The conference championships have always been one of my favorite races of the season, although historically it hasn’t gone great for me. My best conference race was my freshman year, followed with the mess that was the Reno race, and my last effort in 2016 with poor racing tactics at Boise. I’ve been looking forward to this race for two weeks to really see how my training not only this year, but also all of last year has helped me become a better runner. This year was a special year because the race was back at sea level in San Diego. So I wanted to make sure my last conference race was my best one yet.
We left San Jose Thursday morning at 9am, landed in San Diego, and went straight to the course for our pre-race warmup. The course was not very flat with an even mix of uphill and downhill, a fair amount of curves, and a lot of dirt. We still laced up the spikes, but had some smaller pyramids in them than we raced with at Wisconsin. The race was designed to be two bigger loops, followed by two smaller loops. It was nice to start with the big loops and then finish with a smaller loop. Friday morning began with a 5:45am wakeup and a 5:55am shakeout run. After that, I had the classic three pieces of peanut butter toast with the bread I make sure I always bring. We left to go to the course and Bruce reminded me that I was Born to Run. My parents said a brief hello before the race, we went for the usual 20 minute warmup, and then it was time to rock and roll.
The starter of the race gave the “On your mark” command and fired the gun very quickly which I think threw off some of the racers. It allowed me to get out well in the pack and situate myself right up in the front. Because of the narrow course and mixed terrain at the start, there was a lot of jostling, pushing, and running into other people on the turns. The course was not equipped well to handle the pack of people that we started out with. Around 1.5K I got clipped from behind on one of the turns and would have gone down if I hadn’t grabbed the back of a nearby Air Force runner. Shortly after, a Boise runner clipped the back of my spikes and went down, so it was really tight conditions. The entire first loop was pretty packed up with the leaders pulling slightly ahead of the rest of the pack around the 2K mark. By the time we hit the downhill of the second loop, it pack was still at least 20-25 people strong and barely starting to accordion. I worked on maintaining the pack I was in for the second lap, and once I passed the 4K mark, I knew it was time to pick it up. On the downhill at the start of the third lap I had caught up to Jose and was sitting around 14th place. I worked the downhill to get the next pack and just maintain going up the hill. There were a couple Air Force, Wyoming, and Boise runners ahead of me so I worked to make sure I either passed them or kept moving with them in the pack. The third lap was shorter than the first two, so in no time we were back to the start for the fourth and final lap. I was somewhere around 10th place at 7K with an Air Force guy right on my tail, a Boise runner in front of me, and a Wyoming runner just past him. The last three minutes of the race, my form went to absolute garbage. My arms were flailing, I was going really wide on the turns, and I was hurting. I passed the Boise guy early on into the final 1K, and moved in front of the Wyoming guy with just enough to go that he couldn’t catch me at the finish. When I got to the top of the hill with about 150 meters left in the race, I didn’t have much left. I was leaning forward so much people though I was going to fall, and with about 20 meters left into the race I was gone.
I don’t remember finishing the race or the athletic trainer that was there to catch me from passing out or being rushed to the medical tent. I struggled to control my breathing, my heart rate was very high, I was overheated, dizzy, and on the verge of passing out. They gave me water and gatorade, and then tried to cool me down as fast as possible. I had a bag of ice under my head, two on my upper body, and one on my stomach. I was so hot that the ice was steaming as it melted so quickly. I was in the athletic tent for about 40 minutes with the athletic trainers before I tried to get up and walk. I felt like a baby giraffe trying to walk out of there and make my way over to the team. My parents were there waiting for me and they walked me over to the tent.
I literally gave it all I had in the race. There was nothing more that I could have done, and I’m so, so happy with the results. I finished with a time of 24:58 and placed 8th overall, which gave me the distinction of All-Conference Second Team. I can’t say that that place was worth the state of exhaustion I was put in afterwards, but it definitely made me feel better knowing that I left everything I had out there. Coach Sarver and Coach Wick both agreed this time that I had executed the race perfectly, and had brought the bread better than ever before.
Our next race is the NCAA West Regionals on November 9th in Sacramento, where I and the rest of the Spartans try to qualify for the NCAA nationals meet back in Wisconsin. Two weeks is going to go by faster than I can think, and I can’t wait to be back with another post about how it goes. See ya real soon.