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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!

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!

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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