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Cross Country = The miracle cure for my running sadness

Posted Aug 24 2009 12:18pm
Yesterday I ran my first Cross Country race for the first time in over 23 years. I had been looking forward to running Cross Country again for over a year when I first signed up as a member of the PAUSATF in August '08. But last fall I was in the thick of marathon training and had nothing else on the brain. This year I have already run most of the Spring and early summer PA road races and I will run a couple more in the fall, but I really put it into my brain that I would run as many cross country races as possible in 2009. I had made up my mind about this way back in January and looked forward to XC all year.

I think my urge to run XC might have been the beginning of the end of the coach/athlete relationship with Pete. Yes, my ultimate goal is to be a sub-3:00 marathon runner, but a huge goal of mine is to enjoy every aspect of running along the way. Remember when I was feeling like not running anymore? It was because training on the roads and focusing on the marathon started to make me feel anxious, tired and bored. I really liked running the shorter stuff over the Spring, culminating with the Shriners 8K in June. Then the San Francisco Half was thrown in there to determine how to proceed with marathon training in the Fall. The entire time I kept thinking, "I can't wait to run XC!"

When I asked Pete about running XC while building up the miles for the marathon I didn't get the answer I wanted but I was willing to forego the XC season and run just a couple XC races at the end... but I was bummed. I think he sensed that, and shortly afterward things started to crumble between us. I went through a mourning period after we went our separate ways. I also felt hurt, as though he did not believe in me and that I was not good enough to be coached by someone like him. I felt pretty down on running for a few days and didn't run for 4 days last week, but opted to cross train for 2 of the 4 days.

This brings me back to the present. Knowing that I wanted to run the first XC meet of the season yesterday, I did an easy run with technique drills on Thursday. LOL. Just one running day between last Sunday and yesterday's race.

I was up at 5:00 a.m. and after a quick cup of java, drove 2-1/2 hours to Santa Cruz for the meet. Got there at 8:00 a.m., just in time to turn in my registration and pick up my bib. I met Tara and we ran a 2 mile warm up together on the course, then met up with the rest of the team.

FOUR of the women on our team yesterday have experience that I can only dream of. One of the women is an Olympian. She has run 4 OT, was on the World Championship team in '95 and on the the Olympic Team in 1996. She's now 48 but still ran at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Boston in '08. The 2nd woman is now 42 and ran in the World Championship Marathon 3 times, and in a couple of Olympic Marathon Trials. She just had her 2nd baby 8 months ago, so yesterday was her first race in a LONG time. The third woman ran in the OT for the 10,000m last year and the 4th woman ran in two Olympic Marathon Trials. Despite their credentials, these women are super sweet, motivating to the whole team and quite modest. Very cool and very inspiring.

So the gun goes off and the first mile is a good uphill climb for most of the way. Coupled with lots of loose rocks and tree stumps, it made for a slow mile (for almost the entire field according to post race recaps). As I ran the first mile I got passed a lot and the negative chatter began. I thought, "I don't belong here. I'm fat. What am I doing here? I'm a joke." The first mile felt plain bad and I ran it in 8:00.

After the first mile the climb leveled off but we still climbed a bit to the 2nd mile (the turnaround point). The 2nd mile was in the sun. My body started to recover from the steeper climb in the first mile so I could feel myself picking up the pace. As I felt stronger and started to gain on a couple of runners I thought, "I deserve to be here. I'm better than this. I can totally take these women." I passed the two runners.

I could smell the smoke in the air from the Santa Cruz wildfires, and I could see the smoky haze all around us. The cool part was I got to see the front runners as they ran back toward the finish after the turnaround. The woman in first place was the 48-year old former Olympian on our team! I was working too hard to yell for her, but she was seriously focused and kicking ass. I have NEVER seen such determination and hard work on the face of a runner like that before. At this moment I thought, " So THAT is what race effort is supposed to look like." With that I picked up the pace and passed two more women before the turn around. My 2nd mile was 7:29.

On my way to the turnaround I noticed that 4 of our runners were in the top 5 women overall! Definitely a sweep victory of this meet. That's how they finished, too. Awesome. And Tara took the 5th spot on our team, so in her first XC race ever she scored points for the team!!! She looked so strong. I was inspired to pick up the pace and just give it everything I had.

After the turnaround the course went down hill a bit and back into the heavily wooded forest. I focused on two more women who were probably about 5 seconds ahead of me. They were running strong though. Just as I thought I was getting closer, they'd hear me and pick it up and pull further ahead. It went on like this for the last 1-1/2 miles. My third mile was 7:00.

The last mile veered into a different direction than the way we came, so the course was not an out and back. The last mile was my favorite as it was heavily wooded with very soft, soft ground and was comprised of rolling hills the entire way. The tricky part was making sure not to twist an ankle on the rocks or on the tree stumps. Nevertheless, the dense trees and the soft ground made me feel fresh and strong and I ran it as hard as I could in order to catch the two women ahead of me. The women further ahead just took off, and for a while I caught the other one and we stuck together for about the last half mile, then truly raced each other to the finish line. She pulled ahead of me with about 10 meters to go and finished about two feet in front of me. My last mile was 6:37. She thanked me for pushing her and I thanked her for pulling me!

I was the last woman on my team to finish but that's okay. What I got out of the experience was purely positive. Not one negative thing. I took my negative brain talk and shut it down. I got faster with every mile. I passed 4 women and did not get passed after the first mile. I pushed myself through the rough spots and did not finish anywhere near last place! (That was my fear).

The best thing about yesterday was it made me excited to start consistent training again... even for the marathon. So I'm going to run about 4 more XC races this season while building my mileage up for the marathon in December. I'll use the XC races as speed sessions and cut out any other hard stuff (except the long run) during the weeks I run them. In off race weeks I'll alternate tempo runs, long hill repeats and technique drills, as well as the long run. Around mid October I'll switch out the technique drills for shorter speed intervals.

I love Cross Country and don't want to give it up when I don't have to. Yesterday's race shook me awake and told me that I don't need a coach to believe in me... I need ME to believe in me. And at the risk of sounding like an old Saturday Night Live sketch, I'm good enough, I'm strong enough, I deserve to be out there running, racing and training as much as anybody else.

I love our team, I love running. I feel so blessed! Here's a picture of the start.
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