The two weeks following the race/workout at Elon have been tough. There have already been multiple 15-hour days and quite a few late nights in the library. It seems as though there’s always something going on, always something to be done. Despite all that, training has gone relatively well for both me and the rest of the team. Collectively, we’ve had some of the best workouts we’ve ever had as a team.
There was a certain focus, then, going into today’s race. We raced a 6k today, Friday 17. In years past, this race held at WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary, has been a 5k. In the days preceding the race, however, we found that ACC schools would be using this typically low-key meet as their first preview of the course, which for them will later host the ACC Championships. We assume this is why an extra thousand meters was added to the distance.
Knowing that everyone from UNC, NC State, FSU, UVA, and Wake Forest would be there, we were looking forward to some tough competition. Upon arrival, we found that Campbell was also bringing out their A-squad – four Kenyans. There were no nerves; just knowledge that today was going to be fast.
The WakeMed course is something special. A mix of grass and gravel, the course begins with a 600 meter downhill followed by over 400 meters of flat, making for a lightning fast first mile. After a couple loops through the woods at the bottom of the hill, the runners go back up the hill. Following that grueling trek, the runners go around the perimeter of the park then back up the hill one more time for the finish. The combination of hill and flat makes it a fantastic first test for runners of all levels.
After we’re done warming up, we head out to the line and are more quiet than normal. This race will tell us not just where we are as individuals, but as a team. After today, we’ll know exactly where we stand and how much work needs to be done to reach our goals. We line up and wait for the gun. As it goes off, there’s a split-second delay between seeing the smoke go up and the sound reaching our ears. When crack of the gun reaches the field, one hundred-odd runners take off down the hill. The first mile is quick, right around 4:40 for my training partner, Luke, and I. The loops through the forest are fine, but the first hill hits me really hard and I lose sight of Luke. I refocus around the perimeter and get mentally ready to go back up.
When the finish finally comes, I come in as our number two, farther back from Luke than I need to be or should be. I’m disappointed, but the rest of our pack comes in with a tighter spread. I walk out of the finishing shoot with mixed emotions; happy for my training partner who was really on fire today, happy for the tight spread that came in for numbers three through seven, but dissatisfied with my own race, knowing that I’ve got to improve my mental state and focus considerably for the next race in two weeks, knowing that how close I am to Luke at conference six weeks from now will be the difference between hitting our goals and falling short.
The post-race emotions evaporate following the cool down and the coach’s talk. He basically reiterates everything I was feeling and says that we need to move on and look towards Notre Dame in two weeks’ time. After today, we have a far better idea of who we are and where we’re going. We were the top school after Campbell and the ACC guys. We know that we have to put in a lot of work over the coming months. Today just got us excited.