It’s beginning to look a lot like the off-season! The interwebs is full of off-season running tips this week, whilst I’m finally ramping up for my next FKT attempt in December. If you have FOMO, hit me up and I’ll tell you about how you can virtually join or support the next speed record attempt.
Week two of my new job and I’m getting back in the early morning groove.
Monday: 6 miles before work, in the dark, with Morgan for the first mile. I ran hard Saturday and lifted Sunday, and got my mileage back to 50, so this run basically sucked. 8:15 pace, 141 AHR.
Tuesday: 8 miles on the treadmill before work. Look, I can tolerate two crappy running things at a time. Speedwork is one. Early is one. Dark makes three, cold makes four, and that’s too many. 4×20 seconds fast (10.5 mph) then 4×1 mile at 85-90%, 800 jogs, averaged 6:25 (163-169 AHR on the reps) and got a “Good!” from coach. Felt like I could have gone faster if I wasn’t scared of becoming squished on the back wall of the gym. 7:27 pace, 153 AHR. Jasyoga in the evening.
Wednesday: 5.2 miles in the morning, 8:15 pace, 153 AHR. Recovery day. Morgan went 1.25. Did lower body strength at home and taught Pilates in the evening. SOLID day.
Thursday: 8.3 miles easy/moderate, Morgan first 1.3, started picking it up around mile 2, then went 7:36, 7:23, 7:35, 7:30, 7:26. Not quite moderate but getting there which is good for dark, cold and early. 7:44 pace, 150 AHR. Taught Pilates in the evening.
Friday: 4 mile shakeout before work, 8:06 pace, 144 AHR. Morgan went the first 1.25. Dark and cold.
Saturday: CLUB CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS. I alternated between being really excited about this and really not excited. USATF made it a total PITA to get registered and we still never got it all straightened out. Coach Matt and I sent a gazillion emails trying to get it correct. And, I’ve run two cross country races ever in my life and that was when Club Cross was in Lexington in 2009 and I ran that plus a tune-up before (and ran Memphis marathon like 1-2 weeks before, PR’d by 16 minutes and was sitting on bilateral tibial stress fractures). It was a mentally taxing work week and two girls came to stay with us Friday night, which was awesome but also meant I had to clean my house when I got home Friday. Nobody wants to do that.
Another girl met us Saturday morning and the four of us headed to Lexington, about an hour away, to meet our fifth teammate. The trip was not without it’s highlights, like how a girl almost smashed into my SUV in the first 10 minutes and resulted in an Americano being spilled on the floorboard but somehow disappearing into the ether and we never figured out where the liquid went. Whatever. Don’t tell Mr. Chic because we were in his car.
Our fifth teammate picked up our packets, which was great since we got there later than planned. It was FREEZING. 30º, feels like 21º, 10 mph winds. Oh boy. Guess who decided she was going to debut her new bun huggers at this race? Sigh.
The logistics were a little tricky because it was so damn cold. We wanted to warm up in lots of clothes, but needed to shuck them and get into spikes before the race. Fortunately we had a husband/sherpa and I knew the guys timing the race. We decided we’d drop clothes and shoes near the timing trailer (it’s freezing ass cold at club cross nats, nobody’s going to take our stuff), and head out for 2 miles after a port-a-john pitstop.
It is COLD. And I have forgotten my racing socks. On the way to the start I sprint to the car and grab them because the ones I have on are too bulky for my spikes. Rookie move, Chic.
I meet up with the team and strip down to buns, singlet, arm warmers, mittens, ear warmers. We do a fast team photo and run to the start to find a box to line up in (we were unattached, so we could just take an open spot).
And then! COACH IS THERE!
None of us knew he was coming. And there he was, in his giant coach parka, giving pre-race hugs. I am a first-born child, daddy’s girl, teacher’s pet, Type A perfectionist. If coach is there, I have no choice but to give it everything I have.
We get in our box and do a group hug. We don’t really know what we’re doing — nobody ran collegiately — but we have heart and grit.
After the longest on-your-mark, we take off. Cross country is crazy because they line you up horizontally. Everyone funnels towards the course’s middle, and the start is a smidge uphill and then a great downhill. I’m keeping my eyes on the feet of my teammate Jen but trying to find a groove.
There’s some jostling as the course tightens and turns, but I like to run with my elbows out and played fullback in boy’s varsity soccer, so whatever.
I split a 5:54 first mile. Yikes. Not ideal. My road 5k PR is right at 6 min. This is a 6k cross country race. This is a bad idea.
But I don’t feel terrible. And coach is there yelling for me. As Rinny says, “Suck it up, princess.”
The kilometers are marked but also just random other course markings and I have no idea what the KM splits mean so I just keep trucking along. It’s 2 loops of a 3k course, and there’s a huge hill at the end of the first loop. Hey! There’s coach again. Throughout the race he just ran back and forth and yelled for us. Every time I heard him, I dug a little deeper.
First loop done. 11:15 or something. Okay. You know what’s coming up. Stay with it. The crowd has thinned out a lot. I’m passing and getting passed, and coach had said to play the plus/minus game and count how many you pass and get passed by, but it’s just too many. I tell myself to start counting at 4k. By 4k my brain is foggy, my contacts are frozen, and I want to die.
I tell myself to count at 5k. At 5k, I tell myself to just not die.
Thank goodness there’s that GIANT HILL at the end. Shit.
I cross the finish and see Jen, then teammate ahead of me, off to the side of the chute. I stagger over and basically collapse on top of her, which is not ideal since she also can’t stand up. We cheer for our other teammates as they come in. We do a big group hug. We drag ourselves to the water. We hug coach.
Then we find ALL THE CLOTHES.
My final time was 23:12 for 6k, 6:12 pace. That’s 8 seconds per mile faster on a hilly XC course than I ran for a similarly-hilly road 5k on Thanksgiving. Haha. AHR 176, splits 5:54, 6:21, 6:13, .74 in 4:42 (6:22 pace). (these are not as uneven as they seem with the hills). I was 178th. Whoa. (Paprika was 44th!)
It’s rare that I can be so happy about such a not-high finishing place, or so happy about something that was so damn hard. I loved running with my team. I loved having my coach there. I am proud I ran hard and never gave up. I had a great time. Running in buns and spikes felt fast and fancy.
We did not cool down. We put on all our clothes and then some more clothes and then watched the men’s race with coach.
Sunday: The worst 3.4 miles of my life which I thought would get me to 40 miles for the week but somehow got me extra. Morgan went 2.15! (And she did 2 with Mr. Chic on Saturday!) 8:18 pace, 135 AHR. So cold. So sore.
Totals: 40.6 miles run, 138 min Pilates/Strength/Jasyoga. 9 miles for Morgan!
Looking back on my college running career, I can pinpoint many tangible advantages of playing sports at the collegiate level. It helped pay for my education. I traveled to new places and ran myself into the best shape of my life.
However as I look back on my experience, it was the intangible advantages that collegiate athletics gave me that really enhanced my life. I developed a hard work ethic, built mental toughness, but, most importantly, formed lifelong relationships with mentors and friends.
While some locker rooms, weight rooms and track complexes are nicer and flashier than others, at the Division I level, most universities have roughly the same facilities. The main difference between any two programs in the NCAA that can make or break your college athletic experience is in the relationships with your coaches and teammates. It’s these relationships that will help you reach your full potential.
High schoolers, do you know what you need to know about running in college? What can you do during your high school years to make you more desirable for your college’s team? Any chance you might score a scholarship?
As a former DI runner and now a DI college cross country and track coach, I have watched hundreds of young women go through the NCAA recruiting process, which can be both scary and overwhelming. I have outlined a few tips to help make you a more marketable potential student-athlete (PSA) at the collegiate level! Read more >>
It always comes down to Sydnie.
For four seasons, she has led North Rangers Girls Cross Country, this small team of underdogs who could always count on her to make them proud. When other teams dismissed them, Sydnie was there passing their fastest runners. When her teammates focused on keeping up and competing with each other, Sydnie was there claiming North’s place among schools with larger, faster teams. When her teammates looked to her for when to warm up, what to wear, what drill to do next, Sydnie was there, relying on herself to know and lead them. And when the season turned into the post-season, Sydnie was there, the lone Ranger, taking North to Regionals and, she desperately hoped, the State Championship.
After captaining her teammates for her last season, Sydnie traveled 80 miles to race without them at the Youngstown Regional Cross Country Tournament. It was her fourth chance to compete for a spot at the state meet and, as she was very aware, her final shot.
Read more >>
Lydia sprints to the finish.
The District Meet is the first race of Ohio High School Cross Country’s post-season. Fourteen teams of seven take to the field with the top six teams and top twenty runners advancing to the Regional Meet the following week, where they will compete for a spot at the State Championship. Looking at the line-up, the coaches and Sydnie felt her chances of making it to Regionals, if not to crack the top-ten, were very strong. If Lydia had the race of her life, she had an outside shot too. If Ashleigh, Natalie, and Hannah, the next three runners on the team also raced their hearts out, the entire North team could be the Cinderella story of the season, and make it to Regionals together. Read more >>
I just ran.
In race after race, she struggled with anxiety. This anxiety caused the girl with the long lithe legs and a killer stride to close up her fists and shuffle. Occasionally, though, she could break through and we would see a sneak-peek at the runner she could be. Often this occurred during the first mile of a race when she’d run with her teammates Natalie, Lydia, or Ashleigh before giving in and shuffling again. The worst of it came in the first meet when her nerves completely engulfed her, but over the next few races she seemed to be winning her fight, only to once again seem consumed by worry over these last few weeks.
On this, the Conference Championship, the last meet of the regular season, Hannah came roaring out of the woods hot on Natalie’s and Ashleigh’s heels, not a quarter of a mile into the race, but with a quarter mile to go. Read more >>
Alone in the tent, the other girls having completed the varsity race and left to cheer for the boys’ race, Caitlin changed her shoes.
She had been counseled to see this as an opportunity, and she was trying to focus on the idea that she could break free from just hanging on to whichever teammate was in front of her and really run her own race, but it’s never easy when you’re alone. Especially on a cross country course as wooded and idyllic as this one, it can feel like you’re in a fairy tale: you’re heading into the dark woods by yourself and you don’t know what’s going to happen out there. You don’t know if you can handle it, how you will confront the challenges ahead of you.
Caitlin jogged the lonely quarter mile to the starting line, where she awkwardly walked out among the thick packs of the other schools’ JV teams for drills, reaching down to touch her toes every three steps. As they chatted vibrantly and veteran runners led skips and lunge walks, she put on her brave face and moved with purpose, determined to pretend she was confident. For a moment, she forgot which drill she was supposed to do next. Visibly panicked, she stared ahead toward the thick forest of trees.
When she came out of those woods, who would she be?
Read more >>
It took less than a week before you dragged your heavy limbs through the door and mumbled, “I hate cross country.” You were too tired to shout it. Your shoes were soaked with creek water. Your face, though you hid it from me, was soaked in tears.
You had your reasons, and they were good ones. Running hurts. It isn’t fun. It’s every man for himself. It’s not a team sport. No matter how fast I become, I’ll never win.
I had my reasons for wanting to quit training for my last marathon too. This season was never about winning. You’re barely 12 years old, so I guess I can’t expect you to know how little it means to win. Empty and fleeting, the cheers will always die down. No one claps forever, and cloud nine turns to wisp or rain.
There will always be someone faster (unless you’re Mo Farrah). There will always be someone with more muscle, more talent, more strength, more opportunity. If your goal is to win, to “be the best”, then yes, you might want to pack it up now, because otherwise it would be a long and disappointing season. But that is not why you run.
Whether faith in God, country, processes, others, or ourselves, faith is believing in something even when there’s no proof that it exists and often when there is evidence that it doesn’t. Whenever we work to improve at something or strive to attain a big dream goal, after a period of mounting success there is a drop off in results that may feel frighteningly like failure. This, as you might recall, is the Dip and when it comes to running it’s faith in our training, our coaches, and ourselves that delivers us from one side of it to the other.
On Friday, as the North girls and their coaches walked off the field behind Gilmour Academy, the edge of a rainbow rose up from the field house roof and disappeared into a giant puff of a silver cloud. There could be no better cap on this afternoon of cross country. Read more >>
Not too long ago, the thought of women running was enough to give everyone the vapors. But trail blazers like Babe Didrickson, Doris Brown, Bobbi Gibbs showed the world that not only could women run, they could run pretty fast and pretty far while keeping their uteri intact. We may laugh now about the sheer absurdity of these misconceptions, but there are still instances where women run shorter distances than men. This is particularly the case when it comes cross country racing at all levels.
It seems unlikely that members of the NCAA, USATF or IAAF think women are less capable. Women compete in the same distances as men in all types of major national and international running competition aside from cross country on the track, roads, and trails. If that is the case, why are women running shorter distances than men in cross country?
“Hey, it’s a salty! … Hey, Cinnamon!” I heard Vidhi’s voice singsong as I wove through the masses of parents and young siblings and packs of high school kids warming up. I turned the corner around a brick wall and hopped down an embankment to find her with Lydia, Calina and Caitlin, waiting in line for the bathroom. As Vidhi showed me the team’s latest in a string of injuries–an infected insect bite that swelled her entire foot and turned it black, I looked around for the others. “Where’s everyone else?” I asked. “Sydnie’s at the tent waiting for us to warm up,” they replied glancing at each other. It wasn’t until several minutes later, when Sydnie came to hurry us along for the warmup, that I realized there were only four girls running today.
Read more >>
“I was surprised. I thought I could finish with Mollee,” Calina said, reflecting on her first ever high school cross country race as we sat on the grass watching the varsity girls warming-up. While Calina and Mollee started the JV race together, Mollee finished about three minutes ahead of Calina.
This week, the North girls boarded the bus and headed to fairy-tale-like Forest Hills Park, a strange contrast to the rest of East Cleveland, the former home of John D. Rockefeller and now a city so beat down and strapped for cash that it can’t afford to paint lines on its roads. There, with Caitlin and Cheyenne out sick and Natalie on vacation, Mollee and Calina would run in the JV race and Vidhi, Hannah, Lydia, Ashleigh and Sydnie would line up for the varsity race. Read more >>
Despite the occasional 90 degree day here in Boston, it’s starting to feel like fall. Longer nights, cooler mornings, and the scent of decaying leaves make me think of one thing: cross country. Like many people who started running in high school, cross country was my first exposure to the sport of running. The sounds and smells of fall invariably bring me back to that first exhilarating season, toeing the line next to some of the coolest, nicest, most bad-ass girls I had ever met. Through cross country I discovered the joy of racing and learned what it is to train seriously and, although I don’t have the opportunity to race cross country often now as a non-club-affiliated post-collegiate, it remains my favorite running event. I miss it.
This season, I’m planning to run in a couple of cross country races and I think you should too. Why, you ask?
“It’s the middle of the [race], when the excitement of the starting gun is a dim memory, and the joy of the finish line is a distant dream.”
– Seth Godin
They all knew it was coming. After nailing season or personal bests in every race so far this season, the North girls knew the Dip lay ahead and their streaks were likely coming to an end on the hills and in the mud of Brecksville. But even knowing it would happen did not take the sting away when they experienced it.
It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter how much talent or how hard you work, and it doesn’t matter how much luck is on your side, you will experience the Dip. You’ll experience the Dip or maybe many Dips over your running career, in one season, and even in each race. While often uncomfortable, if not downright painful, these Dips define us: are we going to be our best or are we going to settle?
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