A Different Kind of Preview

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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 this.


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 Country Championships.