What a busy week it has been for me. I have on a number of occasions excused myself from writing a race report for a few days because my agenda on Mondays and Tuesdays is normally quite full (on top of the usual school and running duties, I teach a Thermodynamics recitation in the evenings on these days). What about Sunday you ask? Well??? God said on the seventh day you rest, right? (surely he wasn???t thinking about running when he decreed that, though)
But this week had a few extras in it. It was so busy because it is NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK! At NAU the week leading up to the NCAA Championships is full of festivities, such as our last two ???workouts,??? keeping the media happy with endless interviews (see the video below), and making arrangements with professors for the classes and exams that will be missed on Monday.
So now that I have spoiled any suspense you may have had if you did not know that we had qualified for nationals, here is my race report from Saturday.
Our morning in Salt Lake City began just like any other race morning, with a 10 minute shake-out around town. Unlike our last one in Spokane, WA, the sun was up and the team had a more stoic feel. Conference is about winning a title and making memories; Regionals is strictly business. All that matters is that we qualify and prolong our season by nine more days. With this in mind, we decided that as long as we finish within the top-4 we should have no troubles (the first two teams are automatic qualifiers so any other teams to qualify are at-large selections).
Coach???s instructions were for Dave and Diego to get out towards the front and finish comfortably amongst the top-5, for Ahmed to run smart and hopefully place in the top-20, and the rest of us to be somewhere close to the All-Regional distinction of top-25.
As the race got underway, I found myself in an unusual position: in the front. I was running in about 3rd position after 400m and came through 1k and the mile mark with the leaders. I would normally not be so aggressive, but I really felt that the pace was extremely relaxed. We came through 1k in 2:56 and the mile in 4:48 ??? most of these bigger races I go out faster than that and find myself jockeying for position back in the trenches. So, while it was an unfamiliar position for me, I was not worried that I had gone out too hard.
Just as we approached the mile mark, Diego told me he was going to make a move, and I said, ???Go for it buddy.??? I tucked in and awaited the pack of runners that was surely going to come around me and close any gap Diego would form. That???s just what happened and I moved back in the race to a place closer to where I belong. Unfortunately I let too many runners by me and probably dropped back to the mid 30???s by the time I reached half-way. Worse than all the positions I had just given up, I really wasn???t feeling all that good. Maybe I had gone out too hard?
At 7k I was joined by Andrew and reassured with a pat on the back. We know each other incredibly well and I am sure Andrew could sense that I wasn???t feeling my best. Andrew???s gesture woke me up and I hopped on his train. That is what teammates are for.
We went by Coach Heins and he told us our position was fine, that there was no one around us, and to run the next couple kilometers controlled. Andrew and I did just that and ended up finishing the race strong, passing four or five runners in the last kilometer.
I ended up finishing 31st in 30:47, which is a 5 second PR from NCAAs last year. It would have been nice to stand on the stage as an All-Region runner, but the truth is we did good enough without it. We finished 4th behind New Mexico, Colorado and BYU. Later that afternoon we would find out that we were the 28th selection to the NCAA meet (out of 31). I couldn???t believe how late in the selection process we finished, but again, another detail that just doesn???t matter.
Now we are on our way to Terre Haute, Indiana for the big dance. As I noted in my Tears of Joy post, ???it will be my final race wearing an NAU cross country singlet, racing alongside six of my closest comrades whom I have shared victory and defeat with, racing in quite possibly my last cross country race, ever.??? Sigh. More of that emotional stuff to come before and after Monday???s race.