I'm sitting in a hotel-room, alone on my 26th birthday, left with a sour taste in my mouth. Bewildered about the events that took place today, I can't help but want to share with my fellow runners the experience I had at the USA 10k Road Championships hosted by the AJC Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta Georgia. For those of you not familiar with the running world, I hope that I might enlighten you in the world of post collegiate distance running.
5 of the last 6 years, I have run a road race on my birthday. Fortunately for me, my birthday lands on Independence Day and I always have a plethora of races to choose from. Usually, I participate in a local road race near home so that I may be close to family as most of the year I am away from home. This year was different though, I opted to not renew my contact as a cross country coach and moved back home to California to pursue my dream of competitive distance running. In honor of that decision, I elected to run what is touted as the world's largest 10k road race. Any distance runner will tell you, the big competitions are where you go to get pulled by the best in hopes to run your fastest. I emailed the appropriate individual to be admitted into the USA Championship portion of the race. I received a speedy response and was accepted into the competition as a "Super Seeded" athlete.
Since I wanted to run my best at the USA Championships, my training was tailored specifically to peak for this race. So for months I trained, putting in more miles per week than I ever have at any other point of my running career. I participated in other road races to get sharp and race ready. After saving up my money and planning everything months in advance (training, races, hotel reservation, flights), the trip had come and it was time to celibate my birthday and my passion.
The race was scheduled for Friday morning. A flight from California to Georgia, as you can imagine, takes all day. So, I planned accordingly and had flights and reservations for Wednesday despite the extra costs of staying longer to do so. It was my birthday and I was running the USA Championships, it was well worth the expense.
As I mentioned before, I had a Super Seed Race entry. This meant that: I would start in the fastest corral, have access to the warm-up area, have my bag delivered to the finish, have access to the post race athlete hospitality, and a ride back to the starting line. This was a pleasant surprise for being what I would best describe myself as a "tweener," not a top tier elite athlete nor a recreational athlete but in between.
Race day had arrived! I woke up at 5 am in the morning, making my oatmeal from a paper cup of warm water and eating my typical race foods. I left at 5:30 am for my 1.5 mile walk to the starting area. I found the elite warm-up area and placed my items down. The warm-up area was your typical fenced off space with port-a-johns and free water, in other words, the perfect place to warm up for a championship. I went for my jog, did my drills, placed my items in the van and headed off for the starting line with the other elite runners.
When the group arrived near the start, we witnessed all the women for the Women's USA 10k Championship lined up on line ready to race. They had a 7:16 am race start and the race went off without a hitch. The event officials then brought us onto the starting line and as typical for any distance race, we all dash off down the road to do our strides before the start. Then they call us to the line.
If you'd never been to a major road race of any sort or don't know who a professional runner is, you would clearly be able to point out the top runners of the race. These runners typically have their names on their bib. Me and several other of my cohorts have traditional numbers; and like any other race we get placed behind those with names on their bibs. Then mere minutes before the 7:29 gun, to my disbelief and all those wearing a regular number, we are given a piece of information.
"If you are are a non invited athlete, you will start one minute after the start of the invitational section." Ummm, what? I have never heard that in a road race, let alone a USA CHAMPIONSHIP. A runner shouted out in anger,
"We are invited! We are all on the status of entries for the championship." The debate ensued and the runner plead his case. This individual in charge (not the same individual who set up the entries), who I will not name nor will mention his title, held is ground. More and more runners, expressed their frustration. The young man who spoke out earlier yet again expressed his frustration, "We are all here to race the championship, we were all told we would be starting at 7:29!" To which the man replied,
"Were you an invited athlete? Maybe if you were faster you would be." I stood there in shock, as well as many other of my fellow runners (I was even more in shock to find out this young man pleading his case was a 13:40 5k runner). We decided that we would go off the gun regardless of what we were told. To this the gentleman replied, "You go off with the first race, you will be disqualified." So the first gun went off, we waited who knows how long, and then our gun went off and we ran our race.
I am not going to say I would have been in the running for prize money, because I most likely wouldn't have, but others runners would have and even nearly passed "invited" athletes in the back of the front race. Nor will I say that had we been with the faster group I would have run faster. You can't play the "what if" game with running, the results tell the story. At the time of this letter, the results were wrong, my time (after informing them I was not in the results) is wrong, and what happened to us 30 or so runners was wrong.
I chose to dedicate a significant portion of a year of my life for this race. I chose to spend my own hard earned money on this event. I am not by any means a professional runner, nor am I a part of a major track or distance club: I pay my own way, my coaches take time away from their lives to coach and help me for free, I travel to races on my own, I train on my own, and people sacrifice the little that they have to help me chase a dream. Today, I received a flood of phone calls not only because of my 26th birthday but because so many people knew what today meant for me.
At the current total for this trip, I have spent $806.40 to race the USA Championships...And technically, I and a bunch of others didn't even get to run. Check the photo down below, our names are all on the list "Unnamed Sir." I don't know how this could of happen, let alone at a USA Championship. What I do know, is that the race that I ran, I gave my best despite of the circumstances.
I would like to end by thanking all the USATF members, volunteers, race organizers, and people helping out for the race. You should not be blamed for the SNAFU that occurred at the start. It was by far one of the most amazing races I have ever been apart of. You guys made me feel like an Olympian for my 26th birthday.
See the whole story from my trip here: https://www.facebook.com/JoeyNunesRunning/posts/807004125984502