61:47 was good enough for 5th place at the USA Half Marathon Championship this past weekend, hosted by the Aramco Houston Half Marathon. What a race! Last year, only four Americans ran under 62:00 all year. At this one race, barely three weeks into 2014, 9 men ran 62:00 or better. That’s unbelievable, and I’m honored to be in such good company.
Coming into the race, my coach and I had discussed a few different strategies, with the main goal being to finish top 5 and to earn a spot on Team USA at the world championships. We decided that 62:30 was an attainable time for my fitness (always tricky to predict when training at altitude) and based on history, that would place very high at this championship – hopefully it would suffice to earn one of those coveted spots.
After the technical meeting, we knew that the mental pace calculator wouldn’t be necessary, as the lead vehicle displayed both a chronograph of total time surpassed, along with another clock that showed a projected finish time. Though I had in mind that I wanted to run 4:45-4:46 per mile, this would help me to eliminate some of the thinking I would need to do if the pace went out too fast or too slow – the projected finish updated every kilometer based on our overall average pace (this would, of course, assume that I stayed in the lead pack).
Once the gun went off at 6:55 am, a time at which Houston is still completely enveloped in darkness, I quickly positioned myself in the lead pack. After the first kilometer or two, the pace clock read somewhere around 63:30-63:45. This got me thinking: do I want to push it early and get us on 62:30 pace, with the risk of blowing up as I’ve done in a few recent races, or just hang tight and race, with no focus on the finishing time? Well, I don’t think I was the only one who was thinking that because shortly after two miles, the pace quickened. Over the next 6 or 7 miles, I watched as the pace clock dropped from 63:45 to 63:15 to 62:45 all the way down to 61:15. I thought to myself, “Hmm that’s a lot also faster than what Coach Ben and I discussed, but I feel pretty good…” Though I would be going against the advice of my coach, I knew I had to trust my instincts and go with the group.
There weren’t any significant surges until around 9 or 10 miles, when Meb made his decisive move and developed a bit of a gap, stringing out the rest of the top 10 a bit in the process. I fell as far back as 9th or 10th, but felt confident knowing that I was still running fast and maintaining a close distance to the guys in front of me. At the time, I believe it was Luke Puskedra, Shadrack Biwott, and Fernando Cabada. Over the next few miles, we traded leads a few times, perhaps with the same thought of helping each other to hold onto the pack just a few meters in front of us. With two miles to go, Luke and I were closing in on the top 5 and knew that it was very much within reach. When I saw the sign with 800 meters to go, I found myself in 6th place, which, in my mind, wouldn’t be good enough to earn a spot at worlds. Over those last couple hundred meters, I bided my time and stayed calm and patient, putting in a final move with about a hundred meters to go to cross the line in 5th place.
All in all, I matched my place goal (5th) and shattered my 62:30 time goal (running 61:47), and most likely earned my spot at worlds, though I am still waiting on the official confirmation from USATF. It’s a great feeling finally to be satisfied with a race and to validate the decision I made last week to quit the full-time job that I worked mostly on my feet for the past 18 months.
Moving forward, although we initially planned on getting right back to training, we’ve altered the schedule to include some down time this week. People keep saying that I deserve a break, but that’s where our mentalities differ. Although I know it will ultimately pay off, this down time is torturous for me! All I want to do is get back to work and continue chopping away at my goals.
Until next time,