A Different kind of State Preview
So it's almost here, the state cross country
championships. Leading up to the November
5th race, starting Sunday, we'll take a look at what to expect for
each of the divisions competing at the State Championships next Saturday. But
before we start the previews, we'll have a little fun and try to go through some
random thoughts about the steeplechase course and cross country in general.
The Percy Warner Park's steeplechase cross country course is
the usual five kilometer course that is pretty scenic and wide open in some
areas (well, as far as spectator views that is). It's by no means an easy course. But cross country runners don't always look
for the easy courses to be at their best. Whether it's this course or any
other, it takes a different breed to be a cross country athlete. To be a cross country runner, you have to
like to run out on your own in the woods or enjoy an hour run on a secluded
course with no one around. You have to
be that one that likes to train for hours at a time. Just run and run and run. When the coach says just do an easy three
miler, you complain it's too short. But
really, let's be honest, how hard is this cross country sport. It's not like a sprint where you bust a gut
or run a killer 400 distances. I'm mean
really, how hard is it to race cross country?
Just get in the miles, throw in some speed, learn how to pace, that's
it, right? Practice a few races and
you'll be all set. Piece of cake. .... Right??
Some start training in the summer months when the humidity
and heat is a little, well, intense. Worrying
about hydration, heat, bugs, and whatever else comes with the woods, heat and humidity.
Then those athletes look forward to the
cooler days of fall, ok, ok sometimes cooler days. Heck, it's nice out so you're going to enjoy
the workout anyways, right? And then you
get to have some fun on the rainy runs and maybe even a couple of mud baths
along the way. And if you're lucky, you
enjoy a run in the snow! Heck, just a
five kilometer race. So really, it's
just a piece of cake right?
Let's think about it.
Think about what you have to accomplish during the 5K race, especially
on this steeplechase course. You walk up
to the starting line and find your box.
Then you realize your box is right next to that one team with that
athlete you tried to beat all season but just can't seem to finish them off. So the race hasn't even started and you're getting
those thoughts creep into your head that maybe, just maybe, this might be a
really tough day for you to race. Or
maybe those butterflies begin to turn into more of a churning feeling - and
sound - in your stomach instead of just a little flutter. Nope, that's not thunder, the sky is clear. Look at the line at those POJ's, Yuk... It's just nerves. Yea, that's all it is. Perhaps.
You do your warm ups and your team gets together for a quick
prayer (if I'm allowed to say that) and maybe a bit of a motivational shout. Oh maybe one of those top of your lungs kind
of shout! They're psyched. You're ready.
A team hug and you get to the start line. The starter shouts out the
instructions. You're anxious to
start. You look down the hill and
remember that last year there was an American flag or an orange cone or some
guy waving some huge school flag... or maybe all the above at the mouth of the
fence before you make the first turn that's slightly hidden from the start line. That's your first target of the race. And you're wondering if you'll get there
ahead of that one runner you've been wanting to beat all season. You're wondering if you get there in the
right position for your team. You're
wondering about your footing those first few meters of the race. You're
wondering a lot of things at this point.
Then the gun goes off and everything goes empty and out of
your thoughts as you stampede to that first turn. You're not wondering any more about anything. Elbows, breathing, foot-strikes, watching your
footing, watching for holes, hoping nobody steps on the back of your spikes. That mad dash to get to the first turn.
The first half mile goes by like nothing as the adrenaline
begins to taper off a bit and you try and settle into a pace. Yea, that's easy to do. It's the state championships by the way. It's just the start of the race, still have
over two and a half miles to go. Too
early for those thoughts to pop into your head... so you need to focus
harder. The first mile marker becomes a
memory as you start thinking about your pace. It seems the groups of athletes sort of settle
into their paces. Are you in the right
spot, is that pace too fast, too slow.
You're now being chased by athletes that you normally are chasing. Is
that good? Then you see a few that you normally pass a lot earlier in a race,
but this time they're ahead of you. Now
that's not good! But ok, no negative
thoughts right now, it's too early in the race for that.
About half way into the race your left foot strike lands on
the side of a hole. Ankle hurts. But not bad enough to stop so you drive
on. It starts to get better, so phew,
not injured. But your right hip hurts a
bit now because you favored the other side.
Get those negative thoughts out! You're
ok. You get back into a pace and start
to feel better, no aches anymore. You
look ahead and realize you made up some time on that one ahead of you. Hey, you start to think you can really do
Then you see the two mile mark is just ahead and you start
to feel yourself fighting against the feeling of being tired, of slowing down,
of wondering if you've got more in you. You
hate the two mile mark. It's that part
of the race that you start to sink and where you always tell yourself you have
to be strong, you have to get through this point. Of course, you're thinking of that brutal
hill ahead and how that's going to make you feel. Negative thoughts are tough to fight right
now. But you fight them anyways, that's
why you ran in the heat and rain and wind and every day during training.
So you run a few steps with your eyes closed to
re-focus. Very risky move, but suddenly
your pace picks up a bit. Suddenly your
thoughts are turning a lot more positive.
Suddenly your telling yourself with a half mile to go, you're going to
drive up that hill (mountain!) with everything you've got. Then you pass that one athlete you really
wanted to pass earlier in the race but just couldn't get there. You know there's people cheering you on but
those cheers seem so distant at the moment.
Your legs are telling you they can handle whatever your mind pushes them
to do. And surprisingly enough, you
aren't second guessing yourself right now.
That's cool. Besides, it's the
state championships, no time for that stuff anyways.
So you do just that, and push them like you're never done
before. You make the turn around that
last cedar bush. Then with all the
people lining the last couple hundred meters, with nothing but adrenaline and
heart left, you focus on that Chrono timer, power up that last hill, side by
side with that one you really want to pass and charge through the finish. It's done. And you realize one of the hardest
things you have to do now is catch your breath.
And then you take a short glance back at the course, think of the
thousands of thoughts that steamed through your head during the course of five
kilometers, how many times you felt each step, each hole on the course, each
hill, each time you passed someone and each time you got passed, each target
reached during the race, what your watch said along the way, how you felt on
every breathe you took... then you lean over and take off the chip and think...
yea, cross country, piece of cake!! Let's
do it again!!
Good luck to everyone November 5th!!
Starting Sunday we'll have previews of the State Cross