Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cow Chip 6K Cross Country Race

I left late for the race, which is often a good think for me when I'm driving. I jacked up the Nickelback and drove from my house to Trumbull in 25 minutes. A good exhilarating drive gets me going in the morning, and this was a nice, safe, but fast ride.

I warmed up with Charlie Hornak, stripped down to my EH gear, and did my strides between the starting line and the goal post- which we are required to pass under. The middle of the football field was pretty muddy, and the mud was about half-frozen. That is a recipe for slipping, so I did quite a few passes at race speed to get my line. I like using picking a line as a warm-up. It keeps me from getting nervous, allows me to do my warm-up, and hopefully gets me off to a good start.

The race started out and it was a typical scrum, some kids that had no business firing out of the blocks at the front, the high school kids that are legitimate working together, and a few older guys like me trying to hang in with the main pack. I was right on the shoulder of the kid I thought looked like the biggest threat. I got the the exact line I wanted- I had to turn my upper body to get my right shoulder clear of the goalpost- basically using it to scrape off anyone that might be trying to take a more inside line to the flags.

It didn't matter. As I turned back, I saw about half a dozen people who had decided that through the goalposts didn't apply to them and had taken a direct line to the first flag, which to me is kind of, well, cheating.

It didn't matter. There was a group of about six of us in the front, and I was the caboose. But the pace felt pretty moderate. Then again, it often does. I can't tell you how many times at half a mile I've been in an A or B group (usually B) and found myself thinking about how pleasant the pace was, only to be dying at a mile and kicking myself. But no, this was hard, but doable. Nobody was pulling away, although the kid I'd marked out of the gate was asserting himself. He had a chance to catch himself some pavement, but I stayed on the grass because it was shorter and the grass was half-frozen. I was able to make it a two man race and we pulled away from the other guys.

I was trying to decide a strategy- I wasn't expecting to be in a two-man race half a mile into the race but I know how rare these chances are for a guy like me and you have to immediately change your mindset and start thinking about winning the race. I wanted to press him, but in a short race, well, if it's a ten-miler, I think you can dog your opponent until they crack. Anything under 5 miles, I don't have the raw mental fortitude to play possum. It's a smarter strategy, but I'd rather be in front and trying to run away than off the shoulder and trying to hold on. I hate that. No matter how well I'm running I feel like I'm barely hanging on.

We traded the lead a few times in the woods, but I never felt like any of the times the kid I was jockeying with was making that terminal pass. I know that feeling- getting passed and knowing it's over, 'it's been nice, but...'

I came out of the woods and decided I wanted to be in first. It's a weakness. It's not just that I want to run my race. I'm not a speed guy. I'm either running from the front or going off the back. And I'd rather be the guy doing the hard work. So I followed Marty on his bike and hauled my ass over the grass. I had a song from Nickelback in my head and I just ran.

Being in the lead is really, really rare for me. It's not easy. One one hand, the foremost thing you have to do is just keep running like nothing's different. You either run your race or you don't. Whether you are first, fifth, or fiftieth, you have to try and maintain a sane pace. That's not to say that maybe you don't go a little harder. But not much.

But it's tough. If you are leading a one-loop road race you follow the pace car and head for the finish line. But this was a first-year cross country course on a course that winds back on itself (plenty of double-headed arrows). Well-marked or not, pace bike in parts and volunteers in others or not, if you make a mistake, so does everyone else. I would HATE to screw up one of Marty's races with some kind of half-brained wrong turn.

The sun was out, there was no one in front of me, and I was trying to run my widest stride. I was running well, I was running cross-country.

I would have loved to have been able to just relax. Nickelback's If Today Was Your Last Day was in my head. I couldn't relax. I just kept plowing along, never looking back. Through the woods, around the fence, and back towards the barn.

Marty says 'Jump the stream.'

I go in full-bore. Jump-schmump. I made a mistake jumping a stream running a race in Stillwater one dark October day when I was 16 years old- and yes, I remember crazy-shit like that- and ever since I go down in, and come back out. Only my foot caught on a root. I took a full header into the ditch.

First rule- your feet never stop moving. Second rule, those things on the end of your wrist- second pair of feet. I grabbed the long grass, hauled myself back to my feet, threw the grass aside, and started running again, glad just not to have been overtaken.

I followed Marty until I realised he was going to ride on top of the hill, but I was headed down.

My feet got really wet as I ran along the stream, but I didn't care. I had to find that last gear and keep moving. Before I knew it I was back in the woods, hauling real ass now, running well.

The rest of the race after the fall was uneventful. I saw I had a chance to break 22, so I worked to the line, and that was it.

Race over. I'd finished before everyone else.

Sweet !

Thanks Marty. And thanks to Mark from Trailheads for the sweet head gear he provided the race winners. I was actually wearing a Trailheads hat during the race, and I got another awesome one today. He's got a lot of great gear, and this is the time of year you need to keep your head warm. He's got a great hat that lets the sweat out and the heat in.

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