Wednesday, October 22, 2014

USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships

I have been training a lifetime for a day like today. For such a big win to come together in front of my home crowd is truly special and worth every moment of pain, disappointment, injury and loss that have sabotaged my running many times throughout my career.

Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki
It is cliché to say that I was not expecting to win, but that is really the case. The women (and even more so the men) had a stacked field that included some fast road runners that could really give the trail runners a run for their money on this particularly “fast” course. Come race day I was ready for a top five finish. Ten days out from the race I had a breakthrough workout around the loop at Lake Padden. Having never run sub 16 minutes around the 2.6 mile loop in a workout before, I was able to do it twice in one workout by myself. We were excited.

The Nano Hobbs and myself.
My excitement was heightened by the fact that some of my favorite trail runners were coming to Bellingham for the National Championships at Lake Padden. Nancy Hobbs, Richard Bolt, Chris Lundy, Andrew Benford and Caitlin Smith… all of these people (whether they know it or not) have played an integral role in shaping me into the runner that I am today.

In 2006, Andrew Benford, fellow West Virginian, was selected for the US Junior Mountain Running Team. I read his blog report from his trip to Turkey and knew instantly that this event is what I wanted to do, too. Based on my high school track and cross country performances, I was chosen to be on the 2007 US Junior Team that competed in Switzerland for the World Mountain Running Championship. It was on this trip that I met Nancy and Rich and Chris who was on the women’s gold medal winning team. I really looked up to Chris and remember wanting to sit next to her at the opening ceremony so that I could ask her questions. This whole experience is when I fell in love with the mountains and trails and have pursued a spot on the women’s team ever since.

In 2013, I was learning how to race longer distances and ran a 27K in California. I knew Caitlin Smith, course record holder and 2:41 marathoner, was going to be there. The course started with a steep climb (my strength) and I dropped her easily. "Wow, that was easy," I naively thought, until she came blowing by me at mile 6 and I never saw her again. Caitlin taught me a huge lesson that day and I was very humbled. I think about that race often when I am racing. It is funny how life has come full circle and all of these pivotal people were here at the race with me today. 

Under control at 6.5 miles.
Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki
Race directors Tad Davis and Al Coyle worked together tirelessly over the past 6 months, fretting over every detail from laminated VIP parking passes to what kind of flowers were to be presented at the awards. The night before the race Tad emceed a panel press conference with some of the elite athletes that came in from Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona and other parts of Washington. I made an early appearance at the expo around 4pm before the excitement picked up and quietly slipped out for a relaxing dinner by myself at home watching Netflix and making sure my bib numbers were on straight.

I knew the course very well because I do interval and tempo sessions at Lake Padden almost every week. I also knew that the last 4 miles are a lot tougher than they seem, with many short and medium steep climbs. The advantage of knowing the course was huge. You don’t realize how much energy you spend trying to find the course or stay on course until you don’t have to do it. I didn’t have to think or worry or hesitate about which direction I was going and could just run.

Not-so-under-control at a half mile to the finish.
Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki
I anticipated a very fast start and figured that this would probably be a mistake. I hung back in 9th place, hitting a comfortable 6:10 for the first mile. When we hit the first climb, I started racing and moved into 4th. From here my strategy was to slowly close on the leaders saving as much energy as possible for the last 4 miles. I battled for first place with Andrija Barker and Tori Tyler between miles 4.5 and mile 9 when the later climbs started to take effect. Once I couldn’t sense anyone there, I ran scared the final 4 miles, desperately trying to reach the finish line before I was caught.

Tad and I always talk about the day training comes together and the magic happens. Racing feels effortless and you can push yourself in a way that you were never able before. As I was racing I was thinking to myself, “The magic is happening. Today is my day.” I felt so confident. Even when I was getting passed around the lake loop mid-way, I knew I had it. When Al handed me the American flag to carry into the finish, I felt so much joy that I am unable to put into words.

Bear with me while I express my gratitude to the team of people who made today possible.

Thank you to Tad, my boyfriend, coach, best friend, photographer, therapist, chauffeur and wardrobe stylist. We did it!!!

Photo Credit: Aly Howisey

Thank you to Al Coyle, head race director and adopted family member. I can’t begin to tell you how many ways you have touched my life. There are so many great people, places and trails that I would not know if not for you.

Happy Birthday, Al!
Thank you to La Sportiva, who have furnished me with shoes all year and have given me the opportunity to travel to some of the best trail races in the country.

Thank you to Jeff and the Trail Butter team.  It is an honor to be a part of such a genuine, lovely group of people. I am so proud of Trail Butter.
Jeff giving me a pre-race squeeze.
Thank you to Tonia Boze from Terrain Gym. You have transformed my body and made me into an elite athlete. I am so very grateful.

Face of joy, disbelief & relief.
Thank you to Dr. Chris Lockwood from Align Chiropractic. I can’t thank you enough for all of the time you have dedicated to taking care of my body over the past two years. You mean so much to me.

Thank you to Kerry Gustafson from Prime Massage & Sports Medicine. I am so lucky to be in the hands of someone so knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. Thank you for understanding what it takes to be a competitive athlete and for helping me reach my goals.

Thank you to my dear BDP teammates: Amber, Alyson, Courtney & Aly (and Lydia, too!). I am so blessed to have you as friends and teammates. Your never-ending encouragement, enthusiasm and work ethic motivates and inspires me every day.

Aly, Amber, Maria, Alyson, Courtney=BDP
Thank you to my posse, Nichole Braun, Mark Harding and the Bellingham Trail Running Club. You guys make running the trails that much more fun.

Thank you to everyone who liked and/or left a comment on my Facebook page, emailed, called or texted. The support I have received from the Bellingham and trail running community nationwide is overwhelming and brings me to tears.

Women's Podium
Photo Credit: Takao Suzuki

I haven’t slept in 3 days because of all the adrenaline pumping through my body. I will continue to savor this moment as I start training for a short cross country season that begins with the Pacific Northwest Championships in Seattle on November 2nd, followed by the Regional Championship on the 23rd and ends with the Canadian Cross Country Championships in Vancouver, BC on the 29th. 

Complete results of the USATF Trail Half Marathon Championships can be found here
Article from The Bellingham Herald here.
Article from The Western Front here.
USATF Press Release here. Press Release here.

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