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rabbitELITE Sam Skeels recaps his USATF 50K National Championship Win

USATF 50k National Championships at Hecksher:  Not your typical race report.

Things were going well. I connected with Greg on Sunday, as we always do, to review and plan for the upcoming week.  Greg was in an amazing place in life.  He and his fiance, Stephanie, had just booked their wedding, and he recently started a new position as a peer mentor and coach at Community Mental Health.  This position was something he had worked extremely hard for, and in the process overcame some major struggles, all the while being a champion and advocate to eRace the stigma of Mental Health.  As a result of the career change, his training schedule changed.  Mondays became his long run day in the build toward this Spring's Glass City Marathon, and what I was 100% certain would be the realization of a lifelong goal to qualify for the Boston marathon at age 48.  

I received a call from a friend that Greg had been hit by a car while out on his long run, and learned he was being transported to a level 1 trauma center for treatment.  The initial report was that the injuries, though serious, would be just setbacks to a full recovery to health.  Over the next couple of days, the reports and his condition declined.  I went to see him on Wednesday, and upon arrival, found out my visit would be a final goodbye to my athlete and friend.  A few days later, Greg passed away, but not before enabling and helping others through the organ donation process.

Never in my life have I felt so unmotivated to run.  The guilt I felt from the loss of my friend while out on training runs I prescribed for myself was brutal.  The hurt for Greg's family and loved ones who were losing someone who had come so far, and was doing so much for the world, was gutting.  I canceled reservations for the trip to my race.  I kept running because I needed it, and needed the connection to the friends and family I run with, but it felt awful, and the thought of racing or doing any of the final training for my race felt daunting and insurmountable.  The next weekend was the memorial to celebrate Greg's life.  During the memorial, and as I've mentioned to friends and on social media, I received a "God Wink" that I needed to go race and give my best to honor my friend. A couple days later, less than a week from the race, we rebooked the trip  

What a day Sunday, February 27th turned out to be at Heckscher State Park on Long Island in New York!  I'd had nightmares about the wind we faced at the 2020 edition of the race and thought there was no way the conditions could be worse.  Low and behold, Mother Nature had colder weather, and by far the windiest conditions I've ever been lucky enough to race in.  Full disclosure, by the time the race began, I upped my goals, setting out to win the 50k Masters National Championship.  The race started off “HOT."  The elite youngsters took off.  To my surprise, after the first couple of miles the chase pack, including me, was made up of two other masters runners, and I quickly realized there would be no easy road to the Master's Championship.  Very soon the pack became three, and I ran somewhere higher up in the top 10 with my new friends Summer Jones and Aaron Heath.  We had a great time running along together. Aaron is a young Boston College student preparing for the Boston Marathon, and Summer, a seasoned Master's runner, was running races faster at age 47 than ever before!  Around mile 15, Aaron took a restroom break, while Summer and I pressed on.  I got excited, thinking I may have shook him, but I was also not willing to push things so early in the race.  Toward the end of the 5k loop, Aaron had caught back up, threw in some surges, and created some serious doubt in my mind about how much I wanted to suffer in order to win.  

During loop 6 of 10, Summer and I found we had created a gap on Aaron.  He's a big, tall kid, so I asked if he wanted to work together in the wind.  He was pushing me, and the effort was more than I wanted, but I knew now would be a good time to surge and see if the gap grew on Aaron.  I was now fully ready for whatever hurt and suffering was necessary to win.  For the next three laps, Aaron and I worked off each other (he did the majority of the work, if I'm honest) and the lead over Aaron had grown to almost a mile.  I wanted to stay with Summer over the final two laps, but we saw 4th place running in front of us, great friend Jeff Zenger.  Summer must have smelled blood, and took off, as I just tried to keep hamstring cramps at bay and not blow up.  The final two laps were uneventful, I did what I needed to do to secure the Master's Championship, and felt satisfied that my overarching goal of honoring Greg had been accomplished!  

Many thanks to:

  • My wife Sally and daughter Sophy for coming along and for all the support.  

  • The Greater Long Island Running Club and USATF for a 1st class race experience.

  • Aaron, Summer, and all the other competitors, especially my man Ron Joseph who’d also taken the time to be a Black History Month speaker at my school a couple days before, and fellow educator Rajpaul Pannu (I love seeing educators out there kicking butt for kids in the classroom while managing elite level running). 

  • 361usa, rabbit, and Squirrels Nut Butter for great shoes, awesome threads, and no chafing!  


Finally, thank you to Greg Adams for a life well lived, for caring and advocacy for mental health awareness, and for establishing and directing the eRace Stigma 5k for mental health awareness years ago.  Your legacy will live on!   

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