Saturday, January 19, 2013

House Money

This was hands-down the best ten days of my life. After finding out that I made the 100k team only four weeks before the race, the city of Modesto was a buzz of excitement. I had a front page article in the Modesto Bee highlighting my achievement, followed by a request to do a daily blog, which would be run in the paper while I was in Italy. The school where I teach, Prescott Middle School, was well aware of my upcoming race thanks to my highly supportive staff, which talked publicized it whenever possible.

Remember, just three months prior, I was the second alternate for the 100k Team and without a good running result in almost a year. The last three months came out of no-where in my mind. Everything was happening so fast. It seemed like a fantasy, but when that huge box from USATF arrived, it all became real. Holding up that USA jersey and realizing that I would be wearing this in just a couple of weeks raised up the hair on the back of my neck.

The highlight of the Italy experience was planning and spending the first seven days together with my wife sightseeing. I didn’t think much about the race during this time. How could you when you are taking a tour through the Vatican or climbing the steps in the Coliseum? We will have those memories to share for the rest of our life.

Our sightseeing would soon end and bring us to Serengo, Italy and the start of the race. The team would be staying in a mountain retreat outside of Serengo part way up the Alps. It was absolutely beautiful! On two occasions it actually snowed. I know the accommodations were much like what you would find in a college dormitory setting, but we did not mind. We both soaked up the whole experience and made friendships that would last forever.

Even the numerous transportation issues, which led to my late arrival to the flag ceremony, did not dampen my spirit. I was playing with house money in my mind; therefore, I was just happy to be there.

Race morning arrived and the “unknown” monopolized my mind. What would my time be? Could I place in the top 3 on my team? The answer to these questions would be answered in 100k, but I knew to run well, I would have to do it from behind. I didn’t usually run well from the front. So, I decided that I would run pretty closely with Joe Binder, on paper, our 5th man, then I would I would race it home the last 50k. I stuck to the race plan and after two laps of the 20k course, I was right behind Joe. I was maintaining a 6:30 to 6:40 pace and it felt comfortable for some reason. My 100k PR was 7:12….a 6:59 pace! When I hit the 50k mark my pace quickened, I passed Joe, and I was running low 6:20’s. As I finished the third loop, I felt strong and the objective was to pickoff as many runners as I could. My goal of finishing top 3 on my team didn’t seem realistic, but it wasn’t about that at this point. I was running the best 100k I had ever run and I was good with that.

Then, the drama began as it usually does the last 12 to 15 miles of a 100k. I could see off in the distance what appeared to be a USA jersey. It was Todd Braje. I was shocked! You could tell he was trying to hold on and he wasn’t the only one. The whole field was strung out at this point and runners were coming back to me. I was in about 30th place after 40k and now I was beginning to move up. As I neared the end of loop 4, I hit an energy low, but I quickly took a gel and by the time I finished that loop, I again felt strong. I crossed the line and began my last loop, I grab a bottle from one of our crew at our table, and to my amazement I saw Andy Henshaw, our number two runner, standing behind the table. I was in absolute shock! In a matter of a half hour, I went from fifth to third on our team. The hair rose on the back of my neck, and I was overcome with emotion. I gave myself a quick pet talk that first mile and knew I would have to battle this last 12 miles.

I tried to maintain the 6:20’s I was running, but that was beginning to take its toll. I hit the six mile mark on that lap and I recorded my first 7:00 mile. This was a wake-up call. I had to run strong now and not relax. My team needed me. I had no idea what place we were in as a team, but it didn’t matter. I approached the five mile to go mark and again to my surprise, I see another one of my teammates. This time it was Michael Wardian up ahead. Are you kidding me! He obviously was going through a low patch and soon I would catch up with him, I say a few words of encouragement, and then run by him. I think the sight of me woke him up because shortly after I passed him, he was back on my heels. It was a blessing and something I will remember forever. We were able to work together the last three miles and push each other to the end. I learned a lot about Mike on that day. I obviously was feeling better than him and he still ran stride for stride with me because he is so tough and would not allow himself to hold on. He made numerous comments about how we needed to finish strong for the team. He never mentioned one single “individual” thought.

 Michael and I approached the finish together and he told me to push it in and I did just that, finishing just ahead of him in 7th place(6:48:52). What a day! What a race! I don’t think I could have run a better strategic race if I wanted to. My wife and I shared a memorable embrace a few minutes after the finish. We both shed tears of joy, hard work, perseverance, etc…I had come a long way from my injury plagued years that proceeded. The race, the time shared with my wife, made memories that would last forever. It was hands down my most memorable moment of 2012 and my running career to this point.

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