Fuel for the Fire

By Ben Payne

They say, “Any publicity is good publicity.”  Well it’s now July 6, two days after the Peachtree 10k and I’m still getting my fair share of publicity—most of it not too encouraging!  I never saw any of this coming after being on the losing end of a photo finish at the end of 6.2 miles on the hilly, rainy streets of Atlanta.  I was shocked yesterday when a friend first showed me an unexpected USA Today headline: Runner Loses Peachtree 10k After Celebrating Too Early.  I quickly realized that I was feeling my first experience of getting thrown under the bus by the media.  I started receiving dozens of texts and calls from friends around the world saying they were seeing me on SportsCenter, NBC Nightly News, CNN, & local newspapers across the country (and in turn, I also quickly stopped reading the news and seeing people’s critical comments!).

I’ll be honest: this one stings a lot. Starting with the hour-long wait for official results after the photo finish all the way to the next day getting on the plane to leave Atlanta for Denver, it was a constant roller coaster of emotions for me.  One minute I felt humbled & embarrassed to get so close to a big win and just give it away…and the next minute I was proud & thrilled to have competed so well to take 2nd place in a near PR (thanks to my girlfriend and friends for their patience and understanding during my instability!).

It was my first time sporting the USMES red, white, & blue singlet in a race—an appropriate patriotic (and snazzy) uniform to represent USA on 4th of July for the world’s largest 10k.  I was the first alternate on the list to run with Team USA in the Peachtree Cup but the original three men on the roster were able to compete as planned—so I was just as excited to go for the W in the Open race instead.

It’s always fun to be part of a big lead pack and see it slowly shrink to only the strongest runners in the last mile or so.  We went from about eight guys down to three from the start to about 5 miles.  Then it was only me and one guy together after the last left turn inside the last mile.  I put in a quick surge and felt like I had dropped him for good with about 400m to go…and then for whatever reason I got comfortable and let my guard down—and simultaneously, the eventual winner put in a monster surprise kick and unexpectedly caught me right at the tape.  Despite this shocking surprise, I was still confident that I held him off enough to still come out ahead.  Unfortunately, the finish line video showed otherwise as I lost by 0.09 seconds, running 29:31—my fastest 10k in over 10 years (my college PR was 29:25 on the track in 2004).

As for my so-called “celebration”:  pointing my finger to the sky is a normal part of my finish line routine—regardless of whether I’m finishing in 1st place or 91st place.  It’s my way of giving thanks to God for getting me to the finish line.

All in all, my coach & I were happy that I was able to execute a near perfect race in such a talented and competitive field.  I just wish I could get the last 10 seconds back.

I’m relatively new to the front of the pack of elite road racing. So it’s normal to make some mistakes along the “Road to Rio 2016″—and these are priceless lessons to learn while the cost is relatively low so that I’ll be ready to go when it counts.

My last two races have been tight, fast, intense finishes and have taught me extremely valuable lessons that I have no doubt will pay dividends in bigger championship races to come. So while the initial sting is painful–the long term lesson is worth it.

In summary, some takeaways that you can learn from this experience right along with me:

  1. “Run through the damn line!” ~Coach Juli Benson
  2. Never never never get comfortable!  Thankfully there wasn’t a championship title or record on the line.
  3. Disappointment is inevitable; discouragement is a choice.  Sure it’s disappointing to give away a win, but I can use this as fuel for the fire.
  4. “​Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1)  This healthy dose of correction might pay huge dividends down the road.
  5. “A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.” ~Louie Zamperini