September 4, 2012

How I got my start in running - Part 2

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about how I got my "start" in running (check out Part 1). It ended up getting pretty long so I decided to split it into multiple parts... here's Part 2:

After my junior year of high school I was "all-in" with running. Over the summer I made the decision to tell my basketball coach that I wasn't planning to play anymore, and I began training more seriously for the first time. I also started to read every book about the sport that I could get my hands on. Running with the Buffaloes opened my eyes to a whole new level of what hard work really was.

The first order of business that summer was qualifying for the Empire State Games (sort of the New York State scholastic summer olympics). I decided to try out for the 10,000m despite the fact that I don't think I had ever even gone for a singlerun longer than 6-7 miles in my life at that point. Long story short - I made the team for the Adirondack Region, and at the ESG I won the 10K.

I went into my senior year of cross country as a man on a mission - I wanted to be the best XC runner in the state. The year started off awesome - I broke course records in my first 3 meets, but then my performances started to slip off. In hindsight, I lost a little too much weight and my strength decreased. Mentally, once I lost my "edge" I couldn't get it back. Going into the Class A Sectional Championships as one of the 3-4 favorites in the race, I completely fell apart and ended up finishing in 26th place. It was ugly and a rough way to end the year.

August 2001 w/ Bill Rodgers before the Old Chatham 5K

2001 Amsterdam XC team
With my sister, Jenna, after the Big 10 Championships
The start of the 2001 Sectional Meet - the worst I've ever fallen apart during a race
My high school didn't have an indoor track program, so I was on my own to train through the winter and prepare myself for the outdoor season. A lot of people probably wrote me off after my implosion at the XC sectionals, but I made my goal for that spring even bigger than before: win sectionals in the 1600m and 3200m. Over that winter my parents and sister started to get more involved in running and racing, which was really fun. My parents and I ran a marathon relay together and won the mixed division. Of all the old newspaper clippings I have, this one below is my favorite:

The spring of 2002 was one to remember. I shattered the school records in the 1600m and 3200m, running 4:17 and 9:16. I won the sectionals and qualified for the state championships in both events, achieving the very lofty goal that I had set for myself. The "believe in your training" philosophy became my go-to mantra.

2002 Niskayuna Invitational - the first time I ran 4:17 for the 1600m

After high school, I went to Colgate University with dreams of being a star college runner. Things didn't quite turn out the way I had hoped. I had a couple so-so years of XC and a few decent track times, but didn't run up to anyone's expectations - especially considering the tremendous upside I had (running 4:17/9:16 in high school). I was hurt a lot, became frustrated with the sport, and during my junior year I didn't want to compete w/ the team anymore. I focused on my academics, ran for fun/fitness, but my college racing days were over before I accomplished anything of significance. Mentally, I was not anywhere nearly as strong as I am now - and that was a very big part of my lack of success.

Freshman Year, Cross Country team
NCAA XC Regionals - Boston, 2003
(Don't ask about the hair!)
While I was living in Maryland/Delaware/Washington DC from 2006-2008 after graduating from Colgate, I sporadically competed in road races - running some decent but unspectacular times - 15:39 for 5K, 26:02 for 8K, 52:22 for 15K, and 1:12:28 for the half-marathon. I kept trying to train for a marathon but always got myself injured... part of it was stupid training, part of it bad luck. At best, my running and racing was extremely sporadic during these years.

During the summer of 2008 I started to get my old track legs back - racing in open meets in Washington DC. I was running some quick times (4:20ish miles, low 9:20s in the 2-mile), but then wouldn't race again until 2011... a 2.5 year break from competition. Somehow, despite never intending for it to happen, I came out of this "hiatus" as a completely different runner - strong, resilient to injuries, mentally tougher - and would start running faster than I ever imagined I was capable of.

I'll save Part 3 - how I got re-invested in racing - for another post, the last in this series. I'll try to get it posted by next week.

DC Summer track meets, August 2008


  1. Really enjoying this Jake! Wow so cool all of the news articles that were written about you. That had to have been a huge boost of confidence for a 16-18 year old. I love it!

    It took me a minute to find you in that last picture with all of the hair. :)

  2. Awesome story, I love all the documentation you've held on to. I was at the Old Chatham 5k that year, came home from college to run it with my HS team. All I remember is that it was an out and back and that Bill Rodgers blew by me about 1/2 to the turnaround like I wasn't moving despite trying to stay with him

    1. I remember that race quite well - it was pretty much all downhill until the turnaround, then straight back up! Not an easy one by any means. I beat Bill Rodgers but got smoked by Josh McDougal.