Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Success by Association"- My Club Cross Story

For those of you with very good memories, my last post was all about preparing for my first cross country race since college- Club Cross Country Nationals, in Lexington, KY.

For those of you who follow the sport of running closely, you probably know all the details of what went down (including me) that day, but for those who don't, I'll regale you with quite the doozy about how one of my worst races ever made me a 'national champion'....

First let me preface the subject by saying I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of runners in this world when it comes to slippery surfaces. First, are the runners who can float their way over ice, snow, and mud as if it were nothing. These runners I would call 'finesse' runners, because they seem to know exactly how much force to put through the ground to get the desired amount of return/no slippage.

The rest of us (yes, I belong in the second category), are what I would call the 'power' runners. Not unlike 'Tim-the-Tool-Man-Taylor', of the classic show of my youth, Home Improvement, when we start to slip on similar terrain, we say, "MORE POWER!" Unfortunately, with more power, seems to come more slippage, more frustration, more pain, and no gain. The image that comes to mind when I'm running on low-friction surfaces is myself, trying to row a boat with a toothpick...a little dramatic, yes, but I truly feel as if I am rendered entirely ineffective in snow or mud.

Don't tell them I said this, but I have another term for the 'finesse' runners- annoying. Because I already openly discuss this issue with him, I don't feel ashamed to say that my husband Ben is an excellent example of this type of runner. It is incredible (slash incredibly annoying) to be running right next to him and doing great on a run, and then we hit a road with a lot of slush/snow on it, and within seconds he's dropped me like a bad habit.

I swear it would make a great cartoon to depict he and I out on a slippery winter run. He'd be about a block ahead of me, great running form, slow easy stride, with a thought bubble that says, "Ah, what a beautiful winter's morning!" I, on the other hand, would be hunched over, sweating bullets, with my cartoon legs spinning like mad- in one place, while I only dig myself further into a hole in the ground. My thought bubble would be symbols only, because nothing I'm thinking in those situations are suited for children's eyes.

So, with that confession out of the way, the rest of this story will be placed in proper context. When we arrived in Lexington the day before the race, it was raining. It rained overnight, and rained the morning of the race. The course was quite muddy, a fact I tried to equally ignore, but also respectfully prepare for. Despite my earlier rant about running in muddy conditions, I was feeling pretty confident, the Turkey Day 5K a couple weeks earlier had been really fun and I felt like that should be some kind of a positive indication of my cross country strength. I thought on more kilometer on a cross country course would be difficult, but doable.

Immediately prior to the start of the race, we received some advice to get out hard early in the race, as it seemed that no one in the first couple waves of competition were making up any ground later in the race because of the muddy conditions. We had our hearts set on winning this team race, so we all agreed to try it. While that advice seemed to work out perfectly for my teammates, in hindsight I'm thinking that may not have played out so well for me. I managed to stick with them through the first mile in about 5:14, but never really felt in control of my situation and was developing some side stitches on both sides of my abdomen. Despite my greatest intents to stay with my teammates throughout the race, I started losing them after the first mile, and my mantra changed to just staying calm, and concentrating on competing against who was nearest to me. It felt as if hundreds of runners were flying by me as I stumbled around in the mud, but the one thing I knew was that my team was up ahead of me doing an awesome job, and the best I could do was keep fighting.

Just before the 2-mile mark, I was going around a particularly muddy corner, caught my shoe on something, tried to catch myself, but just slid right down into the mud. I think my center of gravity was off because I was hunching over with the side-aches (just to be clear, I know I sound like a baby while I write this...). Thankfully the mud makes for a soft landing, and not unlike another falling race I'm known for, I think I got up pretty quickly. Honestly the fall didn't phase me too much, I was already not where I wanted to be in that race, it was just one more thing. Then, to add insult to injury, I caught a bug in my eye, but had too much mud caked on my hands to try to wipe it out. It was all I could do not laugh at my own sorry self while I ran through the 2-mile mark with people taking pictures and video all over the place.

Not far beyond the 2-mile, I heard someone yell, "You've got 4 in the top 10!" This was both motivating and depressing, because I knew if our team lost, it would be all my fault. I kept going, only because I knew the only thing worse than running slow is quitting when you're the 5th runner on a team of 5. It truly felt like a gift from God when I neared the finish-line, dug deep to pass a couple people on the final stretch, and end that misery.

Ok, I PROMISE, I'm totally aware of how silly and stupid I sound as I recount this racing experience, but I think it's only fair that I'm honest with you about what I was thinking out there. This is where the story looks up!

After I finished, I mosied my way over to where our team was congregating and felt an immediate impulse to apologize for my sub-par performance. I perfectly expected them to bitterly say "It's ok..." through clenched teeth, but like the amazing women they are, they genuinely expressed their understanding (and their concern for how I got so mud-covered...haha). I remember specifically talking to McKenzie Melander, one of my newest teammates, who said, "We wouldn't have even had a team at all if you didn't race, don't worry about it." Though I'm sure it at least crossed their minds, no one mentioned how my placing might have taken away the team title for everyone.

LUCKILY, not long after, individual results were posted. As far as we could tell, we had pulled it off! Team scores still weren't available at first so we kept our excitement to a minimum, and then after our cool downs, results were up and we came out on top. I triumphantly proclaimed, "YES! I didn't suck enough to ruin it for everyone!" (haha...) There was hugging, pictures, and smiles all around.

Ya know that saying, "Guilt by association"...? I can't help but feel a sense of 'success by association' with the way things played out on this one. I certainly don't feel I can claim any of the credit, but I am so thankful to be associated with the women who actually earned that National Title. I find it quite comical now, that I can associate one of my worst races ever with such a positive outcome, all thanks to my incredible friends/teammates.

This was such an incredibly humbling experience, and one that reminds me once again how blessed I am to be surrounded by such incredible people in my life. It's things like this that make me feel confident that no matter what happens in life, so long as I at least TRY to make the most out of my situation, there will be people there to pick me up when I fall, and love me no matter what.

Since then, I've come home and gotten back to work, getting ready for shorter races on much clearer terrain. :) Up next is a road mile in Bermuda on January 18th, then February 2nd I'll be racing an indoor mile in Boston at the New Balance Grand Prix. Looking forward to getting back to the things I do best, and hopefully good stories to tell in the near future!

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