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.
Three key Takeaways from the Year
You’d think I hadn’t really learned this considering the number of near-mishaps Julian and I experienced in Europe, but my first takeaway from this year is the need to meticulously plan travel trips. As you may have read in my post about Tallahassee, exceptionally poor planning once cost me not only the chance to maximize my ability in a race, but also about half of my meager monthly paycheck as a graduate assistant at Providence.
From that point on, I resolved to plan my future trips as far in advance as possible, with the maximum level of flexibility I could afford, in order to give myself the greatest chance of success. Soon after Tallahassee, I booked Southwest flights for my California trip. Buying these tickets five months early both saved me money and allowed me the flexibility if something happened, like an injury or a change in my race schedule. Especially for an athlete who doesn’t have an individual salaried contract, who’s ballin on a budget in every sense of the phrase, clear planning and flexibility will help me successfully both make the most of my money and my running. While the trip to Europe certainly had a few near-disasters (though I honestly think that Aer Lingus or Google Flights both had to be somehow at fault for the 6 AM/PM flight mishap, and Europcar closing at 4 PM is clearly a cultural inconsistency, but I digress), our planning of the trip contributed instrumentally to our success, and we’ll be back to do even better next year!
In the fall, when I’d taken on too many responsibilities in too many places, I spoke to Ray not long after I’d posted this blog. Looking back at the schedule, it really was something ridiculous, but my overconfidence at the time caused me to shrug off Ray’s warnings: if I could get to bed by 9:30 PM, it didn’t matter how impossibly busy I made myself during the day, right? Obviously, I was wrong, and while I should have taken greater heed of his words at the time, one piece of advice Ray gave me during that conversation stands out in retrospect as I contemplate how to further my success on the track— “you have to be selfish.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean I need to start mistreating my friends or stealing my roommate’s ice cream or anything like that, but it does call for me to make decisions conducive to my success in running even when they conflict with social temptations or opportunities to devote my time to other people. Any time I’m not running, eating, or working at whichever job that allows me the financial flexibility to continue to pursue this dream on the track, I can be resting, and I should probably consider that anytime I find myself partaking in the frivolity of normal 24 year-old life.
Or, y’know, something like that. That last paragraph is probably a bit dramatic, to be honest, because if I didn’t have a social life or other interests and hobbies, I would probably get far too bored, too obsessive, and too swept up in the pressure of running to actually have success. Nonetheless, I need to construct my social life and the activities in it around my athletic schedule, and I can’t afford to donate too much of my time to anyone that can’t make it equally worthwhile for me. And of course, I can’t devote too much time to dating, either (See February or March). I’ll still have my fair share of fun, do my fair share of dancing, and eat my fair share of bananas foster waffles, especially in the fall, but when it comes down to it, my decisions will have to serve the best interests of my running before they serve anyone else. This whole thing would be a complete and total waste of my own, Ray’s, and the time of the people who support me otherwise.
Over the course of the year, I haven’t really known how to refer to myself when explaining to people what I’m doing with my life. At first, I told people I was a postcollegiate runner, finishing off his graduate degree while chasing a few fast times. This probably made sense at the time, considering I was in the midst of a pretty crap fall season and running in an old saucony singlet that had “AC Don’t Test Me” and “Shoes Pls” scrawled in black sharpie on the front and back of my kit, respectively.
By the end of February, my identity had rightfully evolved. I’d demonstrated a bit more fitness, laying down another 7:58 in the 3k; I’d just flown, or rather, I’d been flown by the meet director, to an all-expenses paid race in Northern Ireland, where I’d finished in the top 10 of a relatively elite field, and Shane and I had self-designed team singlets that actually had our club name printed on our new team crest on the top left chest. After all that, Ben Sutherland told me, “the correct designation is probably semi-pro.” And like a probably underrated Will Ferrell movie, it stuck for the next few months: no, I can’t pay the bills through running, but I do get some pretty cool stuff from the whole endeavor.
Then, Letterkenny happened. And I’m like, semi-pro? Forget that. Yes, I still gotta work a part-time job to keep the lights on; yes, my club’s newly official partnership with New Balance basically consists of some shoes and gear I split with my teammates; yes, you will still see local events and crowdfunding from me when I get ready to try and fund another year of traveling around the world for races— but I am a professional runner. At Letterkenny, I looked down the list of dudes I’ve beaten this year and saw a bunch of guys with shoe companies funding their lives, dudes who have run sub 7:50 on the flat and dudes who have run 8:31. I looked around me at races and saw former All-Americans, Olympians, and world champions that I could never dream of beating. And then there’s this photo:
That’s the last water jump in the prelim at USAs. While the top guys were far from all out, and while I did finish last out of everyone in the foreground of this photo, none of that really matters. Four years ago, it would have felt like a fantasy for Donn Cabral, already an olympian, to give me me a concerned look back 150m from the finish in the prelim at USAs. This year, it happened, was documented, and I came out wanting more. For 15 minutes, I had a better-than-50 percent chance of making the USATF Steeplechase final, and next year, I’m out there to make the final and perform well in it.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at my current PRs and progression over the last few years and predict my ambitious goals for the next few seasons. I’ve never been one to set unreasonable goals for myself, so I expect to pursue them wholeheartedly and make an honest step towards the next level of track.
While I still stand by my claim that all of this is a bit arbitrary anyway: I love track and have enjoyed my success, but it doesn’t define me— there’s nothing especially more noble about competing at my level than there is being a kid who works incredibly hard in an attempt to make the varsity team at his high school. But still, it is kind of cool to wake up and think, I’m a professional runner. I’m out here doing it. And I can’t wait for more.