As I sit here staring at a blank page, I do not know what to say about the race. I still have a bag of mixed feelings. Part of me is disappointed that I did not reach my goal of winning my first national title. I was so very close. The other part knows that this might be my best performance to date. I had my highest placing at a US Championship and beat quite a few people who have much better pedigrees than me. Maybe as I write, my thoughts will become more clear.
Since Peachtree is one of the largest road races in the world, there was a ton of energy at the starting line. Lining up in front of 60,000 people will always send a few shots of nerves through your body. I pushed all of those nervous thoughts aside and instead thought about what I wanted to do in the next thirty minutes. I needed to run a smart race and put myself in a position to win. For the last week, this race has been the thoughts bouncing around my head. I had analyzed what way was going to be the best way for me to win. Eventually I came to the thought that I would go at the only turn on the course, with about 800m left. I figured that I could get to there fairly comfortable and have enough to push to the finish line.
A few minutes before the start we were corralled behind the starting line to hear the national anthem played and a few remarks from the race director. At 7:29 we were off and headed down the road. I got out in a good position, right around 5th. I was tucked in behind the leaders and relaxing. I could tell that we were running a pretty good pace, but it was not too fast. Since I was there to race, and really did not care what time I ran, so I just went with the flow. We passed the mile in right around 4:40, and soon after Girma Mecheso interjected a big surge. I started to go with him, but I then realized that he was really moving, so I backed off knowing that the big hills coming in the second half of the course. If I bided my time, I knew I would catch him. The rest of the field seemed to come to the same conclusion.
Even though no one went with Girma, the pace did quicken significantly, as we covered the next two miles in 4:23 each, which is very fast even though we were running downhill most of the time. By the 3rd mile (13:26) we had caught up to Girma, and just in time for the start of Cardiac Hill. It is named so because of the hospital just off to the right, not because it gives you a heart attack. As we entered the hills that make the course so tough, the pace slowed notably. I made a split second decision to throw out my pre race plan and go for it from there. Since we train on the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I have confidence in my ability to run hills. So I surged up the hill and quickly I felt the pack around me begin to string out.
I ended up leading for the next 3 miles, with Christo Landry and Aaron Braun in tow. I was feeling relaxed and kept moving well up the hills. I found myself in “the zone.” I did not hear or see the crowd as I was focused to the two around me, trying to figure out how hard they are working and for any sign that they were tiring.
At 5 miles, where the course tops out, all my work over the hills began to pay off as Aaron Braun began to fall back. With that in mind, I put in one more move to try and break Christo. No longer confident in my kick, I felt like I needed to run away from him in the last mile. This last move did not work as he was right on my shoulder as we approached the turn on to 10th Street. I then found Christo had moved up to my side, and being stubborn, I refused to let him take the lead. I took the turn in the lead, and began a long drive for the finish. With about 400m to go, Christo went around me and took off. I tried to go with, but after a few seconds, I knew that our duel was over; I had run out of gears.
Looking back at the race, I seem to settle on my split second choice to ditch my pre race plan and take the lead half way through. I keep teetering between thinking it was the correct choice. One part of me knows that it is the reason I got second. By pushing the pace I was able to drop everyone else besides Christo. On the other hand, if I did not take the lead and push, there would have been more people nearby, and I could have won with a big kick or gotten or been out kicked for a worst finish. In the end I can play what if all day, so I am most likely not going to get a satisfying answer. But I gave it my all in an attempt to win, which led me to run very well, but Christo ran better.
A few days before the race, inserted this quote into our daily training email:
When I committed it was to the finish. I never saw success in making smaller feeler moves. Whether it was 800m from the tape, 1500m our or even 3km, when I decided to drive for home I laid out all I had. – Carlos Lopes (1976 Olympic 10000m Silver Medal, 1984 Olympic Marathon Gold Medal, World XC Champion, World Record Marathon in 1986)
I felt like that this pretty much sums up my race. At 3 miles I felt good and made that choice to go for the win from there. I knew that once at the lead, I was not going to slow the pace down in order to save something. I was going to push until I could not run that pace any more.
Another takeaway from the race is that I expected to win and ran that way. Over the last 6 months, we have had a few visits from a Stan Beecham, a sports psychologist. These visits have been used in an attempt to for us to race better. One of the main point he has talked about is how expectations often what determine the performance.
If you don’t expect to win, you have already forfeited the race. You have given up your chance to find out just how fast you can go. The best way to approach a race is to win! The only way to find out how good you can really be is to be willing to five everything you have in an attempt to win. The desire to win is the same as the desire to do your best and only those who are trying to win are trying to do their best. – Elite Minds, pg. 58
Getting to this mind set can be very difficult, especially when you compete against some of the best runners in the world. For example, in my last two track races I ran against Mo Farah and Bernard Lagat, without much thought that I could win the races. Their achievements, which are too long to list here, affected how I approached the race and very much determined how well I ran. At USA’s, I came in with the expectation that I would get top 10, and low and behold I got 9th. Stan wants us to forget what others have done and focus on what you are capable of, and believe that you can win. The week leading up to Peachtree I kept saying to myself, “When I am fit and running well, I can run with anyone in the US. And I am fit right now.” Repeating this statement lead me to believe that when I was on the starting line, I would win.
Coming into the race, I had been focused on running some fast times on the track. I had a nice two month season where all I did was track stuff. The change of pace and venue was refreshing, but I struggled all season to really have that one race I wanted, that one breakthrough. After Peachtree, I walked away from this race with some redemption. The sting of losing is dulled by that I felt like I had a very good race, especially a 10km. Over the last two years, I have not been able to come within 10 seconds of my PR, either on the roads or track. The last two track seasons, I made the long trip out to Stanford knowing that I was in much better shape than my PR of 28:23. But I could not put it together on either day. This has been frustrating, especially because I have been running so well at other distances. On Friday, I finished just 7 seconds shy of my PR on a tough course.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Atlanta Track Club for putting on a great event. Without their support, runners like myself would not be able to do what I do for a living. It can be a daunting task to put on a USA Championship, and it was one of the best that I have been to. They brought in a stellar field and took care of us fantastically.
Now I get to take a break and recharge both my mental and physical batteries, so that I am ready to go for a big marathon training block.
Race Highlights (lots of me! And it is much more than highlights, it is 21 minutes long)