There’s a First Time for Everything

By Briggs

You know what’s weird? Despite being the webmaster for several years, designing the entire blog, and encouraging people to post all their stories on it, I never actually posted a real blog post myself. I figured I would come up with something funny to write up and post sometime, but as the quality and effort put into blog posts increased (Yes Colin I’m looking at you for last season’s essay that kept me up until 2am the night before the Philly Marathon) I realized I would have to write about something very meaningful. I just had to wait for the right moment that I could write a post about.

Well, I think that special moment happened this past weekend, on 4/20 none the less! Buckle up for a legendary tale about pain, more pain, disappointment, misery, and sweet redemption.

The Beginning of an Obsession

Ever since I started racing the 5k my sophomore year, there has been one thing that has constantly eluded me despite training as hard as I could and trying to put myself in a position to succeed. That thing was a sub 17:00 5k. At the 2017 iteration of NIRCA Nats, I ran a 17:20, which was a solid time for my first 5k race but far from what I wanted to run. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting an amazing time from that race anyways, as it was a day after running a great 1500 race, achieving a 4 second PR, and after my skin had made an impressive attempt to impersonate a tomato by getting terrible sunburn. But despite all of that, I was disappointed with time because I knew I could’ve gone faster.

Fast forward to my Junior year, you would think that after a year of hard, quality training I would be in way better shape and in a position to destroy my 5k times from a year prior right? Nope. Not even close. It was unfortunately more of the same unsatisfactory performances in the 5k, including a 17:22 at the Danny Curan Invitational and a miserable 18:04 at NIRCA Track Nats where I was not mentally engaged, and my legs felt like Nate’s shoulder after a night of the Olympics. I knew I was in better shape than I was my Sophomore year, and I was definitely more prepared to race the 5k, but for some reason my times weren’t showing any signs of improvement.

Needless to say, coming into this year with a PR of 17:20 in the 5k annoyed me a lot. I knew I was way faster than my 5k times indicated I was, I just needed to increase my mileage a little bit and just focus primarily on the 5k instead of the 1500m for one season. I knew it was my last season of track and I couldn’t let myself end my college running career without breaking 17 once. I needed to break 17 just so I could be content with myself and know I fulfilled my goals and didn’t leave anything unfinished or half done.

But I knew I could do it as well. Heck Hiro ran a 16:52 his freshman year at NIRCA Nats, if I can’t run a 16:59 as a senior with a lot more experience and mileage on his legs, then what does that say about me as a runner? Additionally, after the debacle at Princeton Invitational during XC season, I would not let Hiro have bragging rights in the 5k AND the 8k.

So as 2019 began I began a new base training phase focused on solely increasing my weekly mileage to levels that I would be disgusted with my freshman year. I started by making my absolute shortest run 8 miles, which if you told the high school Briggs he would be doing that then he would probably laugh because he thought you were joking, shortly before he ran outside to go do a snow angel wearing nothing except running shorts. Slowly but surely, I began hitting 60 – 65 mile weeks and felt great while doing it. Usually, I don’t do high mileage weeks like this very consistently, but training for the marathon during XC season got my legs used to running longer, so it felt natural to keep increasing the mileage. There were runs where I felt like I could just keep running forever and I briefly thought to myself:

Wait, if I kept running at this pace I could probably run a Boston Qualifier Marathon during my long run. Would Boston accept a Running2Win entry with appropriate GPS data as proof that I am worthy enough to subject myself to 26.2 miles of torture?

After coming to the sad realization that Boston would not recognize a bunch of random neighborhoods and streets in Gaithersburg as a Boston qualifying course, I just maintained the mileage going into the new semester with a renewed confidence in my fitness.

The Death of a Training Group

Oh boy, I am not going to enjoy writing this part. With my goal of the sub 17:00 5k in mind, I knew I needed to start doing workouts in late January. So naturally I hit up my favorite training group partners of Shannon and Nate to do a 8 x 2 minutes hard 1 minute easy fartlek in the middle of a snowstorm. Now even though we were in the same training group, Shannon and I did end up spreading out during most of our workouts towards the end of XC season. However, I could always count on her to stick with me through the first rep, even if it was way too fast like it always was.

But this workout was different. I put a decent gap between me and others by the end of the first rep (part of this was because Shannon dropped her key and stopped 100m in) and didn’t really feel like I was pushing too hard. Despite being alone for the rest of the workout, I kept up the pace and by 6th hard section I was about to lap Nate. I didn’t anticipate the gap being this large, but I was too excited about how fast I was going, or how fit I felt too care about running alone at this point. Nate and Shannon stopped around 5 or 6 reps and I went on to do the full 8.

Now this workout was significant for two reasons

  1. It really showed me my increased mileage was paying off and gave me a great amount of confidence going into the season
  2. It was the last workout that Shannon Nate and I would do together

Now that 2nd reason is both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, I was getting a lot faster and it was a good sign that I was going to be able to run great times in races this season. But getting faster meant I wouldn’t be part of Shannon’s and Nate’s training group anymore. And that was really sad for me because I had some great workouts and fun memories with them during cross country season. However, as a parting gift to my favorite training group of all time, I decided to break Nate’s shoulder and sideline him with yet another injury, effectively breaking up my favorite training group.

For the next couple of weeks I would be a free agent on the training group market before settling into a new training group involving Rex, who I hadn’t seen since the first day of club running practice my freshman year, Laskowski, and brief appearances from Ryan Kapoor, Konrad, and even Bill (but only when the 5k workout was the same as the 800 workout). And with my new training group I began having some of the best workouts of my entire running career. There were a couple milestone workouts that I was particularly happy with that I’ve highlighted below.

February 5th: 5x1000m repeats with 200m jog

This was the first workout I did with Rex and was just meant to get my legs ready for faster workouts since I haven’t really gone faster than tempo pace in a few months. A smart runner would’ve taken 400m jogging rest between reps, but I am an idiot and thought 200m would be enough. Despite the short rest, I got faster with each rep and split 3:32 3:29 3:27 3:25 3:23. This was amazing considering I was hitting low 3:30’s during the same workout in XC season (and I did this with half the rest I was supposed to have as well). It was especially impressive when you consider that I when I did this workout during XC, it was at the end of the season, but this time I did it even faster during the first few weeks of the semester. I knew I was doing something right and my training was looking like it was in a great spot.

February 22nd: 3.5 x 3 hard 1 easy 5 hard 2 easy fartlek

This workout encapsulated pack running at its finest. I came into the day still looking for a solid training group to join me and Rex on workouts and found one at the very beginning of the workout. It was an absolute squad of Ryan Kapoor, Daniel Jordan, Konrad, Rex, and I just grinding away at this fartlek, exchanging leads every so often so nobody would be working too hard. I remember being in the back of the pack at one point and just thinking to myself:

“What the heck is going on? Am I really running a workout with dudes that have run a sub 2:00 800? Am I really this fast now?”

Well apparently I was that fast because we were cruising and were all together the entire way, motivating each other to keep up the pace on every rep. I haven’t really run in a pack like that during a workout ever in my life. Even in high school, to get a pack together like that during a workout meant a couple people would have to slow down their workouts so others would have a pack to run with. But here every single one of us was giving a hard effort and it worked perfectly. I gained even more confidence in my fitness and training off this workout.

March 4th: Vo2 Max Test

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what a Vo2 max test entails, it is a essentially a 10 minute treadmill run at progressively increasing speeds every 2 minutes. After a brief warmup, you begin the test running at approximately tempo pace, and every 2 minutes the speed increases by ~2 km/hour (roughly 17 seconds/mile).

Now I had no idea why I was doing this test, but it sounded like a cool thing that could use to see how much faster I have gotten and if I was really in shape for the sub 17:00 5k. After my 3-minute warm-up at 7:00 pace I began my test at 6:00 mile pace, progressively speeding up until I finished my test with 2 minutes at roughly 4:58 mile pace?? Yeah, I was surprised when Jessica, the person conducting the test, told me how I was running at a pace 10 seconds slower than my mile PR pace for the last 2 minutes.

But the real shock didn’t come until 3 weeks later when Jessica gave me all the data for my Vo2 max test. Coming into the test Bill, who is an all-knowing god when it comes to this kind of stuff, predicted I would be around a 65 for Vo2 Max, which would be way ahead of where I needed to be for a sub 17:00 5k. But when I sent over all my data to Bill to translate the numbers into something I would actually understand I was so thrilled with what he told me.

Basically your VO2 is 67 mL/kg/min. Your lactate threshold is about 61, so about 90% of your VO2 max. That’s impressive and indicates that your highly trained. . . Lastly your running economy is that of an elite middle and long distance runners, so I would definitely be encouraged by that. It seems like you’re really fit and genetically capable of breaking 17”

Boom. That surpassed my wildest expectations of anything I could’ve learned from the test. The confidence boost from Bill comparing my running economy to that of Eliud Kipchoge gave me such a high that I had no doubts I would break 17 this year. It was just a question of how far under 17 I could go.

March 13th: 2x(2x1000I with 400 jog, 2x400R with 200 jog, 200F with 600 jog)

Quite possibly my best work out of the semester and it made me realize just how much potential I had for this track season. My Running2win entry for this workout sums up this workout almost perfectly:

“So far this season i’ve been hitting really good times during workouts and have felt more in shape then I have probably ever felt during track season and this workout was one of those ones where everything just really clicked.

Did 2x(2×1000 2×400 200) and split 3:16 3:14 68 71 31.5 3:15 3:13 69.9 71.7 31.6. I started with Bill Ryan Laskowski and Jake but didn’t think I would be able to keep with them the entire time. But I was able to stick with them and I wasn’t struggling to do so either. 

After the workout me and Laskowski were talking about how he was always way ahead of me during XC but now we are doing workouts together. Can’t believe I’ve improved that much in such a short time, but now I’m definitely thinking sub 16:30 and low 4:20’s for the 1500 this year. Can’t wait to start racing ‘soon'”

After all these workouts I was in such a great place mentally and had such an extraordinary amount of confidence in my fitness. I was able to run longer during easy runs, my workouts were way faster than they were in the past, and I had peaked at 75 miles / week while consistently running 70 miles every other weak. I could practically taste the sub 17:00 5k at this point and I wasn’t even worried if it would happen. I knew that it was going to happen. I was so pumped to finally start racing after all these weeks of training and finally break that barrier that had taunted me for the past 2 years.

The Cavalier Invitational

After several weeks of high mileage, hard training, and the burning anticipation to race, it was finally here, my first race of the season at the Cavalier Invitational. Everyone kept talking about how the UVA track has a great atmosphere and usually results in some impressive races, so given my great training I knew I could run some fast times and surprise myself in a big way.

And well, I guess I did surprise myself. But it was exactly the opposite kind of surprise from what I wanted.

As has been the trend in my running career, I started my track season by not just running poorly, but somehow running what might be the 2 worst track races of my life. Its not a great feeling when you roll up to a track and feel 70-degree weather with no clouds in the sky after being used to training in rainy and cold conditions. But that’s what ended up happening and by the time the 5k came around, I did not feel good in the slightest.

I felt exhausted during the warmup and knew it was going to be tough to run a fast time. But then all my doubts and fears were exacerbated when I watched Shannon run a 18:41 5k when she was definitely in sub-18 shape at the time. When I asked her how she felt out there, all she said is “It’s so freaking hot out there” and I couldn’t help but dread my upcoming race.

By the time the race itself came around, I had calmed down somewhat and was off and racing before I knew it. I just tried to do what I did for every 5k that I race, just look for competition and work off them for as long as possible. From a spectator’s view you would think I was doing great, after 4 laps around that track, I had just split a 5:20 1st mile and was in a decent pack of 4 runners. It would be understandable if you thought something like:

Wow Briggs is doing great right now! He might run really fast!” 

But all I was thinking was:

Wow I feel like shit right now. I’m actually about to die

And die I surely did, dropping from the pack almost immediately after the first mile and slowing down enough to run a 17:51 5k. That’s a pretty bad time given the goals I had set for myself.

But I wasn’t that discouraged by the race. Sure, I would’ve liked to run faster, but almost nobody ran a good time in the 5k. From Colin dropping out midway through the race, all the way to Stas running a 17:04, most of the times left a lot to be desired. It was just terrible conditions for an early season race, and I knew I could run faster.

After a brief cool-down, I proceeded to follow up my poor performance in the 5k with an even worse performance in the open mile, by losing to Shannon AND Michael Hughes. As I did with the 5k, I just ignored these results and simply set my sights to the home meet coming up the next weekend.

The Terrapin Invitational

Eager to show that my races at UVA were just a fluke race and not a true indicator of my fitness, I signed up for my classic 5000m / 1500m double at our home meet. After a couple good workouts during the week and good weather coming in for Saturday’s meet, I was sure that I was going to run a great time. I wouldn’t have to sit a car driving for a couple hours before I raced, so my legs would be fresh, and Rex was running the 5k as well, so I would have someone to pace with the entire time. Literally nothing could go wrong, I was sure I was going to break 17.

Well, as usual, something went wrong. This time it was solely on me being an idiot.

When I first made my goal this season to run a sub 17:00 5k, I decided that I need to change a couple things in order to achieve it. The 1st thing was obviously my training, so I increased my mileage and started doing workouts faster. But the 2nd thing was more difficult, I decided to alter my strategy of how I ran the 5k.

Specifically, I wanted to go out more conservatively in the 5k and try to even split it as much as possible. Up until this point, I had gone out way too fast in the 1st mile and flat out died the last 2 miles in every 5k I had raced. For this race, I decided to just try to pay attention to how I was feeling and not go out too hard in the first mile.

My new racing strategy worked, for the first lap at least, as I ran a 80 and felt so smooth. But then as I came around the 2nd lap, I heard someone yelling out splits and I heard that I ran an 86 second lap. I briefly thought to myself:

Wow an 86 is on pace for 5:30 mile, right? That felt so easy, this is going great

But then the effects of the all dumb fuck juice I drank before the race began to wear off and I realized that and 86 second wasn’t even close to 5:30 mile pace. It was freaking 5:44 pace. Snails can go faster than that. Briggs why are you going so slow??

In hindsight, I should’ve realized I was going too slow way earlier because Rex had a good 30 – 40 meter lead on me 2 laps into the race and we were supposed to be running together. I just wasn’t mentally engaged enough to follow through on that. I proceed to pick the pace up and run 80’s for the next couple of laps until I got back on pace and caught up to Rex.

Okay you messed up at the beginning of the race but now you’re back on pace. That last mile was 5:26. Perfect. Just stay up here with Rex and we can work together and run a great time.

But as we neared the halfway point of the race, I felt us slowing down ever so slightly. I decided we needed to pick up the pace immediately if we wanted to keep 17:00 in reach, so I made a big move in hopes that Rex would realize what I was thinking and match my move.

No luck. I ran the rest of the race alone, struggling to maintain the pace as there was nobody ahead of me that I could focus on catching or pacing off. With a couple laps to go, I knew I was going too slow, but I didn’t realize how much I had slowed down until 200m to go when I saw I had come through 3 miles in 16:30. I needed a 30 second 200 to break 17? Yikes that probably wasn’t going to happen, but I kicked it in as hard as I could and finished with a time of 17:08.

Was it sub 17:00? Nope. But it was a 12 second PR and after all my years of running I knew I had to take the small victories when they came. I was disappointed in how poorly I was mentally prepared in the early stages of the race, but I also knew that in a race with more competition, I probably could’ve stayed on pace and run a sub 17:00.

I still had no major worries, as nationals was coming up the next week and there would surely be enough quality competition there to push me under the 17-minute barrier.

But nationals was next week, and I had to stay focused on the present. I still had to race the 1500m and could probably run a solid time in that, or so I thought. On dead legs, I proceeded to lose to Shannon AND Michael Hughes in the 1500m again. At least I was consistent right?

Waiting for my Moment

So after a somewhat disappointed couple of races at the home meet, I refocused on getting in a couple of less strenuous, but quality workouts to make sure I was in peak condition for NIRCA Track Nationals coming up that weekend. But I could tell something in my body was off early in the week during an easy run through Greenbelt trails and I fell way back of the entire group midway through the run. The group probably had a solid 100 meters on me, and I felt like complete shit and was really contemplating just walking the dreadful 4 miles back to campus. But after a fortunately long traffic light stop, I was able to catch up and tell everyone how I’m going to slow down for the last couple miles because I don’t feel great. And thankfully Rylan replied with the most encouraging words you could possibly imagine:

“Oh it looks like you’re catching my cold Briggs!”

Of course. Thanks Rylan. But while I really wish he was wrong, I couldn’t really deny the fact that I was coming down with some form of sickness, whether it be Rylan’s cold, or a less intense strain of the plague that nearly destroyed half the team during XC season. After finishing one of the most miserable runs of the season and getting back to my apartment, I immediately started taking Advil regularly in hopes of mitigating the illness before it got any worse.

With some mixed success, the illness didn’t get worse and I felt good enough to finish my two workouts for that week at decent paces, but I still was worried about how much time my body would have to recover before Nationals that weekend. Thankfully, I felt much better on Friday than I had felt throughout the week and thought this would be the race weekend I have been waiting for.

And just like that, Saturday morning arrived, and the conditions were beautiful with a cool temperature throughout the morning and clouds covering the entire sky. I knew these were the perfect conditions for fast times in the 5k and this was immediately confirmed when Lucy Hilrades of Purdue won the women’s race in a time of 17:02.74, absolutely destroying 2nd place and the meet record in the process. As if I needed any more motivation to run sub 17:00, now I knew I had to just so I could say I didn’t lose to a girl from Purdue.

After the typical warm-up, agility drills, and watching Justin almost fall of the track several times during his 5k, I was ready to run and got on the line for my chance to break sub 17. The race started innocently enough, as I relaxed and let most of the others run ahead in a more aggressive start than I desired. I settled into a rhythm of running 82 seconds per 400 and just tried to find other competitors to pace off and run with.

However, it turns out that it would be harder than I thought to pace off someone. Every time I made a move and caught another runner, they would instantly start slowing down, forcing me to pass and just focus on catching the next runner in hopes they would maintain the pace. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen as I kept making moves and passing runners who were dying for the first 8 laps of the race. But I still had Coach Sybing and the rest of the team cheering me on let me know that I was on perfect pace to run sub 17:00. I briefly thought to myself

These are perfect conditions, I’ve got a huge squad cheering me on, and I’m on pace through 2 miles. What more could I ask for? This is it. Today is the day for sub 17.

But those last 4.5 laps turned out to be my greatest demise. Despite the team screaming at me to keep making moves and catch the Wisconsin runner ahead of me who was wearing a backwards hat, my legs were absolutely destroyed. While I should’ve been closing the gap between me and the runners ahead, the gap just stayed a constant size. I didn’t realize how much I was slowing down until I saw the clock was at 13:00 with 3 laps to go.

Fuck. I need to run 3 consecutive 80 second laps to run sub 17? This is going to be hard

I stayed as mentally tough as I could, grinding through the pain, telling myself not to give up, and trying to pick up the pace. But I slowed down way too much for it to matter at that point, as I sprinted the last 200m as hard as I possibly could, only to run a very demoralizing 17:09. 1 second slower than last week.

I was completely exhausted after crossing the line and couldn’t explain how I had failed to break 17 yet again. I paced the first 2 miles exactly how I wanted to, passed so many runners who had gone out too aggressively, tapered my training during the week going into the race, and despite all of that, it still wasn’t enough to break 17.

As my teammates tried to encourage my, telling me I ran a good race despite the result, I couldn’t help but feel like I completely wasted my big chance. Colin tried to rally me, by telling me that I was in sub 17 shape, and I just needed the perfect race to do it, but there I was in perfect running conditions with a bunch of my teammates setting up a cheering squad that stretched the entire length of the track, and I still couldn’t get the job done.

I felt awful, and I thought it couldn’t get worse. But somehow it did, because I proceeded to watch the rest of the boys run the races of their lives and run amazing PR’s, cumulating in a 15:09 from Mitch to place 6th in the nation. I was so excited and happy for my teammates, but afterwards I couldn’t help feel slightly bad because while almost everyone else ran amazing in the 5k and broke their PR’s by at least 20-30 seconds, I still couldn’t find a way to chop 9 stupid seconds off of my time.

All of the others, including Singer, Laskowski, Stas, and Mitch, had their moment of amazing racing and showing everyone how fit they were. Later in the day, Shannon had her moment of brilliant racing by winning the 1500m title, to build on her earlier PR-smashing performance in the 5k.

Everyone on the team was going crazy and was so excited for all of these brilliant performances. Seeing all the clipboards being broken after each great race was truly amazing and I was so happy for everyone, but I somewhat selfishly wanted it for myself, for me to have my own broken clipboard. But I had absolutely wasted the chance of a lifetime to do it. I had absolutely wasted the chance to break that 17-minute barrier yet again.

Afterwards in the hotel room that night, I couldn’t help but wonder:

“When is my moment going to come when I run the race of my life? Is it ever going to come?”

One Last Chance

After my forgettable performance at Nationals, I had lost absolutely all confidence in my ability to run a decent 5k and was almost at my absolute lowest point mentally.

All that confidence I had from great VO2 max tests and mid-season workouts? Disappeared completely.

That excitement and optimism for having a great race at the next meet? Gone. Replaced with fear of running a terrible race and failure.

Earlier in the season I thought I would be running sub 16:30’s easily, but now I just desperately hoped for a 16:59 by any means. And to make matters worse, there was only one meet left where I planned on racing the 5k, the Widener Invitational.

After a very light week of training, included only doing a single short tempo paced workout, I packed away my overnight bag on Friday afternoon, and proceeded to travel with a few other members of the team up to Chester, PA, where I was either going to return with a triumphant victory, or soul-crushing failure.

Now normally, the Widener Invitational runs their 5k on late Friday afternoon, the day before the rest of their track events. But unfortunately, there was a thunderstorm occurring in the region all afternoon Friday, so the 5k was postponed until the end of the meet Saturday.

On the bright side, I didn’t have to run in humid, non-ideal racing conditions. On the downside, I had to stay and watch the entire meet on Saturday with a steady nervousness about my impending 5k race. But I couldn’t change any of it, so after a great night-before-a-race dinner of Buffalo Mac & Cheese, I went to bed early in preparation for my race the next day.

For the duration of Saturday, I proceeded to watch hundreds of runners run great races and great times in their respective events, including multiple PR’s from almost all of our club’s runners. But with every race I just kept thinking to myself

Why can’t the 5k be right now? I just want this to be over with already.

But unfortunately, the 5k wasn’t for another 8 or 9 hours, giving me plenty of time to internally stress out, but giving me also plenty of time to contemplate my race strategy.

Would I stay with my conservative racing strategy and try to even or maybe negative split? Well that’s what I tried to do at Nationals, and that race went terrible so maybe not.

Maybe a super aggressive start around 5:10 pace so you can bank time for when you die on the 3rd mile like you always do? Well that just sounds like a super stupid way to run a 5k.

Eventually I decided I would just go out at 5:24 mile pace, try to bank a little time for the 3rd mile, and hang on for dear life that last 4 laps.

So as the rest of the club finished their events and got ready to head back to College Park, they wished me good luck and bid Ryun and I farewell. But as I was saying goodbye to Mitch, he gave me a piece of advice that might’ve been the most important thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

“Just go out and race hard. Don’t worry about the time”

I might not have realized it at the time, but those words would turn out to be very important as they stuck in my head for the next few hours. After a lot of thought, I realized that for the past 2 years I had been so worried about running sub 17 that I had almost completely ignored the racing aspect of it. It had gotten to the point where maybe my starts have been too conservative. Maybe going out more aggressively and seeking out competition was what I needed to do.

Ultimately, I decided that Mitch probably knew how to run a 5k properly and that I should take his advice, essentially scraping my previous race strategy and solely focusing on competing with the other runners.

A couple of hours later, after visualizing the race multiple times, I stepped on the track in my green Michigan State singlet tucked into my bright neon yellow running shorts that would’ve made even the most colorblind spectators cringe. You would think that as I toed the line in what could be my last ever collegiate track 5k, I would be thinking about how much training I’ve done to get to this point, my past racing failures, and how this race would be different. But there was only one thought on my mind as I stared down the starter, fueled by the 10 hours of anticipation I had spent watching the track meet:

Just fire the damn gun. I’m ready to race

Boom. The gun was fired. The race had begun.

I instantly went out and attached myself to the back of an 8-runner pack. I stayed calm and relaxed, keeping a constant position at the back of the pack while playing Morgan Wallen (shoutout to Rylan for getting me hip) country songs in my head. The first 2 laps are rather uneventful, as I dodge a bunch of aggressive early moves, just trying to avoid stumbling and falling. But as we approached the 2 lap mark, I thought to myself:

Briggs you are here with a chance to break 17 and you are just singing songs about tractors and whiskey? Wake the fuck up it’s time to race. This is your last chance.

Almost instantly, the songs I had been previously singing to myself stopped. As I stop singing to myself, a runner in a bright green Rowan singlet does a jump cut to the outside of lane 2, cutting me off while he stumbles and almost falls in the process.

Well that was a stupid move. Its 2 laps into the 12.5 lap race idiot, why are you trying to imitate Odell Beckham with an aggressive juke / jump cut around a pack?

The aggressive / idiotic move woke me up, as I quickly realized I felt great, my form was smooth, and my legs felt super light. I instantly weaved my way through the 8 person pack, right past the runner from Rowan and attached myself to the back of a 3 person pack, a move that was met with roaring approval from Coach Anderson.

Now we’re 4 laps into the race, and my pack and I round the corner as Ryun yells out that I had just run an 80 second lap and was at 5:17 for the mile, indicating I am running at a great pace.

Perfect. 5:17 and I still feel smooth. Let’s catch some more of these boys!

And so I did, passing groups of other competitors, and attaching myself to the pack of another pack before I made another surge. Pack by pack, I passed them like clockwork until the halfway point of the race, where I tuck in behind a stray runner in an effort to save energy for the 2nd half of the race. Ryun was yelling out my splits and I was running at a constant 79/80 second clip, so I knew I just had to maintain the pace for as long as possible.

But as I passed Ryun on the 7th lap, he was not happy with my race strategy, screaming at me to not get complacent, to not stop passing people, and to keep making moves.

Ugh Ryun, I’m already way ahead of pace I don’t need to make moves.

But I was too tired to argue, so I obediently surged ahead to another pack of runners and inserted myself in the middle of it.

8 laps down. Ryun is happy with my recent move and yells out that I’m on sub 16:40 pace through 2 miles, before correcting himself immediately after and yelling that I’m actually on sub 16:30 pace. Normally I would’ve gained a boost in confidence from that 2 mile split. But all I could think about were my closing 400 splits from Nationals a week prior.

84, 86, 87, 83. You were on pace last week at this same point but then you did that, so nothing is guaranteed. You’re way ahead of pace, just don’t die super hard, keep your shoulders down, your form relaxed, and you’ll be fine.

As I waited to feel the familiar feeling of my legs turning to iron, and for sheer exhaustion to break my will to race, I somehow kept passing packs and stray runners. And the feeling of misery that I had become very familiar with last week never manifested itself. . . until 1000m to go.

For the first time in the race, a runner has just passed me, and immediately threw in a surge to go chase the next pack. I was tired, my legs started moving a little slower, and I couldn’t match his aggressive move. Ryun screamed at me, with a tone of urgency saying I had to go and speed up now. His tone of urgency and intensity made me believe I had fallen off pace and was in danger of missing sub 17.

Oh no. Here we go again. I’m going to miss sub 17 again aren’t I?

But as I worried about failing to reach my ultimate goal and slowing down, something amazing happened. Something I didn’t know I needed. Something that would help me to overcome any mental barriers my brain had previously constructed to block me from sub 17.

A runner passed me. But this wasn’t just any runner. This was the runner in a bright green Rowan University singlet who had been cutting me off and stumbling the first two laps of the race like an idiot. And I didn’t forget any of those previous moves for a second, because as soon as he passed me, a sense of anger swept through my body and I forgot about how tired I felt and focused on how badly I wanted to beat this dude.

But why was I so angry at him? I didn’t even know this kid. Was it the dumb unnecessary moves he made early on in the race? Maybe. Was it the fact that I couldn’t tell whether his singlet was yellow, bright green, or orange due to my colorblind eyes? Maybe. But it didn’t matter why I was angry, all that mattered is in that instant of time, I gained so much motivation and energy from him passing me.

Immediately, I throw in a surge to try and match his speed. I succeed, managing keeping the gap between us at a constant size. With 300 meters to go, I make another surge and pass the guy. I feel him try to match my move and stay on my shoulder, but his steps become quieter with every second as I know I have just created a gap between us. With 150 meters to go, his coaches on the infield are screaming at him to kick hard and catch me. The thought of him beating me in the final straightaway of the race made me absolutely furious. I look dead at his coaches and think to myself.

These are the guys that want you to catch me? Well, let’s see you try to come and get me buddy.

I throw in a final surge, speeding up to a full sprint, trying to break whatever was left of his spirit. I wasn’t going for a close win at the finish line, I wanted to absolute destroy this kid and make him regret those moves he made earlier in the race.

100 meters left, I’m still in front and feeling like I’m pulling away. 50 meters left, and I know I have this Rowan kid beat, as I can barely hear his breathing anymore. I sprint all the way to the line but can’t help but stare at the clock during the last 25 meters in sheer amazement. As I cross the finish line, I have a grin on my face, staring directly at the clock.

16:27. A 41 second PR.

It Finally happened.

After 2 years of failure, I had finally achieved my goal of sub 17. I hadn’t just broken it by a little bit either, I had absolutely demolished the barrier and went ahead and broke 16:30 as well. This was the race of my life. This was my moment that I had been waiting for. I laid down on the track in pure disbelief, as Ryun ran over with the same grin and disbelief I had, congratulating me and saying we had finally done it.  

The Meaning

After the race, I was ecstatically happy. I still couldn’t believe I had run that fast. I thought the best part of the day was finishing the race, having broken the barrier that had cruelly taunted me for the past two years. But it turns out the best part was actually seeing the club’s reaction online when Ryun and I got back to the car and turned on my phone.

The Facebook chat had blown up, with so many congratulatory messages from so many different people. Apparently, Shannon had been stalking the live results ever lap of the race and leaked the news to everyone.

I had never seen such a huge reaction to a race, let alone a race none of them were there to witness. If that wasn’t enough, the group chat name had been completely changed in my honor. Seeing how excited everyone was for my race, even when they couldn’t watch it was incredible and meant a lot to me, seeing how much everyone on the club cared.

And how did Ryun and I celebrate? The only way someone who had the race of their life could celebrate? We drove to the nearest Walmart and broke the first clipboard we could find.

What a race is was. What a season is has been. Thank you to everyone for making it that way and making the journey as fun as the destination.

P.S. Sorry this was so long, but I ran out of stuff to procrastinate doing my homework with. Happy procrastination season!

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Maryland Club Running Webmaster and Blog Admin

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