Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reinvigorated Torres ready to return to running

By Joe Battaglia, Universal Sports

On of the unforgettable images of the 2009 ING New York City Marathon was that of Jorge Torres, standing by the finish line, grinning from ear to ear with an American flag draped over his shoulders following a seventh-place finish in 2:13:00 in his debut.

But behind that elation was a man hurting deeply.

Just 13 weeks before the race, his mother and longtime coach Greg Fedyski were involved in a horrific car crash driving home from Torres' wedding. His mother wound up hospitalized with skull fractures. Fedyski did not survive.

"The accident affected me quite a bit, more than I thought," Torres said. "I was kind of lying to myself, saying that it wasn't affecting me and that I was training well. But how could it not be a distraction when you're wondering if your mom is going to be all right and when you lose somebody close to you for the first time?"

Since running his first marathon, Torres has kept a low profile while the landscape of domestic distance running has changed all around him. While his peers, like Dathan Ritzenhein, Chris Solinsky, and Bernard Lagat, were off raising the profile of American distance running with international podium finishes and national records, Torres grappled with the importance of running in his life.

But through some not-so-subtle persuasion from those in his trusted inner circle, the Beijing Olympian has rediscovered his love of running, particularly this race.

"I've definitely been under the radar, and running kind of took a backseat for a while," Torres said. "It was kind of hard to get that focus of being hungry and competitive again. There was nothing this summer that motivated me to want go out and get at it, until I started getting back to the marathon."

In the last 12 months, Torres has had more than his share of reasons to quit the sport.

On top of dealing with the emotional aftermath of the tragic car accident - his mother has now returned to full health and has moved, with Torres father, from Chicago to Boulder where Torres resides - Torres' running world as he knew it imploded.

First, his twin brother Edwardo, with whom he had run since middle school, decided to retire. Then the training group he was a part of in Boulder was fractured following a falling out between some of the runners and the group's coach Steve Jones, the former marathon world record holder.

"I would be lying if I said it didn't impact me," Torres said. "When you train with people, you get a comfort feeling having your group of guys all there. I, for one, have always been a guy who trained with a group of other guys. Whenever you lose a group of partners, it's really hard to move on by yourself."

Torres would occasionally meet up with other runners in Boulder to partner with on his longer runs, but he acknowledges that the spark was definitely missing.

With no World Championships or major summer meet to get motivated for, Torres opted for a few road races over the summer. He competed in the Bolder Boulder 10K (11th in 30:33), Steamboat Classic 4-Miler (12th in 18:54), and Peachtree 10K (25th in 29:09), the last of which he doesn't even remember where he finished.

"That shows you how much I really cared about the season," Torres said.

After the Peachtree race, Torres spent a few weeks visiting with his wife's family in Massachusetts. Unbeknownst to him, his brother and coach had talked about his apathetic approach to running and formulated a plan to snap Torres out of his funk.

"Coach Jones flew out and spent a week with me up there," Torres said. "He ran with me for a couple days and at the end of the trip he said, ‘Jorge, it's time to get back to work. You've got several months to get ready for New York City. We have some unfinished business out there.' That kind of sparked me up and before you knew it I was consistently doing the things that you need to do to prepare for a big international race. Eight weeks into my training I realized the old me was back."

While Sunday will ultimately determine whether Torres is truly back to being an internationally elite runner, he says he is as fit as he was a year ago and expects great things.

"You always have a dream to win the race," Torres said. "I have a twinkle in my eye that I would like to win the race. But if I improve on last year's spot, at least I know I am heading in the right direction."