1st overall (National Champion!) in 41:19, a 1:22 margin over USA Cross-Country Champion (and sub-4 miler) Bobby Mack. The race came with a 4-figure payout, which is about what my expected monthly salary will be next year as a public interest environmental lawyer. In preparation, I raced in 6-month old Nike shoes with about 2,000 miles on them and full-blown little toe holes. Smart financial/footwear planning for pubic interest lawyer runners.
To be serious, I want to thank the amazing people in my life. Mom, Dad, Jesse, Megan, Greg, Lauren, Karen, Dylan, Kim, Tim, and so many others--I could not have done it without you. I also should thank U.S. Government loans, the Peanut Butter Panda Puff panda, and a complete disregard for the well-being of my ankles. To paraphrase the POTUS with the mostus, I did not build this.*
*While meant as a compliment in this instance, it is an insult when used to excuse my love of country music (Megan built that), my Very Hungry Caterpillar eyebrows (Dad definitely built that), and my Type 2 diabetes (the Peanut Butter Panda Puff panda is currently building that).
For the Duke Law Class of 2013, Monday was the last first day of school. To celebrate, I mistimed my morning run, and went into a meeting with an administrator in spandex booty shorts. While formality may never be my strong suit, no authority figure will question my aerodynamics. Wind-tunnel tested! And by that I mean that on the way back to the law school, I farted while running through a tunnel.
This year is so exciting, with an active job search (Would you like fries with that? Would you like fries with that? Fries that would like you? SHIT.), Editor-in-Chief duties on a law journal (doody!), and a start-up company with a full-time lab in Research Triangle Park.
|It's definitely not a full-time meth lab!|
I am fortunate to work with amazing journal colleagues, amazing job-search helpers, and amazing business partners. Also, as you can see, I was elected the head of the Department of Superlative Redundancy Department. My internal record skipped during the interview, and I said the word "awesome" non-stop for 3 days straight. If I didn't succumb to exposure and dehydration (and, surprisingly, chafing), they would have declared me a deity.
So this is a year of transition. I have no idea where I'll be next year. The only requirements are happy trails, which leaves North Carolina, Colorado, California, or really any YMCA men's shower room. I have no idea what I'll be doing. And I have no idea who I'll be scaring when, standing on the sidewalk after a run, I spread my legs, put my hands on my hips, and thrust (it's most likely just a hip flexor stretch, I promise). As a mentor told me, trying to work in public interest law means living with uncertainty. "That can be daunting, or exciting," he told me. "It's your choice."
I guess the only things I'm certain about are the constants--the people I love [a long list that resembles a 5 year-old letter to Santa (in that it includes a reference to Justin Bieber)] and adventure. I've found that if I can distill daily life down to one uncontrollable laugh and one adventure, then everything else falls into place. For me, running is that adventure.
And this race was the culmination of those adventures. The U.S. Trail 10km National Championships was the first time I've truly targeted a race. In Colorado, as Megan and I biked up mountains, I knew the strength would help me ascend sheer rock faces. In North Carolina, I knew that the 80 minute all-out tempo runs would build mental toughness. And on the track, I knew that tons of 400 reps would prepare me for potentially vomiting on my shoes. Luckily, there were small toe holes in those shoes, so my littlest of piggies could breathe through the bile.
Yuck! Continuing down the yucky path, I grabbed my Bull City Track Club singlet the day before the race, only to find it had been lying in a bag that also included dark chocolate chips and uncapped garlic powder. While somewhat annoying at the time, the dark brown spots and Olive Garden smell would provide a convenient excuse later.
|Post-race team shot. Surprisingly, I am on the far right because of the smell, and not because I am complying with the age old adage, "Stay far away from a man in a kilt."|
The race directors (the amazing runners/people Alison and Jason Bryant) put me up in a hotel at the race site, and I arrived to the smiling faces of the amazing (there are no off days as the Head of the Department Head) Shannon Johnstone and Anthony Corriveau (the race photographers). We talked, laughed, and played Scrabble. Some of my key words included "SPRAIN," "BOWELS," and "UNDULATE." Before trail races, I have a one track mind. And digestive tract.
After a restful night's sleep and a liter of coffee with Anthony, I ambled over to the race site, feeling like a lean mean grilling machine. Or a fighting machine. Whatever.
I ran the first 3 miles of the course, formed the plan, and stripped down to my undies. Bouncing up and down at the starting line, amazing person George Linney came up and gave me a silent fist-bump. Looking into his eyes, a supreme rush of confidence coursed down my spine. I am not sure Chik-Fil-A will serve me after that sentence.
BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE.
|This will be updated with a start-line picture soon. In the meantime, an amazing picture by Anthony of Amber Moran.|
The plan formed during the warm-up was to give everyone else a choice. That choice was simple: go with the pace, and risk the race in the first half-mile, or fall off, and risk never seeing the front again.
So I went. We ran the first flat/downhill mile like a workout, dipping down into 4:20ish pace on some of the less technical sections. The final section before the first climb bombs down a steep, dry waterfall, with grades well over 20%. After a brief moment of pre-pubescent yelping caused by a false step, I hit solid ground again and worked into the first half-mile climb.
|Post-race picture with Bobby. My thought bubble is probably centered on a present desire to be a certain straw.|
There was still breathing over my shoulder. And its rhythm was even, undisturbed. The race followed the hillside, with only orange flags to mark the way. As the grade pitched further up, Bobby came by as if on a Saturday stroll. At the time, his effortless, powerful stride pissed me off. With 100 meters left to the crest of the climb, I decided to do something about it, and put the second part of the pre-race plan into effect. Now it was time to give Bobby, the best runner I've ever competed against, a choice.
So I went again. This time I went with everything I had. His 10-meter lead evaporated by the top of the hill, and I sprinted as hard as I could muster on the rolling trail. This was the race--the next 3/4 of a mile was the final fast section, and I had to get out of sight. I felt crappy, but his breath became uneven. Then I couldn't hear it anymore. He must feel crappy too. 2.75 miles in, I had a gap.
Maxed out, red-lined, and still running on pissed off fumes, I made the sharp left turn down the side of the mountain. From here on out, the trail alternated between extremely technical and completely non-existent, with a few stretches of unrunnable thrown in for good measure. By the valley floor, I had recovered enough to think logically. Bobby is one of the USA's best runners, at cross country and on the track, I cannot let him see me ever again. The big hill was coming, and staying out of sight on that hill would decide who was the national champion.
|An amazing photo by Anthony Corriveau of the women's winner, Megan Kimmel, on the big hill.|
A sharp right and that hill appeared as if out of thin air. Suddenly the trail two feet ahead seemed to be at eye level. Commit, commit, commit. The pain was a good sign, I thought. It meant he would be in pain too. It meant I wasn't selling myself short.
Cresting the climb with my hand in the mud to help pull the final few meters, I heard cowbell up ahead. Then, a voice. "Goooooooooo DAVID!" It was Kim, an amazing human being and Bull City Track Club's ace in the hole. Her voice sent empowering chills into the pit of my stomach, replacing the burning of the climb. 4 miles in, and an amazing friend changed everything.
|Kill it! KILL IT WITH FIRE.|
There were no more choices--now it was just running. 2 miles of adventure, and 2 climbs to explore the edge. On the off-camber, muddy descent, I decided to fall as many times as necessary. Even with that thought, the first stumble onto my stomach was a shock. "Fuck!" I yelled, attempting to roar but squeaking instead. I came up gripping a branch, and for some reason that connection to the ground was reassuring.
Swinging that branch back and forth, I attempted to power up the second to last climb. High-turnover, I thought. Nope, not able to do that. Powerful strides? Fail. Okay, stop thinking. And whatever you do, don't ever look back.
Another sharp right, and I was in the final treacherous, switch-backing descent. After kissing the ground 2 more times, the trail made it's final left hand turn onto the infamous "Rock Wall." Professionals rarely race this course twice, and I imagine that is because of the rock wall. The best trail runners in the country are reduced to crawling in the last half-mile of this race, and I was no different. But each time my hands hit the ground, I grabbed as hard as I could and ripped my body upward. A few hundred more feet of adventure.
One last time, there it was. The cowbell. The prescription for my fever was officially filled, and I let myself turn around one time, just 10 seconds from the finish line. I half-expected to see Bobby smiling at my presumptuousness. But he wasn't there. "The 2012 National Champion is David Roche!" That was a really catchy tune coming from the loudspeaker. My time was 41:20, a good bit ahead of past times from so many amazing runners (better runners than I consider myself, certainly).
All-in-all, it was an amazing experience. I hope for it to be the start of a string of national-level performances. But, regardless of results, it was one hell of a daily adventure.
Thanks so much for reading, and for everything else. I know it's cheezy, but I love you guys. Hope everything is...ummm....AMAZING.