For the end of my Year-in-Review, I’d like to post a series of “Thank You’s” to the people I really appreciate that made this year possible. For this post, however, I’d like to focus on the individuals who have provided me with indirect support behind the scenes through this year’s journey, even in the smallest moments. For example, the support I get from my family makes this entire journey possible, and the world-class coaching I receive from Ray has given me the opportunity to push my running to levels I did not know I could achieve. But if I decided to spend time writing full thank-you’s to those guys in every end-of-year review, I’d probably have to write so much, I’d run out of space to thank anyone else, and every year I did a post like this it’d look pretty much exactly the same. So without further ado, here are my three behind-the-scenes thank you’s for the last year.

Mark Spewak

Spe’s been a good friend and rival of mine since middle school, when he would make diss videos calling me out for being the cocky trash talking 13 year-old that I absolutely was. Here’s a video from his youtube account where you see us running against each other in 8th grade. Here’s the video that includes the diss track: yeah, there’s music on it, but I promise you— he’s letting everyone know how he felt about the finale of our 8th grade cross country season, in which I faded pretty far back in the pack after going out way too hard and blamed it on frostbite. In my defense, my feet were really cold.

The point is, Mark and I go way back, and as parts of the once-vibrant Missouri High School Running Community, we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst, and we’ve come through these experiences for the better.

Currently, Mark works as a race director for a few road races that he’s brought across the nation and as a coach for his own company, Spewak Training, all under the umbrella of his nonprofit More Miles More Smiles. As part of the company’s mission, he provided me with some financial support that has proved instrumental in my pursuit of professional running: without his support, I never would have been able to make the travel trips that provided me with the most memorable moments and the largest success of this first year.

But I know Mark will tell you the most important thing he does for me, as is the most important thing he does for his athletes and friends, is that he provides a positive voice for me when I’ve been disappointed by a race, workout, or whatever, which helps to keep me moving along and excited about running. We all need a Mark Spewak in our lives, and without him, my successes this year would have been impossible.

Kurt Benninger

After my series of abysmal workouts and disappointing races in the fall, Benninger gave me a ride home from the Brown track office. He told me something along the lines of, “you’re doing too much, and if you don’t pull back from something, you’re not going to be successful.“ He offered to vouch for me in the Brown track office if anyone had any questions about it, relieving me of my prideful insecurity with pulling back from my responsibilities on the east side, and he reminded me that I need to make running my first priority in the upcoming year, especially because I had no choice but to complete grad school and my job at PC.

I can’t remember all of them offhand, but over the course of the year the pieces of advice Kurt gave me from his stint as a professional runner and his time as the coach of NE Distance (and probably from his marriage to Molly Huddle, though her world is so vastly different from mine it’s probably hard to draw too many comparisons there) helped me navigate the growing pains and newfound independence of the postcollegiate world. While sometimes I think he’s just waiting for me to fall in my next steeple to crack a few jokes at my expense, his wisdom has proven instrumental to my success at different points in the year, and for that I am greatly appreciative.

Shane

My year wouldn’t have turned for the better after the fall if not for the ability to draft off this dude’s big head. Through long sessions of 1000m repeats on the indoor track the week of our BU debuts, half-outdoor half-indoor workouts where we moved to evade snow, and of course, the time we absolutely smashed 2 x 4 mile reps in 20 mph winds, going single file on the bike path with just two runners in the pack, Shane’s made me a better runner every step we’ve taken together. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as grateful for a training partner in my life as I did this fall, when Shane and I banged out a long session of miles. We’d previously been training on different schedules; I’d struggled with some workouts, and we saw one of our more daunting workouts to that point in the year standing right in front of us. Believe me, it was not easy, but we banged it out, and we hugged it out in thanks for each other soon after we’d finished.

Yeah, I nag him about stuff sometimes. No, our lives off the track don’t always mix as much as you’d think. But nonetheless,  without him, there’s no way I’d have accomplished what I have in either training or competition. While he ended up banged up in the spring, I like to think of my successes this last year as both of ours, and for that, I’m incredibly proud and thankful.

I’ll be posting again soon on upcoming races, now that I’m back into running, so I hope you’re ready for that. Talk to you soon!

-J