“Keep coming.”

With the major workouts done for my upcoming 5k in Seattle, my last few days in New Jersey were spent running easily and getting in a light workout to keep myself from getting stale. As is standard for the week of a race, Pete had me do a light fartlek workout plus some race pace 400’s on Monday. The workout was a 3-2-1 fartlek x 2 followed by 5×400 between 65.5 seconds and 66 seconds. The fartlek portion consisted harder running followed by half the rest of the hard piece I just completed. So I ran 3 min harder, 90 seconds easier, 2 min harder, 1 min easier, 1 min harder. I did that two times through then jogged over to the Lambertville Prep indoor track to do my 400’s. All in all, it was a pretty standard pre-race session. The following morning, Esther and I said our goodbyes and I was off to the West Coast just in time to miss the next snow storm heading for New Jersey!

A beautiful 307 meter outdoor track masquerading as an indoor track.

A beautiful 307 meter outdoor track masquerading as an indoor track.

Now to the race. I was very confident heading in and I had 2 main goals: 1. to compete to win the race and 2. to run as close to 13:40 as possible. If you notice, I put “compete” as the first goal because most years at this meet the winning time is always between 13:37-13:40. I knew that if I entered the race with an attitude of beating everyone around me(regardless of who was in the field), the time would come. Also, I was feeling great. With the exception of a head cold after my Princeton track session the previous week, my legs were feeling light and poppy. I was also at the end of a long cycle of training and still felt pretty fresh. I began this training block in late July and with the exception of a few lower mileage transition weeks, I had been going strong for 28 weeks. In that time, I had reached my highest mileage week ever at 118, run 2,665 miles total, and averaged 95 miles per week for the entire block. And most importantly, no injuries!

The race had a pacer from Oregon who was supposed to run 1.5 miles at 66 second pace. He was a bit all over the place pacing wise but I really didn’t care as I was only concerned with staying near the front of the crowded 25 man field in case any moves were made. I wanted to be at or near the front when the “real” racing began which I suspected would be after 2 miles. Two or three times early on I made hard moves to get into 4th or 5th place and was in a seemingly great position for a lap or so until the runners behind me got anxious and I soon found myself shuffled back to about 8th or 9th place. In hindsight, this was not a big deal but I was being bullheaded about being very close to the front. In my mind, I wanted to maintain this aggressive attitude and stay engaged rather than settle and perhaps not be aware of a move being made and be left in the dust. The leaders reached the mile in 4:27 and the 2 mile in 8:52. I was probably 4:28 and 8:54 but that 8:54 felt harder than it should have due to my surging and constant jostling around. Shortly after 2 miles, things bunched up again and I almost took a spill on the homestretch. Even as I caught myself and got back on the tail end of the lead pack, I was still confident that I had weathered the early storm and that my legs had enough left to kick. However, at around 11 minutes into the race, Edward Cheserek of Oregon started to push and I couldn’t respond. I then had the wonderfully crushing experience of watching 11 runners separate from me with nothing I could do to stop them! I worked hard the last 3 laps but unfortunately crossed the line in a paltry 13:58.07. And guess what the winner ran? Cheserek finished in 13:40 on the nose.

In hindsight, I should have been content to go the middle or back of the pack and expend as little energy as possible and move up slowly rather than abruptly as I did. Pete and Ryan (aka Burg, ZAP assistant coach) watched the race and told me afterwards that the strong moves I made to pass people early in the race were largely meaningless as I was shortly pushed backwards into the field and ended up where I started. This shuffling of the field in the big picture was not effective as it did not change my position much at all and simply wore myself out to the point that I was unable to race when it mattered. Interestingly, I went back and watched the race and noticed that Luke Caldwell of New Mexico was nearly dead last at 2 miles wasting little to no energy. He would finish 3rd in 13:42!

I am proud that I took an attitude of aggression but also very pissed that I crossed the line in a time that in no way represented my fitness. But, results rule the day and my time suggested otherwise.

Here are my takeaways after digesting this race and my most recent season:

  1. High expectations: I will continue to set my goals very high. I failed to meet several goals this season but I am not going to lower my expectations as a result. I must keep pushing and expecting big breakthroughs (like my training partner Tyler Pennel had at the USA Half).

  2. Always compete: I must approach future races with much less emphasis on time, but rather on competing. I trusted my fitness and simply raced the NYRR Midnight Run and won. I was a slave to the clock during the USA Half and although I nabbed my Olympic Trials qualifier, I ran over a minute slower than I hoped. I went back to racing at the Husky 5k but was rash early on and paid for it late. I need to be somewhere in the middle…but always competing.

  3. Consistent confidence: I need to enter each race with complete confidence in my form. Pete is a very positive coach (and person) and a good foil  to my generally dour reactions to my subpar performances. He always urges me to approach my races from a career outlook rather than through a narrow ‘one race’ view. His mantra is to always “keep coming.” Keep pushing, keep being positive despite failures, and to simply keep coming strong everyday because the breakthroughs are close. He often reminds me that I only began running in 2008 (no HS or undergrad college running, only soccer) and that my best days are ahead. I’m very impatient but I must fully believe in my abilities if I am to maximize the plan Pete and Ryan have laid out for me.

  4. Have fun: Last night I watched Winston Watts, driver of the last place Jamaican bobsled team, talk about how blessed he was to be in Sochi. He mentioned that his life wasn’t easy but that he approaches obstacles as opportunities, not potential setbacks. Here is a guy who finished dead last in his event and PAID HIS OWN WAY to the Games reminding everyone that it is just a sport and life goes on. I think every elite runner can remind themselves to relax and enjoy the ride because unless you’re Meb or Lagat, it won’t last very long!

Here is my last week of training (2/9-2-15):

Sunday: AM: 14 miles (10×20 sec post run)

Monday: AM: 12 miles (3-2-1 x2 fartlek plus 5×400 race pace)    PM: 5 miles

Tuesday: AM: 6 miles    PM: 4 miles

Wednesday: AM: 10 miles (travel day to Seattle)

Thursday: AM: 4 miles      PM: 7 miles (5×200 strides at Dempsey post run)

Friday: AM: 40 min walk     PM: 9 miles (Husky 5k 13:58, 13th place)

Saturday: AM: 6 miles (travel day back to ZAP)

Total weekly mileage: 76 miles, 10 runs

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