Executive report: (Skip this if you don’t want a spoiler, read it if you don’t have time to read the 1650 words that follow. Skip to the end for pictures)
Total time: 32:36
Overall postion: 18th
Position on team: 8th
Team position: 1st
6:42 My plane touches down on the pavement and it signifies the beginning and the end of 2 periods for me. It is officially the end of my training. I am now in NY, less than 5 hours until my first Conference Championships. Months of hard work, dedication, foregone parties and late nights have all led to this. The moment of truth. It is also the beginning of the moment when my mind becomes a weapon. From the moment the plane touches down, my mind goes over the course inch by inch, taking into account the climbs, the descents, the rocks spray-painted white to alert the runners, the tricky corners, the low hanging branches – all of it. All of it besides for the first 100 meters. I never remember that.
Rose and I meet up in the airport (she came from Palo Alto and landed 20 minutes before me, thankfully) and split a cab to my apartment where coach was staying. She ices a little, we both change, I pray and we make our way down to the buses where a few of the team is already waiting. A few, but not many. I drop off my bag at the bus and make a trip to the restroom across the street in the highschool. Great success.
On the bus I close my eyes and infuse my blood with the tunes of David Bickler (Eye of the Tiger), Europe (The Final Countdown) and Infected Mushroom (Heavyweight, Becoming Insane, et al.). We get to SUNY Purchase in Westchester before long and get out and begin to walk with a 5k race…since we couldn’t drive through them (there was a 5k race obstructing out street, in case you didn’t catch that). We walked around trying to find the course, but to no avail. I stopped on the side for bathroom break #2.
We find the starting field (soccer field) and the photographer’s there. He takes our headshots and some of us go use the restroom. Bathroom break #3. I was confident today would be a good day.
We go for a warmup jog, just to check over the course a bit, discover the 1 mi. mark is actually the 1.15 mile mark (very important later) and see that the course is very slippery in a few places where we run on a curve and very, very muddy in others.
We get back, he takes a few more pictures, we put on our pins and go down to the starting grid.
Before I knew what happens, we’re off!
I was the last one (I think in the whole race) to get off the soccer field, but I made my way back to the main field quickly enough. The first mile was uneventful. Picked off a few runners, got elbowed by a few, but no big deal. My hands were cold, my knee felt good (I had been suffering knee pains from the endless stone-pounding in Jerusalem combined with the infinitely-hilly terrain) and my ankle felt strong.
At the end of the first mile, I was probably right on track around 6:05-6:10, but the coach (not from our school) who was yelling out the splits was standing at the false 1 mile marker (remember earlier?) which was actually 1.15 miles. As we ran by, I heard him say “6:50! It’s umm…it’s a slow course, don’t worry! Keep going!” Yoni and I remarked afterwards how nervous he sounded.
The second mile started well, but by the time it was over, my lungs were burning. I don’t think it was the cold air, although it could have been. Nevertheless, I pushed through, albeit at what felt like a slower pace than where I should have been.
2 mile split: 12:30
The third mile (Mile marker 2 to Mile marker 3) was unnecessarily muddy. I felt like they laid down extra mud just to mess with us. There were times where my entire foot was submerged in the muck. As I trudged through it (although usually I tried to leap around it, which couldn’t have been very efficient) I remembered my coach’s words which i repeated to myself as the day’s mantra: Today, we drop ’em in the muck. That’s just what I did. When they slowed down, I shortened my stride and accelerated. The first time I saw coach, he yelled out to me: 27! You’re in 27th Eli (This may not be entirely accurate. He may have said 22nd, but I think 27 is right)! Start making your moves now!
So I did. I passed a group of 3 runners, and caught up to an Asian runner from Cooper Union. As I initiated my pass, I saw him glance over his shoulder and pick up the pace as well, staving me off for the time being. I thought back to that morning when Coach Ben was going over the other racers’ race tactics with me. He told me they would be playing ridiculous games which offered them no benefit but tired out the pursuer. I heeded his word to be patient and confident in my training and dropped back for a beat.
Mile 3 split: 19:15
In the middle of mile 3, I attempted the pass again, and again he fought me off. I tried 3 more times, then realized that every time I attempted a pass, he would speed up and we were cutting the gap to the runners in front of us. At this point, he was 23rd and I was 24th. Coach told me to be around 20th going into the 3rd mile, and I was a bit behind target, so I had to get moving. I couldn’t hang around there all day. So I pushed him, he pushed back. I pushed him again, we pass a runner. He pushes back, we pass another runner. This continued until the 4th mile when he was sitting in 21st, I was 22nd.
I was hurting real bad, I was all muddy and I was entering the last climb of the race, then the very loosely packed wood chips which we hit on the way out. My small opponent scrambled up and over the hill and out of sight. I knew it was now or never. There was less than a mile to go and if I let the sight of him disappearing over the top get me, I would be done. I heard cleats behind me, I thought of how much I wanted it, how much I trained and how much I bled. I motored up the hill much faster than I thought was possible and saw my fierce opponent only 4 strides in front of me. I took a deep breath, kicked it into high gear, and flew by him.
I noticed his head swivel as I overtook him on the downhill and heard his stride rate increase. It was working. He was coming after me, but I had picked up too much momentum and we were still running downhill. There was no way he would catch me. Unless the floor leveled out and I slowed down. Which is exactly what happened. As the floor leveled out, I looked around for Stephen (who I saw earlier in 18th place) but couldn’t find him. I think this distracted me as my foe overtook me. I ate up his heels and didn’t let him out of sight. I knew that if I could hold on, as soon as we left the forrest, there was only 200 meters to the finish line.
As we left the forrest, there were a series of sharp turns, and if you hadn’t run the course previously, you couldn’t know the distance to the finish line as the course wiggled between buildings and trees, finally coming around a building with 75 meters to the finish line.
With 100 meters to go, I dropped back a step, took a deep breath, and kicked. By the time I caught the Albany racer, I had already reached top speed and there was no way he could keep up with me. I had won. I knew it.
As I rounded the corner, I saw Steve! He was ahead of me, possibly around 6 seconds at normal pace. At my current pace? 3 seconds if he were at a standstill. Suddenly, I found a 7th gear and my legs seemed to grow 2 inches as I picked up the pace. Up ahead, Stephen looked to be dying. I could hear, “Steve! He’s coming up on you! Move it!! Move it now!! This is the end!”
With 10 meters to go, surprising myself, Stephen and everybody around us, I come up on him. He has already picked up the pace and we’re running together. We run side by side for 2 steps, I break away and pass him with 10 feet to go. We cross the finish line, our time difference less than a second. I wait for someone to remove my number, but the HVMAC employee takes too long and I collapse int he finish line. I look up at Steve who dry heaves behind me. Somewhere, “Now that’s what a finish should look like! That’s how you race your teammate!”
I lie on the ground waiting for my lungs to accept the air, do nothing more than feel the cold water someone put in my hand. I yell for Steve. In my delirium, I apologize profusely, over and over. I tell him I love him. I do. He raced very well, I felt terrible to take it from him. He deserved it.
Then I discover I finished 18th, not 17th.
Then I discover top 14 are all conference, not 17.
And everything’s not so bad in the end.
Final time: 32:36.
Final position: 18th.
On the team: 8th.
Steve took 19th and 9th respectively.
Our team took first and we are the 2-time consecutive back to back repeat defending, reigning Hudson Valley Men’s athletic Conference Champions. We finished with a total of 30 points this year vs. last year’s 35 points. 1st place overall was our captain Sam Cohen. 2nd place oevrall was Junior Oliver Sax. 5th place was Captain David Sweet who had been suffering injuries the entire season.
Thanks to Leah, Lans, parents…and anyone else who was there photographing us.
Thank you to Coach Ben’s parents who came out and supported us – completely above and beyond the call of duty. His father is a supremely great man made of stuff I hope I could amount to one day. Thank you to Yehuda’s parents for coming out to support us and for Natan’s as well. Thank you to Shlomit’s posse (not sure who all those people were…) for coming up from Brooklyn. Thank you to Stan and Jake for a great season…wich isn’t over until Skyline Championships at Van Cortlandt this Sunday!
Ben…Coach Ben…Coach Benjamin “Coach of the Year” Joslin…thanks. For everything.
A link to the “Championship page”: http://www.hvmac.net/news/2011/10/24/2011-cross-country-championships-results/
Primary Goal: Qualify for the All-Conference team (top 14) – Unfulfilled
Secondary Goal: Place top 20 – Success
Tertiary Goal: Best Stephen – Success