Last Sunday I ran my first cross-country race, (practically) right in my own backyard! I participated in the Daniel Burnham Open, a 4K race held at Cricket Hill, the big hill at Montrose and the Lakefront Path.
A few things that are different with Cross-Country:
- You’re not running on pavement. Grass, mud, snow is the norm.
- There are flags tied to trees telling you where to go. Not really any course marshalls, a norm in most 5Ks and other road races.
- XC Races are team races. It’s not so much about your individual time, since each course will be different.
and another one, which I’m hesitant to put, but cross-country races are HARD! Not that other races aren’t, but this was one where I’d had higher expectations than I’d been able to perform.
I signed up with a team that Mike had organized of mostly hashers. I was girl #2 to sign up, which was important because part of the team aspect was that that the race would calculate the winning team based on each team’s 2 fastest males & fastest female (or I suppose the opposite as well). Since we already had a girl, I wasn’t super stressed about my performance. Mike & I also headed out on New Year’s day to practice on this same hill. Mostly I did hill repeats, with some loops around the hill.
Well, race day comes and we find out that Girl #1 will not be coming! (She had to sleep in, and the noon race was too early!) So that put more pressure on me, and team pressure is something I’m not used to in my individual races that I’ve done. I think the last “team” sport I participated in was… high school swim team?
So we head out to the race site, and warm up for the 35 degrees it is outside. Standing outside for close to an hour before the race makes you cold. I warmed up by doing the 1K loop once, and then jogging around a bit more. Headed back to the start to stand around some more. More and more fast-looking people show up and look cold in their shorts, singlets, gloves & armwarmers. I felt pretty cozy in my running tights & pink longsleeve shirt.
We then started with everyone starting at once. Since this was a very “homemade” race (i.e. free), there was no chip timing. You really needed to start with the horn! So I head out as fast as I can. At approximately half the speed of the front runners!
So around we go – 4 times each. Cricket Hill is situated approximately halfway through the 1K course, and as I was running up it on my second loop, there were guys beginning to pass me for their 3rd loop. That’s definitely something to make you feel like you’re slogging along – uphill, getting passed, and on a muddy/grassy course. As I was rounding through the end of my 3rd loop, I was feeling pretty depressed as I thought I was in last place. People were already finished and I still had to pass by for my fourth & final loop. I decided to hold my head up high and to run quickly past the finish for my final loop. I was actually quite surprised that for all of the people who’d finished, that there weren’t that many people cheering for me as I passed by (Yes – Mike was cheering, but at this point, at least two thirds to 3/4 of the race had already finished).
And on again for my final loop. With the hill in the way, it’s hard to tell who might else be out on the course. I still thought I was in dead last place – and bummed that I’d even signed up for this free race – when I ran down Cricket Hill the final time. This was the one spot that they had a course marshall directing people to turn. I raised my arms to get some cheering and yelled “run it in with me!” It was only then that I learned I wasn’t the last person out on course! That really pumped me up, and I worked to pick up the pace and see if I could still make my original time goal – 24 minutes (6 minutes per 1K, or roughly a 9:40/mi pace).
I ran it in as hard as I could, and realized there was someone ahead! I worked to catch up to him just in the last meters of the race, pushed toward the finishing chute, and realized I’d pushed past this older guy who still had another lap!
While I’m glad I finished and pushed hard (and was wheezing a bit from the cold air & exertion), I also felt a little bad that I didn’t live up to one of my more participatory principles of not trying to beat someone who clearly isn’t going to win. In many races I try to offer a friendly word or two when appropriate to someone who appears to be struggling much more than myself, e.g. in the last mile or two of the marathon, but this wasn’t fully clear for this guy in this race. On the race results, it looks like he was 78 years old! Good job old guy for running such a tough race! I’m sorry I didn’t cheer more for you at the finish! (And that I didn’t try to get many more people to cheer!). All in all – I have to say that it seemed like this small and super-fast group of runners was overall less cheer-full than most any other race I’ve run. I’m not sure why, but I think we need to encourage the speedsters to be more participatory and supportive of the slower runners. What do you think? If you’re a faster runner, do you try to cheer for people who are finishing after you? If you’re slower, do you?