How would being a tree be.
Over there, that tree.
I’m not a tree.
Maybe it would be nice to be one.
To stand there in the wind, or maybe
Not, on a windless day.
You don’t have to eat,
Rather you soak in food with your toes.
And you breath through your leafy arms.
But you wouldn’t know that, would you,
Because you’re a tree.
No thinking. No sorrow.
No boredom, even.
At least I think,
But how would I know?
I’m not a tree.
I am, however very tired. Although I’m in Colorado, it’s the runner’s high I’m drenched in, sprawled out on the grass and reveling in the sweet, sick exhaustion that twelve kilometers of cross country at altitude just beat into me, or rather, I beat into myself. It’s weird, the things that pop into your brain when it’s deoxygenated. On race cool-downs I can be reduced to a babbling Shakespearian-esque clown, s-wordplay drawn, in my mind brilliant but in truth muddled to the ears of those bothering to listen. Hypoglycemia and endorphins steep into a soup of post-nervous energy expenditure elation until I find some kilocalories and lite beer and bring myself back to the normal world. Especially amplified by a good long race, these feelings put the addiction in running.
Saturday’s US Cross Country Championships involved six laps of a two kilometer loop on Boulder’s Flatiron golf course. Though the sun, seventy degree temperatures, and accurate venue name made for nice conditions, the 5200 feet of elevation made it a little harder for lowland-lubbers like me. Unlike a mile or even 5k, my (hardtack and lard) this race was long enough that it’s come to rest in my memory not unlike some Homeric epic with defeats and victories preceding the final result. It was war out there, and there was definitely carnage.
In the first 2k lap, everyone’s nervous energy burned hotly around sharp fenced off turns and through the small rocky ditch about 1800 meters into each loop. By the first pass by the start/finish area, the major contenders had roughly sorted themselves into a contingent near the front. Andrew and I were close together in about 25th place. In fact I almost fell shortly into the second lap and his body helped catch me. (That is team work) Soon after my comfort level began declining rapidly and I knew this wouldn’t be a “relax and roll” kind of race. Every passing minute would require focus.
I began drifting away from the main pack from 3k to 6k into the race. In the moment I was fighting off negative thoughts, trying not to think about the distance remaining. I started thinking “Damn it, this is it. I’m going backwards and the next 25 minutes are going to be helltitude.” But I hung in, and midway into the fourth lap, somewhere around 5k to go, I began making passes around some highly credentialed guys slipping backwards. Each gave me a small confidence boost and my focus sharpened. I promised myself I wouldn’t save much for a spectacular kick and instead started moving far out from the tape.
One last challenge remained: the all-of-six-foot sand bunker decline with 600 meters to go. My legs were so dead that they got tangled in themselves and I hit the deck. Muscle memory from my skateboarding days took over and I combat rolled and popped right up, hardly losing any time. Ian Burell was on my tail and I couldn’t afford to lay in the dirt. Shaken up, I “took off” (which probably meant a blazing five minute pace at this point) with another runner in my sights ahead. In the finishing chute I just missed getting him for a fifteenth place finish in 38:14.
I wasn’t going to let myself be disappointed in fifteenth, not after how low I sunk mentally and how hard I fought back. Though I missed my goal of making the world cross country team, which required a top-six showing, I realize that sometimes you have to be pleased with a bloody guts and little glory result. If you can’t be alright with missing goals sometimes, you’ll never have the gas to get them. This mentality counterweights complacency, but I’ll save being hard on myself for other days and (shorter) races.
I felt a bit of a pang looking at the 2k loop splits published post race day. Let’s just say my fastest loop was only two seconds faster than the winner’s slowest. But I’m not a tree, and I’m also not a pure cross country guy. As an aside, this years field was high quality, which is a good thing for American distance running. I’d argue (as C. Derrick has) that greater participation in cross country by our pros improves our Olympic chances on the track. Many guys are going straight to the track post collegiately, perhaps excessively. Either way, these results represent a vast improvement in my ability over hill and dale. (but not sand bunker) In high school I finished only as high as fifth at the Wisconsin state cross country meet and was never an All American in NCAA cross country. Doing “pretty good” this weekend translates to exciting prognostications for track, and that has been the plan all along since September.
Now the plan shifts toward the oval via the roads. Next week I’ll be running a road 5k in Armagh, Ireland. On π day is the Gate River Run / US road championships 15k in Jacksonville. A rest week precedes the buildup into outdoor track season and lots of fun races. I apologize in advance if I meet you on a cool down.
A preliminary schedule of my upcoming races:
|Venue / Distance
|Armagh Road 5k
|Gate River Run
|Blue Shoes Mile
|Payton Jordan Invitational
|Palo Alto, CA