I have had countless numbers of people say to me “I don’t understand how you run so fast,” or, “I could never go that fast.” These are common phrases amongst the casual finishers of any road race about the elite athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I realize this is praise, and I appreciate it. I usually respond with a “thank you,” or some stupid remark like “there was a lot of downhill.” I generally try to engage these people at least a little and get them at least semi-interested in distance running on the professional level. After all, who would understand a sub 14:00 5k better than the person who’s hands to the knees after a 23:00 5k.
Here is the fact of the matter though. There are a LOT of people who don’t even consider me fast enough to let into their race. Yesterday at the U.S. road championships in the 5k I ran 14:59 for 22nd place (17th American.) The winner ran 13:45. That is 1:14 faster than I ran. To your average competitor, that doesn’t sound like much at all, but to put into perspective, if we were running 12 and ½ laps (5k) around the track, he would have lapped me.
While this was a rather bad and disappointing race for me, this has been my experience this summer with high-level road racing. While my tricks may impress the crowd at the local 5k or half-marathon, I have thrice traveled to national caliber road races in the last two months, thrice felt I was in good enough shape to compete for the win, and thrice got my butt handed to me, and went home with nothing but empty pockets and red marks on my bum from the spankings I took. To make matters worse, in recent weeks I have felt that I am in some of the best shape of my life. I am, at very least, very close to being the strongest I have ever been.
Before I go on, I want to state that I have had the opportunity to meet some absolutely incredible athletes. I have learned a lot about training, racing, and working the professional scene. However, the fact is that I have had some decent races on a local level this summer, and some absolute horrible races when I have spent big money to travel to big races where there was big bucks on the line (or at the line I suppose you could say.) This ugly, and hard to face fact has made me wonder if I really should be doing this.
It has always been my dream to wear a USA Jersey; it has always been my dream to win international hardware. I have always given everything I could (at the time) to running, I have always been as committed to it as I could healthily be and still maintain balance in my life. Sometimes my pursuit of this dream has teetered on leaving my life unbalanced. I believe in myself, I believe in hard work, I believe in this sport because it is black and white (although there is some gray area when you get to a high level, but that is a post for a different time.) However, I don’t only have myself to think about. I am married, my wife is going to school, that costs money, If I ever want to have children (we do eventually,) that will cost money. I spend a lot of time on running. That time could be spent with my wife, or working on a more reliable source of income. At this point I have made about $1,400 in prize money and travel stipends this summer. I have spent about $2,000 dollars. That is what people in business call “a loss.” I want it to be clear that my wife and my family are the most important things in my life, and the doubt I have about running, are only out of my love and concern for them.
But here is the bottom line.
My goal is to wear a USA jersey; my goal is to bring home international hardware. It always has been, and anyone who is at my level and says that isn’t their ultimate goal is either lying to you, or themselves. We didn’t get here because we quit when we ran into some bad races.
I had the opportunity to talk to Kenyon Neuman, a former University of Colorado athlete who has trained under the legendary Mark Wetmore. Wetmore has a saying that goes, “When you live on Monster Island, someone is breathing fire everyday.”
I go into every race thinking I can win, even if it is only an outside shot, I never count myself out. Everyone who trains and competes at the level that I do, thinks the same way. Some may call me arrogant or stupid for thinking I can beat guys like Aaron Braun, or Matt Tegenkamp, or Andrew Bumbalough. I’m not though; I am calling a spade a spade. Everyone on Monster Island is a monster. Everyone is winner; you don’t become a monster without that mentality.
My dream is to be an international competitor; my number one priority is my family. I will do whatever it takes to make the two coincide. If I have to race more on a local level to earn more money, I will. If I have to move up to the marathon, because there is more money, and less travel involved, I will.
The bottom line is I am a monster. I belong on Monster Island. This year, I didn’t bring my legs to the big races. I wasn’t breathing fire, and the other monsters burned me, but someday, I will bring my legs, someday I will be breathing fire, and I will burn them, and I will be doing it when it is most important.