As much as I hate to quote John Madden, "All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning." That's generally the rule in football, and this weekend I demonstrated its application in cross country running this weekend in Seattle.
In trying to maintain a minimum level of performance, I didn't take any risks at the USATF club cross country championships, but I didn't run a race worth of a cross-country flight for a race. I was a faded copy of the 25:19 runner I was a month ago. My confidence never recovered from the Philly Half, my mind was constantly on my right foot, I felt slow and literally had to carry more when I gained post-Philly weight. Had this race been a month ago, I would have been in a different position, but I just couldn't hold onto what I had. I wouldn't say I was burned out, but I was tired -- tired of waking up early or running late after work. I tried to preserve my enthusiasm with days off, but in the end I just felt more out of shape.
I slept terribly Thursday night, then woke up at 5 to be ready to go to the airport with Shredder. Once there, I had an awful chicken biscuit at Wendy's and sat on a plane for six hours to get to Seattle. The trip kind of kept going and going while we picked up a van, drove it to the hotel and checked in. I could seem to fall asleep before checking out the course. That 35 minute run was so rough that if we had been racing that afternoon, I would be a lock for the last 10 to finish.
Luckily, we had about 20 hours, so after going back to the hotel and having a pretty poor dinner, I went to sleep at 9 and aside from a few tosses and turns, slept soundly until 7:30. Breezy and I took a 15 minute jog and had breakfast. I killed some more time reading and we headed to the course for the race.
I felt decidedly better during the warmup than I had the day before, but still not ready to race. Watching the women's team race was fun, though I never saw Jess' sister, and totally missed both Gretchen Speed and Jessica Winter. I took a lot of great photos, but then somehow lost my camera at the meet.
Despite a steady but light rain, I wasn't cold when it came time to undress for the race. The starting boxes were tight, and we lined up pretty much in single file. I was pretty strong at the beginning, getting into a decent position, I felt, in the first half mile and just going with the flow.
I came through 1k in 3:09, faster than my goal for my average, but right on what I wanted to get started. I cruised on through the rest of the first lap, despite Outlaw telling me I had to move up. I told him to shut up, I was running the race the way I wanted, and that meant really going for it in the last 4k. I came through 2k in 6:25, more like it, and kept moving. Somewhere in lap two, though, I must have slipped, something locked up and I felt like I could barely push off with my right leg. It wasn't my hamstring, and it took me a while to diagnose the problem. Eventually I started feeling my hip again and figured out that was the problem. I passed 5k in 16:42, and extrapolating that I was very unhappy with the position in which I put myself. A month ago, 31:30 seemed reasonable. In the intervening weeks, sub 32 was more like it, but now I just wanted to break 33, and I was a long way from that happening, given the way I felt.
Then I saw an aqua singlet to my right and realized it was a Pacer. Not just a Pacer, but 43-year-old Edmund Burke. Like Lisa, he selflessly dropped down to the open race so his team could score. He might be a fine fellow otherwise, but I sure as hell didn't want to lose to him. So, despite my beaten up body and confidence, I started surging. I'd lose him for a while, then get complacent and he'd come right back. We came through 6k right around 20:30, I think, and soon after I surged again. There was a slight hill, pretty muddy, and I bounded up it and when I got to the top, I took six strong strides, just like Steve exhorted us to so many times at Rosslyn. This time the hill was only a fraction of what we dealt with there, so it was easy. I kept my pace up and started to pass people until I found a good group that was moving. As I hung along a long curve, Outlaw was there. "SEND EM SEND EM!!!! You're crankin' now!" This time I actually was, and I didn't want to punch him. I hit 8k in 27:10, almost two minutes slower than my PR, but considering the condition the course was in, I think being one minute slower than my PR would have been satisfactory, given how things were going.
I just wanted to close it out. I didn't like the way the first 60 percent of the race was going, but in my race plan discussions, I emphasized that I wanted to be opportunistic in the last 4k, and that's the way things were playing out. I didn't catch my 9k split, but at that point I started targeting people and blowing by them. I stayed focus by counting them. First they were on their own, then I started passing clumps. I finally caught up to this skinny dude in green who kept grunting like Chris Sloane at the end of a race. I buried him. With 400 meters left, I tried my best to forget feeling tired, too old for this shit, fat, lazy. I just wanted to pass everyone I could. I got up to 38. I saw the clock passing 33:35. I would be guaranteed to be at least a minute slower than the Great Race, not good. I was sure I could reach the finish line, and all of a sudden I saw two guys who weren't as confident. So, I kicked them down and thanked Joe Pesci it was all over. A few seconds later Murph came came along, having been, I think, the only person to run faster this year than last, in Charlotte. Jason and Jimmy followed soon after. I wasn't there for it, but Jason exclaimed his surprise at the race's difficulty to Dave, "Luggage" Wertz who reportedly said, "Yeah, this ain't no chocolate run!"
For some reason, I was the only one out there soaking in sweat. I actually felt okay while cooling down, but for the rest of the trip, I felt the full brunt of my ultimate uselessness.
I wound up 6th for the team, 204th overall, in 33:51. I was the only GRC runner who had no bearing on the team scores, just kind of sliding into obscurity. I didn't take enough of a risk early in the race to really put myself in a good position, but I also didn't fail and fall apart. I was insurance in that if something had happened to Lug and I had finished fifth, we would have been no worse in the team standings. Luckily we didn't need me.
I was not too in the mood for celebrating afterward. The gluttony I promised myself after the season was over felt revolting, and I just wanted to go to bed. Our morning run was ok, but unremarkable. I thought about running after work today, but as I got close to home, I just wanted to lie down. So that's what I'm going to do now.
P.S. Bigfoot's dick.