This past weekend, I had the opportunity to represent the USA in the Great Edinburgh Cross Country Race. I qualified for this race a month ago by placing 3rd at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships and almost immediately after that race in San Francisco, it became obvious that my Dad was more excited about my upcoming trip to Scotland than I was. Before I had even finished my celebratory post-race burrito my dad had informed me that past champions included Chris Derrick and Kenenisa Bekele and this year the favorite would be none other than double Olympic and World Champion, Mo Farah. We decided if somehow I beat Mo, I would have to eat a whole plate of haggis and drink a large glass of the local scotch, Glenkinchie. To which I responded, “I’ll probably do that anyways” despite the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure what haggis was but, when in Scotland, you know? My dad’s enthusiasm continued in the form of daily reminders that I was going to need to fill out forms and needed to check my email a lot to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
My dad’s enthusiasm for the race didn’t stop at dissecting past results, searching for old race videos, and texting me every few hours to make sure I was checking my email. He also looked up the latitude of Edinburgh (Approximately the same as Newfoundland), found the official sunrise and sunset for the day of the race (8:43 sunrise, 3:30ish sunset), and went as far as to find Edinburgh on Google Earth in order to check out the town and examine the topography of the park the race was going to be held at. Parents are so cute as you grow up.
This trip was one of a lot of firsts for me, most saliently it was my first opportunity to race in a USA jersey. However, it was also my first time crossing the Atlantic and, more troublingly, it was my first time going to a country without freedom. I mean Scotland is still under the thumb of the tyrannical English monarchy, and I can only assume that’s because they don’t know how cool this freedom thing we have is.
After 6000 miles of travel and a carefully calibrated regimen of Advil PM and caffeine, the night before the race was finally upon us. The Americans met in a suite at our hotel for our pre-race team meeting and while most of this meeting was about the schedule and procedures and was generally unremarkable, one moment sticks out to me now. The men’s coach, Paul Greer, pulled out an American Flag that he had brought and asked that we all recite the pledge of allegiance together. At the moment, it felt corny and forced. I mean most of us are professional athletes and this was just another race. However, after the meeting I thought back at my Dad’s exuberance and Paul’s obvious reverence for the opportunity to represent his country, even though he wasn’t even competing, and I realized that this wasn’t just another race, or at least it ceased to be for me. The combination of Paul’s display of patriotism and my Dad’s excitement made me see that representing the USA is really really cool and it’s something not many people get to do. Even at the elite echelons of elite distance running, there are athletes who never get to put on a USA jersey, so even though this wasn’t a world championships race and as far as US teams go the Great Edinburgh one is less prestigious than many others, the fact that I was going to be pulling on a jersey that said USA across the front and had a small flag above the heart got me pretty damn fired up!
By the time the senior men’s race went off, the course was a mess. The inside track of the course all the way around was deep, thick mud and the rest of the course wasn’t any better. The race was going to be a slow, hard, grind where you just had to embrace the suck and wade through the course, which was “no Van Cortland Park” as all the Scottish officials were so fond of saying. To be honest I still don’t know what they are referring to. The majority of the race was unremarkable, it was hard and slow and the course was a mess and the top group got smaller and smaller each lap. The last loop is where it started to get fun. There were five of us in the lead group with 1500m to go, most notably Mo Farah and Garrett Heath who have run 17 and 11 seconds faster than me in a 1500 respectively. Needless to say, I didn’t like my shot if the race came down to a kick. After pulling myself back onto the group after a short surge by one of the British runners with about 1000m to go, I decided to make a move. I felt like, if I wanted to win, I had to go early and hope that I could get a few steps on the group before we got onto the final loop where it was hard to pass people on the narrow course with the bad footing and two stream crossings.
Here’s the thing about trying to make a move against world class runners, it’s scary. It’s really scary, because it’s almost certainly not going to work and it’s definitely going to hurt, probably real bad. However, how often do you get a shot at scalping a double Olympic gold medalist? So, I went to the front and stayed there for about 50 meters before Garrett Heath took me to the wood shed and earned the nickname, The King of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay away from Mo either as he ended up beating me by 7 seconds. Despite the fact that my move hurt pretty badly and didn’t work, it was the most fun 50 meters of my career so far and if I had to do it again I would only make one change. When I went to the front, I would have gone harder.
Here’s to more reckless racing, USA teams, and Glenkinchie.