Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The End to a Great Year of Running - Club XC Championships

Last weekend I raced in the USATF Club XC Championships in Seattle. It was my last race of the year, but probably the one with the most competitive field. I was proud and fortunate to be able to run on the Bowerman Athletic Club’s (BAC) masters 40-49 year old team, a team of some of the very best masters men in Oregon. We pulled together 12 guys to form two teams of 6 broken into A and B teams where the first five runners score.

This was my first time running with a BAC team and I have to say, the BAC is a fun outfit to run for because they are serious about competing at the highest level, yet still maintain a sense of team camaraderie and encouragement. As teams go, they also do a good job of managing the logistics and organization. While it sure helps to have the sponsorship of Nike behind you, it still takes some dedicated individuals to pull it all together and take care of the details, which they do very well.

Team races are really a lot of fun, and like the Hood to Coast relay, draw the best out of people who have the support of their teammates and a little something more on the line than their own performance and personal satisfaction with a race well run.

Off with the gun at the Men's Masters 10k race start.

Knowing this was going to be my last race of the year, I put in a final block of hard training with my usual training partners, Mercy Ray and Bree Ray. In addition to the Ray sisters, we pulled together some workouts with other friends and teammates who would also be racing in Seattle, namely Bob Julian, Maggie Donavan, and Dave Engstrom. Doing these workouts together in the weeks before the race helped get us all excited and ready physically and mentally to race cross country. In addition to Bob Julian and I on the BAC masters team, Mercy and Bree and Maggie represented the Rogue Valley Runners women's open team and Dave ran with a Oregon Track Club masters team.

Coming through the second kilometer of the men's masters race.

On race day our two BAC men’s masters 40+ teams and a BAC men’s 50s team toed the line with over 350 masters men racers. The race was 10 kilometers, covering five laps of two kilometers each on a relatively flat grassy golf course. As cross country courses go, this was like a grass track, with a long start and finish straightaway and no real hills. My plan was to start out conservatively the first kilometer and slowly work my way up and try to kick hard at the end. For the most part that was exactly how I raced, covering the first mile in 5:39 then clicked off four more miles at 5:45 pace before slowing a bit on mile 6. Coming into the straight away to the finish I reminded myself this was the last race of the year and every point counts in cross country, so dig down and catch some of these guys in front of you, which I did. Nobody passed me in the last 400 meters and I caught at least 6 guys before the finish line.

Hanging on in the middle of the race.

In the end, I finished 114th in the men's masters race which put me at 75th in the 40-49 age group for team scoring. My time was 36:43 for 10k. Although it is cross country and actual distances are really not that relevant, my Garmin showed the final distance as 6.39 miles. And, yes I wore a Garmin, it is the watch I always wear. And no I was wasn't using it for pacing, I was there to race, but I do like to look at my stats afterwards.

Sporting the BAC black.

With about one kilometer left to run I heard a guy coming up on me breathing hard and rhythmically like an air compressor working in overdrive. As this heavy breather caught me, I realized it was my friend and fellow competitor Joe Dudman from Portland. At first I thought, what the heck was Joe doing behind me, but that thought passed quickly as I heard my brain say “Stick with him, go with Joe”. I managed to tuck in behind for about 100 meters, but Joe was pushing hard and I was just hanging on. Joe pulled away and kept it up to the end bettering me by 11 seconds.

Trying to hang onto Joe Dudman with 900 meters to go.

Since I was on the B team, I knew I was not in the scoring for a possible podium finish for the BAC, but our A team had to be in the running for 2nd or 3rd. First place was sewn up easily by the men from the Atlanta Track Club, aided by the overall masters winner. In the end, they scored an impressive 22 points and walked away with first. The race for 2nd and third was a little tighter, but in the end, the BAC A-Team finished fourth just one point away from a tie for 3rd. Had we tied and gone to the score of the 6th man BAC would have won the tie breaker. In fact, the depth of the BAC A and B squads was such that our B team, which I was the fourth runner, still finished 10th in the team scoring and with the exception of the Atlanta Track winning team, our 6th through 11th (all the rest of our team) were the fastest performer for those relative team positions.

Bringing it home at the finish.

This race and running with the BAC team was a great finale to my best running year so far. I was able to run lifetime PRs in the 5k, 10k, and marathon and even run faster over 5k and 10k than I did many years ago in High School. I set what I thought at the time were ambitious time goals (16:45 5k, 35:00 10k, 1:18:00 half marathon, 2:45:00 marathon) at the beginning of the year, and while I only achieved two (sub-35 minute 10k, sub-1:18 half marathon), I came close in all and trained myself to a level of fitness that made them all a real possibility if not probable. Along the way, I found some great training partners in the Rogue Valley and hope to continue on the same upward trajectory. Although I am relatively new to being a competitive masters runner, having taken so many years off from running, I am still improving and waiting to find that point where aging catches up with improving performance. So far it hasn’t arrived. Until then, I’ll keep training even harder, and hopefully smarter, than last year, and see where I can take this.

Time to rest and set some new goals and challenges for 2012. See you at the races.

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