I ran club nationals this past weekend and have returned humbled and inspired. Actually, the humbling and inspiring began even as we worked to assemble a team and I learned of all of the fast master's runners within our region.
The weekend was great fun. I have not traveled to any races since college and though I ran in college and high school, I have rarely run many team races. In high school, our team had just one or two runners supplemented with guys trying to get fit or maintain fitness for basketball and our track team was decimated when they started spring baseball my sophomore year. In college, I only ran a few races due to injury. So, the team aspect was very appealing to me.
We had three guys from the Kansas City area and two guys from different cities each about 3 hours away. We all made our own travel arrangements and planned to meet in Seattle. The Kansas City Sports commission paid for the hotel and race entry and we each took care of our other expenses. Ground transportation was virtually free as we only paid for $5.50 for the round-trip ride on the light rail system from the airport to the hotel. Shuttle buses took us from the host hotel to the race both for a Friday course preview and for race day. Four of us arrived on two flights within 15 minutes of each other and we met at the airport and rode to the hotel together. We then had a light lunch, picked up packets, and headed to the course for a light run. Our final teammate traveled with his wife and their plane was diverted heading into Denver for a connecting flight and they arrived late in the afternoon and missed the course preview. We skipped the meet pasta dinner and instead went to a restaurant as a team and had a nice dinner. Though the food was very tasty, I think that we all agreed that the restaurant thought rather too highly of their food -- charging $9 for the side salad for example. The service was good and the company better, so it was an enjoyable experience nevertheless. Though it wasn't especially late, we were all feeling tired after dinner and called it a night.
Our race was scheduled for 11:45, so I got up and had a light breakfast in the hotel restaurant with Kevin who was my roommate for the weekend. We had a voucher for a discount on the buffet. I couldn't do the buffet much justice with a race in a few hours, but it was probably a bit cheaper than buying items individually. I had a small bowl of oatmeal, some strawberries, 1 piece of French toast, and a glass of orange juice. Then, I headed to a local grocery and picked up a gallon jug of water and some snacks for later and returned to the hotel to relax until it was time to catch the race shuttle. At about 9:30, my roommate Kevin and I headed out to the race with Keith. Matt and Ken followed on a later bus. Matt, Kevin, and Keith started their warm up just before the master women's race started at 10:45. Ken and I waited a bit longer. The course was relatively flat. On Friday, it was dry and it seemed likely to be a very fast course. The ground was a bit softer on race day. Though it never really rained, there was a mist and a general dampness that left the course slightly muddy. It was never so sloppy that mud was flying up off of people's shoes, but there were a few areas where the footing was especially soft. Though I gave myself as much time as normal for my warmup, I began to feel rushed as the race time approached and did not have time to do any strides after I slipped off my tights, strapped on my spikes, and donned my singlet. The team chutes were narrow and we lined up nearly single file. I know that my hopes for a good race would require me to get out fairly aggressively, so I planned to stay close to Matt and Kevin for as long as possible. When I go out more cautiously, I have a hard time getting aggressive later in the race. Though I was the second youngest guy on the team, it was the three older guys who were probably the fastest. Four of us were probably fairly closely matched, however. When the race started, I went out behind Kevin and Matt. A space opened to my left and I moved into it. There was a fairly straight section of about 600m before the first turn, but we were still largely bunched together when we got there. My part of the pack was a bit outside of Kevin and Matt and I was swept past them around the turn. The course consisted of 1 1600m loop followed by 4 2000m loops with 400m between the start and the finish lines to make 10,000m. I went through the mile in about 5:26. Not bad and I felt pretty good at that point. Around 2400m, I began to get a side stitch and I was passed by Kevin and then Matt and several others. The pack had thinned out, but I was always surrounded by other runners almost the whole race. There was one turn that was fairly sloppy that sloped outward. There was someone there cautioning us to be careful, but on the second lap, I was not careful enough. I tried to take the turn on the inside and slipped and fell. Surprisingly, no one was close behind me and I was getting up as the first runner began to pass me and I may not have lost any places by that point. I was still struggling with side stitches on lap three. Keith and several others passed me and I tried to keep Keith in sight. I went through 5K in just under 18 minutes. I had hoped to run around 35 minutes and seeing that that was unlikely, I was spurred to try to break 36. At some point, the side stitches left me and I began to move up. Though the course was flat for cross country, the slight rises began to be amplified. I would pass several people on a section that felt easy for me and then try to maintain my position on the sections where I began to struggle. Around this time, it seemed that every 100-200m there was someone yelling for Andy. Andy must have been just behind me and I was getting very annoyed at hearing his name. I resolved that I would beat Andy. Andy stayed with me on the last lap. I continued to pass people and I could still hear people cheering for Andy as we crossed the starting line for the last time. I passed a group of runners and found myself with some open space ahead of me. I focused on the next runner ahead of me and tried to reel him in. The part of the course where we passed near the finish line each lap was very boggy. I was glad that this time I would be able to run on the more solid ground leading to the finish chute. I cut as straight as I could toward the chute going over a slight rise and striving to reel in the guy ahead of me whom I recognized as a member of the Compex team whom I'd met on the train ride from the airport. Though I could not quite catch him, I saw the clock ticking toward 36:00 and surged again. In the end, I finished in 36:00.
Our team placed 8th out of 21 40-49 teams. We stayed and watched the open races and then headed out to celebrate a good day. I would definitely recommend Club Nationals to anyone with a chance to run. The meet was well organized and very spectator friendly as well. I also liked running the laps as I rather like knowing what to expect as I approach the finish. As a master's runner, it is easy to get complacent when you're regularly winning or placing in the top 3 at local races. It was good for me to go to such a national race and find that there are many master's runners -- some 10+ years older than I -- running faster than me. Hopefully, it will inspire me to train well in 2012.
Prior to the race, I was beginning to feel mentally drained because usually, my racing season ends in late October or early November. I planned to take it easy this week and next and then start training for 2012. Now, I find myself mentally revitalized. I will probably still take it fairly easy this week, but I am tempted to start building my mileage again next week instead of waiting another week. I had tapered prior to the race -- perhaps over-tapered since I was struggling a bit with motivation. So it may be that physically, I have had plenty of rest and that I just needed something to rekindle my motivation. I took the day off yesterday and as we drove to a family dental appointment, I found myself looking at the roads longing to run.
I heard several good stories from my teammates. Matt was an elite runner back in the day and told several stories about running with well-known elite runners. He focused a mostly on Irish elites since Ken is from Ireland. Ken is a very outspoken Irishman and told some interesting stories of Ireland -- including a story about a race where the pace vehicle was a flat bed truck carrying a band and some race hecklers sitting on the back and yelling at the runners about how slow they were going. He also encouraged us to go to a pub in a small Irish town and order a Margarita and see what happens. Keith and his wife talked of their travels to Kenya including a story about how his wife asked a girl who had just arrived at school with her shoes hanging from her neck by the laces what her day was like. She began her day with chores including gathering eggs and getting water. Then she hung her shoes about her neck and trotted to school on the rim of the rift valley. Shoes are required at school and she wouldn't want to ruin her shoes on the trip. After school, she trotted back home. The trip was 14 miles. At least it was downhill to get home. My 4.5 mile commute to work seems rather lame now. Kevin and I did not talk so much, but I think that we all enjoyed our trip. There was already some discussion about running at XC Nationals in St Louis in February.