There’s a moment in every race that comes to mind first when recollecting. In the NY Marathon it was the look on a fan’s face as it shifted from enthusiastic screaming to genuine fear for my well-being somewhere around mile 24. In the Olympic Trials (the IT Band year), it was seeing two people in yellow Picky Bars shirts holding up a C for Courage as I readied myself for the start (I don’t remember the actual race much at all). At CA State XC Senior Year it was a stretch of dirt road at Woodward Park with 800m to go; a random rutted grass curve in a park in Maine, 2002; a row of identical Palm Trees on a smooth stretch of Arizona golf course at Pac 10’s.
Last Sunday it was a smile, on a muddy starting line on a baseball field at Lincoln Park in Seattle, that grew wide as the gun sounded and lasted a full 50 meters before the demands of the effort forced me to consciously relax my jaw. I laugh now to think about how long I would have gone on smiling otherwise. For the remainder of the 6k cross country course I wouldn’t see a single one of the spectators who drove from all over Seattle to cheer me on. As I flew down gravel paths and drove my spikes into muddy grass hills, their concentrated pockets of yells floated through my mind as if wrapped in cotton. Only seven days later the race is a blur, but those first 50 meters, I suspect, will be the moment that sticks.
Cross country running used to be my thing. The matching braids and ribbons, the flags strung up in lines from pole to pole marking the course. The blood and guts racing with no idea how fast you’re going. The bundled up spectators tearing down embankments to catch you one more time before the finish. The hanging on by a thread one moment, and surprising yourself that you’re still there the next. That extra gear…the grindy one. The ugly face.
I haven’t won very many cross country races, but I was always in the mix. I put some stats/highlights at the end of the blog for the curious, but all you really need to know is that cross country is how I fell in love with running, I used to be pretty good at it, and my last notable performance was in 2005…almost 10 years ago. For some reason, possibly nostalgia, possibly an attempt to re-create past successes, possibly because it’s the perfect way for our team to get fit for track without burning ourselves out, I’ve decided I want to be good at it again.
So I’ve been training. Dirt roads, long reps, tempo runs, hill repeats…a 2+ mile loop of rolling dirt/sand where Little Wing does Fartleks to simulate all kinds of pain. We haven’t been smashing it yet, but we’ve been getting stronger, building a foundation, and stacking bricks of confidence one by one. Training hasn’t been perfect, but it has gone well enough to want to race, and the USATF West Regional XC Championships in Seattle last week was my first test. I’m going to say I passed.
After every race I sit down and think about what I did well, and what lessons I can learn from it. I write it down in my Journal and then I let it go. Post race perfectionism, criticism, and chronic dissatisfaction are bad habits I released a long time ago after learning they don’t get you where you want to go on a physical or emotional level. Happiness and gratitude are things you need to practice if you want to be able to fully enjoy your victories when they come.
The smile moment may very well be the only thing that sticks long term, but maybe if I write them down, I’ll be able to recall a few more things from the race that may serve me well later this year. The way lining up with teammates calms the nerves. The way Bronwyn pushing an early pace spurred fear, and how I used that fear to spur courage and control. Finely tuning my effort in response to the varied terrain. Feeling as if I was playing, rather than working, on the edge of my fitness. Realizing I was pulling away, and committing to running my own race. Running toward the finish line knowing that the victory was small, but important, and seeing my crew waiting for me on the other side.
One final moment. The highlight of the whole weekend wasn’t the race, even though it was the entire reason I went to Seattle in the first place. The highlight was earlier that morning. Oatmeal and coffee appear in front of me with a smile before Sally heads out the door for her long run. An ongoing dance for the last two years, she insists on making me breakfast at her house, and in keeping with tradition I pretend to hate being spoiled. With the house to myself I sip my coffee and read the NY Times. As the rain pours down outside in sheets, thoughts of the race swell up and pull back like a tide. Suddenly, a wave of gratitude washes over all of it, making this little cross country race mean nothing and everything at the same time.
Special thanks, just for fun:
Photographer Mark Stone for capturing the race in photos for our team. Thanks to Jeremy Topping for sharing the smile photo with me via twitter.
Jess DeLong for being an A+ nanny, allowing me to pretend I wasn’t a parent for 12 hours so I could practice the focus required in a race environment. Thanks Jude for saving your crazy for the plane ride home.
The Lesko family for housing and feeding my crew and always making us feel totally at ease. Thanks for working out the kinks in my body with elbows, thumbs, and forearms before and after the race, (not to mention the kinks in my brain).
Alec Duxbury for agreeing to drive me across the city to the race, for being the world’s best pit crew, and for providing steady, solid energy.
The whole Bergesen/Duxbury clan for giving me a baby-free crash pad the night before and for including chocolate cake, French wine, and yeti snuggles into the pre-race festivities!
Sally Bergesen for making me breakfast and constantly giving me reasons to pinch myself.
Lana for the emergency pre-race snack when the owner of an energy bar company (me) can’t remember to pack her own food.
Little Wing for making every day of training an exciting challenge and a gift, and teammates Laura, Cathleen, and Shelly for racing by my side.
Everyone from the Nest who cheered us on. It was but a small cross country race, but it meant a lot to have my people there to start the year off right. Kristin, special thank you for getting our team together and organized for the race, as you always do.
Jesse for helping me shift the tide this year and valuing my athletic goals as much as your own. You really are the better half.
All of you for following along and providing encouragement in the many creative ways you do, adding a little more snow to this snowball with every roll.
Cross Country Goal:
Qualify for World Team at the USA Champs in Boulder Feb 7th.
Cross Country History:
CA Div I State Champion
Footlocker Finalist (14th and 2nd)
Pac 10 Champion
NCAA finishes of 5th, 11th, 3rd, 4th
Junior Worlds 25th ish
Made a few world teams
USA Champs runner up back when the 4k was a thing.
Top Senior Worlds finish 11th, USA bronze (nearly 10 years ago)