of the season, I got out well and was able to comfortably tuck in. These races are tough to judge where exactly you are, but I was probably around 50s or 60s in that first kilometer — exactly where I wanted to be to give myself a chance to potentially move up to that top 40 position.
Because this race is over two weeks ago now, I don’t remember most of my splits, but I think they were fairly similar to Pre Nationals. I tried to focus on staying inside a pack so I wouldn’t have to fight that strong wind. I know for sure that I came through 5k in 15:12 and saw a very large pack just ahead. I knew that was where All-American was. Unfortunately, it was too much and I was not able to make up much ground in the second half of the race.
Still, I was having a good race. As far as I knew, our team was running well too. More important than my individual goal was that I was expected to be our 4th man. But then, suddenly at around 6k, my positive outlook for the team’s finish took a turn for the worse. I came by David McNeill, our top runner and one of the contenders for the National Championship. I instantly knew what the problem was: a side stitch. I had seen it before; last year at Pre Nationals. Dave was a fighter that time and I knew he would be a fighter again today. He is a humble, graceful champion and knew we were counting on him to do everything he could for the team. That is exactly what he did and we love him for it.
The last few kilometers was a dog fight. Battling the wind, constantly surging to bridge the next gap ahead. It was a rough day for a lot of people. The final uphill finish was simply ridiculous. One by one a runner would try to kick away from our pack, but would get swallowed back up because it was just too much to handle. I got to a point where I thought I could last to the finish. Nope. My fate was the same as theirs.?? I ended up in 87th place, just breaking 31 minutes. Slower than last year, but 8 spots better. “I couldn’t do what I thought I could,” but no worries. As I said in the opening paragraph, no regrets. Ever.
As a team we finished 9th. Had Dave not held on like he did, we would have been well outside the top 10. After last year’s 4th place finish, this was a bit disappointing. A year ago, however, I could not have imagined how much would change. Considering all the adversity we faced, collectively as a team as well as individually, I am proud to say I was a part of another top 10 team for the Lumberjacks.
(By the way, that is 4 top 10’s in a row and 8 in the last 10 years. Not bad for “a little school in the pines.”)
Yesterday was a great day. It started off waking up from a 10+ hour snooze shortly after 9 am in the bed next two two-time national champion, and fellow teammate, David McNeill. We each had some breakfast while enjoying European Vacation on the television (“What does the Queen do Dad?” “Queens, and vacuums.”). Dave had never seen it. How un-American.
Around 10:30 we left for the course for our pre race routine. Upon arrival we were greeted by my family! My mom and dad have been so supportive of everything I do since I was a little kid. I have no doubts that I wouldn’t be where I am with their encouragement and sacrifices. They were nice enough to bring along my big sister Jaclyn as well! She was the one that got the family into running to begin with, so it is fitting that she is here to see my last cross country race.
Course run-through was fine. On some of our past races this season I think we have been a little too relaxed and joking too much. These make for great memories and help bring the team together, but on the eve of the national championships, I think there will be plenty of opportunities to make memories just around the corner. The course looks fast, much like prenats. Perhaps a little less brown, dead grass. It was rather windy, especially on the stretch that spans the start, 5k, and finish. We took note of the wind and commented on where we should tuck in the pack and when to make our moves. Temperature was nice in the 50s and looks to be a little warmer tomorrow.
After getting our traditional Terre Haute lunch at Penn Station, we just laid around at the hotel until dinner time. Coach Mo picked up Olive Garden for us so we good relax in a hotel conference room together. Over dinner we finished reading Bo Reed’s A Magical Season that we had started on our trip down to Phoenix on Friday. The story tells of the 1988 NAU Cross Country team, one of only two NAU teams to finish within the top-2 at a national championship, and the only team to score a perfect 15 points at the Big Sky Championships. After hearing the story, it was truly magical what that scrappy group of runners from a “little school nestled in the pines.” I hope we can continue the NAU tradition and do something magical today.
We ended the evening with some kind words from Coach Heins and sharing a few words of encouragement from each other, and then a few of us ventured outside for a short walk. We enjoyed some fresh air together and really took it all in. Last race.
Yesterday was a great day. Today, in the words of a wise man, “is the greatest day to be a Lumberjack.” I can’t wait.