There is a saying in the running community that goes something like this:
If you want to understand yourself, run a mile. If you want to understand the world, run a marathon. And if you want to achieve full-fledged self-actualization, run cross-country.
I might add to that running in below-freezing temperatures with 20mph winds and snowflakes the size of your thumbnail.
These were the conditions that I faced last weekend, along with my fellow CRC Elite teammates, at the 2017 USATF Club Cross-Country National Championships in Lexington, KY. My training leading up to the race had not been ideal—my third semester of graduate school had taken a toll and I came into the race feeling a little less than fit. Still, I was excited to toe the line with some of the best runners in the country and see what I could do on the day.
The men’s open race would be the fourth and final event of the afternoon—a chilly 10-kilometer jaunt over rolling hills and hard-frozen grass. When I arrived at the course, I spent approximately six-minutes out in the elements before running back to the car and jamming my fingers into the heating vents. My weather app said 30-degrees, but the biting wind made it feel more like 20.
Our race was scheduled to go off at 12:45 and the team decided to meet at noon to check in. When we convened at the big white clerking tent stationed next to a line of port-o-pots, we were informed that gun would, in fact, go off in just 30-minutes. A minor panic ensued with various members of the team scattering in different directions in pursuit of a last-minute warmup. I got about a mile of jogging in before switching to spikes and hurriedly stripping layers.
With almost 50 teams in attendance, the start line for the race was a good 100-meters across. We were in box 47, pinned to the far right of wide, open field. A race official ran the length of the line, checking to ensure that no one received an unfair advantage. While we waited for him to complete his inspection, a gust of wind cut through our bones and a chorus of groans echoed into the air.
By the time the pistol was fired, I was happy to be moving again. My legs had grown numb in the cold, and I struggled to gauge how fast I was going. My teammates were quickly lost in the fray of blurred jerseys, and I tried to relax as we charged down a hill. The course was three loops around, each a bit shorter than the last. My plan was to settle into pace for the first four kilometers and squeeze down on the trigger from there. When I passed the mile mark some ten-seconds ahead of schedule, that plan went out the window.
Somewhere around the 3k mark I felt myself starting to struggle. My stride grew longer and my shoulders bobbed up and down. The last time I had run a cross country race, I had dropped out not too long after this. I crested a hill and felt someone roll up on my shoulder.
“You good?” a voice asked.
I passed the half way mark still ahead of schedule, and I can remember telling myself “You just gotta do that again.” This was about the time that I noticed the snow blowing in from an angle and sticking to my cheek.
The thing about a 10k, especially on the grass, is that the pain doesn’t really start until the last two miles. By this time, Evan had passed me for good, and I tried to maintain focus as my legs filled with sand. I reached 9-kilometers with a chance to break 33-minutes (about the best I had hoped for coming into the race). The finishing stretch was up a long, gradual hill, and I struggled to ward off the competition around me. If I’m being honest, I was already pleased with how I had run, and my mind was more occupied with getting pants back on than sprinting to the line.
I crossed in 33:02—those couple of seconds ones I would come to regret on the drive back home—and was promptly handed a cup of frozen Gatorade. I waited for the rest of my teammates to finish, congratulated them across the line, and wondered if I would ever get feeling back in my hands.
One week later, I have (mostly), and I’ve got some fond memories to go along with it. It’s always a pleasure to represent Columbus Running Company at races like this, and it was great to see the Masters teams competing alongside us young-bucks. The only thing I might change were those last two-seconds, but if it weren’t for those little regrets, I’d have no reason to come back and do it again.