look! see? I told you I wasn’t gone forever. Well I didn’t really say that out loud, but I was telepathically trying to assure all of you who were sitting at home worried I’d silently retired from blogging that I’d be back someday. I’m sure there were tons of you.
And per usual, I’m breaking my silence with a recap of something that happened 2+ weeks ago. Oops. The oual offices took a last-minute vacay for the holidays, I guess.
Enjoy, whoever’s still out there following!
If you found running later in life like I did, “cross country” might have a fuzzy stigma in your head. Or it doesn’t have any place in your head because you immediately forgot it existed after high school.
But it’s still out there! Similar to the discovery that track & field events actually occur in the space between school and the Olympics, cross country exists in a little post-scholastic corner of the running world, too. SHOCKER, I know.
Much like my first trip to the oval for track spectating, I went into Club XC Nationals week like, “duh, I’m a runner, they’re going to run. I get it.” I knew Oiselle had four teams of Volee runners (Masters, Washington, Oregon, Colorado) and it was my job to get profile-worthy action shots of all of them. I knew the course was 6 kilometers, recognized a few of the professional names on the start list, and even did my due diligence of researching whether cowbells were allowed on the course and if coffee would be served. Top notch fan girl race prep.
(coffee AND beer were both available, for the record)
Yet somehow, as we strolled up to the race Saturday morning I felt like I was entering this underground ring of running – like Fight Club with fewer black eyes and more female six packs. And no secret soap coverup.
Wandering around the athlete staging area there was this buzz in the atmosphere. Before a road race there’s a collective anxiousness and excitement, like a thousand little pennies all being thrown into a wish fountain. Club Cross felt like taking those pennies to a Coinstar machine and putting the green on the table like, “yeah man I’m all in, let’s go” and strutting around with an “I’m here to fuck shit up” attitude to match it.
photo cred instagram.com/sarahoual
It was awesome in a half inspiring, half intimidating sort of way. One second I was wishing for a bib and spikes to join the fun, the next I was praising my safety from the high-powered pain train about to rip up the course.
Aside from the all-around badass-ness there were a few things from Club Cross Country Nationals that really stood out as major perks of the sport. I mean, there’s got to be some tradeoff for the grit and gore, right?
1) The cheering, excitement, and mid-race spectator sprints
At “Club Nats” there were four separate races – Masters Women, Masters Men, Open Women, Open Men. Like a football game with time to get more beer and pee between quarters, the ebb and flow of extreme energy to excited anticipation was palpable. Runners cheering along the course during their warm up, spectators racing from point to point of the multi-loop course to cowbell and yell their faces off, and a mad dash for the finish area to catch the epic over-the-hills-and-through-the-woods final sprint. I got a mad runners high just being on the sidelines (not to mention logged nearly two miles of unorthodox interval work.)
Mac ‘belling and the pirate flag that proved very beneficial for faraway teammate spotting
2) What Time?
In the running world most of us know, race day means a race against the clock. Except that one really tiny 5k I ran in Ohio last summer and got to battle the other five women for overall placing, my race success will always be measured by minutes and seconds. Faster than goal, faster than last time, faster than personal best, etc.
In cross country, you run as a team, and are scored by place, not time. I went on the course preview run and all I could think was, “Good god this is tough! These hills! Holy crap I’m so glad I’m not running…” because in my time-based head, running a murderously tough course like that is recipe for clock disappointment.
But the XC seasoned vets were discussing race tactics and course conditions at dinner, and I realized that no one was worried about finish time. They talked about when to pass, how to keep targets in sight, and an “eat em all up” kick through the line.
Oiselle Team manager KMet kicking
LF = Lauren Fleshman back from baby, kicking ass
3) Road Hazards
Oh, you run on a flat, paved road for miles and miles? Me too. I thought it was badass until I watched women in buns and bras run through snow, up steep hills, over hay bales (what the?! how’d those get there?!), and down root, rock, and mud pit terrain at max effort. A running world where the term “spike up” is commonplace and the race director gets kudos based on course difficulty is one that I bow down to with the utmost respect.
I took good notes so maybe someday I’ll be able to hop a curb on my pavement run without looking like a flailing primadona…
4) Box Starts
Alright, imagine you’re in the corral for a road race. Got it? Yes, that is somebody’s armpit on your shoulder and OW! the chick in front of you totally just heeled you in the crotch with her last-minute quad stretch. The gun goes off and the herd slowly creeps forward like a cattle train until you cross the bottlenecked start line and finally get to stretch your awkward power walk into a run. Errrr right after a quick dodge of the walker ladies who lined up toes to the line.
Now, imagine that long-and-narrow corral is turned on its side and opened up from the side. Now tuck a group of 1-8 teammates together in a “box” (spray painted lines on the grass) and smush nearly 60 of those boxes across the line. Shoot off a gun and let the massive mad dash and jockeying for position begin.
Fun, right?? Like a horse race, without the big hats.
5) Team Love
More than anything else though, witnessing the bond between teammates was the best part of the weekend. Not only with the Oiselle teams, most of whom had never met before this weekend, but with all the other clubs represented as well. You could see teammates running together, working off each other. Men cheering and feeding race intel to their female counterparts. Joyous finish line celebrations. And so. many. hugs.!
As a late-in-life convert, running has always been very individual, and slightly one-dimensional to me. These adventures in XC, the track, and even a few undocumented forays into the trail/ultra world have really opened my eyes to the wide, WIDE world of the sport. I encourage everyone to look outside their normal routine, their regular path, their comfort zone – there might be something out there that grabs at that big strong runner heart of yours even harder than you thought possible.
If you need me in the meantime I’ll be at my local run shop trying on spikes and looking for haybales to borrow.
- postscript: It goes without saying, but many a 10 Barrel, Crux, Silvermoon, and various other delicious Bend brews were consumed during the making of this trip. Brian is now demanding Oregon as our next vacation destination, so my secret agenda for the past two years of PNW traveling has been accomplished.