April 12th, 2014: The last time I won a race.
I saw a fourth place finish in the 10k at the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships. I qualified for the indoor championship meet for the first time. I ran fast in small and big meets. I just never won.
I finished a total of 11 races in second and third-place during my senior year at Texas. Eight of those were runner-up finishes and many of those were outcomes that only a few seconds dictated. I was hungry and continually lost. I became more aggressive in races. I believed in myself more and more but just couldn’t close it out. I was mad and continued to drive for that blue ribbon but someone always wanted it more; someone that I wouldn’t even see later into the season. (Unless you’re Clayton Murphy¹).
What I was missing was that killer instinct. I was not standing on starting lines telling myself it was in the bag. That seems like a cocky statement but I know the runners who win over and over again believe that they are going to take the title on any given day. My confidence was growing throughout my senior year but I still fell back to wondering if I was going to win. It did not matter the size of the field or the event taking place. I believed in my fitness as a production for times but not as a closer for the victory. I thought of myself as elite but feared to stretch for anything outside of safe. I did not want to fail, I just wanted to protect myself.
November 1st, 2015: I end my drought. I won a race!
I spent the last month brooding over how embarrassing it was to come crawling across the line in St. Paul minutes behind guys I’ve run with before, my head hanging low. I held that over my head. People told me to ignore it and move on but sometimes I just like to rub something like that in my own face so I never forget how bad it felt. Unhealthy? Probably. But it worked! I never doubted myself for a second once the gun went off this past weekend. Part of it was probably the fact that it was a small Phoenix race being run on a very simple course allowing me to run relaxed but practice makes perfect and this was an opportunity to clean out my closet. I told myself that I was only going to be satisfied with a win. The field was no slouch either. Standing on the line with me was a 13:47 runner, Weston Strum (3:42 1500 wheels), my teammate Ryan Dohner, a 13:45 guy with the smoothest cadence you’ve ever witnessed, and Nick Hilton, a Team Run Flagstaff Pro coming off of a 1:03 half. So while the number of people touching their toes and hitting a GU pack before the gun went off was small in comparison of road races, this four man pack was loaded with talent. I think the thing that I am most excited about in terms of this win was that I lead the whole time. I held control. I wanted it that way. I wanted to come off the line and push myself through the monsters that have held me back for the last five years. Leading, making moves and sticking with them, only thinking about what I can control, my brain in general. These are all things that I was better at or better dealing with when I was 17 and it sucks to say the least!
Why should I race more absurd than high school Craig? Or even freshman year, fall semester Craig! I didn’t ever think or second guess myself. I didn’t even listen to my coach when it came to race plans. I used to adapt to what was going on around me within each race and play to my strengths based on what I felt would take others out of contention.
Then I started to overthink. Then the implosions began. But not this weekend. I took the first step off the line and just pushed the pace. We went through the mile and I pushed again. We made two turns at the half way point and I sprinted through them. I never let my foot off of the accelerator and It payed off. While I’m not sure I buy into considering road race PRs due to their ever changing courses and other factors, I was excited to see a sub 14 as I finished. It was an immediate relief. It was a product of our hard work in Flagstaff and a sign that things are going well. That the consistency in my training is finally paying off as I string together the longest healthy stretch of my career (Knock on wood). Also, I am now ready to challenge Molly Huddle to a rematch.
Update on life: Flagstaff is currently cold. I just survived my first snowfall and even ran twice in it. Things that I need before the next blizzard hits town would be a scraper, boots, a jacket, survival pack and canned food, bottled water, and a
space heater. But in all seriousness, training is going well! The next race coming up is the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half which is November 15th! While it is my debut at the distance, I have technically run the event twice in my lifetime! Once at 12 (1:33) and again my sophomore year of high school (1:12). Hopefully I PR.
Along with my 5k this last weekend, my teammates were also very busy! Ben Bruce and Kellyn Taylor grabbed 4th place finishes at the Rock and Roll Philly Half. Ryan Dohner proved his comeback with a 14:08 5k and Scott Fauble debuted with a sub 30 min 10k! Rochelle Kanuho won her 5k with a 16:13 and Amy Van Alstine was second in the Norcross Run the Bridge 10k! Scott Smith (still have never met this guy, he’s only a personality that uses a fantasy football text group as a communication medium) ran a race in Tulsa as he begins to prep for his Olympic trial training segment. Lauren Kleppin continues to decimate the flagstaff fantasy league. Matt Llano has come back to training after his 2:12 at Berlin! Stephanie Bruce is also creeping back into training as she returns from creating a human. Last but not least! Eric Fernandez has been coming back from an injury and was also a “sexy” bunny for halloween.
1)stole a 1500 victory out from under me on the Texas track sometime before our conference meet. He did it with a decisive final 400 push, putting 4 seconds on me down the back stretch. I certainly don’t feel bad for that 2nd place finish as I watched him make a World Championship team in the 800.