This weekend I headed to Minneapolis/St. Paul to race the USATF 10 Mile Championships. A year ago I made the same trip and walked (very slowly) away with my first national title. Coming into this time, I had thoughts of a similar result in my mind. My previous two races had not been what I wanted, but training had been much better the last two weeks, and the tiredness I had been feeling was dissipating. With those positive signs, I was feeling confident of a good race. Now I just needed to get to the Twin Cities and on the starting line!
The race played out similar to the 20km from four weeks prior, and almost exactly as I thought it would. Through out the race the pace was honest, but not outrageous, so there was a big pack up front that would slowly dwindle as the constant rhythm began to wear on people. Having planned for a race like this, I was mentally ready. I stuck to my race plan of hanging in the pack, smooth, relaxed, and strong. Only once I drifted to the front, but quickly returned to the pack.
We reached 5 miles in 23:45 with a dozen still in the front pack. From there, the pace increased as we crested the hills on Summit Ave at mile 7, then the racing began. Ritz was the first to make the move around mile 8, and the pack followed. I knew that the final 800m is extremely fast and I would be more comfortable with some separation before then. There was a slight hill headed into the final mile, which I took full advantage of and surged up it. I continued to press as we crested and it was downhill from there, increasing my pace every minute or so. All those surges on the long runs were paying off! Running from the front is a frightening experience. You do not know where the rest of the pack is. For a while I could hear footsteps behind me, and eventually they were lost in the noise of the crowd, but I just kept pushing.
As we reached the Cathedral of St. Paul, I fully let go and let gravity take me down the steep hill. It was here a year ago that I truly realized I was going to win. Unfortunately, this race was still undecided. As the road leveled, I continued to push, but could see the shadow of Sam off my shoulder. I think he fell back for a few seconds, but with 150m to go he began to pull aside me, and I put one last effort to hold him off, but it was to no avail. After a few more strides, he was clear and I was tying up.
My first thought after crossing the line, was disappointment. No surprise there. I wanted to win the race and came up agonizingly short. I will often repeat the idiom, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” While that idiom still holds true, as it will go down in the books that Sam Chelanga is the 2015 USATF 10 Mile Champ, I feel much better about this second place than others.
Minutes after the race, I the disappointment began fade, especially after being doubled over gasping for air. I realized that I ran as hard as I could. I left everything the streets of St. Paul. Sam was just better on that day. At this level, everyone is talented, everyone works hard, and everyone wants to win. Often the race goes to who felt best on the day. Four weeks ago at the 20km, Jared Ward felt the best and blew everyone’s doors off in the last 800m. He did not have his best day on Sunday, finishing 8th, and he was looking for better. With the quality of fields that have running the USA Road Circuit this fall, minuscule differences can change results. The only truly way to be satisfied is to run as hard as you can, knowing that you gave your best effort that day.
The biggest positive I was able to find in this race, was that I executed my race plan to near perfection. I am a good hill runner, and I have used this to my advantage in the past, including the last two Peachtree Road Races. While I was able to break most of the field in those two, I still ended up second, having run my own legs out from under me for the final kilometer. For this race, Pete and I settled on the idea that yes, I am a great hill runner, so that means I should be able to feel better once we get to the crest of the hills. I should have a couple of extra percent in the tank compared to everyone else, to use in the last mile.
The basic plan Pete and I devised was to hang around the pack until mile 8, then see how the race plays out. Once I made my move, it was for the finish. Only one time did I find myself at the front pushing, but I quickly realized what I was doing and settled back into the pack. I did not want to make a move so early in the race, even though that was the section of the marathon course I pulled away. I wanted to save every bit for the final mile.
One thing everyone at ZAP always chides me about how analytical and reason based I am, often coming across as stoic and even cold. But there is a bit of an idealistic and even romantic side to me, especially in my philosophy on running. In training I am methodical and rarely anything other than reason drive my training. While that sounds very monotonous and boring, it does not mean that I do not love training! I love going out for my second runs out at Moses Cone Park and enjoying the sense freedom of the trails. But it is all within the well thought out and reasoned training plan.
It is then for me that races are the opposite. They are the time that I get to let the idealistic and romantic side come out. I race because I love racing, just as much as training, but for different reasons. I love to test myself against both my previous self and others. This had led to me frequently taking the lead in races when I should not. The races this fall have been about finding the best way for me to compete for the win in races, which often makes me use my rational side while racing. This weekend I was able to find a balance of these two opposing forces. I used the rational, calculating part to keep myself in check for the first eight miles, and then let my personality and heart take over. I will never know if I would have won had I waited a little bit longer before I made my move, but once made my move for the win, I ran just as ferociously as in the past.
This race was a continuation of my overarching goals for the fall, to gain more race experience, especially against the guys I will be racing in February. My first two races were a bit a disappointment as I was able to hang with the leaders until 800m to go, only to be quickly dropped. I was a bit frustrated by that fact, as Pete had been gearing my training with the idea that I would be finishing my races well in an attempt to win. Since I was able to do that this race, I gained a good amount of confidence headed into my final two races, and the trials in general. Pete and I are using this fall to perfect racing and training strategies that will come in handy for the Trails. So far, this fall has been a learning experience, both about disappointment and success. Regardless how my final two races of the fall turn out, I will be a better runner, and more prepared to run for the privilege to dawn the USA singlet in Rio.
I would also give a big congrats to both Molly Huddle and Sam Chelanga. Molly ran an impressive race. While I was not able to watch it unfold, I was amazed by her performance. The TC 10 Mile course is not easy. There are plenty of hills to slow you down, but none of that mattered. She ran an American best in an all women’s race, but unfortunately it cannot be ratified as the course is point to point. Nonetheless, it is still a fantastic performance. Sam too ran a great race, biding his time, letting others set the pace. He also won his first USATF national title, as he recently became a U.S. citizen. You only need to watch his interview to see how proud and ecstatic he is about doing so.
From here I am going to be running the 12km champs in Alexandria, Virginia. I will have one race between now and then to keep my racing legs fresh, but that is TBD. This weekend I was asked more than once, if the Trials were on my mind. I responded, “Not too much. I am focusing on this season first.” But that is nowhere near the truth, as the Trials are coming up quick! I am constantly thinking about the Trials and what it is going to take to make the team, who will be in the hunt for the team (Let’s Run did a good pre-preview here, about half way down), what this marathon cycle will be like? It is rarely far from my mind, as my biggest race so far in my career will start at 10am on February 13 in the City of Angels.
Before I sign off, I have to mention the new special edition ZAP Fitness Reebok 3.0 shoes! They look fantastic. The ZAP Fitness logo is stitched into the tongue, the geographic coordinates of ZAP are stamped on the side, and a topographic map of the Blue Ridge area is embossed on the insoles. If you are interested in purchasing a pair, head to the ZAP Fitness website!