Cross-country: Sometimes it rocks, sometimes giant grass loops of doom chew you up and spit you out

I ran another cross country 6k against collegiate and club athletes this Saturday out in Denver. The course was described as flat and grassy and I was really looking forward to pushing myself to a fast time against the strong field of women. I drove the few hours to the course on Saturday morning, arrived with plenty of time to warm up and take in the big HS/college meet atmosphere, and then shuffled around on the starting line with the other non-collegiate athletes looking for a non-occupied starting box. We endured one non-firing starting pistol issue and then were off!

My thoughts during the race didn’t exactly live up to my pre-race excitement…

During the crowded first mile as we all fought for space on the narrow, chalk-outlined course my thoughts ranged from the semi-positive (“Well at least I’m *near* being on the course here…and have managed to avoid getting shoved into a tree so far!”) to the frustrated (“Holy frack, what is it with these girls cutting in front of me and then slowing down?!?”). I was having some trouble finding a clear path at this point and probably wasted some energy weaving and putting in little burst to get clear. The grass proved to be a more challenging surface to run on than I’d anticipated – it was rough and uneven and kept pushing my legs around, throwing me off balance. Running over a series of awkward bumps that causes your hips to ache and thighs to continually bounce off one another isn’t exactly the best way to feel strong and graceful…

At the 2 mile mark I got clear of the crowd and my thoughts briefly turned more positive. I could see one of the women I’ve run against and placed near about 50m ahead of me so knew I wasn’t doing too terribly and had someone to focus on reeling in. Alas, shortly thereafter a side-stitch slowed me down for a bit. I recovered and picked it back up, picking off a few women, but then got hit with another bout of rough breathing. As we neared the third mile the heat (70, but blazingly sunny) started to wear on me and the good feeling patches started to be outnumbered by the rough-feeling ones. The giant grass loops seemed tedious and unending, lulling me into an inward focus that emphasized the discomfort rather than the clusters of women that I should have been focused on chasing down.

At 3 miles I tried really hard to convince my brain that 1200m wasn’t *that* far but was apparently not very persuasive, as I couldn’t find the gear or motivation to pick the pace up enough to pass the few women that were theoretically close enough to catch. The last 400m consisted of a long straight parallel to the finish straight, a hairpin turn, and then another 200m into the distant finish. I was relieved to have the entire long, agonizing 200m to myself, glad to at least avoid the shame of lacking the will power to fight another runner’s kick in the last stretch. I wobbled through the finish and my jagged breathing tried to turn into little, pitiful cries as I hunched over, hands to my knees. Thankfully some saintly volunteer handed me a lovely paper cup of chilly water and dumping this over my head brought me back to some semblance of a functional human being.

I spent a few minutes chatting with some other women about the race (we almost universally disliked the wonky grass and long-ass finish) and then did the usual cool down thing, with many more breaks than usual. At least my legs were dead in addition to my mental focus! Upon getting home I saw that I had run a bit slower than my 6k a few weeks prior, though on a tougher course. When I looked at times for women that had been at both meets the average change was actually right around 0 seconds, so I was in good company with my small increase in time.

I am still a bit disappointed by my lack of competition-brain during the race, but am glad I travelled to the meet. Even if it didn’t turn out quite as I wanted it was a grueling workout for my lungs and legs, a good experience navigating a crowded course, and a great excuse to run around in my almost-underwear with a bunch of other strangely running-obsessed women.



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