For the third time in as many years, I headed to the “Big Peach” for my 4th of July celebration of running the Peachtree Road Race. My first two Peachtrees were excellent (14th overall/7th American in 2013 and 2nd in 2014), so I came in hoping for another great showing. Especially after I had a subpar race at USA Outdoors the previous weekend. There is nothing like an unsatisfactory race to light a fire inside.
On Thursday, Griff and I jumped in Veronica (his ’98 Saturn) and headed south. On the way we picked up Sinéad (our newest ZAP Athlete), who was making her debut in a ZAP/Reebok uniform. After a long drive (there seemed to be an accident every twenty miles on the highway), we arrived in Atlanta. I had a hotel room booked at the Ritz-Carlton (Swanky, I know. The Atlanta Track Clubs lives it up!). The next morning I met Griff, Sinéad, and Pete for our prerace run. After the run I headed with my other Team USA members to the race expo for an autograph signing. It was really fun to hang out at the expo and chat with people. There were kids who were running their first Peachtree, to others who were well into their twentieth. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and getting prepped for the next day.
Just like the previous year, the weather was unseasonably cool, but was threatening to rain. Eventually Zeus opened the skies, and the ensuing downpour delayed the later waves. Fortunately for my race and the first waves, the weather held off. With a new team format, my race started 10 minutes before the main race. This made for an interesting race, as there were 24 people and only 12 men in my race. As the announcer introduced the teams, I lined up along side my fellow Americans and the gun went off.
After the initial scrambling for position ended I found myself at the front next to Bobby Curtis and Daniel Salel, but with a head wind, I quickly tucked into the pack. I stayed there until we got to the lowest point of the course. Basically the first three miles of the course are downhill, the next two are up Cardiac hill, and then the last mile is back down. After a slow first mile, in 4:52, the pace picked up for the next two (4:40 and 4:25ish, 14:28 through 5km). At that point we began our accent of Cardiac hill (named because of the Shepherd Medical Center, not because it gives you a heart attack). I found myself moving well up the hill, and into the lead. This was the same exact way I ran the race last year.
Going up the hill, I stayed relaxed and really did not want to push too hard, knowing that there was one more hill between 4 and 5 miles. Right before the next hill Christo pulled up along side me and said we should push the pace, as the field was starting to string out. This was an ideal time to press the pace, because the team score was based on total time rather than place. If Christo and I could pull away from a majority of the field, it could significantly help Team USA’s chances of winning. I tucked in behind him for a minute or so, until we started up the second hill. From there I started to push the pace for the last two miles. Eventually only Daniel was with me and over the last mile we traded surges trying to break away. (4:40, 4:29, 4:20ish for the last three miles).
From the perspective of being in the race, the final kilometer was so enjoyable, and I would assume that it was captivating for the fans. This final kilometer is the reason I that I love racing. Both Daniel and I put everything we could into winning the race. There were four lead changes in the final stretch, as Daniel and I made our bids for glory. My final surge came around 500m to go. I thought he was going to pull away, but hearing the crowd chant “USA” gave me a boost of adrenaline and I surged past him. Unfortunately that little bit extra I had was used a too early and he flew by me in the final 200m.
After having a disappointing race at USA Outdoors, mostly due to my tactics, I was eager to finish the season with an excellent race. I knew that there were some excellent runners in the race, including my USA teammates. Both Christo and Bobby had run under 28 minutes for the 10,000m this year. The All Star teams from Asia, Africa, and Europe were just as good. Coming into the race Daniel Salel was the prerace favorite. He has been on fire this spring, winning the BAA 10km in 28:09 and has a 27:09 10,000m PB. I am satisfied that I was able to go toe to toe with him and push him all the way to the line. Over the last three years, I have steadily been getting faster and stronger. Two years ago I would have been hesitant to consider the idea that I could win this race. Since then, I have had some great races and disappointing ones, but it only takes a great performance like this one to give me confidence that I am on the right track.
One thing that played well into my race was the course. I really like the layout of this course as it plays to my strengths as a runner. At ZAP we do frequent climbs as tempo workouts, so I have learned to run hills well, especially when I am tired. So with the downhill early in the course, I can relax then charge up the hills on the second half. That is the strategy that I did the last two years. Unfortunately I have been outkicked both years in the final stretch, but this year’s second place is easier to swallow. When Christo made that big more around the 4th mile, I knew that he had the team race in mind. Both of us had seen that the pack was beginning to break up, so pressing then would really help our chances of winning. Had there not been a team component, I would have not pushed, but taken a lesson from USAs and used my track speed rather than my aerobic marathon strength. I would have not sapped the speed from my legs charging up the hills. But even so, a win would not have been guaranteed. Overall, I am proud of the effort I put in the last kilometer, as both Daniel and I were spent at the line.
Before signing off, it would be remissive of me to not comment on the new format of the Peachtree Cup. I think that it is a great idea to have a team competition centered around Team USA, especially on the 4th of July. While the weather discouraged many people from going out and cheering along the course, there were still many USA cheers. People love cheering for something that they can relate too, and most people do not know much about elite distance running, but they can relate to someone wearing the “USA” on their chest. That is what makes events like the Olympics so great. Sadly the Olympics are only once every four years, so races like the Peachtree Cup are a great way for our sport to reach the public between the Games. While Team USA did not win (if you score it like a cross country meet we would have!), I cannot wait to make another run for the Cup next year!
Along with the new format, I would like to thank the Atlanta Track Club and Rich Kanah for everything they did to put on the race. They worked extremely hard to get the race broadcasted not only on the local stations, but also nationally. The race was highlighted twice on NBC, once on Saturday night and again on Monday night. You can watch the broadcast here. Beyond the media, the Atlanta Track Club put on a fantastic event. They had a great hospitality for us elites and ran a smooth of a race given the terrible weather.
Also I would like to thank USATF for working with the Atlanta Track Club to let us on the USA Team to wear the national team kit. It is always a special occasion when you get to wear the USA singlet, and I know that it helped elevate my performance.
Often I mention ZAP and Reebok, but I rarely actually give them credit for how much support they give us athletes. With out ZAP and Reebok, my road to being a premier distance runner in the US would have been much harder. Their support has been unwavering over the last three years. They have placed their confidence in me, and in doing so it makes me strive to be the best I can. I have some big races coming up in the next year and have set some high goals.
On a related note, I will be headed to Alexandria, Virginia at the end of the week to attend the annual RunPro Conference. Every year, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) puts on a conference for up and coming distance runners, especially ones focused on road racing. Most have just graduated from college and attending the conference will help them learn the ins and outs of professional running. Along with the RunPro conference, the RRCA also has their Road Scholar program, which I was a recipient in 2013. The Road Scholar Grant is to assist up and coming American distance runners who show great promise to develop into national and world-class distance running athletes. I am excited to go back again (I was there two years ago) to represent ZAP and the RRCA, and impart my knowledge and experience of the last three years.
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Now I am taking a break and hitting the reset button for the next two weeks. I have had consistent and healthy training since January, so taking a break now is a good idea. It will allow me to have some time to build up and get ready for the fall road racing season, which I plan to run many of the USA Championships. I will start with the 20km Champs on Labor Day, then two weeks later the 5km Champs, and another two weeks will be the 10 mile Champs. I will finish my season with the 12km Champs on November 15. I am excited for the upcoming sequence as I can use it as a springboard towards the Marathon Trials in February of next year.
For you astute observers, you would have noticed that I am not running the World Championships in Beijing, China in August. By winning Twin Cities/USA Marathon Champs last fall, I was qualified to represent Team USA at the World Championships. After thinking about what was best for my running career I made the frustrating decision to turn down the spot. While there are many reasons for this decision, the most prevalent was that I felt the pollution of Beijing could possibly do damage to my body, and even being knocked back half a percent could mean the difference between making the Olympic Team and sitting at home. With so much on the line in the next year I felt like the obvious choice was to pass on such a great opportunity. As I stated above, it is always a special occasion to represent the USA in international competitions, but not when the stakes are so high.
Watch the finish of the main race. Scott Overall (British Olympian) nips Ben Payne at the line. It also was an exciting finish.