These were my initial thoughts as I strode up in my Oiselle gear to the registration tent past a forest of school buses and High School team tents at Imperial Park in Sugar Land, TX. Not that this is an unusual sight, not in the least as I have been attending XC meets as support for some time, but me being in a singlet and spikes-that is unusual. And it occured very quickly that the Fort Bend Cougar Classic field may not be as saturated by my peers and masters athletes as my last open cross country race was! Whoops!
Backing up a tad, I am focusing mostly on Cross Country events this Fall after spending a lot of time at meets and deciding to do something totally different than my typicall road race/half marathon/'hope to be healthy to run a marathon cycle' I started my little experiment on the dirt and grass. So here I was coming off a surprisingly fun and positive first experience to a slightly different enviornment and crowd, but still minimal expectations, which was kind of nice.
Back to the race-After seeing a handful of girls not representing a school the self-conscious feeling went away a little bit, I rationalized 'experience was experience' and the course itself would be a good lead-up to the USATF Club Cross Championships in a few mos. Running Times did cover recently the growing popularity of XC racing for 30-somethings like me and above. That and I was not going easy on any youngsters, that was for sure!
Instead of racing the Open division at the Rice Invite due to being out of town, I was conncted with the RD by my coach who was hosting an open race on 9/24. Why not? I greatly enjoyed the freeing format of disregarding the clock, running through the trees and just trying to cross the finish line first and was wanting to do it again. It hurts like crazy, but in an unexplainable way is the best one feels all week at the same time.
Okay, on to the actual race. The field was quite large as it had both males and females toeing the line. It also was at 4:40 PM-in Houston, so it was a pretty hot one- but if I have to deal then everyone else has to as well. I finished off my Honey Stinger Waffle and drank a serving of EFS and then immediately hit my warmup. I hit some traffice getting to the race site, so there was little time to get comfortable.
The course was two one-mile loops that contained a water crossing, a hay bale jump, a mud hole-type thing, and two steep downhills followed by an immediate uphill. I knew there would be obstacles and just framed it as an adventure. I wore my Oiselle Team singlet and a pair of Lori shorts along with my new Saucony spikes (that handled the course beautifully).
After the lead ATV was refueled, delaying the start a few minutes, we were off in typical XC chaotic fashion. I had learned from my runners I work with and from last time how to work the first few seconds of the race. HINT: people fall off quickly. 200 yards in and there was a sharp turn where I found myself in third place. Hmmm.... kind of a familiar situation. Within the first half mile or so we had gone through the two steep embankments and were coming up on the water crossing...and I noticed the two women who were not affiliated with a school starting to hesitate at the obstacles. Oxygen debt or not, I went for it and surged past girl number two and soon after the first one.
It's amazing what it does psychologically to surge and overtake in a race; I went from "ok, maybe third place is good for today, I'm kind of tired..." to "um, excuse me-go after them!!" It's that one decision we make a lot of the time to just push ahead that makes all the difference. I lead for the rest of the first mile and started to feel the heat on the second. This is where I managed the obstacles and just worked on trying to increase the lead. It was just me and my lactatenfused self and the young men and I think I remember passing a few of them in the finish chute that appeared much quicker than I anticipated, even in such a short race.
I gave it one last surge through the finish, and yet again didn't get a look at the clock and immediately went on oxygen patrol and had to be reminded by the volunteers to keep moving-sorry guys! I was happy to run aggressively again and get another First Female in my second-ever 2 mile XC race. Ithink my sponsor got some decent face time as well-my singlet became a bit of a conversation piece in a sea of uniforms. It pays to be different sometimes :)
Although the competition will be MUCH steeper at the USATF events, it is a nice confidence boost to get some positive results from the work I am putting in most mornings. I still have a ways to go, but very happy to be enjoying and challenging myself again.
|The pic does not do the mud factor justice:)|
Big-Picture wise, I've made a few observations running cross-country as an adult:
- First, it can be really, really, cheap to do. I have paid a total of 15 dollars for entry to both races I've done this season. While not required and individual preference, I picked up some Saucony Carrera spikes from Running Warehouse for under $30 on sale. If you're a swag-hound, just know shirts and other goodies are typically a-la-carte (but fund the host team or organization typically).
- The energy at meets. While road races can be electrifying at times, there seems to be a great vibe going on off the pavement. Maybe I just need it more to push through the pain, but hearing people yell my name sure is helpful! It's also expected that it's a very hard sport and 'hurting' a bit is a norm and everyone seems to embrace it and give their best effort.
- I am really competitive. Not that it is any big secret, but the simplicity, and dare I say, 'purity' of the XC race experience has really reconnected me with my competitve side. As I've gotten older, I've been able to compartmentalize it pretty well, but I've always known that I do better "running to win" vs. anything else and this discipline seems to cater to my racing style. On my best days, I could care less how I am feeling if I feel I am in control of my race. And it doesn't take a big prize either, just the feeling of chase and challenge to be the last one standing is enough for me!
- I am also happy that there are a number of events popping up here and there that are open for anyone. Of course USATF Club Cross, but also the U. of Arkansas' Chile Pepper Festival (on the calendar next year, Coach!) and a few locals Hopefully my crazy self's successful experiment will draw others to this type of running too :)
So running cross country may not be for everyone, and I may be a seriously late bloomer (I bowed out of the sport to play soccer in HS), but for those who like a litte adventure and don't mind getting a little dirty going all-out in nature, I suggest giving it a try! Few things in life hurt so good!
Stay the course, even with mud and hay bales!