Normally I'll do whatever I can for an advantage, but no hat or running pants just wan't worth it. Some didn't even use long sleeves! I feel underdressed. Today I raced for Emde Sports, so about all I could sport for the military was a desert camouflage combat wrap (known as a buff to most of you).
My usual race day ritual is to shave my head and do some strategizing. I needed my hair for the cold and knew there was no reason to strategize. I was in way over my head and I knew it. At 1:30 PM I’d be racing in Cross Country Club Nationals. I’m not an XC runner. Heck, I’m not exactly a road racer either. I’m a well rounded triathlete. Being well rounded means I’m not quite what you’d consider spectacular at any one of the disciplines, unless you consider my transitions. We wouldn’t be doing a triathlon and I’m pretty sure you’d have a fight on your hands if you tried to push me outside in this weather after a swim. XC Club Nationals isn’t just a national championship. It’s a team championship. Every really fast guy would bring several of his really fast friends. With around 325 athletes signed up, I was expecting one of my lowest finish places in over a decade. The percentage of people likely to finish ahead of me today was going to be an embarrassing new high number for me.
Hanson-Brooks is next to us with a few straglers between. We actually had a great spot on the far left of the start corral. We needed spikes for packed snow and ice. Evan got spiked out there, but the blood froze to his leg before it made a big mess. Blood makes for a better story. Thanks Evan.
My usual mindset of denial, which usually happens somewhere between the start and finish, was replaced with a feeling of complete failure well before the race started. How could I train so hard, for so many years, and find myself in a race where I’d finish so far back that I’d have a hard time looking in a mirror and seeing an athlete? It’s times like these that I find out what I’m really made of. It’s hard to take away something that I’ve done for 32 of my 36 years to see what’s beneath.
You can see a large pack cresting the hill with a few straglers already dropped. I'm just barely able to keep myself from being one of them.
I found out XC Club Nationals was held here in Spokane when I was asked to run on a team. I was going to be the slowest guy on the team. In a race like this, I’m OK with that role. For some reason, Sims, Pileggi and I were bumped from the team. I was relieved to be avoiding an embarrassing defeat, but the runners that replaced us didn’t make sense. Moreover, I’m basically obligated to announce my participation in these races to my chain of command. In order to explain why I’m not racing, I have to know the reason myself. Repeated phone calls and e-mails to the team captain were not returned. Although I knew we were in over our head, I agreed to race with the other two on another team in hopes of extracting a little competition justice. More importantly, I had already given them my word when I agreed to race on a team with them. There are times when all a person has is his word, so I make it something people know they can count on.
This is the lead pack, which I'm still in. We're more than a mile in and I'm at the back of the quarter-mile long pack. Forest Braden took third, so he's probably right in the mix here. Bresson is in the middle of the straight just behind the bend. Hadway is probably somewhere around Bresson.
Despite knowing I was about to be destroyed, I don’t see myself having a loser mentality. If you’ve read my stories, you’ll know I’m realistic, but also try to push myself until I break. I prepared for this race in the same way that I do all my others. Although I was about to be annihilated, it would happen as I did the very best I could do. Perhaps that was the most frustrating part.
Here I am after a mile making a serious move as I've already passed about five runners. I'm sure my move was announced over the PA and the leaders were really worried.
When I arrived at the race venue, I attempted a warm-up. Ever run on uneven ice-covered terrain in winds blowing stinging snow and ice crystals into your eyes and any exposed skin at speeds almost fast enough to push you to the ground that was already primed for having your feet slip out from under you? Yep, that was so much fun I almost bought a hot chocolate and watched the race from my toasty car. Like always, it’s one lie after another as I soon found myself at the start line and ready to go. My team was lined up next to Hanson-Brooks, an Olympic Development Team, with at least one Olympian competing. That’s a real morale booster right there. Thanks USATF for demoralizing me even more before the race started.
Here we are about to run along the edge of the Spokane River ... I think. I never saw it as I was too busy trying to fight my way through the wind without falling on my caboose.This is Brian Sell of Hanson-Brooks. He runs his marathon right around 5:00 pace. That's 26.22 miles at 5:00 for every mile on average. Even though he's on fire, I bet he's cold too and having trouble running this course quickly.
Speaking of demoralizing, when the race did start, we headed through a large chute for well over a quarter mile. Before the bottleneck, we ascended a small hill. Just before cresting that hill, I looked to the left and could see that I was ahead of about six or seven people. The good news is that the bottle neck didn’t affect me. I didn’t exactly have to battle for position. My legs felt slow today, which was clearly the case as I watched Sims and Pileggi pull quickly away. Normally I can hang with them or keep it close. Not that it would have mattered much, but it would have been nice to not run like a turtle. The mile markers were off, but I was using GPS. Despite running poorly, I went off a little too fast for me today. Somehow I was able to dig deep enough to hold that pace, making me so tired it grew increasingly tough to keep my feet under me (more due to rubber legs than uneven icy terrain).
I'm just about to ascend the little hill to the right of the guy in the picture. Notice how his number is blown under his arm pit. Yep, thirty-five MPH winds will do that to 'ya, especially when you're running around 10 MPH into that wind for an apparent wind of 45 MPH! We're really not having a lot of fun.
Holding my pace despite the rolling terrain, wind and ice, I was able to start picking people off around a mile in and continued to the end. We wound back and forth so often that I would have had no idea what direction I was heading if it weren’t for the wind that often left me struggling to keep moving forward. After 37:27 I found my way to the finish line at 6.30 miles. Sims had 6.29 miles and we both had similar numbers from yesterday’s preview of the course. My average pace was 5:56.72 for the distance, but the web site didn’t account for the extra distance, which slowed my official average to 6:01.4. I came in at 265th of 314 finishers! That puts me in the bottom 16%. Hey, a new PW (personal worst). It wouldn’t have been much better even if several athletes didn’t quit. Even a good run would have been over 200th place today. Only a last place finish in a 1993 ultra marathon when I was a sprinter at EWU was a lower percentage. FYI, sprinters aren’t well suited for an ultra marathon. I should have known that without trying it, but it took just thirteen miles to find that out and many more miles to help me remember it FOREVER! The only time I placed worse than today during this decade was in the Chicago Marathon with a 2:41:55, which only netted me 303rd place. That race was one of the world’s big five marathons with an international elite field and tens of thousands racing. That was actually a respectable performance.
I'm fourth from last in this pic. I have no idea what lap we're in, but my guess is the second lap. I was able to gut it out and pass everyone in this pic. We're talking small victories during a major defeat.
I was third on my XC team, but was a long way back on the other team’s captain who replaced the three of us. On the other hand, the team I was on had a faster combined time than his team. Looks like I’m back to square one in talking about small victories. Although it was somewhat humiliating to be beaten so badly, I ran so hard that I nearly passed out well before the finish line. Only the dread of lying in the snow forced me to fight off collapsing at the finish line and for several minutes after. Just a few of my gutsiest performances rival the effort I put in today, which belies today’s poor performance. The primary reason I pushed so hard is that I cannot let my team down. They count on me and cannot do it for me, so I give them my very best because that’s what teams deserve. Several times in the past I’ve given up my spot on a team that would have broken a record with me competing instead of the faster guy I gave my spot to. It’s ironic, but sometimes nothing is the best thing you can do. I hate to say it, but Sims and Pileggi shouldn’t have been bumped from a team of runners faster than they are. They beat me by around 1.5 minutes and I finished well ahead of the runners they were replaced with. No matter how the pieces fell today, I knew I was going to be taking a beating for someone else. I just wish I could have done more.
I'm embarrassed, pissed off at myself, frozen, exhausted and ready to get this over with. If I could have run faster, then I would have been done sooner. I'm already thinking about the training I'll be doing to avoid this kind of whoopin' in the future. Sometimes you have to go through hell in order to get to heaven.
So I went to bed last night, knowing that I’d end up feeling like a failure and I was exactly right. I know that years of training for one thing won’t make me good at another, but feelings don’t always make sense. The good thing is that my experience revealed character. I think it will also lend to building more of it. We all see ourselves differently as a result of the things we experience. What I find important is how I respond to these things. In a race where even my best performance would have left me feeling completely outclassed, I raced terribly to make me feel even worse. I didn’t go home, have a really good cry and quit sports forever so I could take up fun things like: having a life, sleeping, not being tired all the time and having my HR under 160 BPM during dinner. Instead I found motivation and commitment sprouting in the fertile soils of defeat. Bad days happen, but how I respond is what really matters. As long as I’m trying to be a serious competitor, I will never leave another race feeling like I did today. Being outrun by over a minute per mile! Two-hundred and sixty-fifth place! There’s no excuse for that. Mark my words, because I promise you I’ll never get beat like that again.Finally done! Too bad it took this race to make me realize that I've allowed myself to be satisfied with my results. Satisfaction is a word of laziness. This kind of reminds me of the 1985 Steve Camp song called "Shake Me to Wake Me" off his Doing My Best CD. It's a Christian song about living in mediocrity. He said "shake me to wake me." Today's experience reminded me of a song I haven't heard for a couple decades, but the message applies to how I approach all I do, including my races.