I finally got in a XC race with enough teammates to score! The race was a club/community race a couple hours away and one of my Oiselle Volee teammates had done the tough work of recruiting and organizing a scoring team (4 person team in this case).
I drove down the morning of (over slightly icy roads and through glorious views of snow-capped peaks) and met my 3 teammates as we gathered before the race. It was still chilly but sunny and clear – perfect racing weather! We enjoyed the rare opportunity to warm up as a team, did some panicked pre-race peeing in the bushes (yay for only 1 working park-bathroom toilet and a huge herd of runners :-[), and then lined up in a small grass field for the start. There were about 100 runners in the race and we were several spots deep on the small starting line, shadows blending together in the bright early morning sunlight. We stood and said the pledge of allegiance (which was especially meaningful/nerve-inducing in light of the upcoming election) and then took our ‘ready’ stance to wait for the starting whistle.
“Pweeeeeeet!” The whistle blew and we were off, streaming around the starter and race director who hugged the single telephone pole amid the jostling crowd of runners. I got out well and found myself being swept along the first few turns, legs feeling like they were spinning out of control. At only 400m in we hit the infamous creek crossing, which was less of a creek and more of a deep, rocky ditch that caught several runners unaware. Fortunately my teammates who’d done the course previously had warned me about the tripping hazard and I scampered through without getting tripped up. I then almost ran straight into the back of an older man who’d sprinted the start but was now easing up a bit on the rolling hills. I slipped past him and continued weaving my way along with the rushing stream of fellow runners.
The first mile was windy, narrow, and rocky, and although my lungs and muscles felt fine I felt like I was running just barely in control, and was a little worried about tripping due to only being able to see the backs of the runners ahead of me and a foot or two of the ground in front of my feet. Thankfully the path widened at the mile mark and I was able to get a bit more room and focus on a group of 3 women ahead of me. We turned onto a small loop for mile 2 that wove through a boardwalk and a long stretch of brush-edged dirt single track. I was holding steady behind the women in front of me coming out of that loop and back onto the wide section, but then got passed by another woman who was moving strongly towards the group. I borrowed some of her momentum to work my way up towards the group going into the single track but didn’t know if I’d actually be able to catch them. We entered the third mile and also started lapping runners who were on their first little boardwalk/singletrack loop.
I tried to gasp a ‘good job’ to each runner I passed as I chased down the pack of women in front of me. I suddenly realized that if I had the air to say ‘good job’ I could probably be pushing harder, and used a little lull in pace as an opportunity to throw in a surge past the entire group of women and towards the two lead women who were starting to pull away in front. The effectiveness of my little burst kind of surprised me – I dropped the group without any resistance and found myself gaining slightly on the woman in front of me.
We came out of the little loop and into the final half mile and I tried to lengthen my stride to see if I could chase her down. As we wound into the final 200m I couldn’t quite close on her, but pushed a final kick as a runner came up behind me, breathing loudly. “Ahhhh don’t let that be that pack of women!” I thought as I sprinted into the finish.
As I bent over feeling a bit barfy I was pleased to see it’d actually been a couple guys that made my finish panicky, and that they’d pushed me to a 20:05 5k! Soooo close to that sub-20 goal! I was even more pleased to get to cheer in my teammates who were sprinting in just a few seconds behind me!
There’s just something awesome about finishing a race, hands on knees, and getting to stumble your way to the side of the finishing chute to holler for your teammates! With the first 3 of us in with only a few runners between us and all finishing in the top 15 women we knew we must have scored pretty well out of the the women’s teams. We shuffled back along the finish to cheer in our final teammate and then jogged a stiff-legged cool down before enjoying the post-race spread of yogurt, crackers, and beer.
We ended up placing 2nd for the women’s teams (thus the title of this post) and basked in the post-race pain/glow for a bit with our shiny 2nd-place ribbons before all running off to kids/family/spouses and other weekend activities. With the low-key but competitive atmosphere, my almost sub-20 time, and the joy of racing with a strong team this was definitely one of the highlights of my racing season.
Hurrah for club cross-country and the awesomeness of racing with an amazing group of women!