Blogs tagged with "cross-country"

What cross country REALLY means

Early this week, I made the decision to throw out my pride and run (not race) in a Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Trot." I was planning on doing a workout that morning anyway. Why not do it by running (not racing) with others and supporting the greater Cleveland running community in the process?

Once that decision had been made, my next big decision was: "which race?" There are gobs - no pun intended - of Turkey Trots all over northeast Ohio - in Cleveland, Akron, Warren, Lorain, etc. There were races 15 minutes away or over an hour. Race distances were 5K, 4 miles, 5 miles, 10K - you name it! (ok, so no marathons in there, but you get my point).

The decision wasn't a no-brainer, but it was relatively easy. I knew I did NOT want to run in downtown Cleveland - especially since I would be driving there by myself - I gave my husband Jim the day off from support crew. I would have to find parking. The car would inevitably be far away, and Jim would not be there to hold my stuff while I ran (not raced). And, selfishly, I wanted to avoid discomfort, and the Cleveland Turkey Trot boasts thousands of runners. This meant I would have to wait in long bathroom lines. Instead, I chose the "LCCC Turkey Trot" - a cross-country 10K at Lorain County Community College.

The ease of the decision came in that I had run the LCCC race once before - way back in the 1990s before I knew triathlons existed. I remember it was fun. I remember it was a nice soft-surface course. And I remember it wasn't "huge," but it had good competition and a great reputation among many local elite runners.

Mark liked my Punk Rock Racing threads.

I knew I had "lucked out" with my race choice when I walked into the registration area only to bump into two of my good friends (and runners), Mark Breudigam and Lou Karl (who would be turkey-trotting with his dog). As the crowd of runners increased, more people I knew showed up, including a large contingency from two of the local multisport teams, Spin/Second Sole and Snakebite Racing. I briefly felt guilty for choosing this race knowing one of my sponsors, Fleet Feet, supported the Cleveland Turkey Trot. But then I remembered why I was here - to do a fun run (not a race).

After some quick socializing and before long, runners were on their way to the starting line - which was situated in a field. The last time I ran this race, I was told the course was always muddy with one huge hill (that you run up twice), and at one point, we would have to wade up to our knees through a river. Of course, the year I ran it, the course was mostly dry and the "river" was barely a stream - we just lept over it.

The dogs are out in force at LCCC,
Lou and Molly before the mud. 

But not this year. THIS year, even though the weather was sunny and in the 40s (balmy for Cleveland in late November), the course description came back to haunt me tenfold.

We had to "wade" out to the starting line. I'm not exaggerating. By the time I was standing in that field, my socks and shoes had been completely submerged in water and mud, and I had given up trying to keep them dry. The race director stood in front of us and shouted instructions. He pointed to the sky: "Do you see that big yellow thing? THAT is the SUN! Something we haven't seen at this race in a long time." Next, he explained the rules of cross-country (white poles, red poles, run on grass not the road, etc). Then, he explained some changes on the course, which many were familiar with because it's also the LCCC Men's X-C course. He said (and I quote): "The course is a MESS," and proceeded to explain changes that were made in areas that were deemed impassable. And with that, we were off.

Even with all the warnings, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. In the first 100 yards, my only thought was how thankful I was for wearing my trail shoes, even though it didn't help much. Before the first mile was over, I was covered with mud from both my kicking it up and the people in front of me kicking it back. After announcing to my friends at the starting line that I "got nuthin'" because I had just started quad-killing bike trainer workouts and I was here only for a workout (and not to race), I started out very easy and IN the pack.

And yet, within the first mile, I found myself passing most of the women (and girls) and people jogging with dogs who went out sprinting. Mile 1 is at the top of the aforementioned hill. Just before it, I passed Lou and Molly (who tried to give me the slip but she was on a leash and had to haul Lou's butt up that hill). On the way up, I stupidly ran on the mud instead of the grass and was passed by almost everyone just behind me. On the steep (and muddy) downhill, my only goal became to not break one of my ankles.

Before Mile 2, I found myself chasing down the "runner in pink" (a.k.a. the women's leader). In doing this, I had to run for almost a half-mile through ankle-deep water on top of thick mud and grass. Every single step felt like I was wearing ankle weights. I decided to hang behind her, but just before Mile 2, she slowed a bit. With a comfortable pace going, I decided to pass her.

I wondered if that was a mistake. By Mile 3, my tired bike-burnt quads started their screaming. And then came my lungs (also screaming). What was I THINKING!! This was supposed to be a fun run. With my friends! With their dogs!

And now that I was leading, the competitive me started a conversation with the me that went there to NOT race. I was hurting, but could I hold on? Did I want to? Would I be embarrassed to lose my lead?

Um.... yep. I would.

A return to analog racing.

I buckled down and decided I would, in fact, RACE those last three-point-two miles. Despite the distress, I chased down everyone I could - only one guy passed me, and it was on that confounded hill! I plowed through the water, the mud, the woodsy terrain, and ran hard to the finish where I was handed my finisher's card. Yes, folks, this is old-style, no number-bib, analog racing at its best. It had the number 22 on it.

Shortly thereafter, the girl in pink finished. We immediately struck up a conversation. Her name was Katie - she's a 29-year-old mom of three whose goal is to break three hours in the marathon. Listening to her attempts, I have no doubt she will do it. What was wonderful about meeting her was that I found myself playing a sort-of mentor role for the first time. We talked marathons - she was even interested in my history. I was beyond honored to hear she "didn't feel so bad being beaten by a former Olympic Trials marathoner." (I did remind her that I am, in fact, 46, but she took it well.)

In all the excitement, I never hit my watch at the finish, so I am relying on the accuracy of the race timer to tell me how fast (or slow) I ran. And I still have not looked for the official results online. Or the results of my post-race interview.

I learned afterwards that I had, indeed, been beaten by my good friend Rich Oldrieve. Now, mind you, I don't have an objection to being beaten by Rich. In his storied past, Rich has run a sub-2:30 marathon - in Boston, of all places. I met him after he turned 40 - when he was not only the fastest local masters runner, but always took home masters money at national- and international-level marathons. In local (longer distance) races, he often won outright. So yeah, Rich can bury me in any race, even now in his mid-50s. What I objected to on Thanksgiving was that Rich Oldrieve not only slaughtered me in the race, but he did it in cotton sweats, tube socks, wearing a fanny pack, and running with his dog! (I'm only slightly exaggerating, but I was happy to hear that "Hamlet" probably beat Rich across the finish line.)

Old friends Randy and Toby
And, all I have say about that is (a common thread in my blogs lately), the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And thank heavens for that! Because the greatest thing about running (not racing) this Thanksgiving was that I reconnected with people I have not seen in many, MANY years. After the race, I met up with some long-lost running and racing companions: Randy Barkacs (a.k.a. the fastest guy never to have run a sub-3-hour marathon, who just turned 60 and doesn't look a day over 40), Dave Wendell (a well-under-3-hour marathoner who I beat Thursday for the first time ever), Rick Ventura (another outstanding masters runner now in his late-50s - one who could sometimes beat Rich Oldrieve), and the almost-always-smiling-but-not-today-until-it-was-over Kevin Krol (one of the first people I ever knew and admired in the multi-sport universe).

I had the opportunity to hang out with my not-long-lost friends: Lou (and mud-covered Molly, my newest Facebook friend), Nancy Desmond (an outstanding local cyclist who ran with her own mud-covered Maddie), and Mark (one of the best friends I ever met through running). They invited me to partake of the communal flask of B&B (way cool), and I was given my own plastic Solo cup of Guinness (which kicks chocolate milk's arse as a recovery drink).

Lou, Molly, B&B, Mike, Nancy, Maddie

I met the incomparable Mike Twigg who had the quote of the day: "The older you get, the better you used to be." I was told this expression was directly intended for "Old Like Lou" Karl who, I think, was a legend before he was even born. And I suspect it's been trademarked, so make sure you give credit if you borrow it.

For my friends out there with the goal of breaking four hours in the marathon, this was a tough group at LCCC on Thanksgiving. Catching up after the race, I told Rich Oldrieve that I ran the New York City Marathon four weeks after Ironman Kona. He asked how I did in NY. I said: "not great" (considering that Rich's standards for me are similar to my own, having trained with me during my sub-2:50 days). He asked my time. My reply: "Three fifteen." Rich's reaction? "Yeah, three fifty? That's not very good." (Note, this was in a totally matter-of-fact manner.) I countered: "No, three FIFTEEN." His tone changed to one slightly less critical: "That's not bad."

Molly has eyes for my first place trophy

[Again, my apologies to all the over-3:50 marathoners out there. The views expressed are not my own. But in his defense, Rich is a very logical and scientific elite runner, and I have him to thank for teaching me how to disassociate my emotions from running. He was one of the biggest influences on my fastest marathon performances.]

The final thing I found out at the LCCC Turkey Trot was that many of the local runners thought I had left town or gotten seriously injured because I dropped out of "running" circulation in 2003 - this was right after I was hit by a car training for triathlon. I had often assumed everyone knew about my accident. I didn't race again until 2008, almost completely missing out on my early masters years. Who knew people were paying attention? Who knew I had fallen into the "whatever-happened-to" file? It was actually a good feeling - I guess you have to be someone in order to be someone that people wonder what happened to.

I waited for the awards to cheer for both my old and new friends. In the meantime, there was a raffle during which they gave away things like plastic containers of sticky buns and issues of Men's Health magazine (yes, I won that) in addition to cool gift certificates. It's fun, but I was told to stick around, to not miss the most hilarious thing. AFTER the awards ceremony, they give away the final raffle prize - a TURKEY.

My question: "What is the winner going to do with a turkey NOW? [as opposed to yesterday]"

Rich Oldrieve's response? "THAT'S why it's so funny!"

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