Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just One of Those Days

I was awoken suddenly by my wife's voice, "It is time to get up." it was 4:15 race morning. I slept great! It was into the shower for my first warm shower of our stay and then the extensive preparation of getting dressed, which takes much longer than you could ever imagine.

Then it was off to breakfast or at least what I call breakfast on race day. A cup of coffee and nothing else. I don't recommend this fueling strategy for everyone but it works for me. I will have two Vespa amino acid supplement drinks an hour and fifteen minutes before the race respectively. That however only amounts to about forty calories altogether.

With the bus issues we have had in conjunction with this race, the men's team decided to take Michael Wardian's rental van to get us there instead. We had a smooth ride to Seregno and got there about 6:30 for the 8:00 start. Unfortunately, there were more transportation issues and the race start was moved back to 8:30. This worried me a little because I hadn't really eaten anything for breakfast.

We made our way to the start line under cloudy skies with a threat of rain and temperatures in the 50's. Ideal race conditions! The gun went off and we were in our way. My plan was to maintain a 6:45 pace for the first four Laps, then push it in that last lap. We'll, that plan was thrown quickly out the window as we were hitting 6:30's I early miles if the race. I settled into a pack of six or seven which included joe binder.

This pack stayed together for much of the first two laps, when on the third lap I got bored and put a surge in at about the 45km mark. I was able to gap that pack and run across  to a pack of four about 200 meters ahead.  The field was beginning to show signs of cracking. The group of six I was running with became a group of two and the group of four I caught up to contained only one runner that could react. That runner was a Frenchman that eventually surged past me.

My surge was short lived because about 15km later the pack of two which contained Joe Binder caught up to and passed me. The unusual part of this  was I wasn't slowing down. I was getting faster. I finished the third lap and reached the 65km aid station where my wife was and yelled "what place am I in?" she informed me fifteenth. I was ready to race the last 35km.

The field was really stringing out and runners who ran an ambitious pace early were reduced to a jog or even a walk. Heading into the 70km mark I was surprised to see that I was gaining on Joe. I said some encouraging words as I ran by and to my amazement I saw the back of another America jersey off in the distance at the 75km mark. It was Todd Braje. He was hanging tough but going a low spell. I was now in fourth on my team.

I crossed the start finish for my last and final lap and got a burst of energy from the crowd and what I was just about to notice. Andy Henshaw, arguably one of the top two 100k runners in our country had dropped out of the race and was helping out at our aid station just past the start/finish line.

I was now in third place on our team and in a scoring position. (They only take the best three times from each team. The bottom three get thrown our.) in one lap I went from sixth on our team to third. This was a huge change psychologically. I willed myself to stay focused and  not to succumb to the self doubt. I kept eating, taking salt, and drinking fluids. I didn't want to bonk the last few miles.

As we approached the 85km mark and anticipated the excitement on my wife's face as she saw me approach. You could see the nervousness as she handed me my water bottle with salt capsules. She then screamed out, "You're in 8th!" I was in absolute shock. Not only was I going to be a scoring member on our team but I may finish in the top ten which would earn me an automatic spot in the 2013 World Championship in  South Korea.

I tried as best I could to block all that out and run one km at a time. It sounds cliche but it works. I arrived at the 95km aid station and got a huge cheer from our aid station and ad I grab my water bottle they screamed, "GO!" the whole afternoon I had been told we were in 2nd place but the way they said go have me the impression that we still had a shot at gold. My legs were so heavy that I just couldn't find another gear to run in. Until I saw our number two man, Michael Wardian, off in the distance.

When I eventually caught up to him with 4 km to go we willed each other to run harder. Our pace went from 6:55 per mile to 6:30. We were both exhausted but it was a race against he clock. Could we make up enough time to pace the Italian's.

With less than a km to go, I surged ahead of Michael and kicked it in! I finished seventh in a time of 6:48:52, Michael finished in eighth right behind me. I was so over come by emotions I began to cry. I couldn't believe what just happened. There is no way this second alternate finished seventh in the world.

Shortly after my finish, I saw my wife running towards me. Her face said it all. We embraced and shared many tears. Tears of hard work, suffering, sacrifice,.. You name it.

The magical day ended with a team meal at a local restaurant and the award ceremony where we were rewarded the silver medal.

Now my focus turns to Cleveland in two weeks where I will be competing in the 24 hour National championships at NorthCoast. That will be the hardest run of my life, but the way this year is going, I won't count myself out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Italy (Day1-Day 5)

The excitement is building as I wait to meet the team and finally arrive at the hotel we will ultimately be at on race day. Many of the people on the team are ultra running legends that I admire so being on the same team with them is doubly as honoring as being able to race for the United States in a World Championship event. My wife and I have been blessed to be able to travel throughout Italy in the week leading up to the race. We arrived in Rome Saturday the 14th and saw the sites there over 2 days. We saw the Coliseum, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps and many of the other famous monuments in Rome. Then we traveled to Florence and Pisa next. We ate with a view of the leaning tower of Pisa and were amazed by the beautiful architecture in Florence.  Then the last two stops were Venice and Milan. The canals of Venice are amazing; imagine taking a water taxi or boat to cross the streets and having no lawns within the city. The entire city is built on wooden piles as a foundation in the water! We will be staying in a little mountain retreat at the base of the Alps near Tecco approximately 30 km from the race site in Seregno, Italy.
I have been keeping up with my running; 50 miles in four days. Although it’s significantly more difficult to do that in the middle of European cities with cobblestone streets, lots of tourists and drivers with little regard for pedestrians. The first few days in Rome it was easy to make time for running with few folks on the road because I was up before 4 am local time, running the same loop around our hotel and the British and Russian Embassies. I was like a hamster on the wheel in his cage, but never felt safer with guards posted outside each embassy, looking at me with suspicious eyes after each passing lap. We were exhausted each of the first few nights at 8 pm or earlier so we headed to bed early and the result was early wake up times. After 2 early morning runs and avoiding traffic I did one afternoon run on the second day in Rome. There is a path down by the Tiber River that I noticed other runners using. It was a rare site to see anyone running. I had seen only about ten runners up until that time.
Shortly after arriving in Venice on Tuesday, I went for a nine mile run weaving like a boxer in and out of pedestrians, not the ideal place to run to say the least. I woke up the following morning at 5:30 and ran the cobblestone grounds getting lost amongst my thoughts and the maze of streets. Doubts crept into my head. Did I train enough? Did I taper too soon? Should have I run one more long run and tempo run? These are the thoughts that pass through the minds of most runners the week of a race. But these questions aren’t answered until race day.
I am on the train to Milan as I type. That is where I will take the shuttle tomorrow afternoon to meet up with our team at our team hotel. The nerves have not settled in yet. Is it because I am the oldest member of the team and have years of racing experience on big stages OR is it because I haven’t donned the U.S.A jersey yet? It’s probably the latter.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's Not About Me

I was speaking to the Modesto Chapter of the Lions Club today at their monthly meeting today at lunch time. My message was one time my running became me and all about me. The wins were for me. The training was for me. I took this gift that God had clearly given me and I used it against him instead of for him. I realize now that my gift was given to me to motivate others and guess has. The students at my school ask me questions on a daily basis and that includes students that aren't even in any of my classes. When I speak to me Teens Run Modesto Students about running, they actually stop what they are doing and listen. You try to get a bunch of 13 and 14 year old kids to listen intently for more than thirty's tough:) I know kids that run now because of what I do. I don't understand it, but it is true.
So, when I toe the line on April 22nd in Seregno, Italy, it isn't about me. I will race to glorify God and to give these teenagers something positive to look up to. I take this assignment very seriously and I won't fail as long as I have Him in my corner.

You can follow my race progress April 22nd (10pm West Coast time Saturday, April 21st)  on the IAU website.