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Napa-Sonoma Half Marathon, July 20, 2014
Noble Canyon 50km Trail, September 20, 2014

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Winning is Fun!

What a race! I just got back from the race course and a long, post-race celebration of sorts. Winning is so much fun! And exhausting. Matt Boyles challenged me until I surged at 38km and put in a good gap that I held until the finish. 4:12:55. Olympic Trials champion. That has a nice ring to it.

It's always tough to come down off of a 50km because it's such an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. And then when it's over, there's the fan club to mingle with (hah!) and the drug testers to pee in a cup for and all that. It's good to be back at the hotel, though. Relax for a few minutes. Put the feet up. Think about the race and what's next.

The two goals were to win and hit the Olympic 'B' time standard. My plan worked until about 8km or 10km. I started out at just over 5:00/km with Matt, Ray Sharp and Yariv Pomeranz right on my heels and then gradually brought the pace down to Olympic 'B' standard pace, 4:54/km. By then, Matt and I had a gap on the field but I could tell that 4:54/km was going to be real hard to maintain. And it was way too early in the race to be forcing the pace. The humidity or the heat was already palpable. Ray was yelling at the aid station volunteers (okay, he was shouting enthusiastically, not yelling) for ice. I don't think they knew what he wanted, or why he wanted ice, so he switched to Spanish: "Hielo, por favor," Ray called out over his shoulder once he was past the station. Funny stuff early in a 50km race.

By the time Matt and I got to 10km, we were walking next to each other with Ray and Yariv adrift. I suddenly knew Olympic B standard pace was too fast, I changed my race plan. In my head, I went from racing the clock to racing Matt for the win. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. All the stress of trying to hit a time standard was gone and I knew I just had to beat Matt in a foot race to the line. It wasn't going to be easy, but it was such a relief.

The rest of the race was a bit of a blur. I was in control, walking at a pace I knew my body could handle, and yet I was very conscious of what I needed to do next. I started to think about how I was going to win the race, what strategy would be the best for beating Matt. My biggest advantage, I knew, was having walked tons of 50kms before and knowing what it feels like late in the race. I know that at 35km, it often feels like the wheels are coming off the bus and the only thing to do is slow down and hope for the best. That's what your brain is telling you, at least: "Slow down, please, slow down. This hurts." What the brain forgets is that the race is over, and the pain is over, sooner if you maintain or accelerate. I also knew that Matt's strength is his leg speed. I couldn't wait until the last few kilometers. The best time to make my move was going to be around 35km, but I had let Matt get a few seconds ahead of me by then. I slowly closed the gap and pulled even with him by 36km. We walked together for one lap and then I eased away from him at 38km. We went through the water stop just after 38km and I surged for real, accelerating from 5:10/km to 4:50/km pace. Within a couple laps, I had a comfortable gap and cruised it on home.


It's a bittersweet win, though, because I don't have the Olympic time standard. Now I have to regroup and focus on my next race. I have to decide when and where to chase after the time standard again. My best shot will probably be at the IAAF World Racewalk Cup in Russia (by winning today, I made the US 50km Team for the World Cup). But it's Russia and who knows what the conditions will be like, especially the food. The only other real chance is a race in Leamington, England in the middle of June. The trouble with that race, besides having to pay for everything myself, is it's so late. If I make the time there, I would have only two months to prepare for another 50km in Beijing. Decisions. Best thing to do now, though, is enjoy the moment. It's not every day you win the Olympic Trials. Wheeeee!

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Journey Begins Today

It's actually months after the Olympic Trials for the 50km racewalk, but I need to get caught up to speed if I am going to do this blogging thing for real through the Olympic Games. So, let's all just close our eyes and imagine that it is February 8 (the day before the race) and we are in Miami, FL for the US Olympic Team Trials. (Fade to black with the squiggly lines and spooky music....)

Aaah, palm trees and sunny skies. Warm water lapping the sandy beaches of Key Biscayne and coconuts tumbling from the sky onto bright green Bermuda grass. Aaaah. Paradise. Or is it? Race time at 7AM and it's already 70 degrees and humid. Will there by a cool ocean breeze or just a sticky, sweaty south Florida haze to envelop the walkers who have traveled from all over the country to chase after their Olympic dreams? It's an endurance athlete's worst nightmare: Walk thousands of kilometers to prepare for one race, control all the little things that you can control, and then the weather is crummy. Drat.

I've been training for months now with the dual goals of winning the Olympic Trials and hitting the Olympic Games time standard. When the season started, I was gung-ho to chase after the 'A' time of 4:00:00 which I last hit in 2004. Then I tweaked my hamstring early in September and missed weeks and weeks of the kind of training I needed. By January, I was convinced that I was back on track but would have to settle for the 'B' standard. Will that be enough to send me to Beijing?

The vagaries of the U.S. Olympic Trials system wedded to the International Olympic Committee's minimum qualifications create a headache of qualifying possibilities. The basics are that if the U.S. hopes to send more than one athlete, we have to walk the 'A' standard. In 2000, four athletes had the 'A' going into the Trials, so the top three finishers automatically made the team: Curt Clausen, Andrew Hermann, and me. In 2004, Curt walked the 'A' at the Trials and I walked it five weeks later in Tijuana. This year, only Kevin Eastler has a 'B' standard coming into the Trials but he had hernia surgery a couple months ago and is a big question mark before the race. So, to make the Team I need to hit the 'B' time standard and win the race. Simple enough, except it's a 50km and anything can happen.

I'm in the unusual position of being the race favorite – at least that's what people are telling me. I have several challengers, but Kevin isn't the only walker hobbled by injury. John Nunn, who finished third (right behind me) at last year's National 50km, has opted out of the Trials race because of a recent hamstring injury. Tim Seaman, who was second in 2004 at the 50km Trials, had hip surgery months earlier and hasn't returned to full training. Curt Clausen, winner of the last two 50km Olympic Trials, isn't injured but he's a full-time lawyer and there's no way he's training at the same level as he did in the past.

Matt Boyles and Ray Sharp have emerged as my most likely challengers – an interesting mix of youth and experience. Matt, 25, will be racing in only his second 50km while Ray, 48, was on the US National Team in the early 1980s. Throw in Ben Shorey, Steve Quirke, Yariv Pomeranz and a few others and it's going to be an interesting race.

My friend and the first 50km racewalker I ever met, Chris Rael, is hanging out with me today, the day before the race. We got another look at the course yesterday and Chris took some video of Ray Sharp and me working out and being silly. It's good to stay loose before these races. The tension and stress of an Olympic Trials is incredible. It's a clichè, but it'll consume you if you let it. Joking around and having fun is a nice way to relieve the tension. I mean, really, it's just the Olympic Trials. What's the big deal, right?

Look for more after the race...