Friday, March 29, 2013

Bydgoszcz, Poland

I just wanted to start off this update with a big thank you to everyone who has expressed love and encouragement over the last few days.  I greatly appreciate the outcry of support and I am touched by the immense following.  

The course comprised of six laps of mud, ice and slop, with multiple knee-high dirt mounds to hurdle (created to "break up" one's rhythm) and no straightway longer than 50 meters.  Add in running up and down an alpine ski slope, below freezing temperatures, and you have yourself a proper cross-country course.

The race itself was a grinder of the highest order.  I got off the line well and settled near the front of the main pack.  By a lap into the race, the lead group had dwindled down to roughly twenty runners and from every lap thereon, the pack would get smaller and smaller.  My goal was to hang on as best I could, as I hoped to be dragged to a decent finish.  Luckily, I was able to do just that.  Counting the laps down in my head and pleading with myself to just hang for one more lap, just hang for one more lap, I was able to hang on to a sixth place finish, a mere three seconds out of fourth place.  But even more exciting was what happened behind me.  Everyone from the US had amazing races.  We placed two runners in the top ten (something that hasn't happened in decades), four runners in the top twenty, and all six athletes in the top forty.  Amazing.  Going into the event we believed that if everyone had their best day we could get our four scoring athletes in the top twenty-five and have a solid chance at getting a team bronze.  Never did we think that we could do one better and receive silver, beating the perennial favorite, Kenya, by two points.

The entire event was a great experience and I am honored to help the US win it's first silver medal since 1984.  The race serves as a huge confidence booster, demonstrating that we belong in these races and need not to except the notion of east African running supremacy.  Chalk one small victory up for Team USA.

Until next time,

Ben

Here are some photos from the race:
Note the expression on everyone's faces.  American's: pumped.  Ethiopian's: "who are these white guys next to us."  Kenyan's: "what just happened."
First US team to finish second at World XC since 1984.

The course: snow, ice, and lots of mud.



Slop




Race Highlight Video:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What a day

Wow.  I'm speechless.  Today in Poland was historic for the men's World Cross Country team. We finished an unheard of 2nd place, beating perennial favorite Kenyan by a mere two points. Everyone on the team had fantastic races as we place four guys in the top twenty.  Incredible.  I will post more on the race, with pictures when I return stateside.  I am honored to be apart of such a team and proudly wear the red, white and blue. Thank you everyone for helping make today so special.  I am speechless.

Ben

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Racing in the Big City


Two years ago I made my first trip to the largest city (by area) in the contiguous US.  Entered into the longest road race of my career, I toed the line at the Gate River Run not knowing what I was getting myself into.  The race, while painful, ended up going better than I could have expected, and I was able to finish second with one of the fastest times ever run in the thirty-odd year history of the race.  Beginner’s luck.  But besides my running success, I fell victim to a few unsettling experiences, clouding my views of the city of Jacksonville and causing my desires to never return.  

Luckily, time has a funny way of muddying up one’s memory and this year after being asked to return to the 15k race, I decided it fit perfectly into my schedule and was excited to race.  Returning to Jacksonville would never have occurred had I not remembered the wonderful race organizers and the fantastic event that is the Gate River Run.  Being able to forget my misfortunes of before, I drove up the coast of Florida Thursday evening in preparations for Saturday’s race.  

The race, which winds its way through much of downtown Jacksonville is extremely flat, with the only hills coming from running over two bridges.  The first bridge is located just after the first mile and is a relatively gradual and short.  The second however, is a monster.  Located in the final mile of the race and spanning over a half mile in length, it truly is a wall.  The race is set in a “chase” format where the women’s field starts 6:35 minutes ahead of the men.  Whoever crosses the line first (male or female) wins the equalizer bonus of five-thousand dollars.  This chase format usually leads to faster times and a more spectator-friendly finish.  This year however, the men’s race went out relaxed.  Everyone, including myself, were waiting for the three-time defender, Mo Trafeh, to put in his signature early race surge.  When it didn’t happen, the field stayed relatively bunched together late into the race.  When the real racing began after the seven-mile marker, the field quickly dwindled down to five guys cresting over the final hill.  When the dust settled at the finish line, I was lucky enough to be able to come out ahead and win.  However, our early race tardiness extinguished all hopes of catching the lead women and the extra equalizer bonus, as three women were able to hold us off by mere seconds.

I am very happy that my earlier vows to never go back to Jacksonville were ignored and I allowed myself to return to such a great event.  My second visit erased all previous ill-will, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent there.  Thanks to all who made the Gate River Run such a wonderful event, and one I hope to race many more times in the future.

Until next time,

Ben