2003. Late September. Roy Gummerson Invitational, Schiller Woods Forest Preserve. I am a mediocre runner on my JV cross-country team. I find myself stride-for-stride with two competitors with about a quarter mile to go. We’re competing for some unimportant place in the most unimportant race of the day (Open Boys). I’m in the middle, flanked on both sides. Guy on my left starts to make his move to the chute. I match his stride and we drop the guy on my right. I hold my middle ground as we enter the funnel.
High school cross country races don’t have chips. There’s a funnel made of rope that goes from 5 or 10 meters wide to the width a single high school boy at the finish line. Time doesn’t matter on this 2.95mi course—place does.
We enter the funnel stride for stride. This is where cross country becomes a full contact sport. I have position for finishing. My ghost will do anything to get that quarter step needed to sneak in front of me at the line. 5 strides to go. We’re in perfect unison. Neither of us is slowing down. 3 strides to go. I sense he’s about to make his move toward the middle. All 110lbs of me cedes no ground. I run him straight into the (padded) pole that defines the left side of the finish line. He falls backward, not only losing to me, but to the guy we had dropped 100 meters back. Victory.
There’s nothing like a good cross country race. Spikes flying. Mud everywhere. Twisted ankles. Finish line body checks. I fell in love with racing on those cold, blustery mornings.
How much do I love racing? When I moved to San Diego and found out that I could race through the winter, I ended up racing 6 times in 8 weeks, setting my 5k, 10k, and 13.1mi PRs during that stretch. Granted I don’t race those distances often, but I seemed to “get up” for each race even with an unrelenting schedule.
I haven’t raced since May 4th. And I was sick for that one. I’ve been antsy to race before, but never like this. Couple the complete lack of racing with tapering and I’m starting to go crazy. Sunday can’t come soon enough.