There appears to be a bit of a trend with cross country across
the state and particularly here in Memphis.
That trend is to push race times to the night hours. Maybe it's the heat and humidity we
experience during the morning hours around in the Bluff City or maybe it's just
the unique thought of racing later in the day when the sun is setting and drops
out of site. Whatever the case, these
races have gained popularity in a big way! Not only in the numbers but in the
level of competition across the board.
Oh yea, what the heck, they're fun.
And besides, once school starts, most of the training is done after
school, so racing closer to the time of day you train could be a hidden benefit
Three evening races coming up this season that are worth checking out: The Ed Murphey Mile, The Memphis Twilight Class and the newest in the nighttime ranks, the Frank Horton. If you haven't tried any of these races or not sure how they work, let's dig a little bit more into them and see if that helps.
Ed Murphey Mile
This is the newest of the evening events in the area and happens to be the earliest in the season as well. August 10th is the date. This event started out as the Hoka One event with high school 3200 heats around a women's and men's elite mile or 1500 event. I had the pleasure of training an athlete that ripped through the 3200M faster than I could have imagined, and I'm guessing it's the excitement around the elite races that may have propelled that performance. Whatever the case, watching elite runners racing right in front of you - inches away - can certainly start the adrenaline flowing! If just saying that sentence got your attention, then, well folks, how about elite level Olympic standard pacing, A and B standard 800M and 1500M professional programs, high school cross country 5 x1 mile relay, races for 4 year olds to any age, a club/family/corporate 4x400 relay race and a community mile race!
Yep, you read that right... the event for high school this year is the 5 x 1 cross country mile relay! You're in cross country season and so this really does seem like a hugely logical event to have. Everyone runs a mile and in a relay, you know the pressure is on. Good baseline race for sure! And you can enter multiple teams.
Ok, if you are a cross country or track athlete or fan, you DO NOT want to miss this one for sure! If you've pushed yourself in a race or had one of those really great training runs in your lifetime, come watch the Pros take to the track and put on a show that is so well worth watching! Not only can you compete on the track that the Pros will run, you can watch first hand and cheer them on - you will feel the breeze whisk by as they pass you! It's amazing how talented they are.
I think Elvis was seen at the finish line last year. You can look at the Ed Murphey web site to stay up on the program as the elites entered is bound to grow the closer we get. But I do know one thing, you WILL recognize names and you will be amazed at how fast these athletes can run!
And if I could throw something out there, I'm just wondering how many of you will be out the next day trying to get in a really hard training run... yea, I'm guessing a bunch since watching these elite runners race is one heck of a motivator for sure!!
Here's the web site: Ed Murphey Mile
The Memphis Twilight XC Classic.
This event, hosted by Christian Brothers University (CBU), is a Memphis area must do meet. Yes, it's early in the season as well but it has a few unique characteristics that make this meet stand out among a handful in the area. With Middle School, High School and College sections, the meet is always packed with talent... and hey, a good chance to maybe show off in front of a prospective college!
One of the nice features about this meet is that, other than a couple of killer drops, it's relatively flat. It makes use of the areas around the soccer fields at the Mike Rose Soccer complex. Most soccer fields tend to be flat and so yes, you guessed it, the course is fast! That's probably not something I needed to point out, since flat is normally fast. It's at night, so the blazing sun isn't burning a hole thru your singlet. Ok, if you've done this race before you can probably relate to that one saying about it's not the heat but the humidity... well, that certainly applies to this race! It tends to be humid here.
A while ago when I ran cross country races, the courses were set up in a way that you'd have this huge line at the start and the goal was to be the first to get to the entrance to the trees. If you weren't first, you could be stuck behind someone slower than you, and if they didn't fall, that could be for a slow trek thru the woods because the trails were usually too narrow to pass. With those courses, you'd see the athletes at the start, and the finish and sometimes that was just about it. At the Twilight Classic, that is not the case. Not even close. Spectator friendly is an understatement. If you're willing and able, you can run crosswise to various spots on the course and see your favorite runners practically anywhere on the course and even at the stadium finish at the end.
One of my favorite places to watch is at the start. They are lined up in their boxes across the length of one of the soccer fields that terraces down a bit across three or four other fields. Then I make sure I'm just around the corner for that first turn of the race. It's a killer turn to watch and certainly the same for the athletes... the course narrows right at a turn, there's a sharp downhill, and at that point it's so very crowded the first loop that you might just catch yourself holding your breath hoping nobody falls!
Once they pass that first turn, go a few feet back up the hill and to the east and you're in a prime spot to watch the runners barrel up their first hill. Steep, then gradual and fairly long so there's plenty of room to spread out and watch. However, just before the cross the paved part at the top of the hill seems to be the most congested viewing spot. That's because it's the painful part of the course. Yep, running south along the fields is usually lined with people - and those people love to cheer on the athletes in this one tough area of the course.
Then as the athletes loop around, you have time to get over to the stadium and watch the finish as the leadoff mule drives into the stadium with the athletes in tow. They enter under the lights, circle the stadium field, and finish while the announcer rattles off their names and spectators cheer them on! With all eyes on the athletes rounding the field, you are certain to get a finish that will be exciting and fast!
The familiar face of Coach Hoffman (usually the starter at a lot of the local larger track meets) and the CBU team runs this race with the utmost precision which is exactly why you will always see this meet bring in the top talent from the area and surrounding states!
Frank Horton - Night Invitational
The Frank Horton is the newest of all the evening races. Well, Ok, it's not the newest to the area by any means, in fact, it's one of the longest running races in the area - 31 years! The meet hasn't been a nighttime race for long, but it always has been a meet that Memphis area athletes look forward to running. You are guaranteed to see the top talent in the area competing for the title. It's probably because of how well this is run, the great volunteers, and it's just one of those races you want to have under your belt. Now it's held under the lights on the fairly new Shelby Farms 5K course. Yea, the course has been around a bit, but just a few years still makes it new to me!
The Horton is not an early season race like the previous two I've been talking about. This one is in late September and like I said, it's a must have on the schedule for Memphis athletes. It comes at the perfect time of the season to check on how you are doing as an athlete. Are you ready and prepared to get to that early weekend in November?
It's also a meet that brings in a solid group of out of state athletes as well. In the girl's top ten last year, five out of that group were from out of state. On the boy's side, local athletes fared a bit better with seven of the top ten hailing from the Memphis area. The girl's winner, Skylar Boogard (Arlington) however, fared better than the boys from the area. Jackson Williams of Arlington was the runner up in the event and the first from Memphis area to cross the line. Hunter Appleton of Brother Martin won. I'll be curious on who will step up from the Memphis area this season and show their mettle!
So if you happen to be from the Memphis area, you don't have a long way to go to get into some super high quality cross country meets. If you're driving in to enter the race, do so with the knowledge that you will be treated to a class act in any of these meets. But however you get here, be sure to lace them up tight and come prepared to give it your best, you'll need it at these events for sure!!
See you on the track and the grass!