My first world championship race – what an experience! It all started with my 5th place, 1:01:47 effort at the US Championship Half Marathon hosted by the Houston Half Marathon in January. I knew that the first and second place finishers, Meb Keflezighi and Aaron Braun, would be turning down their spots on Team USA, making me the third automatic qualifier for the World Championships. I was thrilled, as that was exactly my goal heading into that weekend, but it was nice to finally get the official invitation letter from USATF in early March.
By March 24th, all of the details were sorted out and I was on my way to Copenhagen, Denmark for the race, for what would be my second international competition (my first was the Izumo Ekiden Race in Japan in 2012). Unfortunately, I flew solo on my first flight, the long one, from Phoenix to London. I tried to sleep as much as I could during the 10 hour trip across the Atlantic, but wasn’t terribly successful. Once I was in London, I was able to meet up with four of my teammates, so at least I had company during the next flight into Copenhagen. By then we were all pretty exhausted, so luckily for us, the flight was only about two hours. After that, it was just a short taxi ride to the hotel standing between us and what would hopefully be a restful night’s sleep.
Well, I may not have gotten the sleep that I was hoping for that night, but it was at least nice to be off of my feet and in a comfortable bed. Wednesday and Thursday were comprised of the ten athletes trying to get on Copenhagen time, while doing a bit of exploring to pass the hours. One of my favorite things about the city was how many people commute by bicycle, even in less than ideal weather!
When I woke up on Saturday – race day- I could tell pretty immediately that the conditions were going to be fantastic for a half marathon. It was sunny, temperatures were in the low 50s, and wind was low. It doesn’t get much better than that! I went out for my morning shakeout run as usual, and followed that up with a quick treatment session with our awesome trainer, Anthony Yengo, and breakfast, timed to be 3 hours before the race, just like usual.
Before I knew it, it was time to race. Our Team USA men’s team assembled in the holding area and we were escorted to the starting line. It was a bit of a difficult start, as the line was only about 8 meters wide. The elite athletes were about four or five rows deep, and had to make sure we got out quickly, as we had 30,000 runners right behind us who were participating in the first-ever mass race to be held in conjunction with the world championship event. Once the gun went off signaling the start of the race, I stayed as far to the outside of the group that I could to avoid getting too caught up in the pushing and shoving that was going on in the main pack. It seemed to work pretty well for me, but not as much for others, as I saw several people go down within the first few hundred meters of the race, one of which was one of my teammates, Shadrack.
A couple thousand meters into the race, I realized that the pace was quickening and dipping well under the 2:55 per kilometer for which I was shooting. I had a decision to make: continue to hold that pace for as long as I could and risk blowing up, or try to be a bit more conservative and increase the likelihood that I would have a strong second half. I knew that in choosing the second option, I would be running on my own for a bit, as the front pack with which I was running had formed a fairly significant gap on the next main pack. It wasn’t ideal, but that was the position I found myself in for the majority of the race. While I could see a few of my teammates a few hundred meters ahead of me, I ran much of the race alone. That said, I stayed calm and set my focus on catching up to the groups in front of me, and eventually found myself making up ground. I ended up finishing the race in 35th place and running 1:02:24. It certainly wasn’t a terrible performance, but was by no means the result for which I was hoping.
All in all, I think it was a great experience that taught me a lot about racing at the next level, and was no doubt an important step in my development as internationally competitive athlete. Hopefully I’ll have another opportunity to test myself against the world’s best before too long!