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World Champs VK Race Recap- The B Goal FTW

My therapist told me that writing about my experience at Worlds might help me to process things a bit better and to work through the come down from the dopamine high (which feels a bit like a withdrawal). This is apparently really common in athletes, and others experiencing big life events, and something I would love to write about in the future. Anyways, here goes...

Suffering at World Champs Vertical Kilometer race
(photo credit Mike McMonagle)

World Championships Vertical Race Recap

My "B" goal for both of my races at Worlds was to podium. The "A" goal for both races was to win. I've talked a lot about my "ABC" goal setting system and have even included it in the 2023 edition of my Training Log + Planner. Basically, the goal setting structure works like this:

  • "A" Goal- You are having a great day, the weather is good, body feels good, training went well leading up to the race. This is your 'shoot for the stars' goal.

  • "B" Goal- You are having an average day, but for whatever reason it may not be the best. This goal is a step down from shooting from the stars but still something you can latch on to to challenge and motivate you in the race when things get hard.

  • "C" Goal- This goal is for when sh*t hits the fan. If everything seems to be going wrong, this is a goal that you can think about working towards in a race so that it doesn't feel like a total loss or failure. Usually for me this goal is something simple like "have fun" or "remember to kick".

On the day of the World Champs VK, my "B" goal was what kept me engaged in the race when I wasn't feeling very good. The start was a bit tricky and I was about 4 rows back from the line. There was a lot of shoving and tripping which made me run harder from the gun than I wanted to. The race just happened to fall 7 days out from my period which lately has been the day when I feel like I struggle to breathe. I knew this going into the race but I was hoping for a miracle and that maybe it wouldn't happen this time. It became clear very quickly that there was not going to be a miracle that day, but instead of panicking I told myself to just buckle up and get ready for a bumpy ride.

I put myself in the top 5 by the time we hit the singletrack because I knew that if I wasn't going to win then I was going to fight like hell for a spot on the podium. The two Kenyan ladies that I ran most of the race with were not going to make that an easy task. About mid-way through the race I realized that VKs are actually not that much fun (lol). Then and there I decided I was not an uphill specialist. But I still had the hardest part of the race still to run, so uphill specialist or not, I wanted a damn medal.

Power hiking in the alps- World Champs VK race
(Photo credit Mike McMonagle)

I had hoped to be able to use my speed to run the traverse section of the course quickly to make up some ground, but by the time I got there I felt like I was just running through mud with lead anvils for legs. At this point I was in 3rd place with a little gap on fourth place but I knew that a lot could happen in the upcoming final 800m of the race. The last part of the race featured a grassy slope at a 40% grade. The crowd roared as rounded the corner and started the final climb. I looked up and it felt like the finish was impossibly far away and so far above my head vertically that it was in the clouds. This was going to hurt like a bitch. With 4th place way too close for comfort, I started to slowly empty out all of the rest of my energy (both mental and physical) that I had left in the tank. Thank god the crowds were there to cheer us on and keep us going. If i had been on the mountain by myself in that moment, I surely would have stopped for a breather and for a release from the pain. Seeing familiar faces from Team USA teammates in the crowd kept my legs moving forward and gave me something positive to focus on.

After what felt like an eternity (although it was probably only 5-6 minutes) I reached the finish line. I somehow remembered to do airplane arms across the finish and could only take a few more steps before my legs finally gave way and I had to sit down. But "airplane arms or you're doing it wrong" amirite?

Although I did not win this race as had been my "A" goal, AND this was my worst finish ever in a trail race (3rd), its a race that I am very proud of. I am proud of being on the podium and showing that the U.S. can compete with the best uphill runners in the world and I am even more proud of my effort on the day. I got every ounce out of myself that day given some less than ideal circumstances. Having the "B" goal to pivot to when it was clear that I wasn't going to hit my "A" goal helped me to refocus on something to keep fighting for. Had I not had a "B" goal that day, my mind may have won over and eased up into letting me think that top 5, or even top 10, was good enough. But instead of wallowing about not winning I shifted my mindset to what I could do which was fight for a medal.

Airplane arms at the finish line of the World Champs VK race
(Photo credit Roast Media)

So next time you find yourself not having the perfect day that you dreamed of, I hope you can pivot to your "B" goal to keep you motivated to keep fighting all the way to the finish line. Being flexible (and honest with yourself) is not a sign of weakness, it's a show of strength and wisdom.

Oh, and 10/10 would wear the speedsuit again!


Grayson Murphy, decidedly NOT an uphill specialist

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