Over a year ago, I heard rumors that the USATF Cross Country Championships was going to be held just 10 miles from where I live. If this came to fruition, I was definitely going to enter. Although the race has no real place in my gear-up to the spring, it’s definitely something I couldn’t pass up. I had run two good weeks of mileage (90, 90) leading up to the race and was going to take a downloading week in an effort to freshen up. I even took a day off this week. I had a great workout on Wednesday and was feeling good. I was ready to roll.
The 12K course was run on a 2K loop (run 6 times…obviously) that rolled around a windswept cornfield. The weather on race day was unseasonably warm (mid-60s) and the open race was at two in the afternoon. Last week ice and snow covered 50% of the course, this week the mercury soared, then dipped and then snowed. By the weekend the course was muddy and sloppy (no puddles but that slick grassy-muck that settles on a mowed cornfield after a thaw..ya know what kind I mean?).
The gun went off and it seemed as if I stood in place for a half second…then I took off. I was positioned in the center of the field and got a great start (see red haired fool behind Meb in TV broadcast next week). I tucked in behind the top tier guys and then began to worry. Had I gone out too fast? It didn’t feel fast. I have been doing great track workouts and I’m definitely in the best shape of my life, so maybe this should feel easy? I hit the 1K mark in a blistering 2:55. Good God, this was suicide. This pace was faster than my 5K race pace. I looked to my right and saw Nate Jenkins fly past me. Fernando Cabada was on my left. Yup, too fast. I had blown my pre-race plan of going out reserved and pushing the last 3 loops…but I could still run well. I decided to slow down and settle into a more reasonable pace. I rounded the first 2K around 6:00. Still too fast. Relax then attack, relax then attack. I began to relax but it was hard to let 5, then 10 then 15 runners storm by you. I hit 3K in 9:18...still too fast. The next few laps seemed like a blur. Long uphill start, short dip downhill, hard right turn, uneven terrain, fast downhill, short/steep downhill (which I almost crashed down every lap), long flat/fast section followed by a very sloppy uphill…over and over again. I continued to let others pass me. I would wait. Just before 6K, Marine Corps Marathon winner Andrew Dumm came storming by alongside former UVA standout Will Christian. I knew who these guys were and wanted to try and hang. Will seemed to surge ahead (later beat Jenkins) but Dumm lingered just a in front of me. About 2K later Dumm took a spill on the downhill and I passed him back…but that didn’t last long. I was trying for the life of me to pick up the pace and start to roll but I was pretty beat. It wasn’t until 8K (25:52) that I was able to put my finger in the dyke and stop the water from pouring out. I began to push and finally, for the first time in the race, start to pick off the dead and dying in front of me. I hit 10K in 32:45 or so and felt as if I had a new gear. My last lap “felt” fast but maybe I was simply more into it. I passed (or lapped) a few more guys (maybe 10 total in the last 4K) and hammered towards the finish line. I even kicked someone down in the straightaway. I was pretty spent. I immediately tore off my singlet (65 degrees out) and ripped off my left spike. A blood blister or two had been brewing under my sole for the past 4K.
I had run well; finished 42nd and in the process competed with and beaten some good runners which was exactly my intention. My time was 39:34 (5:18 pace) which is much better than I thought I’d run. I was foolish to go out so hard (after having success in my last two races running even/negative), but I was happy I was able to tough it out and hang in there. I can’t make these amateur mistakes again. In addition, my team, The Georgetown Running Company, won the team competition. I am still trying to figure that one out! Soon after the race, my stomach began to ache and cramp. It felt like that scene in ALIEN only the small alien wasn’t popping out of the stomach, instead he was staying inside and rattling his claws across my intestines. I felt awful. I couldn’t even cool down (which I desperately wanted to do because of my calves) and instead stretched out on the parking lot. The stomach pain lasted for the rest of the day and through the night. I couldn’t eat dinner. I woke up this morning before dawn, forced some oatmeal down my throat, drank some Gatorade then shuffled 12 miles. I was feeling better.