I haven’t raced anything shorter than a half marathon in 10 years. (I don’t really count the Men’s Health Urbanalthalon last fall because a) there are obstacles and b) I was bribed with promises of ice cream and beer to take a free entry 2 days before the race.) So when I decided to dust off my college xc spikes (literally – they have been in my parents house for 10 years waiting for their return to glory) and line up with my elbows out at Lindley Meadow on Sunday for a 4 mile “sprint”, I questioned my sanity.
I only completed 1 season of XC and 2 seasons of indoor and outdoor track in college. I never even came close to winning and I don’t think I even ever scored for my team but I sure did have a lot of fun. Sunday’s race reminded me of that kind of fun that I haven’t experienced in 10 years. I love the races I do now and I love all the people I run with, but there is something different about an XC event. I think it comes down to three things: The team aspect, the start and finish line atmosphere, the shortness of the race.
I’ve only just joined the Baybirds Racing Team out of the San Francisco Running Company, but I have run a few longer races with November Project people and the team dynamic just isn’t the same at the longer races. In XC, everyone warms up together, you are working together but are also competing with each other for scoring position and you all start together. The team aspect is a big factor in the energy and excitement at the starting line as well. We didn’t have our shit together this time since it was our first race as a team and we were still introducing ourselves, but there are some fun cheers and other techniques to try to psyche out the other teams. It’s impossible not to be chomping at the bit waiting for the gun. The finish line is also a ton of fun since the men’s and women’s races are relatively close together you have your team mates there cheering for you and everyone finishes within a couple of minutes of each other. It’s also a pretty small community and I saw several runners on other teams I have met over the year running in the Bay Area and that fueled a little friendly competition and support. Even when I was getting passed by everyone (read: I went out way too fast and had to hang on for dear life) half of the ladies who passed me gave me encouraging words.
The shortness of the race is both a blessing and a curse. Short = fast. Fast=anaerobic. Anaerobic=discomfort. BUT the discomfort is only temporary and goes away pretty quickly, leaving runners feeling worked but with enough energy left to stick around and drink a few beers. This weekend’s race was especially fun because there were quite a few cross-country newbies. One guy on the men’s team who had never run XC before (who I later found out was Dylan Bowman, a North Face Pro who is an ultra beast) just kept saying how pumped he was that he wasn’t in a medical tent and how much fun it was to be able to function and drink some beers with team mates after a race. “Seriously, I am having the best Sunday ever!!” he proclaimed several times.
And you know what? He was right. The race itself was brutal for me. My college XC PR was a 6:20 pace and I finished this one in 6:40. I went out way too fast (6:05) for my current fitness and felt the hurt from mile 2.5 onward. But I wasn’t last. In fact not even close to last. I scored for my team for the first time in my running “career” (lol) and got to hang out with a bunch of really cool crazy running people afterwards. I am hooked! I’ve got a few more lined up over the next few months and wouldn’t it be great to get a faster time than my college PR?