Last Thursday night I lined up for my third USATF National Championship on the track. Coming in I was really excited to make a big jump from my previous races at USAs, especially with this being my first time racing at historic Hayward Field. I was aiming at a top 5 finish and hopefully a PB. While I did not get either of those, it was not for a lack of trying.
Before the race, another athlete came up to me and said that a few of the other marathoners were thinking of not letting the pace dawdle. With the temperatures hovering around ninety, we knew that most likely the race would be a slow 6 to 7 km then the racing would begin. They wanted to counter that by making the race more of a grind, which would be more beneficial to us marathoners. Knowing that often the person who leads becomes the sacrificial lamb, I did not want to commit to helping out.
The gun went off and even with a fast pace, I found myself in good position, right around 5th. With Bobby Curtis (2:11 marathoner) leading, we went through 800m in 2:12 (faster than I went in my 5000m in Portland!) and that continued through the mile in 4:26. After that Aaron Braun (2:12 marathoner), kept the pace fast pulling the field through 2 miles in 8:58. At this point in the race I was torn between surging to the front to continue pressing. I had been looking at the Jumbotron and could see that there were no more marathoners near the front to help me after I led for a few laps. Then the pace slowed significantly and impulsively I went to the front. From there I started to click of 67 second laps for a mile before the hot breezy conditions began to affect me.
After a few more laps of gradual slowing, someone went around me and I began to drift back in the pack. From there I was able to regroup both mentally and physically. By the time I was refocused, there was only 2000m left and the real racing began. A few surges were made, but the field remained the same, and we became tightly bunched. Just after three laps to go, I was running in the outside of lane 1 when Galen Rupp moved out and cut me off. I ended up giving him a big shove, got a stare from him, and he took off for the move that opened up the race. I tried to go with, but I felt like my momentum had been broken and the sudden surge was too much for me to handle. I struggled home the last 800m as I only was able to run 5 minute pace.
My initial reaction after the race was irritation with the other marathoners in the field for not helping out like we had briefly talked about. But after that initial reaction, I realized I knew before going to the front I was going to be a sacrificial lamb. Even though pushing the pace early ended up biting me, there were athletes who struggled even more. When I talked to Pete after my race he said, “Your last 800 was tough, but there was carnage behind you.” With the first 5000m at a fast pace given the conditions, there were a lot of people that struggled from a lot farther out. Another positive is there. I came in with the 17th best PB and finished 11th. I was able to beat seven people who have a faster PB than me (one guy who has a slower PB beat me). That alone is something I can be proud of.
Later that night, when I was unable to fall asleep, I watched the replay. There were two things that Tim Hutchings (the British announcer) said that hit home with me. Around 17 minutes into the race he said, “I don’t think he is particularly experienced at this level in track racing, so there is a big learning curve.” I heard him say this and could not help but agree. I ran my first 10,000m only three years ago, so I do not have much experience in a high level 10,000m. When looking back at my tactics, I tried to run the race as if it was a road race. In road racing you can push the pace from far out and have good results. That rarely happens on the track, unless you are the best in the field. The best example of this from my career is from Peachtree last year. At three miles, I felt good and knew that I could run the hills, so I went for it. I ended up dropping the entire field besides Christo, and afterward he told me, I almost broke him. Looking back, I should have stayed with my pre race tactics of sitting back and letting the race unfold then tried moving the last few kilometers. Had I done that, I think I would have finished much higher.
Hutchings second statement that made me pause and think was, “He looks really, really calm. There’s almost a half smile on his face. He’s enjoying this.” This happened right after I took the lead, and actually hearing it from someone else really made me stop and realize that I truly did enjoy competing, even though the race was not what I wanted. I am very lucky that I have the opportunity to be a professional runner. I get to live in one of the best areas of the country and train on some of the best trails. I get to travel all over the world and compete against other athletes. I even get to be impulsive and take the lead only to be disappointed with the outcome. But I love it.
Now I head down to Atlanta for my third time racing the Peachtree Road Race. This year the format of the race will be different as there are 4 teams, from the USA, Europe, Africa, and Asia, competing for the Peachtree Cup. The USA has a great team assembled, so we should be very competitive. I do not know if the race will be streamed live, but follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more information, as the race gets nearer. Also #PeachtreeCup and #ACJPRR will be the hashtags I will use for the race.