Year-in-Review: The Three Best Moments of my Year

Well, my first year of post-collegiate running is officially in the books. Full of electric highs and disappointing lows, of thrilling victory and crushing defeat, my first year as a professional runner proved nothing short of sensational. This series of blogs will detail the highs, lows, and the final takeaways of my first year as a professional runner

New Year’s Long Run

The first high point of my last year of running came on the last day of 2016, in the Forest Park Frostbite Series 10-mile road race. This race came less than a month after my massively disappointing performance in Tallahassee, and while I’d started to feel better about running, having cranked out a few good workouts in my last few weeks in Providence, I still lacked the necessary excitement for the daily grind of running to find any part of the entire process fun. While I’d undoubtedly moved past some of the fall’s physical fatigue, I found myself still succumbing to a mental weariness that made it difficult to get out the door, especially given the facts that I really don’t like training in cold weather and that the winter had just arrived in full. I needed something to change, to flip the proverbial switch that would allow me to rediscover my joy of running. The morning of New Year’s eve, I would find exactly that.

On December 31, 2016, Ray had prescribed me some long tempo repeats. However, I’d had a few enjoyable runs with friends and old rivals from back home, some of whom ran for Tulsa (shouts out Kirk, Del, and Adam), invited me to run the Frostbite Series 10-mile run that day. Their coach had given them something like 8xmile, so a super-long tempo would achieve what all of our coaches wanted to, right?

I’ve detailed this workout in a blog post from earlier this year, so I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say ran way faster than the 5:25s we intended to start out at, and ended up banging out 52:45 for what all of our watches (and mapmyrun) measured as a long ten. We had probably completed a true ten in something close to 52 minutes, or just over 5:10 pace. Not only did I surprise myself with how casually I’d just banged out ten fast miles with a couple sub-5s in there, but I also really enjoyed the experience of running with the guys, cracking jokes and smiling for cameras six 5:20 miles into a long, long tempo. And of course, nothing beats the post-run pancake binge at the best IHOP in the country on Clayton Road.

After a disappointing fall, filled mostly with the low-points I detailed in my last blog post, this run made me excited about running again, setting me off for a great winter of training that would prepare me for the next highs that would define my year.

California Love

Two of the premiere track meets in the nation for postcollegiate and professional athletes take place every year in California in May: the Payton Jordan Invitational, where in 2010 Chris Solinsky set the then-US record in the 10k, and the Oxy High Performance Meet (now named the USATF Distance Classic), where Evan Jager and Donn Cabral established themselves as two of the premiere US Steeplechasers in 2012 in a race with an an epic finish where Jager fell going over the final water jump.

While I still had a couple weeks left in my GA and in my classes, making two trips across the country, three weeks apart, would have probably drained me of the energy necessary to run fast at either of these meets. Consequently, I spoke with my bosses and professors, left work and finished my finals early, and spent three weeks out west.

Not everything about on the trip went as planned: I ran an underwhelming 8:51 at Payton and had a couple bad workouts and runs in the California heat where I felt nothing short of absolute death (and that doesn’t even include the cooldown from hell with Zap Fitness… 5 miles after a rough steeplechase that got down to 6:00 pace and included strides that bordered on all-out sprinting), but my trip to California not only provided me with a rewarding social experience, both through reconnecting with a few good friends from undergrad and making connections with some incredible new people, but it also represented my first real foray into the world of professional running. For three weeks, my only concern was to prepare myself for the two races I would run on that trip, races thousands of miles from my home, my teammates, my family, my coach. At these races, I would see athletes like Mo Farah and Evan Jager, like Hillary Bor and David Torrence— truly the class of the world. My self-concept as a struggling postcollegiate runner had to change then and there. While I’ll probably never be the athlete any of those guys are, I don’t have time to worry about that: we all went out there for the same reason. Between that realization, the fun I had on the trip, and— did I forget to mention?—  my running a PR of 8:37 just two weeks after that weak performance at Stanford, this entire trip will undoubtedly last as one of the high points of my first postcollegiate year.

Victory in Letterkenny

Was there ever any question this would be on the list? I won a freaking race. I beat an 8:32 guy who I thought had disrespected me twice, a friend who had just run 7:47 for the flat 3k, and a quality field of other athletes who, years ago, I’d have had no place beating. I celebrated for the crowd in a way that only I possibly could, and the meet director even tweeted at me with the hashtag #celebrateinstyle. Looking at the results, I could point at these dudes like, “this dude’s got a contract; that dude’s got a contract.” And me– the dude that took home the dub and the bread– I’m just excited about getting some free shoes and uniforms.

Beyond that, there’s not too much to say that I haven’t already. I may never have another race where I’ll feel as certain of victory as I did with 200m left in Letterkenny, but after this race, I can confidently say of this pro circuit, I belong here.

My three key insights from the past year coming up!