Winter Grand Prix XC recap

Last Saturday was the third race in the Winter Grand Prix (WGP) race series. I like and dread WGP and it’s a fun and different kind of race than most community races I do.

Foremost – it’s more competitive. There are a lot of fast club people (primarily from Club Northwest, who sponsor it), high school kids, and others who I just don’t see as much at other races who show up. Running is an interesting competitive sport this way. Among people who are in good shape, run regularly (>3 times / week), and apply themselves I think there is a fairly clustered range of performance and often that’s all the work you need to do to finish in the top 10% or so of competitors.  This isn’t always true, but it’s not super far off.  The majority of the field in most races are people who run much less often than that and don’t do structured work to try to improve their performance and, moreover, are there to have a good time more than to try to beat their prior times.  But if you decide to aspire to the lofty level of “spend a lot of time doing it and get to high-mediocre at it,” where I am, that’s when you start to see the difference between your plateau and that of some others and there is a big difference between how fast you can get with some modest effort and how fast the people at the front of the field are.  There’s probably a combination of talent, effort, and passion separating you (me) from them, but it’s pretty easy to say “I could never come close to that person’s times” and you’d probably be right.  You’ll definitely be right if you believe that, but it’s probably right anyway.

So a fair number of those people show up at these races.  This is actually one of the good parts because I feel like I push myself harder.  I’m unlikely to win any half-way respectable race ever so I don’t mind being pushed down in the standings.  But the part I really dread is the short distance. Two miles is about the shortest distance I’ve really raced and it’s hard the entire time.  Even in a 5k, the first mile feels kind of comfortable, but in a two mile race you’re working pretty hard from the start (it’s hard for me to imagine what racing a 400 must feel like).  And especially on one of these cross country starts / courses with a huge, wide field where you get funneled after ~400 into a narrow chute. I learned from Joe during this series a couple years ago that you need to go out almost uncomfortably hard in a race like this to get yourself seeded somewhere decent because the group will definitely slow when you hit that first chute, and this is true at WGP.

So at the race last weekend I got there plenty early, did a couple warm-up miles with Io and then stashed him in the car before the race.  I met Kem, who’s running with Seattle Anti-Freeze and just signed up for the race and pretty soon it was show time. I did start out hard, or as hard as I could, but this day wasn’t feeling kind to me.  I got a decent position heading into the fins at Magnuson and pushed respectably up Kite Hill to the turnaround.

I don’t have many key strengths as a runner. I’m not an outstanding climber (though I think I’ve developed from “abysmal” to “passable” over the years), I can descend OK but I’m not terrific and I think my kick is about on par with Elaine Benes. But I’ve convinced myself I’m not terrible at anything and I can pass people here and there in different technical sections of races where I convince myself they don’t want to work as hard as I do.  I don’t remember passing many people the whole race at WGP, though.

As we made the final turn in the first lap, we entered what Max Fischer would have called “the shit.”  This was some rough-going, shoe-stealing mud and slop.  It feels a little dangerous and I definitely love running in conditions like this.  I don’t know my first split but I soldiered on to the second loop which had a couple moments of false hope.  First, after one guy I’ve seen at a few races crushed the climb up Kite Hill, I caught him about 30 seconds later, bent over and sucking wind.  He caught me in the flat section back down by the road, though.  Then in the twists in the final ~800m, I caught one of the high schoolers who was out for the race and passed him, telling him “good job.”  Apparently, he decide “that’s what you think, hippie” since he started letting loose in the last ~500 and put a good 80 yards on me by the finish.

So I crossed the finish in 11:51 – my worst time on the WGP XC course and in 32nd, 8 places back from my standing in the 2 mile road race a couple weeks earlier.  This was a hard, good race and every time I race I learn something about my limits, fitness, other runners, terrain, and running in different conditions. These short races are hard, but it’s a different and good challenge compared with the longer distance runs I’ve been doing over the past year. I guess it’s good I enjoy them since there are still three to go!

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