Thanks first to Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbs, Team USA Leaders and incredible people. New Balance Silicon Valley and Integrity Sports have made it possible for Megan and I to travel and race around the country, and we could not have done any of it without their awesome support. Thanks to the Environmental Law Institute, especially Co-Directors of the Ocean Program Kathryn and Jordan, who have made it possible for an attorney to love work and play. And most of all, thanks so much to Mom and Dad. You guys are the best parents in the universe, who I love this much:
Pre-Race:For a few months, my dad had been trying to get us to race the Mountain Running Championships. I think we were both hesitant though, because it was an "Up" year. What that means is SQUIRREL! /sprints off into bushes like the dog from "Up"
Wait, it actually does not mean that we watch the movie "Up," and whoever does not cry in the first 5 minutes qualifies. Instead, every year, mountain running alternates between "up" and "up/down," where up years have massive net elevation gain up a freaking mountain. Both of us thought that the VO2-max and suffering contest of pure uphill racing would be difficult for us because we have never done it before. But dad did not agree with our assessment, and after a bunch of calls, his unwavering faith and support convinced us as well.
The amazing race directors at Loon, Paul Kirsch and Chris Dunn, helped us with entries and introduced us to the race motto: "No Safe Word." Oh dear lord what did we get ourselves into?
On July 4, Megan, my parents, me, and Addie drove up from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, a big happy family that all smelled like a strange mixture of salmon and asparagus by the end of the 8 hour drive. Notably, none of us had eaten any of those foods in the last few weeks. My recommendation is that you do not travel in a small sports car with a smelly puppy if you value the olfactory impression you make.
On July 5, the day before the race, we arrived at the race site and randomly met Richard Bolt and Nancy Hobbes in the parking lot of the Loon Mountain ski resort. They are the brains and braun behind USA Mountain Ultra Trail and the Mountain Team, and we were insanely fortunate to do a course preview jog with them. Among other things, Richard gave me a lesson in power hiking. Little did I know how important that lesson would be in less than 24 hours.
|Course preview. The forecast calls for pain. Credit: USA Mountain Running Team.|
After a dinner of fudge and ice cream, Megan and I fell into a deep sleep. It was the dinner of people who run up mountains and/or 800 pound people that use a forklift to commute to the 2nd floor.
The morning of the race, we woke up, plopped Addie puppy in the car, and drove to the race site. The women's race went off at 8 AM (the men's at 9:30), and I warmed up with my girl so I'd be there for any last second requests of water or anything else. After a few sips of water, a last glance up the awe-inspiring ski slope we were about to ascend, and one last awe-inspired bathroom break, the gun sounded and the women's race began.
Race:And begin they did. Holy crap the women went out hard. I was taking pictures at 0.5 miles, which went up a gradual climb of about 100 feet, and the women rolled through at 5:30 pace. Megan was pushing the pace and the field of elite runners was strung out beside and behind her.
|Megan and Allie Mclaughlin making them suffer a half-mile into the race.|
As they scurried up the mountain, I furiously refreshed Twitter to get updates from the course. Four qualify. At 2 miles, Megan was in 5th place.
At 4 miles, with just a mile to go, she was in 5th place.
Allie Mclaughlin (who has the 2nd highest finish ever for a freshman at NCAA XC Nationals behind only Shalane Flanagan) won.
Then Twitter went dormant for 10 minutes.
I knew they had finished long before, and I was a nervous wreck. What happened? Did she make it? I truly just wanted her to be happy. Incredible ultra-runner/amazing guy Zach Miller and I kept hitting refresh, waiting to see what happened. My heart rate got to 160, and I would have given anything for a top-4 finish. Then, a new tweet notification.
She did it! Megan finished 4th. 1st was Allie, 2nd Morgan Arritola, an Olympian and World Championships medalist. Third was Kasie Enman, former World Champion. Then Megan. First mountain running race, first uphill race, first National Championship race. And first time on Team USA :)
|Digging deep up a 25% grade, chased by Olympians. Megan is TOUGH. Credit: SNAPacidotic.|
3000 feet below, I jumped up and down and hugged everyone who was around. Dad = hug. Addie = hug. Mom = hug. Zach = hug. I have never been happier, seriously. I was so proud, so so shocked that I almost started crying 20 minutes before my race started. To qualify, Megan beat the amazing Megan Lund-Lizotte (Worlds member and Sierre-Zinal winner), Juliane Masciana (sub-10 3k steepler!), Nuta Olaru (Olympian!), Magda Lewy-Boulet (incredible person and 15:15 5k'er), Kerri Lyons (former US Trail Marathon Champ), Maria Dalzot (Worlds team member), Shannon Payne (one of the best runners in the country and Mt. Washington winner), CA friend/amazing runner Yiou Wang, and countless other awesome women.
But shit, it was 15 minutes before my race and I had to get ready to go. With no time for another warm-up jog, I did a few sprints and found myself at the start line as the National Anthem played, surrounded by some of the best runners in the country. 3 minutes before the start, at 9:27, I did one last stride, turned around, and saw her. Megan sprinted to me and jumped in my arms. She gave me a kiss and said she had taken the gondola down as soon as the race finished. She wanted to see me and make sure I had everything I needed.
So when the gun sounded 2 minutes later, I was powered by love and endorphins. Which was a good thing, because a huge pack of us went out at 4:30 pace. It was physical and intense, with so many elbows thrown on the opening switchbacks that I was sure everyone was listening to Ludacris as pre-race pump-up music. After throwin them 'bows for the first uphill kilometer, the course angled down for a few hundred yards and the pack sorted out at 4:10 pace. After seeing Megan and spreading my arms, I moved into third as the next climb began. After another uphill kilometer, the race turned into the men's only section, a swampy bog with rocks, some rolling trail, and lots of mud. In other words, my happy place.
|Fighting for the summit later in the race. Credit: US Mountain Running Team.|
The race round through the woods for the next mile and a half, with gaps growing as the leaders were running sub-6 minute pace up the gradual climb. Patrick Smyth (XTERRA World Champion, 1:02 half marathoner) and Joe Gray (too many accomplishments to count--one of the best trail and cross country runners in US history) began to pull away, followed by me (generally lame dude, cool puppy though), Josh Eberly (2:14 marathon, nearly undefeated on trails), Zach Miller (Lake Sonoma 50 and JFK 50 winner), and a slew of incredible runners who would make their presence known shortly.
Emerging from the woods at mile 4 (back onto the same course ran by the women), speckled with mud, the real climbing was about to begin. Josh and I worked together over rutted-out Jeep roads to maintain a little gap before the biggest climb of the day. At mile 4.2, it began on a 30% ski-slope, and it would end 1.3 miles and 1300 vertical feet later.
And to put it bluntly, I sucked. The climb was tough, sure, and the competition stiff, but I relaxed and became complacent. First Josh pulled away, then Zach came by, then Eric Blake (amazing international runner, too many accomplishments to list), Ryan Bak (2:14 marathoner and trail beast), and finally Andrew Benford (top steepler with a crazy, too-fast-to-comprehend PR). I was in 8th with less than a mile to run, and coming up on my tail was an elite chase pack including Nate Jenkins (13:something 5k'er and 2:14 marathoner), Tommy Manning (trail legend and Worlds member), Josh Ferenc (top international runner), Ryan Woods (multiple time La Sportiva Cup winner), Zachary Ornelas (the future of mountain running), Tim Parr (multiple time Leadville and Pikes Peak Ascent winner), and countless others.
On the half-mile descent to the last climb, I was just happy to not be going straight up. Fueled by that happiness mixed with contempt for my performance on the nasty climb, I went. All out. Fuck it, time to go.
I ran the next kilometer at 4:15/mile pace, catching and passing Ryan Bak and coming up on Andrew. Turning the corner to the next climb, we were only a half mile from the finish. That half mile would average 37%. The race for the US Mountain Running Team would be decided on a trail-less black diamond ski slope...the infamous Upper Walking Boss.
|Improvising switchbacks on UWB the day before during the course preview. Credit: US Mountain Running Team|
At that grade, there really is no way to prepare or strategize. Just push and fight, hand-over-fist if necessary. Almost immediately, I slowed to the power-hike that Richard taught me, hands on knees or even grasping at the dirt. Then, every 10 meters or so, I would do a short sprint. Then power hike. Then sprint. At 40%, my hikes were about as fast as Andrew's run, and my sprints ate into his lead. Moving up the hill, I passed him and moved into 6th place, and I would be joining Megan on Team USA if I could just get a few hundred more yards to the finish. Just then, I heard a siren song from the top of the mountain:
"THIS IS FOR AN ITALIAN HONEYMOON! DIG DEEP DAVID!"
It was US Team Leader Nancy Hobbes, the amazing woman who showed us the course and who has spearheaded trail and mountain running worldwide. Gosh, with that motivation I can push a few hundred more yards.
A minute later, fifty some odd minutes after Megan gave me a kiss 3000 feet below, I finished to the booming announcement: "David Roche will be wearing red, white, and blue in Italy!" My ears were popping from the elevation gain, but that was still a sound I will always remember.
|With superwoman Nancy after the finish.|
I rushed down the mountain on the gondola to see Megan, and she sprinted up to me.
"How did it go???" she asked. Apparently she had been furiously refreshing Twitter, and it hadn't updated yet. The symmetry of it made me smile bigger than I ever had.
"Honeymoon in Italy?" I asked.
And we kissed.
|The All Americans! Worlds Team members are mostly on the right.|
Thanks to everyone, especially Sam, Caitlin, Magda, Joe, Kerri, Megan, Kyle, and all the other racers. And thanks to you guys. I seriously owe you everything--you have supported me since I was an ex-football player who couldn't break 20 in a 5k, let alone beat 13 minute 5k'ers to qualify for the World Championships. You all are amazing :)
Check out the GPS and follow me on Strava here: http://www.strava.com/athletes/1733803
Check out my coaching (and send me an email if interested!) here: http://someworkallplay.blogspot.com/