It's rare when a runner describes his latest effort as "one of the best races of my life,' but that is the way Tommy Manning talks about his run at the World Mountain Running Championships last week in Kamnik, Slovenia. Manning, a high school teacher at Fountain Valley School in Fountain, placed 18th at worlds. He was the third of the six-member U.S. team to finish. The Americans won the silver medal. Eritrea won the gold, Italy the bronze. We caught up with Manning this week.
(photos by Nancy Hobbs)
It must have been a thrill running so close to the front. Can you describe the feeling and tell us what you were thinking as you closed in on the finish line?
Actually I wasn't close to the front. The race started on a fairly flat road for the first 1km and I started very conservatively. I must have been in about 100th place 1km into the race. We started going uphill then and I just passed and passed and passed. I knew it was going to be a close race between the U.S. and Italy and about 5km in I was catching a pack of about six runners, including two Italians. I caught one quickly and about 2km later, I finally passed the second Italian (former World Champion Marco DeGasperi). He caught and passed me around 10km and I tried really hard to catch him again in the last 2km. I didn't, but running the last 2km I had a couple thoughts: 1) I was running one of the best races of my life and couldn't really believe I was finishing the World Championships in 18th place. 2) I couldn't wait for it to be over because I was completely exhausted. I swear from 10km to 11km seemed like the longest kilometer of my life. 3) I was wondering how the U.S. team was doing. Knowing I was our No. 3man, I was pretty sure we were have a strong race as a team.
The Pikes Peak Ascent didn't work out like you had planned. Did that motivate you for the World Championships?
After finishing second in the Pikes Peak Ascent last year, I set my goals high this year. So running off course at the Ascent was devastating. I was having a great day and am positive I would have finished in the top 5. I passed through Barr Camp on a good pace and think I would have finished in the 2:14 - 2:15 range this year. After taking the wrong turn, I finished 15th in 2:31 this year. I definitely used that experience as motivation for Worlds. My attitude was basically "Pike's Peak means nothing if I do well at worlds." I trained really hard for a week after Pike's and was very motivated to run on tired legs. Then I tapered for a week before the World Championships. I was confident my training over the summer was solid and trusted that I had prepared myself to run well in Slovenia.
Can you tell us about a moment in the race - or maybe before the race - when you knew things were going right?
It definitely wasn't before the race. My goal was to finish in the top 25, but didn't know my competition. I also thought I could run a good race and finish 60th. The moment must have been about 10km in when some fan yelled I was in 18th place. I was like "No way" and couldn't believe it. I thought I was in 40th-ish (I started way in the back) so I got an amazing surge of adrenaline knowing I was in the top 20. My motivation changed at that point and I just wanted to hammer in to the finish as hard as I could simply trying to keep my top-20 position.
Looking back at your world's experience, what stands out, or what will you always remember?
Outside of the race, I will always remember the Opening Ceremonies Parade. It was so cool to be in the parade instead of watching it. All of my U.S. teammates and I were walking down the street, in our USA warm-ups, with all of the other countries (in alphabetical order). We even had a little Slovenian girl holding a United States sign and walking just in front of us. We were carrying a U.S. flag and I really felt like we were entering the Olympics. It was cool. You walk down the street like that and you're overwhelmed with pride and patriotism.
You've come a long way in mountain running for a guy who got into it three years ago, what's next for you, short-term and long-range goals?
Well now that I've run some solid races, I have a lot more confidence in the mountain running scene. I really don't know what's next. Part of me wants to run the U.S. Championships again and try to make another U.S. team. I definitely want to run Pike's Peak again - I have some unfinished business there. And part of me is thinking about spending some time in Europe and racing mountain races there. The mountain running scene in Europe is much more intense and competitive than it is here in the states. I think I can compete with the best in the world now, so why not go over there and test my mettle against the best? I am definitely going to look at bigger, more prestigious races in the states, too.
Race story by Nancy Hobbs, American Trail Running Association Execu...