Saturday, Dec 14 was the USA Track & Field Club Cross-Country National Meet. It was an awesome opportunity to return to the good ol' days of ripping it up on the cross-country course, and break in my new spot on the Twin Cities Track Club roster.
Side note: when I started racing competitively, I was originally a part of the fantastic MN RED club, but recently I decided to switch things up and join TCTC. I'm still working with my same coach (Ron Byland - http://www.miletomarathon.com/), but the time seemed right to switch my club/team affiliation.
TCTC was fielding both a male and female team for the weekend's event, and as we descended upon Bend, OR and the River's Edge Golf Course where the race was taking place, we knew we were in for a treat! The weather was great: 40 degrees and sunny, which felt tropical considering what the weather in Minneapolis had been lately. There was snow on the ground, but race officials had been nice and snow-plowed most of the race course. And the course itself was insane! It was a 2k loop (women would be racing a 6k, men a 10k) that climbed pretty much every hill in sight or involved side-hill running (always tricky), snaked through rough/out-of-bounds areas of the golf course, and even had a sweet hurdle of hay bales along the way.
Pics from the course. Hay bale hurdle on the left, super tricky downhill/side-hill/uphill/corner combo on the right...saw a lot of people digger (fall) here.
The TCTC crew did a quick run of the course on Friday as a team. We took note of particularly good and bad lines on the course and discussed strategy (taking the tangent, which is always done in road racing, was not always advisable on this course). With a field of 300 talented women and a course that didn't have a lot of good spots for making moves/passing, it was going to be important to be in a good position from the start.
Race day - I'm up at dawn for an easy morning jog and because my body is still functioning on Central Time so 6am in Oregon feels like 8am (did I just blow your mind?). Luckily we don't race until noon so after the jog, I have plenty of time to grab some breakfast, get my gear together and head to the course. We arrive, go through the pre-race warm-up routine and it quickly becomes "go time!"
The race starts and it's a mad dash up a 200m hill to a sharp right turn. Everyone is jockeying for position and a major bottleneck occurs at the corner. I end up kind of walk-running for several strides.
From there, things start rolling. I can see my TCTC teammates Melissa Agnew and Stephanie Price just ahead, we're all sitting in top 40 (or so spectators are yelling at us), and I feel like we're in a great spot. Not out too hard so that we blow up, but near the front of the pack and together. By the time we come around the first loop, I'm shoulder-to-shoulder with Steph and Melissa, and hope to work together, but we end up splintering. I move ahead and end up running the next two loops in a pretty steady position from 12th to 17th throughout. The backstretch of the final loop arrives and it's a long, gradual climb that culminates in a super steep short hill and then the hay bales before cruising downhill to the finish. I give it the beans, but I am cashed. I had forgotten how painful cross-country can be. Don't get me wrong, it's exhilarating and I love it, but you are basically blowing yourself up for 20 minutes of pain. Surges, hill climbs, maneuvering on crappy footing...it's a whole different ball game than regular road running.
Cross the line in 22:29, not a particularly impressive time for a 6k on the roads, but considering the terrain of the race, was good enough for 15th place. I'm pumped. Had no idea what to expect and this is a pleasant surprise. I also am handed a card at the finish line that informs me I have just qualified for world competitions (one race in Scotland and one in Trinidad & Tobego)! Boomyah. Unfortunately, I'm the last on the list of people invited to the party (I was 15th and they only take 5-9 athletes, so the first finishers get first dibs). By now I've learned that I will not be traveling with the USA national team, but it was a thrill to even be in the mix of consideration, and it gives me a good goal for next year.
Finally, and most importantly, big props to my new TCTC crew. The women's team placed 8th and the men's team was 17th (with Joe Moore leading the pack and placing a phenomenal 11th place!).
The girlies - Melissa Agnes, me, Stephanie Price, Lisa Baumert, Laura Paulsen
Joe Moore...look at that great hair
Additional fun photos of the event here: http://www.mikealbright.com/Galleries/Sports/Running-Events/2013-XC-Club-National