It was a great trip.
|Red, white, and blue love.|
Pre-Race:At the U.S Mountain Running Championships in July, Megan and I secured spots on Team USA for Worlds. Over the next 2 months, we raced 10 times (including winning a national championship!), got hitched, and fell in love all over again on the trails of California, Utah, Colorado, and North Carolina. It's a dirty, mud-spackled love that smells like a musty basement and is fueled by Gu and ice cream.
A week before jet-setting with Team USA to Italy, we did one more thing together...WE SIGNED WITH NIKE! (more details in this Competitor Magazine article) Nike is moving into the trail scene in a big way--the Nike Trail Elite Squad is loaded with the best runners on single-track, with studs like Chris Vargo, Alex Varner, Mario Mendoza, David Laney, Ryan Ghelfi, and Worlds teammates Zach Miller and Patrick Smyth. Studettes include Sally McRae, Emily Harrison, Clara Peterson, and Alicia Shay. It's an honor to join the Nike family and rock their awesome shoes: the Wildhorse 2 and the Terra Kiger 2. With Nike, you know that every decision from the engineering floor to the marketing department is thought out. It's an honor to know we'll always be wearing the best shoes, have the best teammates, and run for the best company.
|Megan's wedding shoes were ready for some trail adventures.|
So on Wednesday, we grabbed our passports and boarded a plane destined for the land of Nutella. 24 hours later, we landed full of groggy excitement. And the Italian adventure began.
On the bus ride to the hotel, we passed the leaning tower of Pisa, which is smaller than you'd guess and curves to the left, which is not an assessment most men or buildings would be happy with. We arrived at the hotel and learned a new term: Italian time. I am still not quite sure what it means, but it's either 15 min early or 45 min late. Just anything but on time.
|The view from the start. We finished...up there :)|
Megan and I met teammates Megan Lund-Lizotte and Josh Eberly for a shake out along the Mediterranean, where I learned that the ideal for male beach fashion seems to be Borat's bathing suit. After 6 easy miles, Josh and I dunked in the water. A small, adorable boy came up to us, and reached down into the water to pull off his pants. After about 15 seconds, he pulled them back up and walked back to shore. Our ice bath became slightly less icy.
We had a team meeting and a buffet dinner, closed by a heaping serving of gelato. True fact: there were 6 gelato shops within a 1.5 block radius of our hotel. AKA heaven has an Italian PO box.
Megan and I were energized, but we had slept only 2 hours in the last 36. So we tucked into bed, expecting a good night's rest, and...we couldn't sleep. This began a theme, where we were exhausted but had trouble passing out. And one more disconcerting thing...we did not poop. Like the buses, our bodies seemed to be operating on Italian time.
The next day (Friday before a Sunday race), we ran easy in the morning and previewed the course in the afternoon. The course was the most beautiful, epic mix of single-track, rock climbing, and ancient city running. During an off-trail scramble at the 7k mark, I made my decision: I was going to go for it. I may only get this opportunity once, and I'd always regret not giving myself the chance for a great result. Plus, Team USA's best chance at medaling would be an amazing performance from Zach, Josh, or I (the other 3 men, Joe Gray, Patrick Smyth, and Eric Blake, are consistently studly and 4 score). Having a strategy was liberating. It was going to be a beautiful victory for Team USA, or a beautiful disaster for me.
Go for it. No regrets.
|Temporarily flag-bearing before the Opening Ceremonies.|
We killed time with our amazing teammates over the next day and a half. The women were incredible--Megan Lund-Lizotte is a supermom and one of the best mountain runners in the World, Allie McLaughlin is going to be a legend one day soon and is one of the most delightful people I've ever met, and Juliane Masciana is an awesome runner with one of the best perspectives I've ever been around. The men were equally impressive, from Joe Gray's calm confidence to Zach's inspiring story and amazing running range. Waking up the morning of the race, both Megan and I were just unbelievably excited to wear red, white, and blue with such an amazing group of people.
|Team USA women were relaxed at the Opening Ceremonies.|
At 8 AM, the women were bused up the mountain to their start. Before we parted ways, Megan and I had one minute alone together in a tight Italian alleyway. My bride looked stunning in her singlet, beautiful in her bib. We smiled, kissed, and didn't say anything. Time to run up a mountain, like we'd done a hundred times together. See you at the top.
Race:The men's team got together and made the trip to Forno, where our race began. Hundreds of runners from all over the world milled in the streets, nervous energy having a palpable presence. Well, it was there for everyone but Joe and Patrick. They just looked relaxed and ready, and that confidence spread to the rest of the team. It had only been a few days, but I loved this team and the colors we were wearing. I couldn't wait to bury myself for USA.
|Red, white, and blue warm-up.|
But first, the start line. To put it simply, it was a shit show. There was no rhyme or reason to the madness other than a general directive to line up alphabetically. I got intimate with Ukraine and to third base with Uganda. I know Eastern European men have a reputation for being smelly, but that's unfair. Across the globe, all men smell like armpit. It unites us.
The gun sounded, and the stampede began. Somehow, Team USA got out cleanly and the six of us had good position on the first mile through Forno. The plan was to be well-positioned when the single-track began at mile 1.5, and we were executing, with all of us in the top 15. Mile 1 had 200+ feet of climbing...my watch beeped the split at 4:52. This was going to be interesting.
|This alleyway was 200 meters into the race.|
Left turn onto a set of steps and the race truly began. Immediately, Joe, Patrick, the Ugandans, the Eritreans, and a few Italians distanced themselves from the pack. Almost as immediately, I could feel the power sapping away from my legs. It felt like I had done a few sets of squats and some lunges. I fought for position up the climb to Casette, falling to 20th or 25th but in a good place at 4k. As I would soon learn, the climbing had barely begun.
Up through the town we swept, bounding over stairs and alleyways. I think I saw a goat wearing a cowbell, but that could have been oxygen deprivation. I began to struggle mightily on the stairs and into the most technical portion of the course. My legs bellowed with a dull, low sound that I hadn't felt in years. I asked, but didn't get a response. I fought, hard, but it was not going to be my day.
|Another warm-up picture, just before the single-track.|
To be honest, I may have DNF'd if not for the red, white, and blue on my back. I've always thought love of country is stupid. Who can love soil? Why should an accident of birth determine destiny? But on that mountain, so thoroughly deep in the pain cave that I could not even conceive of the light at the other side, I think I began to understand. It is not the soil, it is the idea. It is not an accident of birth, but an intentional way of living life.
I was going to finish. I was going to fight. USA! USA!
|When it comes to food, Italy! Italy!|
But boy did it hurt. I moved up 10 places on the flats and downs, and got dropped like a stone on the steep stuff. My girl was waiting at the top, and I spent the last 10 minutes with nothing left in my legs, but lots of love in my heart. I reached the top of the mountain and the finish, where my amazing teammates were waiting. We were all slightly disappointed, but were able to fight for 4th in the world on a tough day.
And that's when I heard the best news--Megan was amazing and finished 21st in the world. The women took home the bronze.
We were at the top of a mountain, like a hundred times before. And we hugged, our hearts filled with a red, white, and blue love.
|The women celebrate at the closing ceremonies!|
Thanks so much to everyone. When I started this blog, I had never run more than a few miles and was years away from meeting Megan. Your support over the years has changed everything. A special thanks to Richard, Nancy, Paul, and Ellen with Team USA. Italy was an unforgettable experience, and it never would have happened without all of you.