This past weekend, I competed at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon in Philadelphia in pursuit of the Olympic Trials Marathon standard of 65:00. Overall, it was a great experience, and although I came up an agonizing 10 seconds short of my goal, I was able to leave with my head held high with a nine second personal best and a 16th-place overall and sixth-place American finish. I felt great going into the race, and now have all the confidence I need to know I can run 64:30 to 64:00 on the right day. It’s frustrating to be so close to a goal I’ve had for such a long time, but I am proud to say that I stayed mentally tough in a race I could have easily given up on eight miles in.
The conditions were a bit sub-par, with about 70 to 75 percent humidity, yet a cool temperature. The biggest obstacles I faced in this race were pacing and pack running–the top group made it known early on that they were gunning for quick times, and it was hard not to get dragged along in the first few miles of the race. After a brisk 4:45 first mile, I forced myself to settle into a rhythm of 4:55 to 5:00 miles to ensure a strong performance, sacrificing running with the front 20 to 25 competitors from the get-go.
The race became a game of catching runners falling off the fast early pace of the race, and while I tried to latch onto groups and zone out at my goal pace, competitors began to either drop out or fall off fairly quickly in the middle miles of the event. I used the runners coming back to me slowly as a tool to steadily move up from miles four to eight. By mile nine-and-a-half, I had caught the 16th-place runner, and found myself chasing my dream over the last four miles all alone, with the next runner about one minute ahead.
To say that the the last four miles was a daunting task requiring intense mental focus is an understatement. There were very few spectators and fans from nine to 12 miles, and I was fighting hard to stay on pace. With each passing stride from 45 to 60 minutes of the race, I faced the challenge of pressing on, yet staying composed, as I approached the finish. With 1.1 miles to go, I knew it was close and that I would have to close a bit harder to get the standard.
With about 800 meters to go, I hit a huge wall and fought a burning sensation in my quads and calves approaching the hill to the finish. I had about 20 seconds to get to the finish from the 13-mile mark, and unfortunately came up just 10 seconds short of securing a spot at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles. The immediate aftermath of the race was painful, devastating, and gut-wrenching. To train all summer long for this day and come up short was depressing. I could barely stand, heart-broken and exhausted, knowing my best wasn’t good enough to achieve my goal on that particular day.
After regrouping and letting off some steam, I have had some time to evaluate my performance and take away a number of positives:
- Finishing 16th overall and sixth American: In a loaded field of sub-60:00 caliber runners and some of the country’s best road runners, I felt I took a step towards becoming great. I got to race in a very talented field and placed well against some great competition. Witnessing some of the better competitors finish 30 seconds to a minute off their personal bests gives me a lot of hope that I am right where I need to be. I was glad I was able to be competitive given the conditions, as I anticipate the Los Angeles weather will not be forgiving for a marathon. I felt I raced smart by conserving energy after a fast first mile and moving up slowly throughout the duration of the race.
- A personal best: My training has been slightly different going into this half-marathon than it was for my debut in Brooklyn this past May. I did more mileage, quality long runs, and great strength based workouts, such as tempos in fartleks, in comparison to the training I did this past spring, which consisted of high-volume intervals and 10,000-meter based training. A personal best of nine seconds is something I am proud of given the circumstances, and I have gained a lot of confidence from this personal best that I can attribute to the training it took to get me to this point.
- Consistency: A few years ago, I may have been the most inconsistent runner I know. I’m glad that recent maturity through mental preparation and trusting in my training has given me strong, consistent results since last fall. To be disappointed in a personal best is a huge testament to the consistency I’ve experienced in race results over the last year, and I’m confident that the breakthrough is soon to come.
I want to give a huge thank you to Coach Fox for guiding me with training during this summer, and to the NYAC (New York Athletic Club) crew for giving me great support and teammates to train with. I’m very excited to continue to improve over the next few months and compete soon in one of my favorite disciplines of running–cross country at the Club Cross Country Championships! To everyone at New York Road Runners–thanks for all you do for the sport and I’m extremely grateful to be a part of an incredible organization with unbelievable support.
Until then, time to gear up to put on a great TCS New York City Marathon with the best running organization in the world, New York Road Runners! Seeing thousands cross the Central Park finish line in November will be all the motivation I need to have a break out performance in the half-marathon, most likely at the Houston Half-Marathon in January.
Run for Life.