“I just want to have a breakout season.” These were the words that were uttered to my teammate during training camp late August while going through my daily post-run cycle in the trainer’s room.
Last year, I placed 89th at the NCAA West Regionals in Stanford. Although my time of 31:12 was good for a Saint Mary’s school record, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be: with the front pack. I was given much praise from both my teammates and the SMC community for my accomplishments, but, deep down inside I knew that I was much better. Certainly better than most of the runners that beat me on that gloomy day in Palo Alto. My definition of “better” isn’t based on speed or endurance, but the way you approach the sport. I knew from the bottom of my heart that I was better than most of the runners simply because of the sacrifice that I put into running. Sure, anyone can do base mileage, strides, and when the season looms, hard, fast interval repeats, but not everyone can sacrifice.
August 15th, 2012
There were great expectations placed onto my shoulders (by myself) heading into camp. Before I signed my NLI to run for Saint Mary’s College, I made a promise to the coaches as I stood up in front of them in their office and uttered these words: “I will not let you down.” The coaches invested a lot into me becoming a Gael and in exchange, I wanted to give them a full return: A WCC First-Team accolade. The West Coast Conference is home to two nationally ranked men’s teams: Portland and BYU. That meant a top ten finish wasn’t going to be easy, but, I had great faith in the process and more importantly, in myself.
Hence, coming into the season my motto was: faith. Faith is abstract; it does not have concrete existence. What was concrete was my 5K personal best, a 14:48. A 14:48 5K would have placed me right outside of the top 20 WCC 5K times, meaning a top 10 finish at conference would be an uphill battle. Instead, I focused on something else: the process. The process, which included running 876 miles throughout the summer (12 weeks), core and leg workouts, and a strict diet regiment which consisted of leafy greens, whole grain pasta, egg whites, and protein shakes. Having faith in the process, but, more importantly, in myself was the key to fighting whatever adversity/challenges that I was going to face entering the season.
The word “Faith” written in Punjabi. Before every race, I would look at my right shoe for inspiration. Having faith in the process as well as myself was a huge key to my success this season.
As the school year began, I had altered the process. The core and leg workouts were already in the barn. I had never felt stronger (as a runner) in my life. Instead, I replaced it with…tons of push-ups! Push-ups are perhaps the greatest, most simplistic exercise ever created. It not only works your chest, but your shoulders, biceps, triceps, butt, and hamstrings.
During the weekdays, I would wake up at six every morning, take a few bites from my protein bar and would start doing intervals of push-ups. Five sets to 50 push-ups with a minute rest in between, and on the sixth set, do 50 diamond (triceps) push-ups (300 total). Breakfast throughout September and October wasn’t anything special: either cereal with a spinach-banana smoothie or, if I was running late for class (which was common), I would crack several eggs, remove the yolk and just drink it from a cup (salmonella don’t scare me!). I didn’t really have a set diet; I just ate what was right and rewarded myself with a treat every now and then.
As for running, my mileage was consistent as I hovered around the mid to late 80’s. My daily runs focused solely on recovery: solid 11-12 mile runs around 6:30 to 6:45 pace However, I am a firm believer in hammering out long runs. Sunday morning long runs, along with workout Wednesdays were critical to the process as long runs were usually in the 16 to 18 mile range, but, the pace was always fast, around 6:00-6:20 minutes/mile usually done on hilly terrain (the right run).
Adjusting to early morning workouts, along with the higher mileage and strict dieting was difficult, yet manageable. Recovering from the carnage happened to be troublesome at times for me as exhaustion and fatigue formed a dark cloud over academics and extra-curricular activities. I eventually let one plate drop as I stopped working for my school’s Health and Wellness Center (PATCH). Along with severing ties with PATCH, I opted out of running for senior class senate in my school. From there on, I led a full-on “runner’s lifestyle”. If I wasn’t training, I was recovering (ice baths, protein shakes, and static stretching). If I wasn’t recovering, I spent whatever time I had in the library doing school work.
Sixteen weeks and 1,235.66 miles later, I had my first test: WCC Preview. The WCC preview was hosted by Portland, who at that time was ranked sixth in the nation. The race also consisted of DII powerhouse Chico State, led by a sub-29 minute 10K runner Isaac Chavez, Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, and a few other schools that I cannot recall at the moment. Despite battling cold and flu-like symptoms, I knew that this was my time. My time to show the conference where I belong: in the front. Along with being sick, I slept for approximately fifty minutes the night prior to the race, but, the lack of sleep was not a problem as the adrenaline and excitement of the process had consumed me. On September 15, 2012, I got to showcase my talent, and I did as I ran with the front pack and finished 4th, trailing only Portland’s top two and one unattached individual. WCC Preview turned out to be a success as I finally caught the eyes of conference foes. At the same time, I understood that I hadn’t proved anything yet as we were still several weeks away from the post-season. Anything can happen.
Establishing myself as a front-runner early on into the season.
I continued to stay committed to the process and as the days slowly progressed, came the Stanford Invite. The Stanford Invite is recognized on as one of the most prestigious meets in the nation. Despite my performance at the WCC preview meet, I understood that this was my opportunity to showcase my talent on a national level. The meet was hosted by ninth ranked Stanford and had twenty nine teams entered. This was also my chance to show schools *cough* (Sac State, UCSB, USF) that had overlooked me in high school and Junior College that I was indeed a prime-time performer. The gun went off and I immediately saw myself wallowing in a sea of runners (the middle pack). I remained patient as I took advantage of the downhills on the grassy golf course and eventually worked my way up to a twelfth place finish. Coming in twelfth place at the Stanford Invite is no joke as the finish, along with a personal best of 24:35 had elevated me into the top 100 Division I performances for the year. I was getting noticed.
Dueling it out with a couple of Stanford runners in the prestigious Stanford Invitational. On the far left, #3260 is Tyler Stutzman [originally from Virginia] (4:01 mile/8:06 3k). Next to me, #3253 is Mike Atchoo [originally from Michigan] (3:59 miler).
I finally started to create a buzz. Not only was I a legit contender for a top 10 WCC finish, but, was in the talks of possibly qualifying for NCAA nationals. Despite the buzz garnered in the coach’s office, I shifted my focus to the next task: Bronco Invite. The Bronco Invite, hosted by Santa Clara, is a generally flat course. Despite the 24:35 ran at Stanford, I knew that the only way to solidify myself as a legit contender for a national berth was to run sub 24 minutes on the 8K (5 mile) course. There was one task at hand prior to the Bronco Invite, an interval session. The workout prior to Bronco was a 10 by 1 kilometer repeat with a 90 second break in between done on a rigorous, grassy course which consisted of a pretty tough hill. The splits given to me were pedestrian: 3:01 to 3:03, preparing me to run a 24:05-24:15 8k, I knew I was better. As the workout started, I shifted my focus towards going fast, must faster than projected as I ran the first repeat in 2:57. Throughout the workout I constantly ignored my coach’s plea (sorry Carbs!) to go slower and continued to split much faster. The last kilometer was special, hammering a 2:48 as I flexed into the finish. The average of the 1k’s was 2:55 (23:35 pace). I was ready.
There wasn’t any pressure coming into the Bronco Invite. By this time, I knew that I was going to kick some ass, I had swagger. What was uncertain was whether or not the buzz about me becoming a serious contender for nationals was still up in the air. The race started out pedestrian for me, as I was caught in a traffic of mediocrity. By this time, I had become claustrophobic of middle of the pack running so I started throwing elbows, eventually weaving my way out into the front pack. The race played into my hands as I felt strong, despite having a side stitch in my lower abdomen. I coasted to a third place finish (out of 189 runners), running a sub 24:00 minute 8K (23:53 – a school best) and was recognized as the first non-Portland/BYU runner in our conference to do so. I now had a target on my back.
One of the greatest moments of my XC career: running through the finish line realizing that I had just ran a sub 24 minute 8k, a school record.
The night of Bronco onwards was difficult. Few hours after my sub 24 minute performance, I had to babysit. Babysitting wasn’t the problem for me. The problem was, the couple that I had to babysit for decided to stay a few hours past the agreed upon time of midnight and came back, hammered, at three in the morning. I was lucky to get in a few hours of sleep and the next morning we had a long run scheduled. For the sake of my aching muscles, I decided to forego the long run and shortened it to a twelve mile up-tempo run. After the long run, I took a short nap and went off to the library as I had a ten page paper due the next day…which I hadn’t started (oops). The WCC Championships were two weeks away and mid-term week couldn’t have come at a worse time. The stress of school started to take over as I now started sleeping three to four hours. Mid-term break was on that same week, but, for some reason, I still couldn’t sleep longer than four hours a day. WCC Championships was around the corner and the thought of it had consumed me.
The weekend before the big race, we had our one last “tough” workout for the season. The workout consisted of running two 1 mile repeats, three 1 kilometer repeats, and one more mile to finish it off. Despite being exhausted from mid-term week, I was focused, splitting the last mile in 4:27 on a tough half-mile loop. I was satisfied with the workout, so satisfied that I now guaranteed my teammates a top ten finish at the WCC Championships, all-Conference honors. Later that day, I decided to purchase a rather expensive outfit for the annual WCC Championship banquet. The banquet recognizes both the men’s and women’s team champions along with the top ten individual who made all-Conference. Knowing this, I went to Macy’s and decided to go all out and purchase a pretty snazzy outfit. I saw the receipt as I was trying out my new outfit at home; I unknowingly spent forty-five dollars on my tie. Failure was not an option.
The day before the big race was hell. I now had averaged about four hours of sleep for two whole weeks and it finally started to show. We were scheduled to leave campus at seven in the morning and I had woken up feeling like absolute crap, something wasn’t right. I got dressed and rushed off to meet the team before departing to Portland. We eventually reached Fern Hill Park, site of the WCC Championships for our routine course jog-thru. Except this time, the course was damp and wet as it was demolished by the heavy Oregon rain, looking nothing like it did six weeks prior. The jog was miserable and I was exhausted from the airport shenanigans and had trouble keeping up with my team. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. We eventually reached our hotel where I had a chance to take an ice bath before dinner. By this time, my forehead was burning up and I was feeling dizzy. I took my ice bath and allowed my roommate for the night to take one as well. As I was dressing back up, I started to feel dizzy, really dizzy. My head was spinning and then…I collapsed. For a solid couple of minutes, I had fainted, only to get right back up as I heard my roommate drain the water. I couldn’t let anyone know.
After surviving dinner, I went back into my room where I finally had a chance to relax, taking a solid two hour nap and eventually falling asleep later on for four more hours (six hours total). I woke up feeling exhausted (slightly better than the day before). I was running on the emotions. The process had all culminated to this: WCC Championships and I was ready to take what was mine, a top ten finish. The rain had not settled and it continued to pour on Fern Hill Park, making this my first muddy cross country race. Coming into the race, I felt like I had a great strategy. The course consists of a gradual uphill and a solid downhill. I had projected myself to run a sub 23:50 8k, believing that it would put me in contention of possibly winning it. As I did all year, I would take the hills easy as it was normal for runners to pass me by, but I took advantage of my long legs on the downhill’s and would surge aggressively to regain ground. The strategy was inspired during a hill threshold workout my junior year where I practically jogged the uphill’s but would sprint the downhills. The result was a much faster time than the one done prior where I would run the uphills faster. Doing this, I release less lactic acid and save myself for dyer situations.
Despite not feeling my usual self, I toed the line. I looked down to my right shoe for inspiration as I waited for the gun to go off, as the word “faith” was written on it in Punjabi. I had to not only put my faith in “the process”, but, in myself as well. Although I consider myself to be a humble person, I do not believe that anyone else had the strength or the spirit to endure what I had endured throughout the entirety of the process and that was all the confidence that I needed. As the gun went off, I dashed straight to the front, taking the lead from the start. The first downhill surge had given me a ten meter lead on the front pack. Despite the nervous look on my coach’s face, I was comfortable and I stayed true to my strategy by allowing the competition to gain ground on the uphill. The first mile came and went at a smooth 4:46 as I heard BYU frontrunner and eventually All-American Jared Ward tell his teammates to surge up to me. I was now mixing it up with the BYU and Portland front-pack and then all of a sudden, I let out the girliest shriek imaginable. I got slashed (spiked) by an LMU runner. At that time, I felt minimal pain as my focus was shifted towards bringing home All-Conference honors along with beating our rival Santa Clara. I continued to race with the front pack, cruising through the second mile somewhat comfortably. Towards the 5K mark we approached the downhill where I shifted my speed, running aggressively and then, the unimaginable happened, I slipped and fell.
Taking the lead at the start of the WCC Championships. The race featured three All-Americans: Jared Ward (BYU), Tyler Thatcher (BYU), and Scott Fauble (Portland).
Within a blink of an eye, I went from running with the front pack to somewhere between 13-18th place. The first thing that came into mind wasn’t my training or the sacrifices that I had made. Instead, it was the forty-five dollar tie that I had bought for the banquet thinking, “I spent way too much on a damn tie to not get all-Conference recognition!” I got right back up and this time, I could feel my ankle swelling up as well as the lactic acid that had consumed my legs from the fall. I was now running on will power. I knew that I had a strenuous task ahead of me. Despite this, I started to pick off runners gradually, one by one until I worked myself back up into the mix. With two kilometers to go, I made one last hard surge, passing a BYU and a Portland runner. I now entered the last mile not knowing what place I was in. The only thing lingering on the back of my mind was the promise that I had made to the coaches, to not let them down. The last mile onwards was hellacious, knowing that the two runners that I had previously passed by were breathing down my neck, I was holding on for dear life. I held onto my position as I saw the finish line, sprinting away from my worst nightmare: failure. I dashed across the finish line and instantly counted the runners that had finished in front of me. I made all-Conference.
The 2012 cross country season was one to remember. I had accomplished all of my goals and then some. I ran regionals with a purpose to not only qualify for nationals but to perhaps move on from running. Don’t get me wrong, I love running and competing but I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot since committing myself entirely to the sport starting from senior year of high school. Instead, I missed nationals by eleven seconds (three spots) and was devastated. Nonetheless, I had a tremendous season, accomplishing a lot and going where no SMC runner has gone before, to the podium, and obtaining all-Regional honors. I honestly couldn’t have done it without a great supporting cast. Coach Carberry and Kinsey had given a once average runner the opportunity to showcase his work ethic and talent in the West Coast Conference and the opportunity to become great is all that I really need. My teammates from both the men’s and women’s side, as well as the SMC community, were vital as well. Being told that I inspire them was all the motivation that I needed to endure the entirety of the XC season. However, there was one individual that was an inspiration to me, my partner in crime (i.e. my workout partner), Nick Ellingson. Suffering a torn quad during training camp only to come back several weeks later and run a 24:48 at Conference was nothing short of remarkable. You’ll be hearing more of him. With that being said, I am excited as I continue onwards with my running journey. As of now, I am just enjoying the process; you’ll see me at XC Nationals.
Standing on the podium at the 2012 DI XC West Regionals with the best the west had to offer. I had finally established myself as a “front-runner”.
Special thanks to those who have stuck with me well before I made a name as a runner, I love you guys.