For the convenience of everyone I will keep all times in EST.
My trip started on Thursday night at 7pm when my flight left. My mom and I made the trip together. We had flown to Dallas with no problems, grabbed a huge Jack Daniels burger at TGI Fridays, and started to relax. If it wasn’t for these fast legs of mine, we would have missed our next flight. My mom was under the impression that our flight boarded at 1:50am at gate 38D. She looked at the ticket at 1:25am and realized that our flight was boarding at 1:20am. So I took off to the gate to try and catch our flight. Once we got there, the lady working the gate told us we were in the wrong place and needed to go to gate 20D. So I took off again. After 600 meters I made it there, and we were the last ones on the plane. It was quite a scare, but it all worked out after all.
As tired as I was I couldn’t sleep at all on the plane. We landed a little after 3am and took a bus to the car rental. Once we got there my mom had to wait in line for over an hour. I crashed across 3 chairs while she was in line. They had a mix up at the car place, so we went from an economy car to a convertible. Not a bad mix up. Who wouldn’t want to be cruising around California in a convertible? By the time we got in the car and on the road to the hotel is was around 5am. Then we ran into another problem because the freeway was shut down. My mom had to follow detour signs for a while through downtown LA. I have to admit I wasn’t much help because I had already fallen asleep. We got to the hotel at 6AM. I was upstairs and asleep by 6:30am. There was a 3 hour time change from Louisville to Los Angeles. It threw me off a bit but I don’t think it effected my racing all that much.
Once I woke up on Friday we headed to the track. I saw Rich Gonzales, and he welcomed me and thanked us for making the trip out. It was a very nice set up with huge big screens and Nike signs everywhere. After that we went to the mall. I ran into the Hoosiers, Futsum and Kent Garrett. I met Futsum at the Artesian Classic at the beginning of CC season and again at Foot Locker. He is a very laid back and friendly guy, and also an amazing runner. I met Kent at the KYtrackXC.com 5K showdown. He was super nice and easy to talk to. For lunch my mom and I stopped by the California Pizza Kitchen which was delicious. My uncle, who works for a horse farm in Lexington, told me we were close to Santa Anita race track. The Santa Anita Derby was on Saturday, so we thought it would be very crowded, but it wasn’t bad at all. We got directions and were only a few miles away. My friend, Matt Graven, and I love going to Churchill and watching our money run around the track. So my mom took me. I won my very first bet and then, lost the rest. But none the less it was fun.
We headed back to the track for packet pick up. I watched the “seeded” 4x8 run a 7:50, which was a US #1. But it didn’t stand for very long because in the next “invitational” heat, 5 teams went sub 7:50. The winner came in at 7:44. It was insane to say the least. We found a little Italian restaurant called Domenicos and got my pre-race pasta meal in. Mom dropped me off at the track so I could watch the 4x1600 that night. Loyola of CA won in 17:12, a 4:18 average per runner. It was about 11:30pm after the race. I took off on my run. Our hotel was a little over a mile away so I just jogged around for 35 minutes, ran into another Foot Locker runner and ran some with him and some of his teammates. They were from the area and had just finished the 4x1600. We jumped a fence and ran on a golf course. Once I got my 4 miles in and did a few strides I headed up to the room and went to bed.
It was race day and I was ready… but I still had 14 hours to kill. We went to Universal Studios City Walk, and I sat around and people watched while my mom shopped. We didn’t go into the amusement park because I didn’t want to be on my feet all day before the race. We grabbed some Subway and went back to the room. I got in a short nap and then talked to my coach for the last time on the phone. I got to the track early because my future girlfriend, Cami Chapus, was running in a few relays. She may not know I exist yet, but I’m just throwing it out there. I saw Brad Nye close in a 57. to win the mile in 4:08. After I watched Sarah Baxter win a great duel in the 3200, leading most of the race and finishing in 10:08, I left the stands and went over to the athlete area to start getting mentally ready to race. I kind of walked around like a lost dog until I saw Jake Leingang, Craig Nowak, and Tony Smoragiewicz walking around. I quickly joined them and then we warmed up and stretched together. They did first call, and we headed to the check in tent. Before you knew it was 11:45pm and all the runners were on the starting line. It went by like a blur.
Coming into the race I wanted to sit in the pack for 4 laps, assuming they would come through around 4:28. Then I thought the “real” race would begin and it would be time to man up and go. But things don’t always go as planned. I got pushed around to the very back of the pack from the start. I tried to work my way up several times but it only resulted in bleeding shins, and I kept getting spiked. This wasn’t just the first lap, but the first 5 or 6 laps that were like this. I came through the 1K 5 seconds slow in 2:53. 9:00 pace is 2:48s. I HATE running in packs if you couldn’t tell. I would rather be in the lead and pushing the pace than in the middle of 20 guys. I tried not to panic and to keep working my way up. Again and again, but it was unsuccessful. When I came through the 1600 in 4:35 the thought “you just wasted a whole trip to California and you’re not even going to break 9” came running through my head.
With 1K to go I dug down. With 600 to go I was still angry that I was so far back. Then the bell lap came and that was the first time I realized I could make it under 9. The clock read 7:59 as I came across. I don’t know what it is, but I always have a 60 second 400 in me. Since I was in grade school people have told me, why don’t you put more out in the middle of the race instead of saving it for the finish. I simply can’t explain it. I get some sort of adrenaline rush that just takes me off when I hear that bell. So when I saw 7:59 I just smiled and took off. I can’t remember how many I passed in the last 400m. My mom says I was in second to last at one point in the race. However until I see it on video, I am going to be in denial. I crossed the line and then just stopped, and stared at the jumbo-tron that was putting up the times. Once I saw 8:58 I was ecstatic. I had closed in 4:23 the last 1600 and ran 59 the last 400.
I jogged over to Futsum and congratulated him on his win. Kent had made his way out to the infield and I talked to him for a minute as well. I walked back over to the check in-tent to grab my stuff. I sat down to change, then stood right back up and walked out. I didn’t even feel like changing I was so happy. All of the runners were congratulating each other. That’s one thing you have to respect about CC and track. Runners are so friendly before the race, then its game time for however long the race goes, then right after no matter what the outcome they are all nice to each other and congratulate each other. I found my mom and great uncle Larry. I have only seen him a few times in my life because he lives in California. He made the trip down to watch me at Foot Locker and then to Arcadia. I called my coach, and he was excited as I was. My phone was blowing up with over 50 text/twitter updates. I was blessed to have a huge crowd watching the live feed back home. I finally changed into my trainers and a t-shirt and cooled down with Thomas Graham. We talked about college decisions, the race, and how he smashed his 5K on the track. My US #1 5K didn’t last very long, as Thomas came in a week later and dropped a blazing 14:11. After the cool down I headed back to the hotel room and showered. Then we went to dinner with Futsum, Futsum’s coach, two of Futsum’s former teammates who currently attend USC, Kent, his dad, and my mom. I, again, had another giant BBQ burger. After that we headed back to the hotel. I went to bed for less than two hours because we had to be up to catch our flight.
Looking back on the race I can think of tons of things I could have done better. I know I had way too much left and would have liked to have been with the pack that ran 8:54-8:55 with 1K to go. But the overall experience of being in a race of that caliber was unbeatable. Talking strategy only gets you so far. You have to have real race experience to be good at it. My 8:58 was only the 2nd sub 9 in Kentucky history. The only other one who did it was Bobby Curtis, who is a professional runner and is training for the Olympic Trials this summer. I feel that I am progressing perfectly. So Arcadia was one of the ugliest races I have ever ran, but you can’t complain about a sub 9!
I would like to thank everyone who has helped get me this far. I feel like I have sounded myself with tons of people who are always willing to lend a hand. The Holy Cross Community has been there for me from the beginning, and I can’t thank them enough. They are the ones who helped get me this far in running, and as developing into a better person. The support I have received the Kentucky running community is also greatly appreciated. I would like to end this with a quote that my great uncle put inside of a card he gave me shortly after my race.
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure”
–Eric Liddell “The Flying Scotsman” Olympic Gold Medalist 1924.