A Reflection - (one year later)
This was the victory I had been working for my entire career. It’s hard to describe the assault of sensations that I felt crossing the finish line after best 10 other races in a sprint finish. The eye-bulging, heart-stopping, lungs-freezing burst of elation definitely hit hardest, but joining the party came relief, disbelief, confusion, and the duo pride and humility.
In the post race interview I remember rambling on about how I was constantly aware and on edge during the race, biting my lips and waiting for something to happen. As amazing as the final 800m of the race had been, with and 11-man pack fragmenting and firing in all directions as we hurtled to the finish line, the majority of the race had been equally boring. The lead pack, varying from 15 to 8 in number, maintained a relatively stable pace and consistent order for the entire race. Nobody surged. Nobody attempted to create a breakaway. Masazumi, a beast of a Japanese racer, went to the front and held a steady 16mph while I remained glued to the back of Kurt’s chair in fourth or fifth place.
After my post race interview I returned to Kurt and Ernst, second and third place respectively, to them asking me in shocked voices if I really was on edge the whole race. Ernst claimed he was bored out of his mind most of the race and Kurt claimed he zoned out for large chunks of the race.
I remember being frustrated by their accounts of the race. I had been switched on the entire race, anxious to counter attacks, bridge gaps, and maintain my position in the front. I spent the entire race knowing that if I was there in the end I had a shot to compete for the podium, but I needed to be at my best to make it to the end. Knowing that I was in form to compete for a major marathon victory was new to me, and quite frankly I didn’t want to fuck it up. My two buddies on the podium, however, had both won numerous big marathons before and have been at the top for so long they no longer doubt they have the ability to deal with whatever pops up during a race. They were where I’d been working so hard to get to, and even in victory our reflections on the race struck me as discordant and illustrated the mindset that I will hopefully have one day.
Fortunately, on this particular day, my cautious and over-focused approach to the middle miles of the race did little to affect my approach of the finish. I had been in sprint finishes at the end of the Chicago Marathon before, and had even won one, way back in 2006 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex0-UffmZR0). Despite the fact that I had finished in third in sprint finishes in that past two years, I knew exactly what I wanted to do this year.
The key was that I was bold enough to do it. In the last two miles of the race I shifted my position in the pack and was able to get exactly where I wanted to be. I had to work a little harder in my new position, but I knew it was where I wanted to be. And then came the sprint.
As an athlete we are blessed with the rare occasions of transcendence, moments in which our bodies act purely on trained reflex with no input from the brain necessary. Muscle controlling muscle, unencumbered by the lumbering synapses of the conscious mind.
We made the final right turn off Michigan Ave., climbed the bridge on Roosevelt, and turned left to bolt down Columbus, and felt like I was floating above my body watching the whole thing happening. A 500m sprint after 26 miles of racing and I felt nothing but the wind in my face and the tumult of emotion across the line.
I may have been nervous throughout the race. I may have been in a different headspace than Kurt and Ernst, but it was the first time in my career that I had beaten either of them, and it was the first time in my career I had felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be as a racer.