Today was XC Provincial Championships. This is actually the 3rd XC Championship race I run this year if I count the two I did in Italy in February. Kind of ironic for a runner who dislikes XC. But today was a special event. Every year, satellite, erstwhile members of my running club band together and form senior women's team. This team consists of working women in their 30s and 40s with children. Lots of children. Today, the 7 of us toeing the start line on my team, had 8 children among us, We have been doing this for almost a decade, though I cannot claim to have participated in nearly that many. We rarely see each other all together outside of this race so there is truly a feeling of reunion and comradeship surrounding this event.
This is also an occasion for me to catch up with various people who have been in my running life for upwards of 20 years now. In particular one of my first coaches was there (in all, six of my former coaches were there). I had a really wonderful chat with him. I think he must be pushing 80 but just as enthusiastic if slightly less energetic than he used to be. He was lamenting how much thinner the fields are than they used to be among the young'ins. In the cadet boys category, a team consists of only three runners, the federation had to limit it to 3 in order to have a reasonable number of teams in the field. Where have all the young'ins gone? If they are off playing soccer or hockey or just out playing in the streets and parks instead of running, that`s fine but I suspect that is probably not the case. And I find that sad...
This race also acts as Quebec University Championships. As I jogged along the course to warm up, the university teams in their brightly coloured warm-ups, face paint and hair ribbons were unmistakeable. I was once one of those brightly coloured people too. Filled with nervous energy and lost in the importance of the moment. Now, as I warm-up chatting about working and children and life with my cohorts, it strikes me how very liberating it is to be in the situation where truly no one really cares about my performance but me. Also to have a whole three hours to go to a cross country meet is a rare treat and it makes me appreciate the occasion whereas in the past the delight of the event might have been lost in the nervousness of the moment.
My goals for today were somewhat arbitrary. But isn't that cross country in a nutshell: somewhat arbitrary? My goals were to first, to not finish lower than 3rd on any of the university teams in other words I did not want more than 2 members of a single team ahead of me. Second, brace yourself for the extreme cheesiness of it all, to have fun. I have been emotionally struggling with something enormous over the past few weeks and I wanted 5 kilometers of mud, sweat, heavy breathing, golden leaves and flying spikes as an outlet.
In pursuit of the second goal, I decided to go our very conservatively since fun = passing dozens of girls in the last 2. km, conversely fun does not = dying 3 km into a 5 km race. About 75 m into the race I remembered why going out conservatively is not an optimum strategy in XC - 100 spike-wearing women converging onto a 6 foot wide course. So it went that I found myself in the last 15% of the pack about 500 m into the race with limited opportunities for passing. I told myself to be patient, that opportunities would present themselves to move up.
The course was fairly tough, an honest XC course with long, gradual uphills that inevitably bring a runner to her knees followed by very short, very steep downhills. The kind of downhills that are too steep to use as recovery. The kind of downhills that I descend with windmilling arms and the mantra "stay upright or be trampled" running through my head.
By the end of the first loop I had moved up into the top 40% (ish) of the field but I was also no longer feeling like I had really gone out all that conservatively after all. The second lap consisted of slowly picking off women one by one. With 1 km to go I was in extremis. My 15 minute timer went off to remind me that there was less than 5 minutes of running left and that I needed to find more bodies to pass... but instead all i could think was "don't let more than 5 people pass you between now and the finish." Ugh. Not the most uplifting end-race thought. But in fact I'm proud to day that after about the 2 km mark no one passed me. Despite the fact that I was barely going backwards over the last km, no one went by me. I got through it in 100 m sections, looking up finding a landmark to run to and just concentrating on getting to that landmark and thinking of nothing else. It was ugly. I am sure I got no points for style but no one passed me. I also tried to remind myself that this was normal hurt and everyone else was hurting as well.
I had no kick, no grace, not much of anything in the finishing shute. I came home in 19:09. 7th woman in the non-university category and since 5 university women finished ahead of me I finished 12th overall. I feel that both of my pre-race goals were achieved. Lots of wonderful people to catch up with. The smell and sound of autumn leaves crunching under my spikes... a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.