Strava Track Club members are engaged in a wide variety of vocational and other pursuits in addition to their running. Find out more about our team in our new weekly feature, Meet the Team. This week's athlete spends his days working in marketing for personal investment start-up FutureAdvisor, and his weekends on the roads with his wife Maggie and baby son, who do things like set world records in the stroller 10K. With a multi-sport background, Sam is a regular in our team squads on the road and cross country course, and in this week's MTT entry, recounts his most memorable race. Follow Sam, Maggie, and Bear on Strava!
My most memorable race.
It was 2003, and I had just graduated from college at the University of Chicago.
Struggling with recurring stress fractures, I had spent hundred and hundreds of hours riding a bike instead of running as I tried to save my college running career. It didn't work: I ended up as a pretty good cyclist -- with less than 5 running races in college. The summer after graduation, I was itching to run competitively again.
Then I discovered this thing called Duathlon. Run, Bike, Run--right up my alley.
And the Elite Nationals were only a couple hours away in Ohio. I signed up, and took the solo road trip to King's Island for the race. Race morning: I showed up and there were 5 guys in the Elite division. The race (10K run, 40k bike, 5k run--Draft Legal) was a learning experience. Racing that hard for 2 hours hurt, a ton, and the drafting opportunities were basically nonexistent against a field that small. After I finished 4th, I found out I'd qualified for an all expense paid trip to the World Championships in Geel, Belgium. Your tax dollars at work.
A bunch of the elites who had qualified for the race pooled our money and rented this house in a little vacation community in Geel. It was more like a summer camp right out of a Griswold's European Vacation--same time period, too. Two days before the race, we went in to register and collect our packets. There was a TV crew there. They interviewed me as a representative from the "USA Contingent".
That evening a couple of us drove to a restaurant someone had recommended. Little did we know it was about an hour and 15 minutes away...
The food was amazing, but it was served at a rural Belgian speed and by the time we headed back, it was quite late. In the middle of nowhere, the car engine seized. After a bit of cursing and confusion, we went looking for a phone to call Avis and get rescued.
It was cold and dark, but there was a farmhouse in the distance. We walked half a mile to its lit windows and knocked. A middle aged man answered. After trying to explain our situation in English and getting a blank stare, I tried again in high school French. Still nothing. He held up a finger and shut the door. At this point we were worried. A minute later his teenaged son opens the door and says "Hey, What's up?"
He let us use the phone and we were told it would be 2 hours before they could come get us and tow the car. The family invited us in to stay warm. It was exactly what I imagined a Belgian Farmhouse would look like. A roaring fire, the family sitting around watching the evening news. The father insisted that we drink Duvels with him until the tow truck shows up. As soon as I get a sip of my beer, I'm on the news--with Flemish subtitles. The family looks at me, looks at the TV, looks back at me. This was my moment in the sun...
The next day, the race began, and it was like nothing I'd ever experienced.
The field was big. Duathlon in Belgium is a hugely popular sport. Benny Vansteelant was a national hero. The race had Tour De France style helicopter coverage and is being broadcast live nationwide. On race morning, it was drizzling and the opening 10k went out at a blistering pace on slippery cobblestones. I hit the first kilometer at 2:57 and was in second to last in a field of nearly 100.
Most of my race effort went into not getting lapped by the leaders. If you were lapped, you got pulled from the race. I could tell they were close when the helicopter started coming up behind me on the bike. I was less than 100m ahead of the lead pack when they finished the bike segment (and I still had a lap to go). I was able to finish the race right before the completion of the awards ceremony. 2nd to last official finisher--to call it humbling would be an understatement.
After the race we went back to the house to find a group of German teenagers playing drinking games. They insisted that we join the Beer Olympics as their first foreign competitors. Displaying an impressive command of American geography and alcohol, they named me Anheuser Busch, since I had grown up in St. Louis. My teammate from Nashville was dubbed Jack Daniels. We chugged bad beers, army crawled in the sand, chugged more beer and dove in a freezing cold lake. A fitting end to my most memorable race.