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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.

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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.

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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

At least this time, falling just short is figurative

So, I didn’t make the final at USAs. I was in a good position with a lap to go in my heat–at one point the stadium announcer even mentioned me as someone ready to contend for a top spot–but the wheels just started to fall off in the end, with a couple ugly hurdles, an ugly last water, and, well, the fact that I was just freaking tired.

Do I think I’d have had a better shot if I’d shot around Cabral to make contact with the group ahead of us when it felt like he was trying to conserve maximum energy (or make it so his teammate, Travis Mahoney, who came storming from the back to nab the last autoqualifier, was able to stay in touch)? Yeah. Do I think I could have run a couple seconds faster by virtue of better hurdling and waters in the last two laps? Probably. But neither of those things are guarantees, and I stuck my nose in it as best I could.

Honestly, with a seventh-place finish, I had an over 50% chance of getting through to the final going into the second heat, but Andy Bayer–what a douche–laid down nice 68s the whole way for the second heat and they got 9 guys through. So it goes.

After the race, some little girls (they were pretty shy about it and it was adorable) asked for my autograph and whatever advice I could give them on their track careers. I said something along the lines of, “have fun, and measure yourself by your own efforts. There are things you can’t control like times, talent, and distinctions that are largely arbitrary, like making finals or world teams. Just make sure you enjoy your time in the sport and can be proud of each effort you put out on the track. If you can do that, you’ll have a career that’s incredibly rewarding to you as a human being.”

That’s my outlook on yesterday’s race. Maybe a bit philosophical for some 12-year olds, but whatever.

On to Letterkenny. Anything can happen there. hurt train

Finally, I’m at the US Championships

The lady behind me talks loudly into her phone, something about selling or renting a house that ain’t gon get em no money while the lady diagonal from me lovingly strokes her puppy— apparently they let pets on the Greyhound? The dude across the aisle from me finally puts his computer down and lays his head back. He told me he’s heading to Reno to gamble. Looking under the sunglasses he wears on the relatively dark bus, I can tell that the area around his eyes is distinctly red. He’s pretty keen for conversation, and, the social butterfly that I am, I’m happy to oblige, though of course we keep the conversation impersonal enough that I can only wonder how he broke his finger, or, y’know, why it’s in a splint. The girl in front of me lays out across both seats, apparently done texting and ready to get some shut eye, and I sit here looking out the window and writing this blog. This is my road to the US Championships in Sacramento.

 

Suffice to say, Ray might kill me if he saw how my travel for this trip worked out. Well, not all of it was my fault, really— a lot of this wouldn’t have been a problem if my flight hadn’t been delayed, and this really isn’t much different than us flying in to Portland and driving to Eugene  like we did for NCAA nationals (though I don’t have a car)—, but It’s definitely been an adventure. These things happen when you’re balling on a budget. Still, I’m in good form, both physically and mentally prepared for the USATF Championships. For those uninformed, I race Friday and Sunday at 5ish and 2ish, respectively. It’s supposed to be over 100 degrees every day I’m in Sacramento, so the races will be run in blistering heat. My goal is to make the final and compete well there, and after a strong time trial last Wednesday and a solid tune-up workout this Sunday, I’m confident I can achieve that and look forward to competing after a couple days of extreme sloth and ridiculous sleep.

 

Anyway, the following is a timeline of my misfortunes (and other mundane events) during travel today, followed by a small conclusion. I hope you enjoy.

 

5:30 AM: Wake up. A bit before the alarm, but I’d gone to bed pretty early. I prepped my running clothes so I could hop out the door early, so I was ready to go.

5:40 AM: Quick 6 miles. Starts pouring during 6 miles. The inner sole of my shoe scrunches up, annoyingly. I consider if the rain is a harbinger of bad luck for my travel, but dismiss concerns because I’m not superstitious.

6:20 AM: Shower and eat pre-made sausage/egg/cheese bagel. I prepared in the last night because I’m meticulous in travel planning. Look in fridge and consider putting last night’s fried rice, rice pudding, and turkey sandwich in backpack, as I’d made them specifically for this occasion. Decide they could use a few minutes in the fridge.

6:50 AM: Checked everything, head out to catch RIPTA

7:05 AM: On RIPTA. Realize I forgot all food in fridge. Try not to beat self up.

7:15 AM: Catch MBTA

8 AM: Lovely sister Venmoes $25 to make me feel better about food. It works.

9 AM: Arrive at airport for 10 AM flight.

9:30 AM: Get to gate. Unfortunately, Virgin gate is tiny and has minimal food options, so I end up with a turkey sandwich and a muffin.

10:00 AM: Flight is delayed a full hour. Not great considering I have to get on a train to catch the bus once I’m in San Fransisco.

11:00AM: Board Flight

Next 6 Hours: Eat turkey sandwich and muffin on plan. Get very hungry.

2 PM (West Coast Time): Realize if I don’t catch the next Yellow-line train I’ll be very close to missing the greyhound. No burrito in the airport for me. That fried rice would be really good about now… at least my roommate froze it for me.

2:30 PM: Make the train.

3:15 PM: Miss my stop on the train because I’m not paying attention. Also, BART, who names a line after a random intermediate stop? Yeah, maybe I should have paid more attention to the map or listened better, but the New Zealanders who had been at the airport with me missed their stop too for the same reason.

3:30 PM: Take train to West Oakland. Turns out my bus’ll be going by there. It’s a huge boon because, thanks to my delayed flight, I was not gonna have time to turn around and make it to the San Fransisco station.

3:31 PM: Lament the fact that I could have eaten if my flight wasn’t late.

3:32 PM: Lament the fact that I could have eaten if I hadn’t forgotten the meals I’d meticulously prepared and looked at this morning.

3:33 PM: Get over it and walk to the Greyhound station. No time to get food on the way. I’ve been in a lot of Greyhound stations, but this one feels depressing, for some reason. .

3:50 PM: Eat some peanuts and a CLIF bar I have on me. Not exactly a nutritious dinner, but it’ll hold me over until I get to Sacramento and can dig in. Ever since Shane and I had burgers before Armagh, that’s been my travel day tradition. Maybe I’ll go for burgers and fries in a couple hours…

4:00 PM: Get on Greyhound in Oakland. My dad sends series of annoying texts trying to micromanage trip. I have my conversation with the guy across the aisle from me.

4:30: Start writing this blog post.

5:03 PM: As I’m finishing up this post, I notice a theme park next to me in Valejo and think that’s a cool thing worth noting.

 

Update: That night, I got back to my AirBnB complex after going to Safeway. I couldn’t find my apartment in the complex. Carrying around groceries, I left my tray of water bottles on the ground as I went to the concierge because my arms were getting tired. They got stolen in the ten minutes I was away. The next morning, I left my phone in the the uber that took me to the track and took another hour and a half to get it back. Hopefully, I’ve gotten my bad luck out of the way before the race.

 

So there ya have it. I guess it really isn’t that bad besides the fact that I’m low-key hangry. Not the smoothest trip in the world, but not the worst either, and I’ve got two days to rest before my race. It’s gonna be an adventure getting back to San Fran before my red-eye flight Sunday night/Monday morning, and even more of an adventure taking my final MBA test, for which I can promise woeful unpreparedness, the evening I return. But my dad’s a doctor, and he’s going to work when he gets back, so at least I don’t have peoples’ lives in my hand, right? (I do believe in my dad’s capability and professionalism as a doctor and trust in his capacity to do so— previous statement is just a joke).

 

The race is finally here. I’m excited, in good form, and ready to go. Hopefully I’ll have good things to report after.

 

J

Back by Raging Popular Demand

As you all can see, the Shane blogs are back. So hold on tight and try your best to reserve judgement on me being weird. Actually, do what you want. Ya’ll are entitled to your opinion.

Many winters have passed since my last post. There have been a lot of positives, some negatives, but to be honest it’s been mostly just hilarious dog moments. Such is my life right now.

It’s only now I realize how long it’s been since I plopped one of these things out, as I’m talking about my engagement to this wan:

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Des congratulating me and Emily. What a day! What a chap!

An investigation is being launched into why exactly Emily agreed to spend the rest of her life with my massive head. I don’t buy it. She must think I have a bit of land to offer or something. Good luck to whoever is enquiring on this mismatch. I hope they pick the right man to ask the right questions.

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Talking business: Over the past 12 months or so I’d like to think I’ve had a nice resurgence of form. This has taken place mostly on the roads, which is where I will focus most of my efforts going forward, hopefully resulting in a good half marathon in the fall/autumn.

Very recently, I came down with a slight niggle, keeping me out of a couple of races I had planned recently. Once that gets cleared up, which should be soon, it will be all guns blazing for a nice summer of racing ahead. Most of these will probably be on the roads.

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One of the highlights of my year so far. The BAA 5k. 15th place running 14:09.

Of course, none of this really matters does it? I mean, we all know what’s really got the juices flowing for the summer ahead:

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I’d say they’re all shagged to be honest. There’s no way anybody makes it to the end. Maybe the dragons will help but it’s still a tall order. Jon Snow will have to pull out a hall of fame level performance if they are to have any hope. Desmond can’t wait to watch Uncle Ghost kick ass in July. This is was his reaction when I told him we’re like 6 weeks away:

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Thrones/running/puppers aside, the blogs are back and I hope you’ll continue to be interested in my progress. I’ll try not to bore you all. Thanks for reading! If any of you have questions, complaints or comments feel free to leave one below. Any negatives will result in an ass-whoopin’

Be good out there,

Shane

Don’t Get it Twisted: I Do This

Thursday, I ran the (flat) 3k at the Adrian Martinez Classic. While I originally wanted to take a crack at the 4-minute barrier at what would essentially be a home meet for me–the Festival of Miles in Saint Louis– my final class at Providence College dictated that I return to the east coast before the meet. I mean, we all know why I’m in grad school, but I figure I may as well finish the degree at this point. Something about an MBA being useful…

I flew back to Providence on May 23 after a few days of house-sitting for the Padgetts in LA with my eye on Adrian on the first of June. Having finally finished my job at PC, I had plenty of time once I’d returned to lounge around, rest, and recover from my flight. And believe me, I took full advantage of it.

The lead-in to the race was solid, though not ideal. After a few days in which I spent an inordinate number of my waking hours napping (and many of the rest of them either eating or running), I soloed out one of my best workouts on the track in a while last Saturday, going to some dark places to get it done and thereby validating my decision to go to sleep at 9 pm instead of attending campus dance the previous night (Sorry, Savage. But tbf, I don’t think you even read these).

The night of workout, on the other hand, I spent hanging out with friends: I went to Waterfire for the first time in a while, grabbed a (single–I was being responsible, Ray) drink at the GCB, and danced at the Unity Center’s Funk Night. If you know me reasonably well, you must understand how wildly disappointed I was by the utter dearth of funk music played at said event, but it was still fun. This is a digression anyway. The point is, I was hitting REM during afternoon naps for the next three days because 1:30 am is way past my bedtime. But you know, graduation weekend, right? I’d already skipped campus dance.

Luckily, hitting REM during afternoon naps had me rested enough and ready to go by Adrian. Having class from 6:30 to 10:00 the night before was annoying enough, but come race day I was ready to go.

If you don’t feel like reading my recap, you can watch the race video here.  It definitely didn’t play out perfectly. I was stuck with hip 3 in a super-elite 23 man waterfall start, so I got buried from the gun. I managed to sneak my way up through the field, but by the time I’d connected with the lead pack I’d expended some, though not like a devastating amount of, energy to do so. Suffice to say I came through the mile in about 4:12 with a first lap around 65-point.

Once I’d connected with the leaders with just over 1000 to go, I thought I’d have a chance to settle in and relax–I hadn’t run super fast in practice, and I hadn’t run a fast flat race yet this spring, so 63.s were absolutely flying for ya boy, and at a mile, I was no doubt feeling the hurt. Unfortunately, the guy right ahead of me had just decided that was his chance to sprint up to the front of the lead pack, and I was left dragging a couple guys along behind a big old gap.

With about 900 meters to go, one of said guys I’d dragged a bit–Mason Ferlic– decided to pass me, at which point my pride as a steeplechaser (I’d say he’s the heir apparent in the event, once all the current vets get old) kicked in and I latched on to him. Ray would later say, “I knew when Ferlic went by you, if you had anything left you’d go with him,” and if you go to about 5:40 in the video, you can even watch me look to my right and make the decision to roll.

The rest of the race is pretty straightforward. I sat on Mason and Aaron Nelson for a lap, took the last lap myself, ran down one or two guys from the lead pack, didn’t get passed by anyone (including a hard-charging Ryan Mahalsky who I just held off at the line), and I think I managed to close in a 30, if I remember the clock at 2800 correctly.

At this point, I’m optimistic for the rest of my season. I’m very happy with my result, and I think I could have run a few seconds faster in different circumstances. Considering I started with a 9:04 steeplechase, I’ve come a long way just over the course of this season. I’ll be fitter and sharper in three weeks, so I’m optimistic for what USAs will hold.

And of course, I’m proud of my fourth consecutive sub-8 3k in non-championship races. Some of them have played out differently than others, but if one thing’s certain, you can count on me putting up a solid effort in the flat 3k. For any doubters, I’d like to refer you to Russell Westbrook’s immortal words after a loss to the Celtics two years ago: 

Don’t get it twisted. I do this.

 

 

 

The Last Six Months

To be honest, I’m disappointed in myself for failing to write anything here for some time. Despite the number of requests I’ve received for shout outs or updates in these recent months, I couldn’t get myself to sit down and put any updates on paper. At first, this was because my running was going poorly: you’ll notice my last post came just before my trip to club nationals, which, while it was an important learning experience, was an immensely frustrating experience and the source of an incredibly poor result. Frankly, it’s a whole lot easier to sit down and write these things when you’re not in the dumps about your running, and for a couple months after that race, I just didn’t feel like it. Fortunately, after a few months of figuring things out, a few more months of good training, some inspiration in writing from Ben Sutherland, whose powerful story of fighting depression as a distance runner has, since my completion of this piece, been published here, and some really important updates for our club, I’m ready to get back in the blogosphere and promise a much more regular stream of updates. This post will be a brief (well, relative to what it could be. It’s not actually that brief) timeline of updates, shout-outs, and stories from the last six months to get you up to speed. Here we go.

November 2016

Club nationals. This trip brought me a level of stress I hadn’t experienced since fighting with my ex-girlfriend (almost immediately after a 14:40-something at Raleigh Relays) gave me hives. Basically, I booked my itinerary to Tallahassee a day early. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I had a final presentation the night before. The airlines were unwavering on my flight, but my professor was even worse. After fighting with both of them and getting nowhere, I ended up dropping another $200 on a flight to Jacksonville (which necessitated a 2+ hour drive to Tallahassee afterwards) that left out of Boston at 6 AM— so obviously I didn’t get much sleep that night— and some other ridiculous sum of money on a rental car for said drive that had advertised at like $70 for the whole trip when I reserved it. I then proceeded to get out in 9:20 for two miles and get absolutely manhandled the second half fo the race, at some point in the middle of which I resigned myself to a bad race and told myself to just pack it in until I saw the finish cos once it was going bad, I had no team or real reason to put myself out there. Like seriously, for what purpose. It was a bummer because I’d finally begun to feel like the athlete I’d been in the 2016 track season in my last workout before the race, but the race was complete crap. And, because I’d booked my flight to visit my grandpa a day early as well, I even missed the by-all-accounts legendary Club Nationals afterparty. FML, right?

Shouts out: Leah Miller (ex Brown Assistant Coach) for spontaneously deciding to come to Florida after I saw her on the entry list and messaged her the night before. The trip would have been unbearable without her, not to mention substantially more expensive because of splitting aforementioned exorbitant car rental costs. There was this awkward moment when someone on Battle Road called my preference to live with another black person or POC a “bucket list” item, but it wasn’t Leah and I can mostly (but clearly not totally, because my compulsion to write that is basically the whole reason this shoutout is long) overlook that because she was awesome; my Grandpa. I visited him after the race and it was a great time. Love you, old man.

Key Insight: If I’m going to be a successful postcollegiate athlete, I need to plan the crap out of my races. Preferably far in advance. And fly Southwest if possible so you can change your flight without ridiculous fees.

Tallahassee

Getting ready to drop like a rock

December 2016

Wasn’t really having fun with running, to be honest. Was in a bit of a funk after club cross through the entire month of January. The cold weather didn’t exactly help. Started to get a little sick one day, but had a long 600 workout and a friend’s birthday that evening. I did the 600s because I didn’t think I was that sick. And besides, if I was too sick to work out, how could I justify going out? I was pretty happy with the workout in the end–best 600s I’d done to that point. Ray made me take a few days off for sickness after (I’d tried to hide it from him, but my voice had taken on a totally un-sexy gravellyness that made this a failing endeavor). I’d make a smarter choice in the future, but it was a fun night out, and it wasn’t like I was drinking or anything. Call it a late night.

Shouts out: Brendan Sullivan for timing me and taking a picture of the workout; Rubis for making it my first face-in-hole; Chace for having an awesome birthday.

Key Insight: Don’t do hard workout when mildly sick.

New Year’s

I view this as the turning point in my year. I’d had a few really good runs with friends— some, rivals; some, teammates— at home in St. Louis, and I’d finally started to string together a few workouts in which I felt pretty good and ran fast, including some awesome Katy (prounounced Katie, not like Halpin’s girlfriend) Trail fartleks. I’d connected with some of the Tulsa boys, and it turned out I had 3-mile repeats on the same day they had something like 8xmile. As it happened, this was the same day as a local 10 mile road race, so what the hell! Why not? We all decided to do it as a long tempo, just for fun. We planned to start out around 5:30 pace for a while and drop it once we got later on in the race. In the end, we weren’t so conservative, and we didn’t slow down because of confusion between Garmins and course markings. Splits for myself and Adam Roderique, who went 1-2, are as follows : 5:22, 5:20, 5:25, 5:12, 5:22, 5:17, 5:09, 5:26, 4:57, 5:11. Log notes read: Total, 52:45 for a long 10 (was probably sub 52 for exact). Also, after taking the train to see my dad that afternoon I cranked out a 4 mile double. I’d like to say it’s because said double was originally on my schedule before doing a 14 mile workout, but it’s really because I knew I could get like 103 that week if I put in the extra miles. So it goes. While these decision may not have been the best I’ve ever made (and while I may catch some flak from Ray if he reads this far), this run was a huge part of my coming to enjoy training again, which definitely helped me find success this spring.

Shouts out: The Tulsa Boys! Adam Roderique, Austin “Del” Del Rosso, and Rhodes Scholar Kirk “I’m gonna try and date Madison” “I was high school track captains with Ezekiel Elliott” nee (does this work with nicknames) “Noodles” Smith for the awesome runs and a great time in the 10-miler; Mark Spewak, for awesome runs at home as well and for supporting my running financially through More Miles More Smiles; Chris Floyd, for running the 3k at the 10-miler and coming to IHOP after!

Key Insights: Have fun with running! (duh)

February
Things turned for the better in February. Now that I’d worked through my existential crisis from the fall and put a few more good workouts in the log, I was having fun training and feeling fit again. Not to mention, I have a great deal more confidence in my ability to produce solid results on the track and found myself absolutely itching to get on the oval again. Fortunately, the universe rewarded my anticipation with some solid running: in my first race, I ran 7:58— one second off my PR— and closed in a 61. In my previous two sub-8 races, I’d been blowing up near the finish line. A few weeks after that race, Shane and I also flew to Ireland for the Armagh Road Race, which was an absolutely amazing trip. After a semester of postcollegiate struggles, I felt like a real semi-pro runner, getting a paid-for trip to Ireland to run. The Irish customs officer even marked the purpose of my trip as business!
After returning from Ireland, I also made a trip to DC to visit a few friends, including my high school teammate Amos (Awesomely, I got to see Noda visiting his girlfriend in Boston just before that!). This trip was awseome as well.

Shouts out: Brandon Doughty and Ben Connor in Ireland… something about a spoon and a butthole and a fight? If you’ve read this far and don’t know the story, don’t hesitate to ask; Scottish high-end escorts; Amos and Noda, obviously. Caleb Hoover and Scott Carpenter, for reasons below.

Key Insights: So when I went to Ireland, I was in the midst of some parallel universe streak where I had four dates with different girls in two or three weeks. I say this to emphasize that this is not typically my life, and that I’m not trying to brag here— me having dates like this is highly abnormal. However, I was pretty tired. I’d watched Hoover and Carpenter, a couple people I consider rivals, run 7:52 and 7:51, respectively, and I was pissed. When I visited Georgetown, I asked Scott jokingly about his love life, and he said he was too busy going to bed at 9:30 for girls. I learned from this, turned the girls down, and had a month of recovering from fatigue and going to bed around 8-8:30. It was necessarily. TL;DR, no time for ladies.

armagh

USA With the W

 

 

March
Shane and I trained really hard. I can’t give too many details here, but suffice to say we shredded some tempo workouts and completed some really challenging track work. I also pulled $817 for a 14:39 on the roads while Shane won $1000 the same weekend! That was about it for March, though. I knew I was fit.

Shouts out: Shane, for carrying me through some workouts

April
I had one bad workout and a small existential crisis because of it. I really hate bad workouts. We had worked really hard in the last month, though, so it made sense to be a bit tired.

My first race of the outdoor season was the steeplechase at the Ocean State Invitational. I had some rough water jump practices going into it, so I was unsure what to expect, though I did want to match my previous year’s mark of 8:52. In the end, I failed miserably at that and ran 9:05. But you know, I hadn’t raced in two months, woke up the next day with a massive sore throat that had me out of running for three days, and honestly, I can’t say I was super motivated the day-of. So it goes. No need to stress.

Also in this time, Shane and I officially started the Ocean State AC with New Balance and ended up getting shoes and gear from them!

Shouts out: Ray, for making sure I don’t existential crisis after a 9:05; Keith Kelly, Kevin Quadrozzi, and New Balance, for giving us a bunch of free stuff.

May
And so the month of May was upon us. Shane and I had finally found a sponsor, and we were ready to hit the track for some fast times. My May races would include the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford on May 5 and the USATF Distance Classic at Oxy (Occidental College) in Los Angeles on May 18— my lovely sister’s birthday. I intended to run the steeplechase at both to chase the US Standard, and hopefully a PR.

Stanford was a fun trip. I stayed in an AirBnB in San Jose with a pretty nice host before the meet, and got to see a few friends in the days leading up to the competition. Honestly, the race was pretty meh. I ran 8:51, which was a great deal better than 9:05, but still a lot slower than I would have liked. I felt a bit of passivity in the race as well, though for me, that’s not entirely surprising considering I hadn’t been in a real competition in nearly three months. Still, my hurdling was much improved from Ocean State, and I figured the race would bring me along physically for the next effort, so I kept my head up.

The few days after Stanford were fun, but a struggle for running. After the race, I went on the cooldown from hell with the boys from Zap Fitness, Brandon Doughty and Aaron Nelson. It involved a 5 mile cooldown with 20-second strides that basically turned into sprints. The next few days, I ran with some awesome guys from Strava Track Club, but each group featured someone itching to run fast, an urge that, after my race and said cooldown, wholly eluded me.

After a road-trip to LA with my friend Will, I stayed at my old training partner Drew Padgett’s parents’ house for a couple weeks. During that stay, the Yohos put me in contact with their high school coach Jacques Sallberg, who, while he’s now 40, was once an 8:28 steeplechaser and 4th at USAs. And he’s still in good shape. That’s goals, right there. Anyway, I went to practice with Jacques over the course of the week and got to meet a number of the athletes he coaches while soaking up some of his wisdom. Getting to learn from an old elite athlete while getting to mentor and connect with the young brothers from John Muir High helped make the trip not only productive, but also especially memorable, and I look forward to competing at Oxy in future years.
Oh, and I ran 8:37. That part was pretty cool too. Apparently one of the barriers fell down (don’t know how, and I definitely didn’t notice it) for the last couple laps, so Hillary Bor and Ole Hesselbjerg are getting kind of screwed with the IAAF, but shoot, it’s good for USAs, and I’ll take it as a PR for sure.

Shouts out: Drew, Sandy, and Chris Padgett, for letting me stay in their awesome home; Shashwat, for housing me for two days and all the awesome bro time; Will Furuyama, for easily one of the top 3 5-hour car rides of my life; Brandon and Aaron, for winning and running fast in our heat of the steeplechase at Payton, respectively, but not for our cooldown; Victoria O’Neill, for being the only person I could hear at Payton; The Yohos, for connecting me with Jacques; Jacques, for all the help; Sidney, Ronnie, and Perry, for the support during the week; Madison, for being my sister and having her birthday, obviously.

Key Insight: Making connections through running is fun. Making use of my youth to run is also worthwhile.

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Present moment
Now I’m back out east preparing for Adrian Martinez, where I’ll run the flat 3k on June 1, and USAs on the 23-25 of June. This time around, I’ll actually keep you posted. Probably.

J

Rigor Mortis is the Gift of Life

Back in early October I shuffled about my kitchen one evening, earbuds in, juggling pots, pans, spices, powders, and other knockoff whole foods fad items as I cooked up a meal I hoped would to refuel and reenergize my body to recovery after the 18 mile slog fest of a long run I’d put it through earlier that day. As I tried my best to put together a digestible combination of fruits, veggies, and two kinds of red meat, I doubled down on my time by listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Unmistakable Creative, a show that tells the stories of up-and-coming innovators, idealists, and creatives.

That day’s episode featured Adam ‘Smiley’ Poswolsky – one of those life coach millennial types whose real job you can’t quite peg down but still, somehow, there’s no question he’s made it – on promoting his new book “Quarterlife Breakthrough: A Career Guide for Millennials to find Meaningful Work.” His being by no means a household name, and I myself going through one of my frequent existential crises (poetic considering the topic of his book), I listened with the half-hearted blasé attitude of a man fully drained of energy and optimism. Despite my deaf ears, I couldn’t help letting my mind wrestle with thought as Poswolsky touched upon something so wonderfully insightful yet blatantly obvious, that having now seen the light, I’m not quite sure how or why I hadn’t reached the conclusion sooner.

Poswolsky, a success by any millennial definition, vehemently attributed his experience as a mediocre high school cross country runner as a major contributor for his current glory. The lessons he learned, Poswolsky urged, were invaluable:

“I think running is a very useful metaphor for kind of the creative process, because it’s all about practice; it’s all about what you put in, and not the output,” continuing to say, “It’s about waking up on a cold day, in Boston, on Sunday, at seven in the morning, and you can’t really go out the night before… because you have to wake up at seven in the morning and go run 15 miles in the freezing cold Boston winter.”

As these words rang from outer ear to eardrum, I slowed my frantic pacing to a halt. I wish I didn’t have to paint the scene as some cliché moment of sudden epiphanic realization, but that’s the happysad reality and truth of it all. I suppose I really am a cliché then, because there I stood, hearing these words, and a slow smile started to take shape like Harry Potter’s wizarding world swirling into action for the first time. And as the pots steamed, and my ears listened to those words ringing true, and that magical smile took shape, I reached a pivotal realization about the defining role running has played in my life: it’s all about suffering. Running is about suffering, and it’s beautiful.

Spare your scoffs and dismissive shrugs; running is 100% about suffering, and every runner deep in their heart knows this to be as true as the tearing forces of gravity. Highlight reels show our successes, the moments we were champions, at least in our own eyes, but those races don’t make the athlete. Any runner will readily admit their greatest victories were often their easiest days. Few win trophies feeling like a dog in heat, hit by a bus, dragged through the mud. No, those feelings are reserved for the worst of the worst, accompanied by 30, 40, 50 second gaps, leaders lapping you on the track, posture compromised as your head hangs in the balance, lolling backing and forth as you painfully will yourself forward.

And that’s it right there. On a runner’s worst day, they still push forward. They must push on, find within themselves the strength to keep moving forward, to take the next step, to lean into the pain and summon the deep down buried ability to overcome a mind impulsively begging for relief and a deteriorating, crumbling body.

I myself have had the privilege of experiencing a large spectrum of successes and failures. Last year I crossed the line at Penn Relays the collegiate winner, my Dad smiling on from the stands after six hours in the car and years of support to see me race. It was amazing, a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, the reason we love this crazy sport. It was great, but I am so much prouder of the two years in a row I finished in the bottom twenty at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Both years I was dead in mile one, fully diagnosed rigor mortis, body wobbling with six miles to go, completely finished. I was in such pain, struggling by all measures to find the same pace I’d do casually in training. I never found that pace, but I did find the mental resolve to finish. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, suffer through the whipping wind and sinking mud to that Terre Haute finish line, but I did it. I did it twice, and I’ve never been more of an athlete than when I crossed that line.

Those are the days – the days we’re suffering beyond imagination and understanding – that make us better athletes; they’re the days that make us better, stronger people. We fight so hard for those seldom few moments of glory, but I believe the true gift is the fight itself. Through logging the long run on a blistering 95 degree day, through finishing every brutal rep on a lonely day that just wasn’t yours, through hearing the pity claps with ten laps to go and still pushing through the finish line, we train ourselves to suffer. We train ourselves to suffer through every hard, difficult, soul crushing moment life has to offer us, and we train ourselves to move forward anyway, and that is the gift of a lifetime. 

– Liam