Team USA Nike Sprinter’s Vest and Short Shorts! …. Thank you Nike & USATF for outfitting Team USA
James Michener published a novel in 1983 entitled Poland that I read as a young adult. The fictional tale follows a family from mid evil times through the communist regime. Although my family history in Poland is extensive, we can only trace it back to the generation of my mother’s great grandparents from a small farming village in the Southeast on the Ukraine boarder.
Race start of Marathon Karkonoski
I was incredibly honoured to be selected to Team USA
and to get a chance to run for my country in the land of my ancestors. My sister was unable to make the trip due to complications with her knee surgery but my mother flew over as planned. Everything was falling into place so my family could see me race in the mountains. I took some time off after Wales
to heal and ran lots of short, steep, fast hills in the English Lakes. A week out when I flew to Poland I felt fit, fast, and ready!
Jason making me shine for Polish TV
Due to my left piriformis muscle’s decision to not get on board with the program I advised my mother to forego the long bus ride from Krakow to Wroclaw. She isn’t a fan of my decision to run and skip medical school this year. Mom flew a red eye from the states Thursday so the chance to go directly to the farm where she was born and raised pleased her. The rest of my Polish family also decided that the dozen hour trip to watch me race was just too much given my injury. I was naturally a bit disappointed but could understand their point of view entirely when I processed their decision. Contrary to my belief sometimes the world does not revolve around Dave James’ running schedule. I am very grateful for my family’s support nonetheless. They fed, housed, and (since travel for Team USA was not funded for this WMRA Championship) transported me to & from Poland.
Team USA on stage at prerace ceremony
One great surprise was English Fell Running legend Natalie White
‘s decision to break out of her hospital bed and join me in Poland! The morning before we were to fly out together to Krakow Natalie had woken me asking me to drive her to the Hospital’s A & E (English for ER). She had really bad stomach pains so at half four (four thirty that is to those of us that speak American) I used my training as an EMT and drove on the wrong side of the road. We survived the drive on the narrow roads of the English Lake District and a few hours later Natalie was transferred from Kendal to Lancaster. She must have been impressed with my navigational abilities because she passed on a proper Ambulance and asked me to drive her again. The hospital staff would not let me start her IV but I did get to visit. Although we didn’t know at the time her condition was due to food poisoning. I left her at the hospital, took her puppy Rosa to her folks house and made my way to Poland. Natalie was released the next morning and spent a couple low key days with her parents as I golfed with my uncle in Poland and ate my aunt’s delicious pierogis.
I know, strike against me as a boyfriend.
Team USA Nike T shirts supplied by Keene, New Hampshire’s Beeze Tees
Guys, don’t leave your girlfriend in the hospital with an IV drip and leave the country to golf & run. I atoned for my sins Sunday by visiting church with my family, paying my respects at my grandfather’s grave, and drinking some Wodka and Piwo with my uncles. Monday I ran off my hangover. I spent the day reading, relaxing, pretending to understand my Babchia’s Polish, and swimming at the lake with my cousin. Tuesday I left the farm in Zolynia for my other Uncle’s house in Lancut where I again pretended to understand Polish. We walked the grounds of the famous castle, had “lody”, met a policeman who had biked across Poland in fifty something hours, and traveled to Rzeszow to watch the Tour de Pologne Bike race
finish a stage. Cyclists are nuts, but I respect their endurance. My butt could never take that time in the saddle but more power to them. I caught up with a few more cousins and got a great night of sleep at my Aunt’s apartment before I caught the bus Wednesday for Wroclaw. The bus trip was long and I was fighting a cold. My lower back was really bothering me also. We were delayed in Katowitce due to the bikers but I made it to the hotel in time to meet Natalie. I had busted my iPhone at the golf course with a perfect follow through swing of a sand iron so communication was difficult. I did manage to get dropped off in front of the hotel even with my ten word Polish vocab. Natalie had work stuff to do with crossfit at a gym so she was late also so it all sorted itself out. We met my Team USA and former INOV8 teammate Amber Reece-Young and her husband Chris in the lobby and planed on a noon departure Thursday for the mountains. Natalie and I walked around town a bit and got some food that was safe for her to eat. The air condition in our room wasn’t working so sleep was disrupted. We toured town a bit in the morning stretching our legs. Wroclaw’s mini gnomes were my favourite and while the city has history I wouldn’t recommend a visit in an early August heat wave.
Gnomes in Wroclaw
We hit some traffic on the way to the host hotel but arrived in time for the USA team meeting. Natalie took it easy and caught up with some of her former GB Team mates while I joined Team USA’s Josh and Zac for a course preview. We missed the lift down from the finish but did get to sneak into the Czech Republic and crash a Polish wedding on top of the mountain where our finish line would be.
Thursday night we dined with Team USA. Traditional Polish food and warm cherry juice went down well for me. Other nations were starting to arrive and the excitement was building. My back was tight from the run with Josh and Zac but I felt strong despite my head cold. The weather would be warm but dry.
Team USA with their Polish Kielbasa 😉
Friday we had breakfast with Team USA and met some of the new countries that arrived. Natalie and I went for a long hike after I caught up with my Team USA teammates from the 2011 IAU World Trail Championships in Ireland Allison Bryant, & Gabriel and Paula Rodriguez. Paula was in a support role but also returning from the 2013IAU World Trail Championships in Wales was our Team Manager Jason Bryant and Amy Rusecki.
“Big System” James gets his nickname
We hiked up to a tarn below the ridge line that the race would top out at twice and looped up to the Czech boarder. My back loosened and I felt good. There were some awesome rock formations and great views but it was hot out with little breeze and no shade. After our hike I attended the opening ceremonies and we had dinner. We planned to meet up after Jason’s technical meeting. Two kilometres of the course were taken out which normally would upset me but with my back issues I was happy and thought it would work to our advantage as a team in our goal to medal. Finishing fourth at Wales
had hurt bad.
Fourth place, again, ouch!
Race morning was uneventful. I ate a bunch and had lots of water and coffee. My back was tight and I was tired. Hiking for five hours the day before the World Championships was probably ill advised but Natalie was on her holiday and I knew she wanted to be outside in nature. I knew my injury would prevent me from being a factor for Team USA so we walked.
Team USA guys!
The race start was uphill for the first few kilometres but all runnable and not that steep. There were stone steps near the top but we did not run the steeper ski sloes or chair lift clearings. This clearly wasn’t a Sky Running
Race. The top of the course was a simple out and back with a huge stone path section, two moderately technical trail sections, a paved asphalt road hill which we descended first and climbed at eighteen miles, another large stone section, and more pavement at the turn around. The views were great but it was hot and there was no shade.
I ran with a Brit, Anna Lupton who would go on to finish fifth and lead her team to the bronze. I ate a banana, drank some water at the second aid station. Before the turn around I saw that Zac was in third, and that Josh, Jason, and Gabriel were close behind. I tried to compare the other countries top three and I knew we would be close to a medal if the guys could hold on. I took more fluids and food at the turn and limped back to the fourth aid station. Sesalie’s husband and son were there again to dump water on my head and encourage me. I ran down to the paved hill and decided I was going to walk it in for a bit over the last few miles so I could cheer on Team USA’s women. I knew there were no more technical sections and none of the guys ahead of me could get lost or trip on anything and get hurt. My back was hurting me bad and I had no stride. I knew if I pushed longer like I did in Wales I would just prolong my injury. The ladies passed me as I walked and I cheered them on. At the final aid station where Amber’s husband was helping with Sesalie’s son I sat down and ate and drank while they dumped water on my head. Amber had to drop with knee issues so I decided to run the last few miles to get to the finish faster to see if we had medaled and congratulate my teammates. I pushed the final climb and fell onto the rock wall. Gabriel was there and I cried when I was told we had gotten forth. My back really hurt but nothing like the realisation that my summer was essentially a failure for me with only two team fourth’s at two World Championships. Of course even one Team USA selection isn’t even something I could have dreamed up a few years back when I was a mid pack runner but now it was devastating news. I congratulated everyone and swapped my wet sweaty navy nike Team USA Singlet for a yellow South African vest with Michael Bailey
Amy bought me a beer, and we all rode the chairlift down. I cried again in front of Natalie, strike two for a macho “Big System” guy. She said what I knew already but her words were comforting. It was just a bad race. “Many a good race, many a bad race. The better you become the worst it feels when you fail, but that is all part and parcel of life, and in turn makes you a stronger person.” Natalie has been fighting injury for a few years now but she was a better runner in her prime than I will ever be.
When in Poland :)………
We found Amber at the bottom of the lift and although her knee was wrapped up she was ok. We all went back to the hotel for our meal and showers. Zac had held on for fifth overall and Josh had a great race too! Jason had overcome his injury that caused him to drop in Wales to be our third counter. After the award ceremony we went for some food and I got my sense of humour back:
Yes, I milk cows, I learned in Poland in the 1980s
Later that night Zac, Joshua, and I would tempt Natalie with our tantalising Polish Kielbasa and shoot some pool before we bid farewell to Amy who was leaving early. Jason came down after we went to bed and there might have been some dancing or drinking involved as he led Team USA to a late night victory being our first counter for latest up past bedtime.
The next morning after a big breakfast Natalie and I went in search of the waterfall. The morning was cool and crisp as it had rained in the night. A perfect day to race but doesn’t it always work that way, “what if.” I had left medical school to race and I couldn’t put together a healthy race, ironic how life is. Later that morning Natalie boarded the bus to Prague to catch her flight to England while I caught a ride with Amber and Chris to Wroclaw. I gave my finishers medal to Natalie impressed that such a classy English princess would support an injured Yankee the way she did.
Finisher’s Medal given to my girlfriend Natalie
We walked around, ate a little, and drank a couple Piwo’s before I took an all night bus to see my mom. Monday I was tired but my mom and I walked for hours. She shared the story of the generations of our family with me. I love my mom because she is honest. She didn’t tell me she was proud of me for finishing because she wasn’t. My mom grilled me on my plans to finish my medical degree, become a doctor, and start a family. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I rested, ran a bit, read, visited with my mom, and her family. My last visit to Poland was in 2006 when my Dzadzaia was buried. Before that it was a week in January 2001, before that I was just thirteen but it was for a summer. It was only two days and it was February and ice cold when we buried my grandfather on my birthday. I was a pall bearer. The funeral was close to Jen’s burial and I was an emotional wreck. Friday the hot weather broke and my mother and I toured Lancut Castle and Horse Carriage Museum.
Lody, Polish ice cream
Saturday, I woke at dawn with my uncle to go sail and camp with his friends on Lake Solina. The weekend was fun and relaxing but I have swore off Polish Wodka for life. Sunday night there was a Polka Band in the little town square and my mom, her two sister, her brother, and her two brother in laws treated me and my two little cousins to pizza! Monday morning my mother and I visited the church in Lezasjk where her parents were married. The organs are renowned in Europe. Tuesday was our last day in Poland and after another good pain free run, I feasted on Pirogies, constructed a family tree, and packed. Wednesday’s three am alarm came early. Coffee, breakfast, and a tear jerker of good byes. At four we were off for a bus to the airport. My mom and I had coffee and she snored on the bus.
Sideways Polish Kielbasa
I wasn’t sure when I began this running travel adventure when it would end but instead of calling the 2013 World Long Distance Mountain Running World Championships in Poland an end, I decided to visit Natalie in the English Lakes and just call it an intermission. Will I run again? Of course. Will I race again? Probably. Will I continue to explore? Yes. Will I still take chances with my body athletically and my heart romantically? Absolutely! Watch out Europe, I am still here :)….
And mom, will I go back to medical school and become a doctor? You bet!, if they let me 😉
White Coat Ceremony in Medical School