Back in May we had our Pan-Am Race Walk cup, this was fighting against all but 1 of the guys I would be racing with at the Pan-Am Games in July so I wanted to make an impression. The goal was to get on the Podium, but I also wanted to be quick enough to get our Canadian Olympic Standard of 1:21:55. So early in the race when no one wanted to take the pace on, I found myself at the front doing more work than I had planned. A group of 7 of us slowly dwindled down as the race progressed and with 3km to go there were 5 of us and Barrondo, Caio and a new comer Garrido broke away from me and with a 7:40 last 2km there wasn't much I could do to catch them (I closed in my fastest ever last 2km with 8:00). It was another 4th place finish (I now need both hands to tally up the number of times that has happened). Luckily my early work did just enough and I squeaked under the qualifying time walking 1:21:54!! It is such a relief to have the Olympic Standard out of the way so now all I have to do is focus on racing. Chile was a really fun experience and the host organizers did an amazing job with the resources they had.
Next up was La Coruna. This promised to be a fast race and it lived up to that promise... unfortunately not for me. By 5km I knew I was in trouble and had gone out way faster than I was in shape for going through in 20:06... I crawled home getting swept up by 20 odd people over the final 15km to finish with a 1:23:02.
From there Inaki, Ben, Gerry and myself took off to St. Moritz for 3 weeks up at altitude. Training was great, we were all clearly in great shape and killing workouts at the same paces we would have been at home at sea level. It was an exciting and confidence building 3 weeks and I knew it would set me up well for Pan-Ams in Toronto.
After St. Moritz, I had a good showing at Nationals, walking 40:28 and closing with a 7:47 last 2km to win my 5th national title in 6 years. The next weekend Inaki and I tried for another hard 10km but Hell had descended upon Edmonton and all the surrounding forrest fire smoke had come with it. It was a nightmare to breathe and both of us ended up retiring from the race early on.
From Edmonton it was off to Toronto. I stayed with my brother for the first couple of days before heading into the village. I had a couple of really good training sessions and I knew I was in good shape. Heading into the village it was just about taking it easy for the last couple days before the race. My last couple walks felt horrible, but I am now well used to feeling bad in the last day or 2 that it didn't bother me. The weekend of our race turned out to be the hottest weekend Toronto had seen in a couple of years. So that obviously played a major role but with our pro-cooling strategies I believe Inaki and I were more prepared for the heat than anyone else in the race. The race started out at a snails pace, 4:50 first KM (about the same speed my final easy training session was done at). After a couple more quicker, but still very slow, kilos I decided that I couldn't sit around and let these guys out kick me in the final 3km again. Inaki, myself and Caio took off the front and built up a small lead by 4km, by 5km I decided that I needed to commit to this break and get as far ahead as possible, so I accelerated again. By 10km I had built up an extensive lead over the main pack and in my head I kept telling myself that even if 2 of them come back to catch me, I would still get a medal! By 12km I began calculating the time it would take me to walk the last 8 and how fast they would have to walk it to catch me. In my head it still sounded doable at 12km, but by 16km I began to realize they weren't going to catch me. I ended up winning the race by over a minute and it was absolutely amazing and unexpected. Now I will steal the Facebook update I made a week after the race to sum things up:
It's been over a week since my race and I apologize for being relatively silent on here. I honestly was at a loss for words. But with a week to let things settle in and reflect a little bit I can safely say that this has been the greatest accomplishment in my life to date. The sense of fear and doubt that I had when I went off the front the of field at 4km that slowly turned to confidence as the race progressed and ended with pure jubilation when I knew a couple kilometres out that I wasn't going to be caught is a hard series of emotions to try and describe briefly. The thoughts that went through my head in those closing stages, about the support my family has given me and how hard my coach has worked, to the dedication that I have put in, to the times I thought, what if I just quit and started living a proper adult life... those last couple kilometres took a shade over 8min but was enough time to reflect on 14 years worth of training.
I never really even considered winning gold, in my head any medal would have been amazing. But to break that finishing tape in first with the overwhelming support shown by the fans in Toronto is something I will never forget.
The last week has been a whirlwind of celebration, an introduction into the media world, 7 hour days at the track cheering on my teammates and most rewardingly talking to supporters, volunteers, children and anyone who has been willing to listen about the amazingness of all of this. I've been carrying my medal around in my pocket and any time anyone has wanted a photo I've been putting the medal around their necks. The surprise they have is astounding to me, because I assume this is what everyone with a medal is doing. At the end of the day my hope is that this thing is dirty, and scratched and withered from the many hands that have gotten to touch it. And if one of those hands can be inspired to take up sport and reach for the skies, then I feel like I have fulfilled my obligation that comes with this great honour.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me in any way over the many years. I hope that this is just the first of many major medals to come! And hopefully the next one is less than a month away as I now prepare for Worlds in Beijing.
And lastly, to have Iñaki Gomez finish second, after Benjamin Thorne's inspirational silver at FISU earlier this month has given me as much joy as my own success. I sincerely believe that something incredibly special lurks in the near future for the 3 of us. Thank you guys for being such amazing teammates.