On the weekend of February 7th, a group of Dukes Track Club runners (Myself, Kris, Juan, Robby & Dana) flew to Baltimore, Maryland to compete at the 2009 USA Cross Country Championships/USA World Cross Country Trials. I was very excited for this race once I got to the airport. The four of us, minus Kris were on-time checking in and getting to the gate, whereas Kris was nowhere to be found. As we meandered to our gate, we met up with a small crew of UNM athletes that were racing, including: Jeremy Johnson, Alan Pitman & Lacy Oeding. We were on the same flight so it was going to be a fun little trip. Once we we landed, the two groups raced off to get our rental cars and headed over to the course and get a quick peek at what we were about to suffer through!
The course was amazing. We found ourselves in the middle of a forest with rolling hills carved into a 10 meter wide cross country course. The frozen mud gave room for horrible footing along the undulating terrain for each 2k loop. I don't recall any flat surfaces on the entire course, because if there wasn't an uphill or downhill, there was a slope to run along that threw your stride. Our entire group of New Mexican runners were very pleased with the course, since it reflected the foothills back at home that we loved to run! Once the sun rested over the farmland hills and red barn at the starting line, we decided to finish up our run and head to dinner and get some rest.
The next day we all slowly woke up, got ready for a shake out run (which included some light hill repeats) and get some breakfast. Our race was scheduled to go off at 2pm, so we arrived at the race around 12 and watched some of the junior races. German Fernandez won the junior race with an impressive breakaway in the last lap. Our UNM runner Al Pitman finished an impressive 17th, which was very motivating for us. And Lacy placed 10th, earning her a spot on the US NACAC team.
Once we got our warm up in, which was 40 minutes of running around lost in the hills behind the course, we did some strides and stretched back at our little spot by the course. At this time we laced up, did some drills and headed over to the start. Jeremy was no where to be found at this point, but the five of us headed over there as a small pack of lost Albuquerque runners. After some more strides on the course, the runners were gathered to start on a long hilly 12k cross country race. Kris and I had a strategy from our coach Henry Rono to run conservative for the first 4 loops and then start racing after that. So we agreed that Kris would take the first lap and we would switch leads for the 4 loops. After the gun went off a huge group of nearly 60 runners converged in front of me towards our uphill start. I stayed as comfortable as possible for the first loop with Kris. Once the second loop came I started to lead Kris and pick off a few guys every quarter mile or so. The hills were relentless, especially the down hills, since they were very steep and slightly muddy from the previous races.
As the third loop came, I was expecting Kris to take over, but he was not there. I was not going to look back, so I kept my composure and attempted to pick off guys that went out too hard in the first half of the race. I was very surprised to be passing such high caliber runners. At this point fans were calling out places, so I had an idea that I was in the top 30 at this point. Another discouraging moment, was when guys where dropping out of the race. This issue gets to me, but nevertheless I still pressed forward through the hills and mud. For the next 2 loops I was amongst the top 20 and still pressing. I could see Jeremy up in front and I wanted to reach him, but this late in the race with these amazing runners would be a tremendous effort to reach anyone. I could feel the guys behind me struggling through the course as much as I was, so our positions seemed frozen for the time being. On the largest downhill of the course many runners fell, and I witnessed many runners sliding well off the course to avoid a horrible fall. At one point I nearly fell, but thankful not.
At the beginning of our last lap I saw Anthony Famiglietti in a red singlet in front of me. At the moment I did not know who it was, but once a fan called out his name to cheer him on I got excited. The excitement was that I was closing in on a great American distance runner, who just competed at the 2008 Olympics. I put in a surge to catch him on the downhill, and we were running together up the hill leading to the back side of the course. I think we were running together for a bit, then he let me go with 1k to go. At this point I was pressing as hard as I could without sprinting. I had an idea where the quarter mile mark would be, but i still wanted to hold my position; which was 17th I believe. Once I hit the turn for the finish I started my kick...which was too soon. I could feel the lactic acid build in my legs like battery acid and was just praying I could catch the guys in front of me. That was not going to happen. Instead, the opposite happen, a group of guys ate me apart in the last few hundred meters. It was tough! They flew by me as if I was standing still, then they started to come back to me. If they kept their momentum I think they would have gaped me by almost 30 seconds in those few meters, but fortunately I was not standing still and finished a few seconds behind them in 20th.
As I crossed the line in compete pain and exertion I waited there for the rest of our team. A brief chat with the fellow runners and friends that beat me and Kris soon crossed the finish line in 37th place. Juan came in a few moments later in 81st place followed by Robby and Dana in 119th & 141st respectively. This was Robby's first real race since moving back to Albuquerque, at it was a great performance at the National level. Dana was real pleased with his performance as well, since he has never been on a team before. As for Juan, this race just fueled the fire for him. He has always been a competitor, so he used this as a testament to further his training. Kris was joking stating that he was the fastest Lawyer in the race and was very pleased with it. This was a huge improvement from last year and he is going to have a huge track season!
I was very pleased and excited with my placing! This may have been one of my best performances to date. But, another thing was lingering in my mind. The team competition! Now, USA Cross Country Championships is not really regarded as a team event, but they do score teams. I noticed a table with the Championship Trophy and Runner-up Trophies. Once I saw that, I knew we won! There was no way any of those teams beat us, but even if they did I still figured we'd get second and take home some hardware! But of course, they screwed up the scoring and didn't even score us as a team. Oh well, maybe next year!
So on the cool down we were applauding each others performances and joking around from such a great experience. Many Olympians and Professional runners had bad days and I was very fortunate to have a great day! Our good friend Jeremy Johnson finished an amazing 12th place, earning him a spot on the US NACAC team as well! It is such an honor to represent your country in any kind of international competition and I am very proud of Jeremy for making that team. I only hope that I can have the fitness and integrity to make that team next year. It would surly be a dream to wear the US Jersey in competition, doing something I love.
That night we headed out to the post-race party and had an amazing, crazy, lost night throughout Baltimore with random people! One of my buddies/old roommate (Mike Crouch) who runs for Queens University and just ran 7:57 (indoor 3ooom) that same day drove down from New York with his coach, Scott Simmons and stayed in Baltimore for the night came out with us. All I can say was that we had a night we would never forget, or for a time being we would forget...
And the adventure didn't end there..... The next day, in a slump of sickness we geared up very slowly, packed and drove to Washington D.C. to tour our nations capitol. Dana lost his wallet so he had to drive back to the hotel to recover it as the rest of us toured the capitol while getting in a run. This was the last thing I ever wanted to do, but as soon as we got out there running the spinning seemed to slow down. That night I seemed to have consumed the most beverages and was paying the price that day. Although the Mall in D.C. was quite amazing. We meandered through each monument and gazed in awe. After a few hours of running/sightseeing I started to feel "tapped out". We got a call from Dana that he'd returned and was looking for us. We told him we'd run towards his direction, but I was feeling too tired to continue and sat down trying to recover. Kris was getting irritated and wanted to meet up with Dana first, but before Kris could freak out I heard a women's voice from a car in traffic yell my name. I looked over in shock and saw an old college teammate, Jenny Hauser. I ran over to see her and told her to meet up with us after she parked. Once everyone converged to exchange stories and why we were in D.C. Jenny directed us to a wonderful restaurant where we could complete our Maryland experience with some Crap Cakes! We arrived at the restaurant, had a great crap cake experience wearing our running clothes and sweat then left straight to the airport for our journey home.
Once again, for lack of a better word, this was an Epic Adventure. One we shall not forget...