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2017 PA USATF Cross Country (XC) Championship – SF, CA

2017 PA USATF Cross Country (XC) Championship – SF, CA

The PA USATF cross-country season concluded with the championship meet in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park a week ago, over at Lindley Meadow, very near where we were when we ran the GGP open in September. This time around, we had just a few noticeable differences: women ran two laps of the 2 mile-ish course (for 4ish miles), whereas the men ran 3 (for 6ish); we started and finished in the grassy Lindley Meadow, which was closed and thus, off-limits for us in September; and finally, we spent very little time running on the polo fields’ track and had a slightly different course coming into and out of the woods that abut the polo fields. Having run the September course, I had an inkling of an idea about what to expect for the day, but I nonetheless went into the race without thinking too much about it. If I’ve learned anything this autumn from doing XC for the first time in my life, it’s that a) this shit’s hard, and b) it’s unpredictable. Even if you run the course as a warm-up, everything still feels so different — and so much more challenging — when you’re trying to run it fast. (Einstein realization, I know). 

Unfortunately, the ladies Wolfpack contingent has been struggling a bit this year due to the usual suspect of reasons: injuries, people relocating, scheduling constraints, and the like. Due to some weird, extenuating medical stuff that I’ve been dealing with, Lisa and I didn’t decide that I’d run until sometime the day before the race, so I was really happy to be there. I had no idea how I’d fare — hence, that aforementioned XC is so unpredictable sentiment — but I was happy to at least have the opportunity. With just a little time before our ladies’ race started, we had a complete team — hooray! — and we were ready to roll: Lisa, Claire, Megan, Lalida, and me.

I look cold! with Lisa and Lalida pre-race. (It was “California crisp,” by the way, about 50 or so). (PC: Wolfpack Running Club)


the ladies! L-R Lalida, Megan, Lisa, and Claire (PC: WRC)


The gun went off, and suddenly a sea of women began sprinting over wet (and probably muddy) grass before we left the field and picked up a dirt-path straightaway that ran parallel to the road in GGP. Just like in many of the other PA races, there aren’t chip-timed starts, so it behooves you to start as close to the starting line as possible. I hung a couple rows back at the line out of self-preservation mode more than anything else, maybe a 1 or 2 second difference, and I figured I’d go with the flow for the first lap, aiming to negative split on round two, just as Lisa had suggested. Once we were off the meadow and onto the straight, I avoided riding the downhill hard and just tried to stay put, working with the women around me and actively not passing anyone. (Shoutout to all the masters’ women around me here. For the first mile, mile and a half, I was pretty boxed-in by women who were 40+, 50+, and even 60+ years old. The only reason I knew their ages was due to the numbers they had to wear on their backs, demarcating their masters’ statuses, but hot damn: all I could think was god I hope to be kicking as much ass as they are when I’m their age).

and we’re off (PC: WRC)

Between miles .5 to 1.5, as far as I can remember, we went through the same little woods, singletrack, mud, sand, and grassy area that we did during the GGP open in September. These areas are especially tricky because of the quickly-changing terrain, and the narrow passageways, but at the same time, if you’re trying to run conservatively, getting boxed in isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, either. Once we got close to the polo fields, we ran just a few strides on the track before hopping off and making our way into the same woods where we ran at GGP. Here, though, instead of running into the woods, making a hairpin turn, and running back down, we ran straight through, cresting the little mini-hill, and descended fast and furiously to the other side, where we then hung a hard left and began making our way back to the meadow — think running through woods, followed by running on pavement, followed by running on wet grass, thick with mud — before doing the same thing all over again for round 2, miles 3 and 4. It was a ton of fun, but shit. Cross country is hard. Trying to run fast while getting a bit “lactic,” as Robin said (perf description!), while oh yeah running through fucking mud or sand is crazy — crazy hard but crazy fun.

beginning lap 2 (PC: WRC)


finishing, praise the lord (PC: WRC)

True to form, I didn’t look at my watch during the race and barely caught my splits when my alarm sounded. I was aiming for the this should feel pretty hard sentiment for the duration of the race, but on the second lap, I tried to open things up a bit and begin to cautiously and still somewhat conservatively pick-off women around me. At the end of the day, I finished in about a 29:16 for 4.06 miles — so nothing blazing — but with a negative split that left me pretty stoked. I’m pretty sure I played it a bit too safely out there — I think I should have gone harder, earlier — but with CIM just two weeks’ out from the XC Championships, my eye was on the bigger prize.

post-race with my teammates who raced plus those who came out to cheer (CT, Julie and canine Alice, and Mona) (PC: WRC)


All told, it ended up being 12 and change for the day between the race, warm-up, and cooldown miles, and it was a lot of fun to have a little team picnic in the park after the guys’ race. Watching and cheering for them was also a ton of fun (as evidenced by the 100+ pictures I got of our team running). Abundant inspiration, friends.

cooling down with the women while the men’s masters race takes off (PC: Lisa)


our guys’ contingent (PC: WRC)


yay team! (PC: WRC)

The Championship race was only my third XC event of the season/my life — the other two being GGP and Santa Cruz — but I’m looking forward to next year’s XC season already. It’s such a different type of running — you’re inherently going to be slower than you are on roads, but it’s also not like you’re trying to sprint up something relentless and crazy steep like Monument Peak for miles on end — but the challenge is extremely gratifying. I guess you could call it a different opportunity to red-line. 🙂

I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, if you have the chance to do XC — even if you’ve never done it before in your life (hi!) — take the chance. It is such a good time.

And now, we CIM.

2017 USATF PA Clarksburg Country Run half marathon race report – Clarksburg, CA

2017 USATF PA Clarksburg Country Run half marathon race report – Clarksburg, CA

One of the remaining road races on the 2017 PA USATF circuit was the Clarksburg Country Run Half Marathon, a good two+ hour drive from San Jose, and not coincidentally, its timing aligned pretty perfectly with CIM training (three weeks out). My plan was to run the half and use it as some sort of assessment tool in advance of CIM, but life — as it often does — had other plans.

I’ll save the details for another time, but coming into Clarksburg, I felt like I had a lot on my plate and was carrying a lot of bodily stress, for lack of a better term. I’m not injured, nor am I dying, but I had some less-than-desirable results come back from my annual physical that subsequently have created an onslaught of additional follow-up tests. It’s probably nothing, but I’m letting the medical professionals make that diagnosis, not me. It’s scary and a little unnerving, but I’m trying to not get too far ahead of myself.

More than anything, I’ve felt pretty knackered during this marathon training cycle, so my goals and expectations for Clarksburg were minimal. My Clarksburg goal was to get in a solid, supported long run and just to do the best I could on the day. Oh, and historically speaking, half marathons in the thick of marathon training are torturous for me. More often than not, my GI goes to shit (literally); I’m sufficiently whipped from training that I can’t do much better than GMP, if I’m lucky; or some other stupid variable pops up that throws things awry. Since moving to California nearly four years ago, I can think of two half marathons that I’ve run where more things went well than wrong. Half marathons are like a wicked Achilles for me.

Come race morning, I carpooled up north with Lisa (who wasn’t running, as she had just totally rocked NYC the week before) and three of my other teammates, Oscar, Jeff, and Greg. I’d be the only female Wolfpack harrier racing that day, and those guys, plus Tony, Ray, and Mark, would comprise a full male team for us. I overslept my alarm but had luckily woken up with just enough time to get ready — I had just hosted a sleepover for 10 of my first-grade Daisies the night before, so it’s no surprise I slept so deeply Saturday night — and once we got to Clarksburg, it was like we were in a different era: think super small town USA. In one block, I think we passed the town’s elementary school, post office, library, middle school, and high school. 

The race featured other distances as well — a 20 miler (which many people training for CIM, who weren’t racing the half, often do), a kids’ run, and a 5k and 10k. It was a “California crisp” morning — maybe about 40 degrees when we got there to warm-up — and the temps were what you dream of during the hot summer months: a little cool just to be milling around outside but just perfect for running and racing. My teammates and I easily got our bibs, and before too long, Lisa and I set out for a 2 mile warm-up, where we talked strategy, goals, the course, and the like. Running into Jess and Chris — both doing 20 — was a nice bonus.

shamelessly stolen from Chris’ IG. friend, you’ve got something on your face!

As the “Country Run” part of its name suggests, Clarksburg really is a run through the flat countrysides; that’s an accurate race title if there ever were one. There’s not much on either side of the roads you run, save for a winery, a farm, or an open field. The half’s topography was fairly pancake flat, and the course itself was pretty straightforward with just a couple OABs. Each distance started at different times, too, which was a smart way to alleviate potential congestion. As I was finishing my cool-down, I ran into Robin, who was there with a slew of her Impala teammates, all doing the half that morning in prep for CIM. It was wonderful to see her (always is) and to talk about what we wanted to do that day, how we were feeling about our CIM training, and to otherwise talk shop for a bit. Before too long, we were off.

My initial plan was to conservatively begin around 7:15s/7:20s for the first 4 or so miles and then begin to cut down and get closer to HM pace, somewhere in the low 7s or 6:50s. I felt pretty well the first three or four miles and was hitting the prescribed paces fairly well — and chatting with the other Impalas and other runners around me — but as early as mile five, I could tell that things were going to head south; I just knew. Feeling pretty poorly that early in a half marathon kinda (really) sucks, so instead of wallowing, I switched my watchface to show the time of day and decided to run purely on feel for the remainder of the race. Truth be told, when I’m training — and often even during races — I rarely look at my watch (and infrequently see my splits), but I had convinced myself that symbolically (and literally) switching my focus would help me stay out of my head for the next eight miles. I could choose to be pissy and wallow in I can’t hold 7:teens, much less drop down to 7-flats or 6:50s for the next 8 miles, or I could flip my perspective and focus on running as evenly and smoothly as possible, despite feeling pretty sub-par. The rest of the race became less a pity party and more of a game.

LOL at thinking I had managed to sidestep my way out of the team pic mid-run. This was around 3 or 4, IIRC. (PC: Impala Racing IG)


somewhere in the first 5 miles, I think. (PC: Lisa)


Clarksburg treated us to a beautiful, autumn morning, and the few times I saw my teammates on the OABs, I felt totally inspired by their energy and effort. Somewhere on course, as we changed directions, it felt like we began running into wind tunnel — no doubt exacerbated by my already not feeling great — and I tried to hang near other (taller) runners, again more for the mental game than anything else. By about mile 8 or so, Robin caught up to me, and we had a good time bemoaning the state of our races going less than desirably and running’s general mercurial nature. Together we cheered for our teammates as we approached them on the OABs, and I tried to hang with her as long as possible. By about mile 9, though, my good ol’ stomach was sending me an SOS, so I began to hang back in search of a safe place to drop trou. Like I said, HMs seem to wreak havoc on my GI — and no doubt, being at a sleepover the night/day before and eating stuff outside my usual food repertoire, and being off my colitis medicine for a week-plus because of the aforementioned health issues all didn’t help my case much — but luckily, I was able to quickly get in and out of a porta-potty around mile 10 or 11 and only lose about 70 seconds in the process. I am nothing if not efficient.

somewhere before mile 8; that’s Robin right behind me. (PC: Lisa)


smiling and trying to enjoy the ride. even when it doesn’t feel great, we can always smile because we get — not have — to do this stuff. (PC: Lisa)

It’s pretty disappointing to be so close to the finish line (relatively speaking) and have to stop, but when it comes down to either shitting myself or losing time (in a race where nothing is on the line but my pride), I, uh, yeah. I’m gonna spare myself that indignity if I can help it. The good news is that while I still felt pretty knackered, I felt a lot better (understandably!), so I tried to finish the last two miles as strongly as I could and tried to pick people off until the very end. I hadn’t been clock-watching at all the whole race, but I figured that I’d be pretty close to a 1:40 and wanted to try to sneak in under that. Mission accomplished: 1:39:11.

It’s hard not to be disappointed when shit happens (literally, figuratively, whatevs) in races, but it’s part of the game. Every day isn’t going to yield a PR, life-changing performance, and expecting otherwise will set you up to be enormously saddened (or angered) more often than not. I ran a slow-for-me half marathon, but FFS, I still just ran a half marathon for the fun of it, not because anyone was forcing me to, or because it was going to pay my mortgage, or anything like that. I did it because I could, because I wanted to help my team, and because it’s fun, even when it’s not. I’m grateful to be able to do this stuff at all, and I don’t lose sight of that. Sometimes running/racing is great. Other times, it sucks. It’s part of the process. 

with Lisa, captain awesome. fitting that I’m standing near my friends, the outdoor toilets.

By the time everything was said and done, it was a 17-mile day (2 warm-up, 2 cool-down) and a fun morning with my teammates. It was awesome to have Lisa out biking and cheering for us and to celebrate my teammates’ performances, including Greg, who had run his first half ever. The race gave a big post-race spread (none of which appealed to me, unfortunately; it takes me a while to warm-up to food after racing or hard efforts), and soon enough, we were on the road again back to the Bay Area.

the harriers at Clarksburg. L-R that’s Greg, Oscar, Lisa, Tony, and Ray (PC: Wolfpack Running Club IG)

If you’re in the market for a flat and fast half, Clarksburg is an excellent option. The aid stations are about every two miles and are well-supported, and if you’re in the throes of CIM training, the timing of the race really couldn’t be better. Alternatively, if you want longer (20) or shorter distances (5k, 10k, kids’ race), the race can help you out there, too. It doesn’t offer much in the way of crowds or scenery — you’re running through a pretty rural area — but if you enjoy quiet, distraction-free running, it’d be an excellent match. My race wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I still had a good experience and would recommend it.

And with that, we inch ever-closer to CIM.