Yesterday the Northern Arizona Cross Country teams competed at the Mountain Regionals in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you are at all unfamiliar with collegiate cross country, Regionals is the qualifying meet for the NCAA Championships. The top-2 teams from each region (there are 9 regions total) as well as 13 at-large selections will qualify for Nationals. This system promises to have the very best teams at the championship competing against eachother. As Letsrun.com says, “XC Nats are like the All-Star game, the entire playoffs and the Super Bowl all in one cold, remote town (Terre Haute, Indiana and the LaVerne Gibson XC course). And it happens on a Monday afternoon and takes??all of??30 minutes.”
Heading into the weekend, we knew we just had to be in the top-4 to get into Nationals. Since nationals is only 9 days after Regionals, and both races are 10km instead of the usual 8km, it makes sense to run as conservatively as possible. This leaves me with an interesting feeling towards the race. These type of races, where you are 99% sure the team will qualify to the next meet, can be tough to get really excited for. In 8 days, no one will care, or likely remember for that matter, who finished where at Regionals… assuming you qualified for Nationals of course. Yesterday’s Regionals was nothing more than a business trip.
We started off the morning with the usual 10 minute shakeout at 6:45 am. Sky was cloudy, but the roads had dried from Friday’s rain. Unfortunately, we had a casualty in roommate Kam Holbrook. Kam had to take a couple days off this week due to pain in his left mid foot (mid foot sprain?) and decided he couldn’t race on it. Freshman Tim Freriks was then bumped up and took Kam’s spot in the race.
Shortly after arriving at the course it began drizzling.?? I really don’t mind racing in the rain, especially when it is so light, but it can make warming up before the race a pain. By the time we began our warm up, the rain ceased and wouldn’t pick back up till after the race.
After about a 200m straight, the course turns onto some dirt with uneven footing and then makes its way back onto a fairway. This made for a physical start and I was glad I got out well… probably in the 25-30 range. I settled in and continued to run just off the leaders in about 30th place coming through the 1k mark in 2:59 and the mile in somewhere around 4:50.
The course is made up of three loops that wind up and down three fairways, so spectators were everywhere. The crowd was quite loud, which brought me back to my high school cross country days in California where some meets would have thousands of spectators lining most of the course.
I came through 2 miles around 9:50 in about 35th. I remember feeling a side stitch coming on around 3.5k. I took a few deep breaths and it either went away or I just forgot about it because I don’t remember thinking about it the rest of the race. My 5k time was about 15:30 and I still felt pretty good.
At 8k (25:0x), Coach Heins told me I was fine right where I was and to just relax and hold my position. From there I found Nick Atwood, who has turned into a bit of a conference rival for me, and decided to race him the rest of the way. With about a kilometer to go, he opened up a gap. With 400m left, I was able to move by him and another one of his teammates and hold them off till the finish. I finished in 33rd with a time of 31:26.9.
I ran this same course in 2006 and finished 71st in 33:29. Last year I was 50th in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is good to see a steady improvement over the years with a 2+ minute course PR.
David McNeill took home the individual title for the second year in a row and finished with a time of 29:51. Ben Ashkettle has been steadily moving up all season, finishing 8th yesterday. We will need another big effort from him, and the rest of the team for that matter, on Novemeber 23rd. The team finished 4th behind BYU, Colorado and New Mexico. As we thought, it was good enough for an at-large selection.
Looking ahead toward Nationals in 8 days, we have a fairly light week of training. It will be my lowest mileage week since taking time off after my triathlon at the end of June. Leading up to the race I will be posting more frequent updates here on RunPD.com with how the taper is going and more thoughts on the race.