Sunday, March 17, 2013

Unattached

Still 500 meters from the finish and running near personal best mile pace, I surged around Arizona's Lawi Lalang, putting myself in the leader's position.  A half lap more and he re-passed me, annoyed at my nerve, erasing the move's effect and marking the energy it required as wasted and gone.  30 seconds  later as the bell rang the field slid past one by one, like a train I couldn't quite catch.  I struggled through the final lap, the wheels falling off, finishing seventh of eight in 4:02.  I missed the final by a spot.

Mile prelim heat one at NCAA indoor nationals was my final collegiate race.  I'll remember that maneuver for a long time, a reckless, unnecessary attempt to drop the field of seven other sub four milers at a pace already hot enough to be considered nowhere near tactical.  Make a move more than 300 meters from any finish line and you better have a second, albeit smaller one up your sleeve for later.  I didn't.  That's the taste in my mouth as I begin the transition into post collegiate running: a bitter knowledge that I went against instinct and everything I've learned the past five years.  A bad move.  Had I not made it and stayed behind Lawi, I believe I could have made the final.
Running behind Arizona's Lawi Lalang in mile preliminary
heat one at NCAA indoor nationals.
Photo courtesy John Simons

I didn't get the perfect, lollipop strewn outcome  I'd imagined for the end of indoor season.  Instead, things happened.  I never ran the 3000 I needed to and our DMR failed the test of Alex Wilson.  Now a new challenge awaits me: getting over that sense of dissatisfaction as I enter a totally new forum: the post collegiate running world.  There is no team.  No uniform.  No shoes or flights to meets, no hotels.  The convenience of collegiate competition with its abundance of top level events and athletes is gone.

The time has come to support my running through running.  There aren't millions of dollars to be had in the sport.   Doing this entails scraping out a living, working hard to make it until you do, and then working harder to keep it that way.  I have college loans to pay off, rent to pay, travel expenses.  There are a hundred other guys in the US trying to do the exact same thing, competing for the same attention from sponsors and fans.  Succeeding in that atmosphere requires a total buy in.  With engineering degrees expected from two very good schools and knowing I'd be economically better off working, the hardest part will be delaying that life for later.

I've always had a non-running career in mind throughout my time in school, knowing that eventually I'd be defined by something other than athletics.  Over the past year and a half as I've improved my track times, my plans for post school life have changed.  First I decided to use up my indoor eligibility, a move that greatly influenced my decision to pursue a Masters degree at Texas in the first place.  And now as I look from the bubble into the world of professional running, that option seems more and more tantalizing.  What I do after school was once pretty clear in my mind; now, like I've been telling many people, "it all depends on running." I don't expect to make running my life career, but who knows?  Another major breakthrough and it could be a possibility.

The most powerful weapon I carry is the knowledge that I absolutely want to know how good I can be.  How fast I can get.  I'm 23 - I have lots of time to develop my body and I couldn't imagine choosing this path if I didn't love to do it.  That conviction will drive me harder than any race purse or salary can.

For now I'll continue training in Austin under coach John Hayes.  Day to day, not a lot will change in the immediate future.   I'll focus on the 5000 this spring with the goal of making the finals at the US Championships at Drake in June.  I'll sprinkle a few 1500s throughout to stay race sharp.  I can't say exactly where I'll be or what I'll be doing this summer -  the plan unfolds as time goes on, but I'm hoping it involves some European racing.

The bottom line is simple.  Run fast, win races and opportunities will present themselves.  The memory of the mistake I made in that mile prelim will soon be one I amusedly recall.

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