Thursday, February 12, 2015

USATF Cross Country Championship - 2015

8 kilometers?  What the hell was I thinking?  It usually takes me 20 to 30 miles to start passing other runners.  What could I possibly do in 8 measly kilometers, other than suffer?

Right before the Coldwater Rumble, my friend and running partner asked me “you can run 5 miles at a 6 minute pace on grass, right?”  Maybe, if it was downhill, with a strong tailwind.  On a flat, paved course, I’d be lucky to run close to 6:30’s.  Despite my brutal honesty, I got hooked up with a bunch of other middle-aged ultra runners to represent the Flatirons Running store at the 2015 USA Track and Field Cross Country Championship – no pressure, right?

Let me start with my list of excuses:
  • I have never run a grass course before.
  • I haven’t run a serious race of this short distance in a couple of years.
  • I’ve been specifically focusing on ultras for more than a year.
  • This was going to be 2 weeks after a 100 miler (Coldwater Rumble).
  • This was early February, right after the eating frenzy and training slacking of the holidays.

What could go wrong?

The other team members were Bob Sweeney, Matt Van Thun, Wes Thurman, George Zack, & RL Smith.  And oh, did I mention that the they were seriously competitive?  They weren’t just out for a Saturday fun run.

With all of this as a background, I planned on recovering from Coldwater over the first week, with just a couple of slow jogs.  The beginning of the second week, I would run a few days of speed work – fartleks and tempo runs, before resting for a few days before the race.  Well, the first week went just fine and I felt like I was recovering pretty well.  Monday of week two comes along and I run some reasonably decent fartleks.  Monday night, I go for an easy 12 mile jog.  Tuesday comes along and I my legs and glutes (ass) are too sore to do any speed work, so I just go for a lunch time jog.  Wednesday, same thing.  Thursday, I’m feeling better, though not 100%, and it’s too close to race day to take a chance on pushing too hard.  Great!  In addition to all the other obstacles, I got in 1 decent training, and that drained me for a whole week.

Going into Saturday, this was the first race I can remember that I was not looking forward to.  I just wanted to get it over with, hang my head in shame, and get on with my ultras.

The good part was that this would be a loop course (4 2K loops) and Brenda and the girls were coming with me.  At best, they get to see me come across the finish line once in a while.  This time, they would get to see me start, run by a bunch of time, and finish.

I met the rest of the team just a bit before the start of the race.  After a brief warm-up, I took my place at the back of our group and soon enough the gun went off.  There were a couple of hundred runners and it took some effort to keep pace, not get run over, not get in anyone’s way, watch the obstacles (muddy spots, a ditch), etc.  Half way through the first lap, I wasn’t too far from a couple of the other team members.  I also came up on Corky, who I knew from the Belmar Run Club and who was running for the Runners Roost team.  Towards the end of the first lap, there was a small ditch to cross.  I mis-calculated my steps and wound up taking a hard step right into the bottom – no harm done, but very inefficient.

The first lap seemed to take forever.  Eventually, we crossed through the start/finish area.  8:03 – hey that’s not too bad.  I never looked down at my Garmin for the mileage pace, but my foggy brain did a slow calculation.  8+ minutes times 4 laps equals?  Eventually, I came up with 32+ minutes.  Wow, that’s not too bad at all.  But could I really keep it up?

Lap 2 went by even slower.  Did I forget to mention?  With all the pressure and nerves, I never had my typical morning visit to the port-o-potties.  Now it was finally starting to catch up with me.  I could hold it for another 20 minutes couldn’t I?  The ditch came along again and I planned a little better this time.  I avoided the very bottom and jumped across to the other side.  UGH!  My foot landed in the unexpectedly soft turf on the other side and jarred my body.

16:08 and lap 2 was over.  Only a few seconds slower than the first.  How long could I hold on?  Into lap 3, I was really starting to tire.  My mouth was dry and I could hardly breathe.  My stomach wasn’t helping any either.  If this was an ultra, I could just jog to the next aid station, pop into the port-o-potty, come back out and easily make up the time.  No aid stations on an 8K.  No stopping, at least not until you cross the finish line.  How far was it from the finish line to the nearest potties?  Could I make it?  I couldn’t afford to walk.  I’d have to run right through, and even then…

24:23 and lap 3 was now behind me.  I had slowed a bit, but not too bad.  Could I hold on?  It felt like I was slowing even more.  The only bright part was a pair of small rises, ¾ of the way through the loops.  They only climbed up 3 or 4 feet, but going up and down each one, my climbing and descending abilities shown through and I was able to pass other runners.
The final turn!  I pushed with everything I had left (which was very little indeed).  I “sprinted” down the final stretch though it felt like I was running in slooooooow motion.  Across the line in 32:26 and it was over!

I cursed the race, along with my teammates, my inadequate abdominal muscles, the soft turf, and everything else.  If my daughters weren’t right there with me, I would have done so out loud, but I kept the verbal carnage in my head.  Why had I done this?  God it was horrible.
32:26?  Hey, that wasn’t too bad.  It was better than I expected.  My breathing was starting to slow down a bit.  Bob was the only one of us that broke 30 minutes.  I was only 41 seconds behind Zack.  I slowed a bit on lap 3, but overall ran pretty consistently.  I did it!  Sure, I finished way lower in the pack than usual, but this was a national championship, with a very competitive field, and I was an ultra runner running an 8K.

As I quickly recuperated, my body felt better, and my mind felt better about my performance.  Despite all my whining, I am glad that I did it.  I’m happy with my performance and I’m thrilled to have been able to run with a bunch of really good guys, and to represent Flatirons Running.  I am also glad to have it all behind me so that I can now concentrate on ultras again, where there are aid station, with port-o-potties, lots of hills, and lots of time to slowly work my way up the ranks.

1 comment: