Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I doubt that anybody checks this anymore since I've, stopped adding posts, so I'll just write to myself for a few paragraphs....

I made the trip from Norway back to Italy where I raced the very next week. I came in 9th at Susa which is nothing to complain about by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly not where I was only a few weeks earlier while competing in Austria and Slovenia. I raced as hard as my body would allow which really didn't even leave me tired following the race. Symptom - Past the Peak. It happens to all of us if we push ourselves long enough. You race well. You race well again. You begin to feel indistructible and then the next week, you start to slip. Maybe it was just a bad race. Then the following week the same, but worse. Susa was the third week in a row of slipping back. Feeling like I was loosing fitness even though my training was the same, my diet was the same, etc.. I had the same feeling last year. My solution was to slow everything down since I thought that my body was exhausted and simply needed a rest. When that didn't work, I complained to my friend Martin, who has been at this much longer than I have. He told me that I had it opposite. When the going gets tough, you have to pick up the miles.

So that's what I did. I refrained from biking from race to race. I took the train to Geneva and have been basing myself from here for the past month. My good friend Jess (who rode Rocinante back from South America to the States for me) left his door open to me to come and go at will. For three weeks I ran morning and night (something I have never bothered doing). Where my normal weeks consist of maybe 50-65 miles, I up-ed the distance to 90-ish. My initial worry was that my body would not be able to cope with the new work load, just a couple days in, I found that my summer of biking, training and racing has only increased its risiliance. I trained in Chamonix for a little while - running up to many of the beautiful lookouts that the valley has to offer. After training in Chamonix I traveled the short distance into Switzerland for ten days. I competed in a 'cheese race' near where the world trophy was held the week before the race. I came in third overall which did not earn me any cheese at all even though I wanted and deserved a wheel all to myself (placing in the overall group eliminated me from my age group - where the big cheese is won). I instead got sausage and a loaf of bread that had the consistancy of dark matter. From there, I traveled the short distance to Crans-Montana where the World Trophy was being held only a few days later. Since I arrived a few days before the free lodging was available, I camped at the edge of town and made the best of my time by reading, pacing, contemplating watches and swiming in the beautiful lakes. The rest of the American team finally arrived and we set off to preview the course.

The general consensus was that there was too much flat and not enough dirt for it to be considered a 'mountain course' but my thoughts on the matter were that everybody has to run the same course. Just like the weather - people want good weather, or rain, cloud cover, mud, sun, wind. In the end, everybody has to run the same course and you just compete against eachother and the elements together.

Come race day, the discussion of the lack of vertical or the amount of pavement to be found on the World Trophy course was lost amidst the steal grey drisle, the gasping for air, the perfectly planted rows of pinot noir bulging for the harvest and the ever-present thwoping of the helicopter blades just overhead. Still early enough in the race, the unbroken stream of runners worked its way up the mountain side -red, green, white, yellow, blue, black- jersies from thirty-nine countries. With the strongest men's team ever represented by the United States, I found myself in the top fifth of the field within meters of all five of my teammates. I knew we had a strong team before the trophy - my qualifying time up Mount Washington which earned me a 25th place finish in Turkey would have placed me behind all five of my teammates this year (and then some).

Simon lead the pack for the first couple kilometers. Eric Blake took over from there, then Joe Gray and then myself. I was most happy to see our fifth and sixth men, Matt Byrne and Zack Freudenberg so close. In the past, our team has fallen off at the third and fourth man. Joe and I stuck close together for much of the middle section of the course where, true enough, the terrain was reminiscent more of a road/cross country course than a mountain race. I fed off of Joe, knowing that his recent track background would keep his legs moving faster than mine were accostomed to. When the climbing started up again, I took the lead for the American men and the spectators off the side informed me of my 13th place position.
Half way.
The pain was more intense than any other race I've run. I've felt that bad before within meters of the finish, but not 30 minutes from the finish. I stayed focused and tried to think of nothing other than the runners in front of me. The leaders of the race were within view only minutes earlier which told me that I was either making a big mistake and would eventually blow up or that the extra miles had indeed paid off. Again, I found myself battling with the Cani Morti from Italy. The Hirsuit Mufloni. The well-thatched pelt of Marco Gaiardo. We'd gone at it twice already this year. His season is as long as mine and I know that he must be just as tired. For half an hour I focused on his shoes trotting along one foot infront of me. I watched an Engish runner pass us and two minutes later come sailing back. One of the three runners from Uganda also came flying back (the first was stunted by the very first hill). I would not pass the Cani Morti because I could not. I was asking so much more of my body just to be near him.

I crossed the line in 12th place - 2:17 seconds behind the winning time of Jonathon Wyatt. Within moments Joe was behind me, then Eric, then Simon, Zack and Matt. Simon looked dissapointed from his 25th place finish, but when an official came out of the timing van by the finish line and held three fingers in the air, indicating our third place finish, he was all smiles.
It has meant so much to me to medal for the US. To 'lead' the team is a completly different feeling - one I can't claim to have ever felt before. For the past several years, running has been about me and only me. I don't mean this as a form of ego (though I don't deny that aspect of it), but rather that it is something that exhists more in my mind than anywhere else. It has taken me places that I never thought I'd go. I. Me. I. Me. Never Us. But then it was Us and I knew that it was good.

Anna Pichrtova was kind enough to transport a six liter bottle of champagne 1/2 way across Europe for me to the sight of the World Trophy. Two months ago, something inside me told me that there would be a good reason for sharing it. It was consumed by the American in half the time that it took to run the race.
I took this past weekend off from running and traveled to London wonderful friend Bri instead. She gets the blue ribbon for Americans guiding Americans around London. This coming weekend I'll face many of the same top guys in Bavaria, and again in Slovenia the week after. I'll be riding my bike again - getting from race to race and then hopefully a trip down the coast of Croatia.