A story of going from being a non-runner to planning for a marathon in three years...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Illinois Cross Country Club Invitation Race Report

I've never run a cross-country race. I've never even attended a meet. Everything I know about it comes from watching the movie The Long Green Line. Cross-country seems to typically be a 5K distance over grass and dirt. A little different from my usual road racing.

So when my running club's president sent out an email stating that another area running club wanted to host an all running club cross country meet I was a little apprehensive. My impression was that we needed super-fast people to run and earn points. As someone who still gets super-excited when my average race pace per mile start with an 8 I figured I probably wasn't the best woman for the team.
Running clubs from throughout Illinois are coming together to stage the first ever Illinois Cross-Country Club Invitational. It will be a team race, with the best runners from top clubs running head to head. This will be the first of what we hope will become an annual "end-of-season" friendly competition among the clubs for "bragging rights" in X-C.

But, in the end, I decided to join the team. "It'll be fun!" everyone told me. Well, Jason had plans for Saturday so I decided to pay my $8 and show up in a field north of Chicago mid-morning on Saturday.

Most of our club's team hadn't ever run a cross-country race, either. I'd read the rules but still wasn't sure how it worked. Basically, if I understand correctly, teams are scored based on assigning points to the finish place of the first four runners and the lowest score wins. We grilled some of the team members who had run cross-country in the past and I came away with the understanding that passing people was very important. Okay. Good to know.

There were two races: Open and Master's. Open is everyone under the age of 40 and Master's is 40 and over. The Open race was first so I lined up with everyone and when the race director shouted "GO" we took off like bats out of hell. The course was almost four loops of a field and from doing one loop as a warm-up I knew there were some muddy and wet sections. How do you know where the course is? Follow the white line spray painted in the grass.

I realized halfway through the first loop that I was running way too fast. And I still couldn't keep up with everyone!

As I passed John who was taking photos I shouted, "I'm in last place aren't I?" His response? "Looking good!!" So optimistic, John.

I basically felt like death. I ran that first mile in 8:00 minutes flat. For something I was doing for fun it sure didn't feel fun. Chili and beer do not a good pre-5K meal make, for future reference.

On the second loop I managed to pass a woman. Okay, now I'm not in last place. I could see across the field and realized that now there were two women behind me. While coming in dead last would be something to write about, I didn't really want it to happen.

I was fading fast, though. And all I kept thinking was "This was supposed to be fun. This is not fun." I started to get anxious about letting my team down and I felt like my legs couldn't go any faster.

The lead guys lapped me. Thankfully one of them was from our team and since he's super nice he said, "Nice job" to me as he flew past.

On the final loop the woman I'd passed came up behind me and got in front of me. "Go for it," I gasped. "You paced yourself way better than me." I never caught her again.

I knew there was one woman behind me, though. I figured she was waiting until the last minute to make her move. She pulled ahead of me in the last 200 yards. As we rounded the corner to the finish my team started screaming for me to pass her back. I really didn't want to be last. But, in a way, I'd resigned myself to it.

But then I heard Coach Holly in my head. "Come on, Erin. You're a sprinter!"

So, I sprinted.

And I screamed.

And I passed her.

And then I needed to lay down.

But I wasn't last.

After I recovered I enjoyed a beer and a hotdog while I cheered and took pictures during the Master's race.

In the end, our club finished second in the Women's Open category so I must have helped some. Not sure how, though.

I went to this event to have fun. Did I? The race itself was miserable. But cheering for my team, taking pictures, and enjoying what may be the last nice day we have this year was totally worth it. And I've been told that my finish performance was one for the books. So, as always, even though the running may not be enjoyable, the company of my running club certainly is.

Cross Country Race by snmnstrz21 at Garmin Connect - Details