Monday, December 15, 2014

USATF Club Cross Country Nationals

Goofing off before the race
I put the word out to the Central Mass Striders racing team several months ago hoping to get interest in the USATF Club Cross Country Nationals race in Bethlehem, PA - Lehigh University. I was thrilled to get a masters and a senior team. We had  eleven in total willing to make the road trip which is about five and a half hours away. USATF New England offered a bus for which I took advantage of. I met up with Martin Tighe, Joe Shairs, Todd Callaghan, and John Gillis for a 7:00 departure in Woburn. The bus had 16 athletes from CMS, Greater Lowell Road Runners, Whirlaway, and Liberty. We dashed over to Westwood to pick up the rest of our passengers that made up Greater Boston Track Club, Hurtin for Certain, and a few more GLRR members. We were also joined by Bob Fitzgerald of New England Runner. I sat with Martin and among the CMS guys in the middle of the bus. We talked with everyone around us and had some great conversation catching up with Mark Reeder, Paul Hammond, and John Barbour. Otherwise, I listened to my iPod or closed my eyes for some light rest. We got to the host hotel around 2:00, allowed people to check in, and folks like myself to change into running clothes. We gathered back onto the bus and drove over to the xc course to preview it. We met up with the rest of the CMS crew breifly - Dave Dunham, Paul Bazanchuk, Dave Lapierre, and Dan Verrington as they were just about to leave. I saw about six miles of the course. The course layout was easy to figure out based on the map I saw earlier in the week. It was wide open fields and paths around the stadium and corn fields. It was a two loop course that was perfect for spectators and easy on the runners aside from a few hills that were not steep as much as they were long enough to slow it down. However, we thought the course was going to be fast. There was some mud at 1.1K and a little here and there at turns but overall the footing was good. I brought spikes and flats. I went with the flats for race day.
Warming up past mile 1

The bus driver was awesome to drop the CMS guys at our hotel which was only 2 miles away from the course and 16 miles from the host hotel. We checked in, showered, and headed off in the two cars that the Senior team had and over to Bella for a nice Italian dinner down the street. We dropped everyone off back at the hotel while Dave Dunham and I headed north to the host hotel to pick up our race number packets and attend the suggested technical meeting for our team. This was the first race I had entered that required back bibs indicating the age group. This is a good idea so you know the age group of the men ahead of you in the race. As soon as I found the starting line box assignment, we left. The Senior team had box 53 and our masters team had box 69 making Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots proud.

The team had breakfast in our hotel. It was cool to see other teams huddled around tables in their team gear. I was the last one to attend breakfast - grabbing some oatmeal, coffee, and yogurt. We got into the cars and headed over to the race at 9:30. Our race started at 11:30. There was plenty of parking when we arrived. Just as we got out of our cars, I saw Al Bernier arrive. We had exactly five 40+ men to make up our masters team. We had five 50+ guys and Paul Bazanchuk (60) but scoring down into the Senior team. We put our racing bags down on a tarp behind the starting line and camped out. Some teams went all out with tents on the other side of the stadium a half mile away. I did my own warm up after we got checked in 30 minutes before our start. The USATF official (clerk) was ensuring we and all other teams had the same style singlet, numbers pinned front and back, and chip secured onto our racing shoes. We were only allowed to have four men in the front box at the starting line so I took the box behind Greg, Todd, Al, and Joe. A field of almost 600 masters runners were soon taking off for the massive start. The course narrowed in about 500 meters away and I kept an eye on Joe and Al who were a few seconds ahead. I went to the right of the muddy spot at 1.1K. Most people went left or through the middle where it looked the slowest. I was next to Martin through mile one, going up an incline. I mentioned our 5:38 mile that I saw on my Garmin. Mark Reeder pulled beside at mile two and I tried my best to stay with him but lost him after mile 2 going down a hill past the stadium. The course was such that you could look ahead and see 400 meters at a time so I could make out my CMS guys ahead. Al seemed to be reeling in Joe and I could see Todd ahead of him. I battled tough in that first full loop and knew lap two was going to be tough with the same hills. The effort got hard in the 2nd loop. I couldn't wait to reach the last hill and open up over the last 2K. Well it looked like every guy around me was thinking the same thing. They were so strong and it did not matter what age. I think I only had one or two guys pass me in that stretch but will say that no one was willing to give an inch. This was cross country nationals. I ran as hard as possible up into inclined finish - scoring as our 5th man. I placed 95th with a time of 35:42.  

photo by Michael Scott
We all changed into some warm clothing and watched the next few races that started each hour. I settled for watching the women's open race and taking a few pictures instead of warming down. I also got my luggage from Paul's truck and into the Bus as we changed our plans and booked rooms at the host hotel. This eased our logistics for the rest of the weekend. Some guys left to head back to New England while the bus crew hung out and watched the rest of the races. The men's open race was particularly awesome to watch as the lead pack was huge for 2/3's of the race only to thin out at the end. It was so exciting to also see the women's race develop as I was rooting for the BAA ladies to take the team title which they did. The races were over and it was time to clean up and enjoy the rest of the events (happy hour, food, awards, et cetera) the race event had planned at the host hotel. Joe, Al, Martin, John, and I caught up with competitors and friends.

photo by Jill Forsythe
We got up early the following morning for a run. We met up with Kevin O'Neal from the BAA before heading back for the rest of his teammates. I took them through some quiet roads behind the hotel long enough until the CMS crew had to get back for breakfast and take our bus back to Boston. It was a great weekend and glad that we had the guys on board to pull this off. I was proud of the guys as I saw unofficial team results showing that we placed 9th as of Saturday night at the host hotel. Our Senior team finished 11th per those same team results, however, we were told the results may change because some age groups needed to be sorted out.

Unofficial Masters Results

By the numbers
119 (0.25) 

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