As an avid sports fan and appreciator of all things athletic, I’m highly aware and inspired by examples of athletes who repeatedly endure agonizing disappointment before ultimately accomplishing their goals. Even John Elway lost three Super Bowls before he was finally crowned a champion. After two disappointing races at WS, a DNS at UTMB, and a grueling death march at Transgrancanaria, I was beginning to feel that I had some sort of physical or mental shortcoming at races longer than fifty miles. It was becoming a monkey on on my back that preoccupied me often.
I fully realize it sounds silly and kind of arrogant to refer to seventh and fifth place finishes at Western States as “disappointing,” so I’d like to expand a bit more on what I mean. In 2012, I employed a totally reckless strategy and approached the race with a very immature attitude. The result was a catastrophic late collapse and probably the worst last seven miles of any previous top-ten finisher. Though I finished seventh, the cumulative weight of my mistakes made it feel like a failure. In 2013, I felt fortunate to be able to return and atone for my previous immaturity. Unfortunately, I lost the nutritional and mental toughness battle in a major way. The result was an overall improvement, but also a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration. In either race, it wasn’t the finishing place or time I was disappointed in, but more so my inability to rise to the occasion and make mature decisions when things got tough. I just knew in my soul that I could do better. This is what I mean by being disappointed.
Looking at the field this year, I would have been beyond thrilled to duplicate my fifth pace result from 2013. Given the cast of characters, I knew it would take a near flawless day to do so. Of course, the focus was on running a smart race and closing out the last twenty miles with authority. I had focused all of my training on visualizing the challenges of that section and was resolutely determined to finally deliver when it counted. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have rather significant self-doubt. Coming into Green Gate (mile 80) in fourth place, having not run very well on Cal Street, and with several talented dudes on my tail, things seemed all too similar to the previous two years in all the wrong ways. I learned later that my family was also anxious from the erie similarities of all three races up to that point, given how the previous two had ended up.
While my energy was obviously suboptimal after 80 miles of racing, my competitive instinct was still fully engaged. I was thrilled to still have a race mentality which gave me confidence to disregard the guys behind me and focus on trying to reel in Max King – something I could never dream of doing outside of a 100 mile race. I finally caught Max in the meadow outside Highway 49 and charged as hard as I could in an attempt to break his spirit and dissuade him from giving chase. It was a cosmic leap forward for me to finally muster the heart and toughness it takes to chase and pass someone at mile 95 of 100. This is the biggest positive takeaway I got from this year’s race.
While I still see room for improvement, this year’s Western States was incredibly satisfying for me on so many levels. I’ve grown a lot as an athlete and as a person since my first race at Western and I owe a lot to the event. Beyond my own experience, I was beyond thrilled to see my Marin County training partners have such impressive performances. Steel sharpens steel. I owe those guys so much.
Finally, major thanks to my family, friends, and sponsors who supported me before, during, and after this race. It is truly a year-long focused goal which takes a lot more than just my personal dedication. Thanks once again to Craig and his team for putting on a beautiful event and again establishing it as the class of the Ultra world. Thanks also to Coach Jason Koop for helping me take the next step in my career as an athlete. It’s almost ridiculous to see how much I’ve improved under his tutelage.
While the monkey may be temporarily off my back, I don’t feel any less desire to continue to hone and improve my craft. Quite the contrary, actually. Always stay hungry.