Thursday, December 17, 2009

Race Report: Club Cross Nationals

Every year the USATF puts on club cross country nationals, one of two championship XC races for the post-collegiate crowd. This one allows for team competition and doesn't give prize money to individuals, just teams. So the atmosphere is more like a traditional XC race -- instead of a road race being held on a cross country course. (Which is more like the other championship.)

Professional groups like ZAP Fitness, McMillan Elite, Boulder Running Company, Asics Aggies, Bowerman and others all show up. And some local teams like ours, who are just regular runners of the don't-quit-your-day-job variety.

Anyway, there were four races for the day, masters and open for both men and women. The women ran a 6k and the men 10k, on pretty much the same course at Masterson Station Park in Lexington. The day started off cold, and we had all packed lots of spandex to cram under our tiny little uniforms. Well, under the tops, because our spandex boy shorts were not going to permit layering. It was going to be one or the other, and most of us opted for shorts. Our race wasn't until 12:45 p.m., which was amazing -- we lolled around all morning taking our time getting ready. We probably should have arrived earlier, but we didn't want to stand in the cold all day. Consequently, we spent too much time organizing our gear and finding our teammates. I was also supposed to be coordinating a men's team, but only one of them showed up. Plus I threw my phone at a friend, told him to answer if anyone called, and went to warm up.

We arrived at the starting box late, still in warmups and with two girls not yet wearing their spikes. We chucked all our stuff in a pile behind the line, hoped our friends would grab it all, and lined up with the other 230-odd women in the middle of a big field. The gun went off and I, for once, didn't go out way way too fast. Just a little too fast.

My goal for the race was 24 minutes, since I ran just over 20 minutes in my first cross race, a 5k, a few weeks ago. I thought if I could maintain the same pace for an extra KM on a harder course, I'd consider it a good day. So I set my watch to tell me pace and distance in KMs, however, I didn't reset the auto-lap feature to metric. So the screen was giving me metric but it was auto-lapping every mile. Sonuvagun. The watch was pretty much useless.

The course starts with a pretty long gradual uphill; at least the first half-mile. Then it funnels into a rocky patch and down a little hill, then a tight U-turn, back up the hill, down the hill, up a short/steep/really muddy hill, back down to the start, then repeat.

The hills were all pretty sloppy, especially the steep one. I opted to wear flats instead of spikes because most of the ground was hard and the spikes hurt my lower legs last time. I think it was a good decision; the little bit of traction I lost on that uphill was probably regained by the fact my legs didn't feel absolutely terrible at mile three.

By the way, who thought up this 6k business? Thank you for the hassle.

Around the first mile, I set about sticking with the girls in my vicinity. I figured with three more miles to go, I should first try to maintain position and not get passed, then try to move ahead positions later in the race and when possible. I picked up a few on the uphills, using those to pull ahead then getting a larger lead on the downhill. A handful of friends were on the course cheering, which was great. I don't run many races where people know my name, and when I do, they're usually at one or two spots during a three-hour race. Hearing my name like 10 times in a 24-minute race was like being famous!

Nearing the second-mile marker, the girls coming into the U-turn and the girls going out of it are all pretty close to each other. At that point I was thinking about the race being half over -- in the pessimistic way -- when Tera Moody cruised past. That was cool. I probably ran a better third mile because of that. I thought to myself, "Okay, this hurts, but oh-my-god I'm running in a race with Tera Moody -- and she's not that far ahead of me!"

The finish goes in an almost-complete rectangle, so I caught a couple of girls and we came down the first short side. Several friends were yelling at me to pick it up and catch some more girls, but coming up the first long side, I didn't think I could. I wasn't sure I could take another step, really. But I made myself stay on one girl's shoulder through the second short side. Then when I rounded the turn for the last long side, looking at the finish line, those damn friends were there yelling again. So, another sonuvagun moment as I sucked it up and blasted (well, it felt like it at least) the last hundred meters to the finish.

I pulled off a 24:28, just about seven seconds per mile short of my goal. Considering the climbs (Cassidy the Garmin figured 600 feet of climb) and the mud, I'm happy. It averaged out to 6:34/mile versus 6:30/mile for the 5k XC.

It was really neat to be part of a team like that, and I really enjoyed the race overall. We stayed and watched the men's race, which was amazing -- 29:18 won the 10k ... in the same mud and up the same hills.

Later that evening, after the official awards ceremony, a lot of the teams hit the Lexington bar scene. We got to hang out with some really awesome people, including the ZAP Fitness team and their guy who ran that aforementioned 29:18.

That's all for now. Maybe more on how humbling this race was ... because notice I am not talking about my finish place in this post at all.


Anonymous said...

Nice report. Screw your place. You were racing the clock. I envy your speed.

I also don't understand the 6K distance for women's XC. How can you train for and pace a 6K properly when it's such a bizarre distance? I suspect it's a holdover from the "their ovaries will surely fall out" days, but who knows?

Tracy Lightfoot said...

Women's cross races are still shorter than men's, and I'm sure you're right -- even though all my pieces appear to still be where they're supposed to be. The really strange thing about cross is that they race 5k all season for girls and 8k for men -- then at championship races (conference, regionals, etc.) they race 6k and 10k.