The rain came down as Fernando Cabada and I jogged on the streets in Jacksonville, Florida on New Years Day. Just as we arrived to the hotel he asked if I had run yet and I happily joined him. Cabada is from Fresno State, and could certainly be argued to be the darkhorse to make the US Olympic Marathon team. He has trained and raced with the best of the best. He has run 1:02:00 for the half marathon and 2:11 for the marathon. He wasn't always at the top, he's worked his way up over time, and been at the sport a long time, so I was eager to listen to any advice/wisdom he had. The sky darkened and the rain continued but it didn't interrupt our conversation about running and coaching. Besides running of course, the thing Fernando and I had in common was coaching. He told me how he wanted to devote more time to his own coaching, perhaps once his running career slows down. We dabbled in training theory.
"I think my best workouts were 8 x 800m @ 2:23, 5 x 1200m @ 3:39, 16 x 400m @ 70-71. I also did a 5 mile tempo in 25:55 in weather like this," I replied.
"Yeah, that's good! What's your PR?"
"You'll PR Sunday."
We jogged in circles on our warm up in the parking lot on the other side of the starting area. The rain continued to come down. I was cranky on my warm up, cursing to myself that it was raining-that cold annoying rain. Stop complaining, I thought to myself. Remember that 5 mile tempo you and Conrad did, in that cold rain, on the track???
60 elite men lined up at the starting line, with sprinkles of rain still coming down. Thankfully, winds were nonexistent, and the temperature was flirting with 48-50 degrees.
The cannon shot off and we burst out sprinting from the starting line, like horses. I immediately tucked in to the back of the large pack of runners going for the Olympic Trials Standard of 1:05:00. I had to be careful, though. Going over the red line could destroy my race. The first mile was between 5:02-5:06(the pack was THAT big). I didn't look at my watch, as I didn't want to think about time too much-I just wanted to run as hard as I could and leave nothing out there, but be as smart as possible at the same time. I guessed I probably hit 5:05 or so my first mile. I could feel the pack accelerate, and I was there....oh so there. So close. But stay within! Stay in the zone. I had to make sure I didn't go over the red line, for it could backfire and spit me out into a zapped bug. By 5K, the pack began to pick up the pace as the leaders went through in 15:25. This was a hair past my red zone, so I stuck with a group of guys that formed a second pack. This is where I was smart, and I knew I was still rolling! We went through 5K in 15:33. I was now averaging 5:00 pace, so I had still run miles 2 and 3 in sub 5:00.
We continued to click off 5:00 pace. I was working with Christian Thompson(who owns a 1:04 PR), Griff Graves, Jordan Kyle, Al Escalera, and Ethan Coffey. Together we worked and could see the lead back beginning to get strung out a bit. We began to reel runners in, going through 5 miles in just a tick under 25:00. Mile 6 was 30:00 flat. We passed through 10K in 31:16, and at this point I knew I had a shot of breaking 1:06:00 pace. This is where I broke the race down by time. I mentally told myself that it was 1:00:00 all out running.....and then 5 or 6 minutes of pain after that. But, mentally, I just told myself, ok, 30:00 in, you're halfway there! I calculated that I would be close to the 12 mile mark in 1:00:00. We were flyin!
The second half of the race our pack broke up, and actually, there was only 1 guy who went ahead. Thompson was having a rough day, and fell back unfortunately. The rest fell back behind me, although I had one guy still running with me. Mile 7-35:10. Dammit, we both cursed. Our pace had slowed-we were still rolling, though, in fact it looked like we were going to pass more people ahead!
Guys started coming back to us who went too hard in the beginning. I tried to encourage them to latch onto us and work together. There was something special about this race. 60 runners came out to this race to work together to get as many under the Trials Standard as possible. The spirit was there for all of us to help each other and push each other. Yes, running is an individual sport, but I cannot think of another sport where there is a similar atmosphere of 60 men trying to help each other achieve goals. We were all tough men, but supporting each other is what we needed. Mile 8 was 40:16. I had to keep pushing. I pressed on.
The runner started falling behind me as I approached mile 9(45 minutes into the race). I was pretty much by myself now, but looked ahead to try and catch as many people as I could. I passed through 10 miles in 50:32, and what do you know? It was a PR. It was raining again now. I threw off my gloves. I was out in the open now, in the battle, and it was time to fight. While at this point I knew it was probably out of the question today to make the Trials Standard, I knew I could run in the 1:06's which would be a PR(and 2nd for the day!). This is where mental focus comes in.. The last 5K you have to focus, and the good thing was I had people to catch. I then recognized a familiar runner. Wait, is that? Holy shit, is that Anthony Famiglietti?? The former steeplechase Olympian was maybe 30 seconds in front of me. I keyed off of him as I kept catching guys, some looked over their shoulder in surprise as I passed them. Some looked dead from fighting the tough early pace. The rain poured on. By mile 11, I was grinding. I was pushing, but still running slower those last few miles(5:10-5:15 pace). Still, I caught runners. I passed through mile 12 just under 1:01:00, and got ready for the final push. The last mile fatigue had built in and I could only run so fast. I was running as fast as I could with the best form possible.
Run as hard as you can. Look ahead! Fight!
Into the rain, I pressed on, pushing through fatigue and exhaustion. The final drive toward home neared. You go straight the last mile until you turn left which takes you onto grass before you turn into the stadium to finish the last 200m on a track. I turned left, and ran on the grass as if thrown into a cross country race. The mud I had to be careful of that I wouldn't slip! I focused on just getting to the entrance to the track where the final 200m was.
Turning right into the stadium, I stepped onto the track for the final 200m where people cheered. I saw the clock, and knew I had the 1:06. It was a great feeling. How far I've come! I thought. Was it 10 years ago I was running half marathons in 1:16?
Sprinting around the curve, I pushed as hard as I could to get to the line, and caught one final runner to finish in 1:06:50, a 40 second PR. I averaged 5:05 per mile.
I crossed the line and stumbled, then gagged, doubled over in pain. I gasped for oxygen. I could feel the rush of blood through my entire body, delivering oxygen to my deprived muscles. The pain went right through me. The race director's brother held me up. AGHHHHHHHH.
"I'm OK," I said to him. "Thank you."
It's an incredible feeling to feel truly alive.
A BIG THANK YOU again to Richard Fannin, director of the race. One of the best people I've met in the sport. I shook his hand after the race.
Sunday evening, I crashed at my friend Luis' place, who lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Danielle. He and Danielle kindly took me out to a steak dinner-gosh did that taste good. After having plenty of pasta leading up to the race, all I wanted was a steak. It was good to relax and take a day before flying back. I used to work with Luis and he is a professional body builder-so we always enjoy talking about how hard training is, or how different our training is lol. But the connection is that we both put a lot of work into what we love, and that we can relate to.
I took a look at my 2016 race schedule, and it is exciting. I plan to go back to Jacksonville for the USA 15K Championship on March 12. It will be one month after the marathon trials, and, since I am not running the marathon trials, I may be able to place really well there. The race this weekend also qualified me for the US Half Marathon Championship on April 30, in Columbus, Ohio. And, of course I will be racing Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 3. On February 19 and 20, I'm thinking of taking advantage as an alumni at the Virginia Tech Indoor Meet, doing the 3K on Friday, and the 5K on Saturday. This will be more of a focus on getting a good workout rather than trying to run a fast time. I did this in 2014, where I placed 8th in the 3K and placed 2nd in the 5K. It would be fun to travel back to Blacksburg and get a nice long run in on Sunday in the mountains as well. God, how I love the mountains.
I've got an awesome journey ahead of me. Here's to 2016.