|(Junior Men sprint down the first stretch)|
I jogged around and did some strides, meeting many faces behind the great comments that come in on my blog. When it came time to toe the line, the Fleet Feet Sports Boulder Racing Team let me line up with them, although there was no chance I was going to keep up with the likes of Todd Straka, Jim Robbins, Peter Hagelbach, Marc Bromberg, James Johnson, and George Zack. But we wished each other well, and readied for the start.
|(Hanging with former WR holders Jim Ryun and Alberto Salazar)|
The gun went off, and it was like a scene from Braveheart as we shot down the half mile straight away as fast as we could. The flat speed of these runners was SHOCKING. I guessed I was on a 5:30 min/mile pace, and the lead pack had 25 seconds on my by the first corner. Wow! I loved how the spikes threw grass divots around every corner, and it was full contact at all moments. So very different than an ultra!
I passed a few people in the tight corners, only to have them pass me back on the straights, and soon realized this would be the pattern for the race. These were all gazelles trained on the track, and their strides were long and powerful. It was like they had two gears more than I had! At the end of the first lap, 49-year-old XC Masters star Peter Magill led a pack of four and made it look easy nearly a minute ahead.
By lap 2, there was a bit more elbow room. People were cheering around the entire track, and one would think there was 2,000 spectators here (it turns out it's just the same 250 people running to different points on the course). I heard some coach-like hollering, realizing I was right in the middle of the fight for the M55-60 age group between Jim Howard, Dale Campbell, and Rich Burns. "Catch that 'some bitch!" one would yell, while another would scream "don't let him gap you, stay on his tail!". Very exciting! Clearly this was a team sport.
Lap 2 was slightly faster than Lap 1, and for the most part our positions remained the same while the leaders stretched out in front of us. I kicked it up a bit more, and a group of five of us worked our way through slowing runners. Although I was sub-6 minute on the flat parts, the tight corners made it hard to keep the average speed under 6. Push, push, push!
|(Colorado's George Zack cranks through Lap 2 in the Masters race, photo courtesy of Harry White)|
Lap 4 came, and everyone dug deep. My legs were on fire and my stomach was cursing like a sailor, but the faces of my fellow runners said I was in good company. Every corner got competitive, with elbows flailing wide, surges, and self-motivation grunts. A quick pass was almost an insult, and you can bet they would try and take you on the next turn. There were team points at stake, so every position counted. This was awesome! I pushed harder, letting the tunnel vision creep in for the last 200 meters, and picking up three more spots. Boulder's Stephen Fether heard me coming in the last 50 meters and wasn't about to let me pass, and we sprinted to the finish where he stayed a stride ahead. 30:21, 57th place, just barely in the first half of the pack. Wow. Probably the fastest I have ever gone, but nowhere near what is needed to be competitive here.
I lost my balance at the finish as the tunnel vision caught up with me, and a gentleman helped me up saying "great kick!". Another volunteer laughed while handing me a water and said "if that guy says you had a good kick, then you definitely had a good kick!". As the tunnel vision cleared away, I realized the man who helped me up was Billy Mills, the 1964 10k Olympic Gold Medalist with one of the greatest kicks ever caught on film. Wow! I could care less if I finished 57th - Billy Mills just patted me on the back!
I saw a guy curled up on the ground vomiting his breakfast, and realized it was our winner, Peter Magill, who had extended his XC dynasty with another National Championship (26:17) and topped a podium dominated by Compex Racing. I guess that's how hard you have to go to top this field! Being 49 years old, he had the best age-graded performance too. Spectacular, Peter!
Junior and Open Races
I cooled down, showered, and came back to watch the Junior and Open Races. Stanford was well represented in the Juniors, with favorite Aisling Cuffe (headed to Stanford in the Fall) comfortably winning the Junior Women by 26 seconds, and Stanford Freshman Erik Olson playing his tactics perfectly for a win in the Junior Mens. Colleen de Reuck won the Masters Women, after pulling away in the first 1k to built a comfortable lead.
|(UCLA's Dustin Fay led for the first half, but was pulled in by lap 3)|
|(Erik Olson wins the Junior XC Nationals)|
|(Stanford's Erik Olson interviewed at the finish)|
|(Shalene Flanagan takes it out fast, photo courtesy of Harry Price)|
|(Shalene Flanagan leads 1k in, and builds from there)|
|(Shalene Flanagan, 2011 National Cross Country champion, photo courtesy of Nelvin Sepeda)|
|(Womens Top 10)|
The Men's Open had lots of big names for their 12k as well, including 800-meter Olympian Matt Tagenkamp, XC Champion Jorge Torres, our own Max King, sub-4 minute miler Andrew Bumbalough, 3-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, and 2010 USATF 10k Road Champion Ed Moran. It was definitely going to be a fast race!
|(Jeremy Johnson and Ben Bruce lead a tight pack)|
|(Ed Moran sets the pace on Lap 2)|
|(Max King leads through Lap 3)|
|(Brent Vaughn makes his move)|
|(Max King makes up ground on the final lap)|
|(Brent Vaughn, 2011 Cross Country National champion, photo courtesy of Daniel Petty)|
|(3rd place finisher, Ed Moran)|
|(Men's Open Top 10)|