Skip to content

OSAC Dominant at USATF New England Championships

USATF NE CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS

On Sunday Nov. 5, the Ocean State Athletic Club competed in the USATF New England Cross Country Championships at Franklin Park in Boston, Mass. The club posted a perfect score of 15 points to win the USATF-NE title. With the win, the club moved to 3-for-3 in USATF-NE competitions.

IMG_5050

Julian Oakley, Shane Quinn, and Jordan Mann (L-R) leading the field early on.

Ocean State established a dominant presence from the beginning of the race, with Shane Quinn and Julian Oakley setting the pace from the start. With Hugh Armstrong, Jordan Mann and Trevor Crawley also a part of the lead pack, OSAC was primed for a low score. The lead pack passed through the halfway mark in around 15:45.

At Coach Ray Treacy’s instruction, the pace began to ratchet up as the group entered into the Wilderness section for the second time. The field quickly began to string out as the team continued to push the tempo over the second half of the race.  Julian Oakley, the team’s top runner in the BAA Mayor’s Cup 8k two weeks prior, pulled away over the final 2,000 meters to finish first, completing the 10k course in 30 minutes and 25 seconds. Fellow Rhode Islander, NE Distance’s Henry Sterling  would finish a distance second to Oakley but, as his team had fewer than five finishers, his place did not count towards team scoring. Jordan was next across the line in third (30:45), followed closely by Trevor (fifth, 30:49), Hugh (sixth, 30:51) and Shane (seventh, 30:53).

Stephen Robertson and Kevin Cooper were the sixth and seventh finishers on the day for OSAC. Robertson was 10th in 31:24, while Cooper was 28th in 32:43.

Full Results: http://www.usatfne.org/cross/results/17-11-05-ne.html 

BOSTON MAYOR’S CUP CROSS COUNTRY

Two weeks prior, on Sunday, Oct. 22,  the New Balance Ocean State Athletic Club competed in the BAA Mayor’s Cup at Franklin Park in Boston, Mass.  The race marked the club’s second team performance and second team win in a USATF New England competition.

Led by an impressive third-place finish from Julian Oakley, who completed the 8k cross country course in a blazing 23:57, OSAC won the event with 25 points, 47 points ahead of the second-place team. The club placed all five of its scoring runners in the top 15 of the race. Jordan Mann was the second club member to finish, as he took seventh overall with a time of 24:29. Shane Quinn also finished in the top ten as he took ninth place with a time of 24:42. Hugh Armstrong and Trevor Crawley rounded out the team scoring for OSAC as they took 13th (24:52) and 15th (24:58), respectively.

Full Results: http://coolrunning.com/results/17/ma/Oct22_Mayors_set1.shtml

Other news from the month of October includes:

Hugh Armstrong made his debut in the half marathon with a top five finish at the Hartford Half Marathon. Armstrong ran the 13.1 miles in an impressive time of 1 hour, 6 minutes and 54 seconds despite developing a stitch in mile 8. He expects to run even stronger in his next attempt at the distance. 

Julian Oakley and Shane Quinn posted a 1-2 finish at the Molly Huddle Fall-Comers 5k XC, opening up the cross country season with strong performances. 

Jordan Mann competed in Japan as part of the Ivy Select team in the Izumo Ekiden against some of the top collegiate competition in Japan. The team posted a top-10 finish, coming in behind a strong anchor leg from Ben Rainero, who completed his 10.2 kilometer leg faster than all but two competitors in the race. 

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!

Year-In-Review Part 1: Three Low Points

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, takeaways, and a few thank-you’s from my first year as a professional runner.

Part 1 will detail the three most significant low points of the year.

Workout Failure

To say I struggled mightily this fall would greatly euphemize my struggles during this most recent road/XC season. Split between taking classes, working my GA, volunteering at Brown, training, and, of course, trying to have some semblance of a social life, I found myself completely and utterly devoid of energy at all times. Of these activities, I cared the most about running. Also of these activities, my training suffered from my dearth of energy more than any of its counterparts. Yeah, not exactly ideal.  

I can’t find too much positive to say about any of my races this fall, on cross country or on the roads, but my lowest point of the fall came in my final workout before the CVS 5k. Out of respect for Ray, I won’t get into too many details of the workout, but suffice to say, I completed only 50% of the workout before completely blowing up, increasing my already generous rest, and and cutting the rep length in half for the remainder of the workout. As it would follow, CVS didn’t go very well, and neither did my next workout after that, in which I blew up spectacularly on long tempo reps.

At this point, I found little enjoyment in the running I could fit in my overly ambitious schedule, and a workout so poor as this one threw me into a Tufnellesque state of existential crisis– I felt nothing like the athlete I’d been the year before, when just the fact that Ray put a workout on my schedule gave me the confidence that I could complete it. Fortunately, and thanks to some advice from Benninger, this disaster served as an impetus to seriously reconsider my lifestyle going forward into the year. After a couple weeks of slow running, I started to get it together. But this workout sent me to a dark place early in my post-collegiate career.

Trouble in Tallahassee

The low point of my fall came in Tallahassee in the final race of my cross country season, USATF Club Cross Country Championships. To be fair, I didn’t exactly set myself up for success on the trip: I accidentally booked my flight to Tallahassee a day early, which, coincidentally, put it on the same day as my accounting final presentation. I guess this may not be especially surprising to any of you after reading about how Julian and I narrowly escaped disaster three or four times in Europe, but this one ended up in actual disaster. I wasn’t able to change my flight (Thanks Delta), so I had to purchase a new ticket the next day. Of course, this late in the game, the only affordable ticket I could purchase left from Boston at about 6 AM, and it arrived in Jacksonville— a 3 hour drive from Tallahassee. So I would be stressed, sleep-deprived, and getting into Tallahassee the day before my race. Yeah. Like I said, not exactly set up for success.

As you might expect, my race blew up worse than my travel plans. I intended to compete for a top 20 spot in the meet and a chance at an Edinburgh vest, and I went through the first couple miles with that in mind. While this goal may have been a bit unrealistic considering my fitness at the time and the unexpectedly high quality of the field at Club Cross, I failed in spectacular fashion. The boys from ADP went through the first couple miles at a pace I had no right to even think about, and as I came through two miles with the trail pack in a spicy 9:20, I knew it was gonna be a long day.

In my final tune-up before the race, I’d finally started to feel like that fit and confident athlete I mentioned in the previous section; 20 minutes into the race, I’d packed it in, and while I’d occasionally convince myself to make a half-hearted effort to tag along to the stream of athletes running by me, I honestly just wanted the thing to be over. It was flat-out embarrassing, getting crushed by old friends, rivals, guys I knew were barely training, and guys I knew were working taxing full-time jobs. I couldn’t wait to get home.

I did learn from the experience— I needed to plan things a lot better in the future and make flexible travel plans far in advance of each race in order to ensure my success. Nonetheless, crawling through the last 3 miles of that race freaking sucked.

Home Meet Woes

My final low of the year came at the Ocean State Invitational in February. To be honest, my debut race, in which I ran 9:04 for the steeplechase— my slowest time in the event since the second time I ran it (not including races in which I fell)—  didn’t throw me into the same state of  existential crisis as even some of my other bad workouts this season, but it objectively needs to be included on this list. Yes, there was wind. Yes, there was rain. Yes, I was probably a little bit sick going into the race, considering I woke up with a sore throat and had to take three days off to recover. But still, 9:04. For a dude who soloed 8:52 at the same meet a year earlier, for a dude who had run in the 8:30s and would run there again, for a dude who would, if only for a few minutes, have an over 50% chance of making the USATF final in that same event, 9:04 falls short of any and all standards for healthy, fit performance.

Fortunately, I kept the faith and righted the ship. But man, that run sucked.

My next post will detail the three high points of my year. Stay tuned!

Near Disasters and the OSAC Nacht Van de Personal Bests

Three times, Julian and I escaped total disaster over our last two weeks in Europe. Instead, everything worked out smoothly and we came back with new PRs (and a little bit of cash).

The first near-nightmare came immediately before Cork City Sports, when Julian forgot one of his spikes in the accommodation. I believe I’ve written about this previously, so I’ll be short: fortunately, a friend (Shouts out AAron) had a pair of flats in his size, and he still beat all of us. Turned out alright.

Our first flirtation with travel catastrophe came in the form of poor planning in Cork: While Julian and I had planned to take a flight from Dublin to Amsterdam the evening after the race, giving us plenty of time to hang out with friends and grab a couple drinks post-cork, a friend pointed out during the pre-race breakfast that we’d purchased tickets for flights at 6:30 AM instead of 6:30 PM. Fortunately, we adjusted our plans just in time to catch a 1:00 AM bus that night, and while trying to catch a full supply of Zs on the bus and, later, on an incredibly bumpy flight wasn’t exactly ideal, we made it successfully to the next stage of our journey, so we couldn’t complain too much.  

Our final foray into travel hell came the day of our competition at Heusden-Zolder. At about 3:00 PM, I was taking my pre-race nap when Julian knocked on my door to ask what time we’d go to pick up the rental car. Our race was around 10 PM that evening, so I said we’d go around 5, grab a bite in Antwerp, then make the drive over to Heusden. I’d checked online, and it’d be about a 45 minute walk/bus ride to get to the station where we could pick up our car. Fortunately, before he left, Julian asked when the rental place closed. I looked it up. 4 PM. Crap. We threw our stuff (both spikes this time) in our bags and sprinted to the bus stop just in time to catch the 3:12 bus— our last chance to make it as Europcar’s last customers for the day. To be fair, we probably could have made it to the meet without the car, as a bus runs to Heusden-Zolder, but after our race we’d have either been stranded at the track or sleeping on a friend’s floor in a nearby city. Not exactly the best way to go into the race. Luckily, we got the car, returned it with no damages, and all was well.

I guess I played a risky game that night as well, as our AirBnB in Edegem expired that evening and I had nowhere to stay the next day, but our host, Patrick (his place was awesome) let me stay the next day, and that worked out fine too.

The Races

On July 22, Julian and I both contested the 5k in the C heat of the KBC Nacht van de Atletiek (Night of Athletics). With PBs of 13:55 and 13:53, respectively, going into the race, he and I hoped to improve our marks in a traditionally quality field. We’d looked up some of our competitors beforehand, and the heat sheets promised at least 5 other sub 14 guys, so we knew to expect a high quality race.

Unfortunately, it rained a good bit before and during our competition, and in the thousand meters after the pacer dropped out (he went 2k at 66s), we slowed to 3k in 8:22, with everyone up front looking at each other, waiting for someone else to take the lead. At 3200, knowing I didn’t come out to Heusden to run slow, I took the lead and dropped the pace a bit. I definitely hadn’t planned on leading 1000m out there, but after coming through 2 miles so slow, I knew it’d be my only chance at a PR.

Annoyed at having led more than any other athlete at this point in the race, I let a few athletes go by me with 800 to go, responding to their move as soon as they went by me. With 200 to go, I was chasing down the runner in first, some tall guy who’d led about a lap before moving out into lane two, kindly imploring the rest of us to do the work for him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the job done, and Julian came flying by me again in the last 200 to finish in second, but we both finished in around 60 seconds for the last lap for new PBs of 13:46 and 13:47. Heusden-Zolder was officially the OSAC Nacht Van de Personal Bests.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next day, Julian and I parted ways. While he went off to explore Europe with his girlfriend, I moved to a different location in Antwerp for the Flanders Cup Antwerp Athletic Gala meeting on July 29.

I have to say, this meet was excellent to us. They worked to provide the Zap Fitness athletes and myself free accommodation in a Bed & Breakfast in Merksem called Fiets en Slaap, and they put on a meet that had a fantastic carnival feel to it. For athletes such as myself who are balling on a budget, this sort of accommodation is incredibly helpful to the bottom line— I’ve still gotta pay rent, and don’t have a ton of money to do so. Furthermore, our hosts Cis and Lud at the Bed and Breakfast treated us incredibly well, even coming to the meet to cheer us on! They were truly fantastic, and, while it’s obviously a bit of a niche, I highly encourage anyone looking to vacation in Belgium to check them out.

The meet was a bit mediocre unfortunately. Despite perfect weather and a plan to trade off leads 600 by 600 in the race, none of us ran particularly quickly, most likely because we went out at a suicidal pace: 65-66 through a full 400. Because we were all committed to sharing the lead, we all went with it, and none of the five sub 8:40 guys in the race broke that mark. The whole race felt tough, and I definitely had some ugly hurdles and waters in that second half of the race as my body punished me for the overly ambitious start. Still, shouts out to Aaron winning in 8:40 while I came second in 8:44. I’ve definitely made progress to run 8:44 in a disappointing race in that caliber of field while going out in 66 seconds for the first lap. As for Aaron, the dude stepped on glass two hours before the race, and we had to wipe his blood off the floor. Then his shoe came untied halfway through the steeplechase and he still manages to put all of us in the locker? An impressive performance by any measure, and I’m incredibly happy for him and his fat check.

I then came back to pace the 1500 in 2:30 for the k (bang on, btw), which earned me 50 Euro for an epic night out. After being led astray by some girl we’d both matched with on Tinder and some other girls who, after we’d decided to leave the first club, sent us to a pretty lame venue in the red light district that– go figure– was 17+ and populated almost exclusively by dudes, we got a recommendation for a couple clubs we couldn’t get into because they had a summer membership. While lamenting our misfortune and almost calling it quits at a bar across the street, we decided to talk to some girls. As it turns out, “English??” is a pretty good pickup line (which is probably why any girls we used it to when asking for directions seemed to brush us off or think we were creeps), and we ended up befriending a group of awesome Somalian and Moroccan women who told us the membership fee was a facade, brought us into the club, and danced with us until around 4 am, when Brandon and Aaron had to leave to make their 6:15 cab to the airport. Even in the face of bad recommendations, language barriers, and fake membership fees, the Ocean State/Zap boys always have a good time.

Anyway, I’m now in London kicking it with my boy Davey K’s family and resting up for next year’s effort. I promised Ray I wouldn’t get fat, so nothing crazy to come in the next week. My year-in-review will come next week sometime!

Until then,

J

Three Races in a Week

Well, another week’s passed, and so have another couple races in the Euro trip. While we’ve settled down a bit since the wild night in Letterkenny— in small part due to some willingness to flatter myself that Ray may have read my last blog and that his encouragement to stay focused and I’ll have some new PRs was a subtle-but-not-subtle reminder that I’m here to run and rest, not stay out clubbing and eating fried chicken to 4 am and getting standing room only tickets for GAA games on a bad ankle. Of course, there’s probably some healthy medium between that and being an absolute monk this entire trip, and that’s what I feel we’ve found since.

My ankle’s good and well; I’ve gotten massive amounts of sleep going into the last few races, and Julian and I are ready to tackle the next challenge. I’ll outline the last few stages of our trip here, as well as where to follow us in the future.

Always a Good Feed

As you read in the last blog, after Letterkenny we headed to the village of Liosdubhog in the great County Mayo (Maigh Eo) to visit Hugh for a week before a meet in Leixlip on the 12th. The best way to describe the Armstrong family’s amazing hospitality is by attempting to illustrate exactly how impossible it would be to go hungry in that house. We came in around 11:30 from the GAA match and were greeted with steaks and spuds. Breakfast would often be heaping servings of porridge, eggs, and toast, followed by a mid-afternoon lunch, and a variety of amazing dinner dishes from fish and rice to lamb chops to other beef dishes, with, obviously, no shortage of spuds. Once we’d finished our first plates, we’d often be offered seconds so convincingly we’d have no way to refuse. As Ollie would say, “you’ve got to be eating, lads.”

Other highlights include the Salmon Festival in Ballina, a tough workout on Hugh’s home track, watching Spider-Man Homecoming, a broken fridge and the ensuing call to customer service, and going to a Sinn Fein rally in commemoration of the hunger strikers who fought for Irish rights under english rule.

Also, apparently if you put a chocolate flake in a soft serve it’s called a .99 here in Ireland. I was craving one so bad it’s become a bit of a joke among the boys, but I still maintain that enjoying one of those will bring you all the childhood joy in the world.

Le Cheile International

Our first contest of the last two weeks was Le Cheile International, and Irish Miler’s Club meeting in Leixlip. Julian and I had initially not been accepted into a full mile field, but the meet director emailed me back at 9:30 that morning saying we’d been entered off the waitlist. Good thing we’d already left Hugh’s and I no longer had Wi-Fi! Fortunately, we ran into the meet director as we were checking in for the 3k and waited around a few hours to run in a world-class 1500.

Unfortunately, Leixlip saw winds north of 20 mph that day, which, as we were waiting for the race, seemed strong enough to threaten to bring down the entire warm-up tent! Needless to say, no one was setting a PB on that day. After I got out in around 2:00 for 800 (and running a couple big gaps that had opened surprisingly early in the race), the field slowed a ton in the third quarter, and by the last lap I was happy to close for 3:49. To be honest, knowing I was so far from a PR, I could barely be bothered to sprint all out for the finish and was pretty indifferent towards the ending result. I guess finishing 3:49 in a race where Robert Domanic and that Australian 13:19 kid run 3:44 ain’t all bad, right?

Drogheda

After Le Cheile, we traveled to Drogheda, just north of Dublin, to stay with our old teammate Aaron Hanlon. While our stay here was much shorter than that at the Armstrong’s, we still had a great time and had a massive appreciation for their hospitality. Between Aaron’s mom’s sunny side up eggs and his father’s persistent offerings of beer, we couldn’t have possibly felt unwelcome for a moment. We also saw some of the nice running in the area, including some beautiful golf courses, some rugby fields and a 440 yard (in Ireland!) cinder track that Hugh did some tempo repeats on.

Cork City Sports

After our day in Drogheda, we headed down to Cork for the famous Cork City Sports competition! Julian and I were entered in the 3k, so we’d have a slightly more fair showdown than our 1500m race earlier that week. The pacers were instructed to aim for 4:08 for the first mile— 62 seconds per quarter— which is absolutely flying, so it would no doubt prove a good opportunity for a PB, right?

Well, I guess it went that way for most everyone but myself. The race started inauspiciously for both the Ocean State boys, as Julian had forgotten one of his spikes at the accommodation and was forced to borrow a pair of flats (Shouts out Aaron Nelson from Zap) 15 minutes before the race. Soon after that, I was nearly left behind on the line when the gun went off. Apparently Ireland has responsible gun control laws or something, so maybe that’s why they use something that sounds more like a false-start buzzer than a starter’s gun. Still, it confused the crap out of me, and my start to the race was far from stellar.

The race played out simply enough: a few of us— PC Grad Ben Connor, Welsh Marathoner Dewi Griffiths, Julian, Joe Stilin (from Princeton and Zap), and myself— who didn’t feel compelled to chase 62s got out quickly enough. Sitting on Ben’s shoulder, I felt pretty good for the first few laps, actually, and out in 4:12 or so for the mile, I thought I was surely destined for a PR.

Unfortunately, that feeling only lasted through about 2750m. Maybe getting out so quickly after being a second back on the line took a *little* something out of me; maybe overcommitting to Julian as he flew by me (in his flats) around the 300m mark took something out of me; maybe I was just tired, and 7:56 was my limit for the day— all of these scenarios may be feasible, but even so, that last 200 meters was ugly. I basically went from challenging for the win in our group to getting passed by everyone down the home straight. Actually, I’m pretty sure Joe, who ran 7:54, put both of those seconds on me in the last 125 meters. And believe me, I was trying really really hard.

Well, I was pleased enough with the result. To be fair, I was only a second off my PR, and freezing at the start line is probably worth that much anyway, so I’ll save 7:52 for next year. And of course, McDonalds and a couple beers with the boys after.

Small Crisis and Next Race

Julian and I accidentally booked 6 AM flights instead of 6 PM flights, so we left out of Cork at 1 AM, only sleeping on the bus to the airport and on our flight. Well, and in a 3-hour nap in later on in our hotel in Amsterdam. It seemed like a bit of a nightmare, but things have worked out pretty well from there. Our next challenge is the 5k in Heusden, Belgium on July 22. I’d say this is a good chance to set a new 5k PR, and my last and best chance to beat Julian out here on the European track circuit. I’ll report in after— wish me luck!

Jordan

My First Pro Win!

To be honest, if someone had told me I’d run my entire post-collegiate career without a win in any professional race, I’d have probably been totally content. It would have been totally reasonable to think I could have had a long, fulfilling, and successful career without ever breaking the tape in a competitive field.

That’s why I’m so ecstatic about my win in Letterkenny, my first international track race, and my debut on the international pro circuit. While only a one second PR, for 8:36 in the steeplechase, I felt as good as I’ve felt going those seven-and-a-half laps over the barriers, and I closed probably better than I had in any steeplechase at that pace. Coming off the last waterjump, I had a feeling the race was mine: I remember thinking, if anyone else felt as good as I did, they’d have gone by now. Fortunately, they didn’t, and I was able to bring home the W. Of course, as I remarked earlier, I may never get another one, so I celebrated accordingly, to the point where the local paper remarked not only that I’d won the race, but also that I’d celebrated in style. You can catch glimpses of it at the end of the race video, linked here.

I was also happy to see my good friends Aaron Nelson (my mane [flow] brother) and Brandon Doughty (my main brother) come in second and third, respectively, with 8:37 PRs of their own. We’re undoubtedly a group with a lot more in the tank to show out next year, as well, so keep an eye on the #Zaplads as well as your favorite Ocean State Boys!

win

No one I’d rather finish with! 

The rest of the next few days have been nothing short of epic as well. After a wild night in the bars of Letterkenny with fellow anime aficionado Elliot Slade— thanks for having friends who have friends mate it almost worked out great for the both of us— and some awesome Hillbilly Fried Chicken with the Zap Lads, Slade, Will Gray, and Brian Schrader (shouts out), I ended up with somewhere between 2-4 hours of mediocre sleep before heading out for my morning run. 

Unfortunately, due to some combination of the hours of dancing and a few awkward water pits the day before, I twisted my ankle a bit in the morning run, and limped mostly through the rest of the day. Of course, instead of resting it like a rational person, I hopped in a car with the Mayo man himself, Hugh Armstrong, who’d driven over from Knockmore to watch Julian and I run, and we headed to Ennis to watch the Mayo GAA match against Clare, where county Mayo came out victorious in the single-elimination match for their Gaelic Football livelihood.

The match exceeded all expectations: Mayo fans travel so well and bring the same unbridled passion for the sport I’d previously only seen from Hugh that while the match was held in Ennis, on Clare’s home field, it felt like watching a Mayo home game, as chants of “Mayo! Mayo!” drowned dissonant Clare county voices during the Red and Green’s furious second-half comeback. Beyond that, even to uninitiated observers such as Julian and myself (though thanks to Hugh and his family’s Mayo kits we looked the part as much as anyone else… well, as much as I can look the part of an Irishman anyway) GAA football is incredibly intense, a sport with no stoppages played at breakneck speed whose excitement is only amplified by the fact that all of its players have day jobs— you might watch a man play in front of 20,000 on Saturday and buy shoes from him the next week.

20170708_184138

Martin I swear if you comment on this hairline

After the match, we went back to Hugh’s. I skipped my afternoon run that day on account of my ankle, but after some ibuprofen and ice (read: bag of frozen peas) and loads of sleep, I’m rested and back to normal.

Our next competition is July 15 at Le Cheile International, where Julian and I will run the 3k, and we will follow that with Cork City Sports on the 18th. A full summer racing schedule can be found here. Talk to you soon!

J

1 2 4