US 50k Nationals were held two weekends ago in Santee, California. My results were… Mixed.
I actually placed right about where I had hoped. I wanted to make my 24th or 25th US National Team, and make enough prize money to cover most of my expenses. I finished 8th, which was good for that National Team spot and $500 in prize money. But that’s not why I was doing the race….
I was in Santee to hopefully get my qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. My training since the knee injury has actually gone pretty well. I’ve done some reasonably good 30 and 35k walks and even a couple of 40k efforts.
Conditions in Santee are usually quite good for racing. Usually… This year, not so much. Upon arrival on Saturday afternoon I was confronted with this:
The forecast for Sunday was about the same: Pleasant morning temperatures that would climb into the 80s and beyond by noon. That was bad enough, but then the 7:30am race start time came and went with little sign that the race would be actually be starting. At about 7:40 a fleet of tow trucks pulled onto the course and started towing cars. Apparently the sheriff made an announcement that residents of the apartment complex across the road from the course needed to move their cars, but nobody responded. Long story short, the race didn’t start until 7:55, so everybody would be walking the second half of the race in brutal conditions.
Once we got rolling I started out with long-time friend, rival, and team mate Ray Sharp from the UP of Michigan, and another long-time great friend and rival, Jonathan Matthews from Helena, Montana. None of us were doing a heck of a lot of hot-weather training, so once things turned ugly we weren’t very well prepared. Ray has been battling a knee injury this year (I feel his pain!) The judges didn’t like what they saw and he was out by 22.5 km. Jonathan dropped out shortly after that.
We were holding very steady at the 5:42/kilometer pace required to hit the 4:45 Trials qualifying time. My own knee injury set me back several weeks in my training, so the pace was a little less comfortable than it should have been. Once the temperature rose, and with Ray and Jonathan out, I lost steam. I gave up on the 4:45 goal and simply decided to finish, no matter what–or how long–it took.
The course is a 1.25 kilometer loop, which means 79 left-hand turns on my mangled left knee. When I was holding a good pace the knee was fine, but for whatever reason it’s worse when I walk slow so when my pace dropped the knee got wonky. I could either pick up the pace, which would more or less ensure that I wouldn’t finish, or slow down even more to take some of the strain off of the knee. Door #2 looked like a winner, so I slowed, at points even walking with Darlene Backlund. I hope I helped her in her quest to set the Women’s 70+ World Record for 50k, but it sure didn’t help me achieve my goal of making the Olympic Trials standard. But Darlene’s optimism DID help me to soldier on through a rough stretch so I was damned glad she was out there!
For much of the early going I was walking in 12th or 13th place. As people started dropping out I moved up to 9th with no work done on my part, but when Steve Washburn dropped out, moving me to 8th, I figured I should make an honest effort of it. I picked up the pace over the last 10k, but walking with Darlene from 30k to 40k put me well behind even my worst-case-scenario time of 5:15. (I walked my 40k workouts at home at sub-5:12 pace…)
When it was all said and done, only three men walked under the Olympic Trials qualifying standard. John Nunn, who ended up a heart-breaking 40 seconds over the Olympic standard, Nick Christie who walked one of the only personal bests in the race, and “The Italian Stallion”, Mike Mannozzi. All three were already qualified for the Trials, and only two others, Patrick Stroupe and Ian Whatley had qualified in the past two years. Thus post-race we were looking at an Olympic Trials field of five men.
It was decided by the Race Walk Executive Committee to ease the qualifying standard to 5:15. Doing so only bumps the field up to nine men but it also presents a golden opportunity for a couple of walkers who are close (Pablo Gomez and Omar Nash, I’m looking at you!) as well as any young guns who would want to give the 50k a try.
There is the minor problem that there are no 50k races between now and the Olympic Trials! Minor problem… Conveniently World Class Racewalking will be hosting their 20k/50k Championship on December 20th at the storied Rockland Lake course in Valley Cottage, NY.
Barring any unforeseen disasters (and Lord knows I’ve built a career on unforeseen disasters!) I should be able to hit the new qualifying time next week without too much trouble. With the relaxed standard, my recovery should be a lot quicker so I may even be able to get in some good training for the February 22nd, 2016 50k Olympic Trials through January and February.
I’ve lost about 10 lbs. since this journey began and I’d like to lose about eight more, and also start kicking down my training paces, both to help my 50k, but also to make a smoother transition to spring 20k training.
Hmmm… Wouldn’t it be cool to race the 50k and the 20k Trials in 2016? 😉