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So I Guess I’m Allowed to Dream Now?

One of my favorite talking heads in sports, Bomani Jones, frequently jokes about how it’s always the little guy in sports who stays ready to fight, because five-foot-nine dudes like Nate Robinson, who despite his freakish athleticism wouldn’t stand out from any other group of average-height brothers who played football or basketball in high school, that kick it and compete with dudes that make the Rock look like this: https://goo.gl/images/i1oHqw (and who make Kevin Hart look like this: https://goo.gl/images/DvGkTF) all feel like they’ve had to scratch and claw for everything they’ve accomplished. So, these guys stay ready to fight when someone tries to tell them what they can’t do, because somehow across years of learning and speaking fluent English they never picked up the meaning of phrases like “back down” or “let it go,” even if they can identify each of those individual words those terms comprise.

Maybe it’s because I was a late bloomer, entering high school at a height something like 5 feet and the scrawniest 100 pounds you could imagine (here’s a video of me, fro’d up in the 8th grade chasing down some guys in the final straight of a cross country race https://youtu.be/BwaaMWbQyug?t=1m7s), or maybe it’s because of my suddenly well-known history as a high schooler who ran a meager 4:29 and 9:34 in the 16 and 3200, respectively, who always played second-fiddle to the twin brothers at the school down the road. But when it comes to people telling me what I can’t do, I have an also suddenly well-publicized, salt and vinegar Lays– because I’m that salty when someone tries to disrespect me– chip on my shoulder and I am the embodiment of a stay-ready all star.

So maybe that’s why, as a close friend of mine always likes to tease me for, I feel an inexorable compulsion to remind the 8:40 flat-3k guys who jokingly say they’d beat me of exactly how obtuse that notion is, given my steeplechase time– oh wait, I can do that with 8:30 guys now– even when I know that drawing out the absurdity of my need to respond is the source of humor behind their their wisecracks; maybe that’s why, when the head track coach from my high school texts me about aforementioned twins after my performance at USAs, “what have they done? You win!” I respond proudly in the affirmative (hiding a sliver of resentment over the fact that one of them still has a 5k PR that’s two seconds better than mine) instead of that I’ve moved on to bigger and better things, and maybe that’s why I delivered that speech at the senior cross country banquet in which I passionately indicted my teammates for what I felt was a lack of support after that last-place-at-heps-xc race the year before, a race that affected me to the point of posting the number 95 on my wall in the largest font that fit on a piece of paper–because if no one else but my dad and Ben Halpin believed me, I knew I was gonna come back and be better the next year. Shoot, maybe for a guy like me who isn’t all that naturally competitive (perhaps contrary to what you’ve just read, but trust me 😉 ) maybe this attitude is why I’m even good at the sport of Track and Field.

Of course, I feel like realism has a place in athletics as well, so you definitely won’t find me out here telling dudes I’m trying to be world champion (I was there in that prelim. I saw the gap between Evan Jager and myself: it’s a lot), and, as it follows, you definitely won’t find me getting mad if you doubt me there, either. To me though, way more than it’s about shutting up the people who think they know my limits better than I do, Track and Field is about self-expression. About that last 200, 100, 50 meters where you can push yourself to the point of crossing that finish line like, “whoa, I just tried at something really freaking hard.” It’s beautiful, and it’s not something you can just find elsewhere on a whim.

It’s also why, no matter the result in that final, I was going to be happy as long as I left it on the track. Don’t get me wrong, the NACAC vest is a nice reward that means a lot to me, but Team USA caps are not why I’m in the sport. I’m here for that feeling after the race when everyone has endorphins flowing, when everyone’s barely functional and flopping around in the finish area, when that mutual love and respect between competitors is flowing because we all just tried hard af to accomplish the same thing, and no matter the result, we all know how amazing it is to feel that sensation. That’s both why I’m still happy after bad races and why I’m overflowing with joy when something ridiculously good happens. Ask anyone who races me a lot: that interview–as much as it may have embarrassed Ray–that was just this dude. Yes, I’ll set my sights on new accomplishments in the future, but rather than defining our worth, pride, and happiness on the track; moving on to new external goals should serve as a means to motivate ourselves on the track such that we can find that pure, internal joy in sport.

Well, as it were, my latest result was a breakthrough of sorts, so it’s time to do just. Of course, as I wrote earlier, there is a place for realism in our sport. If you run that race in Des Moines 100 times, there are surely some outcomes in which I notice Kebenei falling off, kick a bit earlier, and finish fourth, but there are likely more in which one or a few of my fellow B-circuit bros beats me and I finish like, 8th. Consequently, my goals for the coming year are more likely to look like “run in the low 8:20s” and “establish myself as a consistent player in the top 5 or 6 in the US Steeplechase” (i.e. go on an ‘it wasn’t a fluke’ tour) than “make a world team” or “go to the Olympics in 2020,” though Pan-Ams 2019 is probably in the former set.

But for all the years I spent telling people definitively that I’m not gonna make a World or Olympic team, joking about finding European women to marry for citizenship or going to one of the countries that buys athletes– for all those years of “no I will not make the Olympics please stop asking,” I did just finish fifth in the US in the steeplechase. I could have finished fourth. If one guy had retired, been injured, or, as is not exceedingly unlikely in my race, had fallen–though that person has far too often in the past been me–it’s suddenly not impossible that I’m third.

So no, going to the Olympics or whatever isn’t really a goal of mine. It’s not why I’m in the sport, and it wouldn’t somehow validate the blood, sweat, and tears I’ve shed on the track.

But hey, suddenly, I feel like I’m allowed to dream. And to me that, in itself, is quite cool.

I’m Thankful

**This post was originally written about a month ago. So no mention of the sub-4 mile, but as you’ll see when you read, that’s not really the point anyway. 

So I’m surrounded by 8 guys or so and our bags, all of which/whom have been stuffed into this 10-seat vehicle whose designers clearly didn’t have the foresight to think that maybe it should have enough space not only for 10 people, but also for their luggage. I don’t know most of these dudes, save for Hugh in the seat next to me, Josh– the other American who ran the Armagh International 5k– a few seats up, and Finn– the English guy in the seat behind me– who I’m convinced I met the year before but don’t remember much about beyond that. I’m tired. Not just from a hard road 5k the night before, but also because I’ve slept for a meager five hours (plus an hour nap, I guess), after a night out. Sure, the night before was a bit (read: a lot) less tame than last year. And yeah, 3 AM is only 11 PM on the East Coast anyway. But still, in this moment of misery, my only real consolations as Finn keeps me awake and forces me to crane my neck towards him with chat about training, America, and indoor track– in this moment, my only real consolations come from the chocolate fudge cake in my lap that I’ll eat on the plane and the thougt that I’ll be able to sleep on the six hour flight back to America (after which, I’ll immediately head to the theater to see Black Panther in IMAX).

And then it hits me: my life is actually awesome.

Like, who does this? I just pissed off to a foreign country on a Tuesday to run a freaking race that some other guy paid for (shouts out Run Rhody and More Miles More Smiles/Spewak Training, the amazing sponsors who provide our club with travel money), and as I’m headed back to the airport to return to the states on Friday, I’m treating this whole thing as a relatively average occurrence. Which honestly, even that is ridiculous! Just over a year ago–like literally, 53 weeks ago– I had never been out of the country; now, I have friends– shouts out to the Scottish girls, African brothers, Belgian bros, and more!– a family– shouts out to Ollie, Eileen, and the Armstrongs– and even old competitors who have moved overseas– shouts out to Kirk!– that I’m excited to see whenever I travel; I’ve been all over Europe and even to Japan, and I have a part-time job with an amazing and supportive environment at Brown RISD Hillel (Remember my last blog? Well that day, coincidentally, long-story-short the Rabbi offered me a job!) that allows me to do run, sleep, and do all this while working 20 super-engaging hours a week and not even living like a miser. (Like, I basically worked a 12 hour day on Monday. Except it was lit because half of it was getting coffee with students and going out to a bar with grads that evening, which is basically what I would have done with friends that night anyway. It also pays enough for me to take the bills from my parents and even for me to buy some things for fun).

So maybe I’m being a bit dramatic; maybe some of this talk about the awesomeness of my life is borne from the fact that it’s pretty much the only way I can justify to my mom that sitting around working part-time with my Ivy League double degrees and an MBA is a way better decision than working hundred hour weeks on Wall Street, bringing home bank, and staring at a wall every weekend; maybe I had gotten beaten by the funny looking Englishman across the aisle from us, losing both a win and over $100 that I firmly believe I should have had, because I miscalculated and sprinted too far from the finish the day before, and maybe Hugh, in his own early morning delirium, was totally confused when I turned to him out of nowhere to vocalize this sudden and intense appreciation for the privilege of being on this bus with these people at this exact moment in time. But man, I’m lucky to be here, and I love what I’m doing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wish I could say I was motivated by some external result, but honestly, feel more like arbitrary stepping stones that give me an excuse to stay focused as I continue on with this silly running thing. I get to travel around the world, meeting people and pushing my body to its limit in the spirit of competition. That’s what I really love.

So, in the immortal words of Marshawn Lynch: for the amazing places I’ve been, the amazing friends I’ve made and the support they give me every day; for the successes I’ve had, the setbacks I inevitably will, and the lessons they’ll teach me,

And even for you being one of the few people who actually read this blog post in its entirety,

I’m thankful. 

Thank you.

Results

Anyway, the whole group has been rolling lately, and I’m definitely feeling in good form. After the best cross country race of my season in December, I finally felt like I had a result to demonstrate that I’d reached a new level before stepping on the track after a better fall of training. And those results have shown. From the 7:52 3k, of which I soloed the last thousand meters, to the amazing experience of pacing the NB Indoor Grand Prix (I was a 9:34 3200m runner in high school– I’m not supposed to be in an IAAF race, even as a pacer!), to getting out here at Armagh and putting myself out there for the win [post-edit, and after breaking 4 minutes in the mile], I couldn’t be more excited for the season to come. Sub sub 8:30 and sub 13:40 are immediately on my mind, and I’m fired up to go after each of my goals in the coming season. You can read more about results in the press releases linked below.

On Julian finishing at the World Championships and my going Sub-4

On February for the club, including Armagh, Valentine, and the NB Indoor Grand Prix

 

Oakley 3:55! Mann 3rd, Armstrong Season Debut in Armagh Road Race!

On the heels of a strong month of January, the Ocean State AC men have shown no sign of slowdown, keeping their momentum into the first few weeks of February, which have been incredibly busy across the board.

Millrose Games

The top highlights of the month came from Julian, who started the month against a world-class field with a sub 7:50 3k clocking in at the Millrose games in New York. Despite a bit of disappointment finishing towards the back of the field, Julian ran the second fastest 3k of his career, closing quickly and gaining valuable experience against top competition in preparation for contesting the 3k at IAAF World Indoor Championships at the beginning of March.

BU Valentine Invitational

A week later in Boston on February 10, three Ocean State Athletes were active at two different venues in Boston. First, Julian contested the mile close to home at the BU Valentine Invitational, where he turned out another exceptional performance. In a field where more than five men went under 4:00 for the mile, Julian sat in third or fourth place for most of the race and unleashed his deadly kick over the last lap to beat all men but the NOP man who can only be called his top rival this season, Craig Engels. But this time, Julian smashed his old personal best in the mile, coming through in a blazing mark of 3:55.

Also at BU, Kevin Cooper contested the mile in the fourth section of the event. Despite feeling a bit off at the line, Cooper competed strong to finish in 4:09, his first sub-4:10 clocking since working full-time. The strong finish despite feeling a bit flat the day of the race has him excited, and has the club optimistic that on a better day, he could soon demonstrate, or even surpass,  the form of his collegiate and early post-college marks while maintaining a full time work schedule.

And finally, on the same day as the strong performances from Julian and Kevin, Ocean State was absolutely delighted to receive a guest appearance in Boston from Providence College Graduate Harvey Dixon, the Gibraltar national record holder in the 1500m, who put on the Ocean State AC kit to compete in the 800m. And he did the jersey proud, finishing in a mark of 1:52 as he gears up for World Indoors. The club looks forward to further cameos from Harvey as he makes American tours in the future.

NB Indoor Grand Prix

At the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, Jordan was active, once again as a pacer for the 3k. Except this time, arguably the greatest NCAA runner of all-time, Edward Cheserek as well as Olympic Medalists Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet headlined an unbelievable field, asking for a split of 4:03 at 1600m. Even as the pacer, Jordan drew some attention from the announcers for hitting his splits perfectly even as the leaders sagged off towards the end, with Cheserek winning the race with a time of 7:38. Still, he was thrilled just to have the privilege to participate in such an Olympic caliber race.

Armagh Road Race

And he didn’t sit still for long! On Tuesday, February, 13th, Jordan and Hugh took to the skies and flew to Ireland to compete in the Armagh Road Race on February 15th. Hugh would represent Ireland as well as Ocean State AC in his first time contesting the race, which would also be his season debut after a long cross country season that extended into January. The men were off the line with blazing speed, as 2:09 marathon man Dewi Griffiths led them through the first thousand meters in a reported split of 2:40. The pace continued through the third lap before it dipped in the fourth, and a previously strung-out field began to clump towards the front. With one lap around the square (about 1000m) to go, the Belgian Yannik Michels made a move that only Jordan covered, and with 400m to go, Jordan found himself with a few meters lead on the field. However, he started his sprint too early and couldn’t bring the race home, getting passed by sub 13:40 man Sam Stabler and previous Armagh Road Race Champion Charlie Hulson for a third place finish in a road Personal Best of 14:01. Likely not quite sharp enough so early in his season to handle the early pace, Armstrong finished the race in 14:28, which, while this was a road PB, he was a bit disappointed in some of the athletes who had beaten him. Still, so early in his season and with so much pace from the beginning of the race, Hugh promises to have strong performances come his track debuts with both this race and a few more workouts in his legs.

Upcoming Races

Julian Oakley: World Championships, 3k, March 2-4, 2018

Kevin Cooper: BU Last Chance, Mile, February 25, 2018

Hugh Armstrong: BU Last Chance, 5k

Jordan Mann: BU Last Chance, Mile

Strong Performances in New York and Boston for Ocean State Men

In the last track weekend of January, the men of Ocean State AC divided to compete on Friday evening and Saturday at the BU John Thomas Terrier Classic, in Boston, and on Saturday at the Columbia Challenge, at the Armory in New York City.

On Friday night in Boston, Jordan competed in one of the invitational sections of the men’s 3k. Despite pre-race drama surrounding the lack of a pacemaker, some last-minute help from letsrun.com (http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=8643650&page=1) in support of their athlete, Ben de Haan, helped the athletes attract US Army man Robert Cheseret for the job. When the gun went off, Jordan sat in immediately behind the rabbit; by a mile, they were alone, and when the rabbit stepped off the track, Jordan continued on strong to finish in a new personal best of 7:52.45. He will pace the mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on February 10, and his next race will be the Armagh Road Race on February 15.

Saturday in Boston, Kevin Cooper competed in the fifth section of the 3k. In the face of pre-race disrespect from an unnamed teammate, Cooper’s first crack at the 3k in an Ocean State vest proved fruitful, posting a mark of 8:24.20, his best time in the event since returning to the track two years ago. Cooper was conservative at the beginning of the race, going through the mile towards the back of a strung-out pack, but as the race progressed, so did he, moving into fourth place with a final 400m of 62 seconds! Cooper will compete next in the mile at the BU Valentine Invitational in two weeks.

In New York on Saturday afternoon, Julian posted perhaps the most impressive result of the weekend against world-class field of professional and collegiate athletes. The pace was pedestrian early on– Julian came through 809 meters with the middle of the field in 2:03– but furious over the last 800m of the race. Nonetheless, against the likes of British Olympic finalist Charlie Grice, and 3:35 man Patrick Casey, Julian blazed to a second-place finish in a time of 3:57.45, with a final 400m under 56 seconds. The only man to best Julian was Craig Engels of the Nike Oregon Project, who sports a 3:35 1500m PB and finished fourth at the US Championships in 2017 after his senior year of college. Despite finishing just short of the standard for the Commonwealth games, Julian continues to demonstrate incredibly strong form, which he will test next in the 3k at the Millrose games on February 3.

Upcoming Races

Julian Oakley – Millrose Games, 3k: February 3

Kevin Cooper – Valentine Invitational, TBD: February 10

Jordan Mann and Hugh Armstrong – Armagh Road Race, Road 5k: February 15

 

Oakley Near-National Record and Armstrong Top-20 Finish Highlight Outstanding Week for Ocean State AC

The past week saw performances from Ocean State AC that introduced its athletes and the club as serious competitors on both national and international levels.

Julian Oakley Becomes 2nd fastest New Zealander Ever over 3000m Indoors

The club saved the best for last, as the week’s top highlight came on Saturday, December 16, at the Boston University Mini Meet. The weeks leading up to the event saw much hoopla about a group of New Zealand athletes, including two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis, attempting to achieve the world indoor qualifying time in the 3k. Julian had entered to compete in this field; however, a few days before the event those athletes withdrew, leaving Julian to attempt the standard of 7:52 on his own.

With a teammate pace-setting, Julian hit the qualifying standard and more, blazing to a world-class time of 7:44.34, the second-fastest time ever run indoors by a New Zealander to Zane Robertson’s 7:44.16. If selected by New Zealand, Julian will compete in the World Indoor Championships from March 2nd to 4th.

Hugh Armstrong Finishes 19th in European Championships; Irish Senior Men Finish Fifth Overall

On December 10th, the Sunday prior to Julian’s performance on the indoor track, Hugh Armstrong toed the line in Samorin, Slovakia under much less pleasant conditions at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships. The championship’s website describes the day that “sub-zero [Celsius] temperatures and a biting wind greeted the athletes in Samorin.” Certainly, the day would test the mettle of all athletes on the course.

Hugh Armstrong was ready to rise to the challenge, finishing in 19th place out of the whole of Europe in a time of 30:46 for the 10k course. Along with teammate and NCAA Cross Country 12th-place finisher Sean Tobin, who finished 15th, Hugh contributed greatly to an outstanding fifth-place team finish for Ireland.

Pending selection for World Cross Country Championships, Hugh’s next focus will be the Aramco Houston Half Marathon on January 14th, where he hopes to improve on his debut time of 66:57.

**Note: Providence College graduate Ben Connor finished sixth in the race competing for England.

Jordan Mann Finishes 21st at USATF Club Cross Country Championships

On December 10th, Jordan Mann took to the course to compete in the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2016, the race was held in Tallahassee, Florida, allowing the athletes to compete in warm weather on a beautiful course; this year, snow showed on the forecast, and Lexington did not disappoint, as snow began to fall midway through the open men’s race.

Still, Jordan moved up through the field over the course of the race to finish just outside the top 20, coming in 21st place in a time of 30:04 for the 10k course. Not only was this a marked improvement over his 63rd place finish in the race one year ago, but it also marks his best cross country race ever, with the fastest time over 10k cross country and the highest finish in a quality field of his career.

After performing pacing duties for Julian’s 3k, Jordan looks forward to getting on the indoor track himself in late January.

Late Updates

Jordan and Julian competed in the Manchester Road race, finishing 11th and 19th in the race with Coach Ray Treacy and his brother, Irish Olympian John Treacy, as the honorary chairmen.

Kevin Cooper brought home third place in the Cambridge Half Marathon with a finishing time of 71:22, following it up with his first 5k on the track at the BU Season Opener, finishing in a time of 14:56.

Julian competed in the BU Season Opener as well, winning the 5k in a time of 13:49.

To qualify for European Championships, Hugh finished third in the Irish National Cross Country Championships in a time of 31:50 for 10k.

The (Jewish) New Year of Running Begins With a W

I’m sitting down to write this blog lower Faunce on September 21, 2017. Coincidentally, this blog comes at a point of personal and professional rebirth for me on an day that annually signifies religious and emotional rebirth to me, for today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Now those of you who know me well are probably aware that, while I’m not an especially spiritual person, I hold value in the customs and traditions of Judaism: despite feeling largely indifferent towards the concept of a G-d, I still feel compelled to respect its name; despite finding the stories in the Old Testament largely ridiculous– more likely the conjectures of ancient sci-fi writers than the words and stories of a divine being– I still find value in the lessons they teach. More than anything else, though, I appreciate the space for personal reflection created in the synagogue during the High Holy Days. And because of the Jewish calendar’s incidental coincidence with my running calendar, which is probably the most important calendar to my life, the new year comes as a natural point of holistic reflection. After all, I’m starting a new part-time job, am no longer in school, and I am finally able to choose to make running the primary concern of my life.

Of course, my running year started out great. If you’re one of the people who actually readsy my blogs, I imagine you’ve seen the result from the Downtown 5k, where I took home the W over a solid field (and, of course, where I  finally got a win over a not-yet-fit Julian in the process). Putting up a result around 14:30 on the a twisty-turvy, uphill-finishing CVS course in a race in which I did some leading and, of course, some easing up to showboat at the end, has me brimming with optimism for the upcoming year. In previous years, I’ve come into CVS much further along in my training cycle after having plenty of time to whip myself into some semblance of shape after a season that ended in late May or early June. This year, however, I showed up after a season that ended in late July after only three workouts, the most recent of which included struggling through my slowest tempo since running for Ray (don’t worry Ray I still hit the pace).

But, my own accolades– that’s not really what the High Holy Days are about, is it? The beauty of what I find in the high holy days as a religious atheist lies in three places: beyond my obvious accordance with the sentiment that we should all strive to be better people, taking a few days to reflect on the ways we acted deplorably over the last year and how we can do better, I really appreciate the the whole, “we are insignificant’ thing, even though I don’t buy into the higher power we’re supposedly insignificant in relation to. My interpretation of this, echoed by sentiments from each Rabbi’s sermon over the day, revolves around the search for meaning, and instead of some abstract sovereign being, I choose to believe in the connections I make with people and the callings of my own identity

I’ve also found value in the struggle of being a black jew. Thanks to one of the super-friendly, super-jewish upperclassmen on the team year taking the time to introduce me to the Brown/RISD Hillel Executive Director my freshman year, as well as to having made a few appearances at Friday services over the last few years, Brown/RISD Hillel is a welcoming place to me: I can always joke with Marshall about everyone at Hillel getting younger (though, of course, my suddenly being older than the wide majority of attendees at services doesn’t exactly allay any sentiments of other-ness I might have… but I digress), and I can always recognize a few super-jews from the few Friday services I’ve attended, most of whom are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and all-around great people. Still, while I won’t detail them, you can bet I’ve had my share of “are you Jewish?” moments, and that results in my having my guard up a bit any time I enter the building, especially on days when some students actually bring their non-Jewish friends to experience a Jewish day of worship.

The value I find in the high holy days connects this theme with the first: I need to let down my guard to make myself more open to human connection, let down my guard in order to follow my own personal interests, dreams, whatever. Once I did that at services, I found my mind much clearer, my mood more positive, and the random conversations I made with random people much more fulfilling. That’s not to say I don’t feel entitled to a bit of cynicism about the experience of being one of the only black jews to attend services, but letting my guard down for some real human interaction– in this unique case–made my experience much more positive.

So there’s some low hanging tie-in about running I could make here– something about doing this because I love it instead of for PRs, glory, because it pays the bills (which it definitely doesn’t)– and there’s something accurate about that for me– I do genuinely love the sport, and I’m lucky to be able to compete at a level where I can semi-justify working part-time to chase the dream for a bit–, but a better tie-in would probably revolve around the relationships I’ve made with people, the experiences I’ve been blessed (for lack of a better term) with, and the growth I’ve experienced over the course of the last year. And I wholeheartedly believe that bringing this mentality to races as I chase the dream and some fast times will result in my continued enjoyment of and success in the sport, no matter what it gives back to me on the track.

But honestly, I just wanted to write about this because I was feeling some type of way yesterday, and this is a decent outlet for that. Since then, I’ve resolved (and no, this is not as trite as a New Year’s resolution in America, where you go out and have a wild night and just decide that everything is different the next day; it came as a result of real, intrinsic reflection) to be more open and honest with people about myself. Which to be fair, I think I was pretty good at that before, but I’d like to do it wholly, without reservation.

Here’s a fun one: I went to an anime convention in August. Kind of had to get over myself, but it was lit. My friend and I felt lame not being in cosplay, so before the third day, I went to Goodwill to make a costume that looked like this guy. I really enjoyed it. Will do again.

This is also low-key running relevant because I’m headed to Japan in a week for the Izumo Ekiden. I don’t know how much free time I’ll have, but I certainly hope to find some time to get to Akihabara and take in some Otaku culture after the race.

Another one: I’ve gotten far less reserved about calling myself a professional runner. Admittedly, I do provide the disclaimer that the term is loosely defined– it’d be hard to say I have the same job as Evan Jager. But still, it’s cool. Hopefully I can bring the same openness and vulnerability I intend to bring to my life to my racing on the track. If I can do that I will undoubtedly continue to feel fulfilled in sport in this next year of running.

Until next time in Japan,

J

Hugh Armstrong: New Athlete Questionnaire

After his debut at the Lone Gull 10k, we’re incredibly excited to welcome the Mayo man Hugh Armstrong to the Ocean State AC Team! Here are some questions he answered for us earlier this summer. Check them out, and get to know Hugh a little bit! If you’re interested ladies, he always looks great running and is powered  by Flahavan’s porridge.

  • Hometown: Knockmore, Ballina, Co. Mayo, Ireland.
  • Where did you go to college? Providence College.
  • Main Event: 10km, cross country.
    PRs: 29:16 (10k)
  • Additional events you have trained for: 5km 14:06, 3km 8:09.
  • Story of your Best Race: running 29:16 in Stanford 2016 was special. Winning New England XC in 2014, with our “B” team at the time was one of my favourite XC team memories, along with qualifying for NCAA cross last year with much the same team. Running a big pb in the 5k at BU terrier, when [my high school coach] Dermot McDermott was there in 2016 was a big breakthrough for me.
  • Worst Race and How it Affected You: Strangely, my very first race and my very last race for Providence College were two of my worse ones: a xc race in Franklin park, Boston, and outdoor Regionals in Kentucky this year (10k). Some of the ones in the middle were much better. Bad races always show you that you have to go away and train harder (or train differently) and hopefully come back better the next day.
  • Favorite place in Rhode Island: Providence.
  • Reflection on the Last Season: I was pleased with cross and indoor seasons. I led our team at NCAAs in cross and ran pb’s in every event indoors. Outdoors was disappointing, I ran one solid 10k in Stanford to qualify for regionals, but struggled after that with sickness and tiredness, the season eventually ended with a very poor performance at regionals in Kentucky.
  • Goals for the Upcoming Season: I would like to become consistently good, and qualify for some Irish teams at senior level. I hope to successfully move up the distances on the road, and run a great half marathon this season, (and a great marathon in the future).
  • Favorite place to train: Grass, especially if it is nicely cut.
  • Favorite Food: Oranges
  • Favorite hobbies off the track? This might not count as non-athletic: I like following the GAA. During the summer, I travel around following the Mayo football team. I am also interested in politics
  • Favourite Mayo Player: Kevin McLoughlin
  • Favourite politician: Michael Davitt.
  • What you bring to a team dynamic/what you like best about being part of a team? This is a very individual sport, but I always loved having the team aspect running xc in college. It is great that we are continuing this with Ocean State AC. It is great to have a bunch of lads similar to yourself to work with in training and in races. It makes you want it a little bit more when you know that these lads need you to put in a good shift and run your hardest and you need them to do likewise.
  • Why OSAC: Ocean State was an easy choice for me. I am delighted to be staying in Providence for two more years, and I am very excited to continue working with Ray Treacy and some of the athletes who ran with me in college. It is also great that we are now getting support from New Balance.
  • What do you look forward to most about being part of the Providence running community? The Providence running community has some quality athletes in it. I look forward to competing with them on the roads and track and cross country, and seeing how well we can do as a new club in this community, and how well I myself can compete.
  • What you think is one of the most important aspects of a team mentality/environment:  I think that it is important for a team to work together. Ní neart go cur le chéile (there is no strength until we come together).
  • What is your day job? Providence College Graduate Assistant

Final Thank Yous for Last Season

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

 

Year-in-Review: Call me a Pro (Insights)

Year-in-Review

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

Plan

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!

Be Selfish

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.

Professional Runner

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:

look back at it

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.

The Best Moments of my Year

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!