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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!

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