It has been quite some time since I last raced, August 23rd I believe. Since then, I enjoyed two weeks solid vacation time, including my virgin trip to Vegas (that’s every bit worth the trip… Once. And springing for a fountain view room in the Cosmo was the best purchase of the weekend). However, vacation was extended 4 weeks by an uncooperative hip flexor/adductor-magnus and the mild resurgence of Osteitis Pubis it caused. So all in all 6 weeks of no running. Lots of drills and what-have-you after the first two weeks, but no running.
I started back the first week of October in which I believe I got in 25.5 miles, give or take point-5. This is to say I was kinda chomping at the bit to get after it while trying not to repeat the mistakes of ’11. Sanity was kept through a variety of characters in my life and a rush of exciting work. All of this though served to divert my attention and comfort my anxiety.
My first long run was 6 miles. Each week I bumped it 2 miles until I returned to that glorious, habitual 16 miler. I’ve been rocking those for 4 weeks now and my fitness is back to competitive levels in a crazy small amount of time! I finally did rehab right.
Now, I was originally scheduled to run a 5k in Mexico right after Thanksgiving. Was going to be a good (albeit, training-detrimental) time with Kenyon and a couple 5k girls in Mazetlan. I’ve always wanted to be solicited to international races and this promised the first of my career!… Or so I thought. Last the two of us heard, the plane tickets were on the way. Then silence from south of the border.
I was a little bummed at the missed opportunity for adventure, but very much comforted by the fact that it was almost certainly for the best. Thanksgiving was a great time with lots of food at multiple homesteads, proving once again to be my absolutely favorite holiday. The only side-effect of Mazetlan was that I was the only missing component of the 7-piece puzzle that is our family back in Cleveland. Very much looking forward to Christmas back home.
But before I head home for the holidays, I’ve got monster to tackle. USA Cross Country Championships. And I was going with a team!
The 10k will always be tough for me. But easiest area to progress over the years in training is in your aerobic fitness and it has been 3 years to the day since I last raced a competitive longer-distance event and Boulder has been spectacular for improving my VO2 max and aerobic fitness.
The course was the most intriguing factor going into the weekend. We got in Thursday and were able to look at it on three different occasions leading up to the race. It was a monster. British racing legend and former marathon world record holder Steve Jones said it was, “the best cross country course I’ve seen in the U.S.”
All I can say is it had a lot of “features”. If it could be run in reverse I think it would have played right into my hands. As it was, the uphill half was long and rolling on a golf course. The downhill side was twisty and slippery. I received the best piece of advice of the race from Sarah Vaughn after her race saying, “Stay on your toes on the turns so you don’t slip.” I can’t tell you how many people I passed because I attacked the turn on the outside rather than following intuition of braking and cutting the tangent.
The fact that it was at slight altitude (3400ft in Bend, OR) will never help me as Jay and I have agreed that I perform worse than most at altitude, but I WAS more prepared for it than if I had been training at sea-level.
Come race time, Champions League Athletic Performance, the co-op team formed over a couple beers at my dining-room table, was assembled, in high spirits, and thoroughly prepared for the beast ahead of us. At CU, Mark Wetmore doesn’t allow team cheers before the race, and one of the 4 CU alumni on the team was unbelievably excited to lead the cheer. Maybe a little too excited.
“Champions League on 3!”
“CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, 1, 2, 3!”
Classic. This actually ended up being the best possible scenario as we were all still busting up when the race was called to order. 429 runners toed the line. In our box, we stood 4 deep…
I was right behind Kenyon and Brent and it seemed to take no effort whatsoever to cruise up the first hill right with the lead pack to the course we would loop 5 times. All I was thinking was “position”. Not position in the race but position relative to those around me. Position for the first twisty dowhill with plenty of space to work the angles and watch my footing.
I was in 8th place in the race right behind the leaders and had to consciously relax in order to not pass them for the lead. This is weird.
I stayed in good position all the way through the first lap up the long, rolling hill. It was at the top of that that the first negative thoughts hit my noggin.
Well that’s one… of five, and you’re huffing pretty hard.
In retrospect I think that the conditioning of running reps no longer than 2000m at a time before a rest hurt me going into the race. The pace felt incredibly easy to begin with but the unrelenting grindiness only started occurring to me on the second hill around 3.5k in. At this point only Richard Medina was in front of me and I was cognizant of the fact that I would definitely not be finishing in the top 10 in this race. Our team wasn’t looking too good…. or was it? Kenyon moved passed me with a word of encouragement as he so often does on any hill we run together. OK, that’s 2 in good position.
The next 5k of the race was all with the same mindset. Survive. Brent moved passed me around 5k, at the beginning of the hill for the 3rd time. This was a relief since I was in about 30th at this point (Spoiler: Brent finished 4th!).
I was in 9000ft long-run mode. Survive the hills, recover on the downhills. I tried not to let the constant stream of people passing me trigger negative thoughts. I’ve got to mention Rory Fraser as having some of the best advice for me I’ve ever received during a race every time I ran by him (3-4 times per loop). It was always something honest, creatively encouraging, or thought provoking.
Finally I was on the last lap and I didn’t have to think about recovering as much on the downhill. I made the decision, “no more people pass me.” And treated the rest of the 10k like it’s own race.
We were on the last hill and I knew what this was supposed to feel like. Knew what the last rep of hill repeats at altitude should feel like and I didn’t feel too terrible compared to a couple Bear Canyon workouts. I passed at least 10 people going up that last hill and with fire in my legs let everything loose on the final 200m plunge to the finish line. My eyes were on a yellow jersey 20m in front of me and I was flying! But so was he.
I closed with everything I had, barely in control of my foot-strikes but to no avail. I failed by about 2m and was initially pretty disappointed. Unable to put to much critical thought into it though for lack of oxygen in the brain. I sat down on a rock next to Alan Webb who I knew had a very similar experience on the course to mine. He was out even harder than I was and his survival period was at an even slower pace.
Someone came over and untangled our chips from our spikes to muffled thanks. Finally I was informed that I came in around 27th and suddenly I was breathing a little easier! I knew I was 4th man and I wasn’t sure how close our 5th was to me, but the fact that I was top 30 meant the team title was not out of the realm of possibility!
Slowly I began picking up other pieces of information. Brent was 4th. Richard 6th. Kenyon around 17th.
I went out on my cooldown with a few Oregon folks and was incredibly thankful that nothing was too worse for wear! Both Achilles were well used, but after a 10k in Victory track spikes, mere tightness was a win!
There were lots of noteable performances on both the guys and girls sides and even more friends and acquaintances to catch up with (Shoutout to Neal, Fiona, and , so the time passed quickly before the announcement of the guys team score. The announcer started at 10th and worked their way upward. With each passing spot and no mention of Champions League, the excitement built. Finally 2nd place was announced. ZAP Fitness. And we were all looking around in disbelief.
“WINNING. By one point. We have Champions League Athletic Performance out of Boulder, CO with a team score of 126!”
Post race analysis showed that the hero of the race was one Zach Hine, a marathoner who agreed last minute to come out last minute after being back running for only a few weeks just to have a good time. He did a workout earlier in the week on a treadmill where he did 2 x mile in 5:20 and then 5:10 and proclaimed himself healthy enough to compete. He rallied from a super conservative first 4k to finish as our 5th man in 80th and secure our victory by 1 point! What a psychopath! Respect.
Skip to 2:30 for best quote on Zach
The after party was it’s usual glorious affair kicked off right by receipt of a giant check, and a national title plaque which is now suspended above my fireplace.
I wish I could share all the epic tidbits from the trip but I’m approaching 2000 words and the end of my caffeine high. This has certainly been an easy report!
My final thought is that I’m going to be taking a lot of confidence into my track training. The base is wider than it’s ever been, and that platform will hopefully peak with something like 6 or more 200m repeats under 25 seconds come June. Perhaps one in the 23s?? A guy can hope.
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