Seebo's Run

A running commentary on my training and whatever else emerges from that.

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Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Sunday, October 15, 2006

USATF Masters XC Nationals

Saturday (contains nothing about running, so skip to the Sunday section for Nationals)

Saturday morning, a bright sun cutting through the chilly air as Tony and I pulled out of Philadelphia at 7:30 am. Just me and him this weekend, roadtrippin’ it. A quick stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts and then Tony slaps on his iPod and I rummage through the cassette tapes that I had scrounged up from what I had left lying around. The car I bought a few months back still has only its original cassette player, and I had jettisoned most of my cassettes years ago. The one’s that were left were old Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Springsteen, Joe Ely and the like, and mostly live. The kind of music I listened to on road trips in years gone by.

We started up 95 and into Jersey, onto 31 outside of Trenton, and 202 to 287 which got us onto the NYS Thruway. The farther up north we got the brighter the fall colors got. When we got off the Thruway we stopped just past the tolls so I could look at the map. Tony stretched his legs outside and when he came back he was waving a $10 bill around that he had found in the grass. From here it was past Albany, through Troy and onto the backroads all the way to Cambridge, population 2,000, and we got to my friend Eva’s at about 1:00.

I had worked with Eva some back around 2000 when she helped me get data for a big project in NYC that I was working on. We struck up a friendship as we negotiated the Byzantine computer system of NYC’s public hospital system but had lost touch until she called, out of the blue, about three weeks ago. Turns out she, her husband and two kids left their house in midtown Manhattan and moved out to rural upstate New York, where they bought a farm spread and an additional 150 acres of undeveloped land. On a whim, I asked her how far they were from Saratoga and couldn’t believe my luck when she said about 20 miles. I told her I would be inviting myself to visit during Nationals.

There farm is still very much a work in progress, and apparently it takes quite some learning and work before a farm actually gets to be productive. They had just finished building a barn, had stuff growing, and Eva was full of plans about getting livestock for next Spring. We also went out to the land they owned, which comprised a natural bowl with a small pond in the middle (i.e., the bottom) and were surrounded by hillsides thick with brightly colored trees. They had a cabin and a sauna (yes! a wood-burning sauna) by the pond, and when you are down there the surrounding hills cut you off from the rest of the world. Eva said that hippies came out here and chanted for harmonic peace when the planets aligned in the 80’s. The sauna is wood burning and right by the pond so, Swedish style, you schwitz awhile and then jump into the pond, regardless of the season. I now have a standing invitation to come out to this cabin. After we got back to the house we all had pizza and Eva, Mike and I sat around the propane stove, drank wine and talked while Tony and their two kids bonded over Playstation.


Tony stayed at Eva’s and I left for Saratoga Springs and the XC meet at 8:30. Temps were chilly, in the high 30’s and sunny, and there was frost on the road. About 20 miles through country back roads and I was in Saratoga Springs. The meet was in Saratoga Spa State Park, an expansive park built around Greco-Roman bathhouses that once let people enjoy the hot springs in the area. I found the rest of Philly AC Track Club: Chuck Shields – Mr. Cross-country himself, excellent runner and you swear even up here he knows everybody and everybody knows him; Jeff Hayes – another excellent runner a few years older than I, whom I’ll usually beat in local races but he will come back to outscore me on the age-grade; Scott Landis – a crack middle-distance track guy stepping up to go 5 whole kilometers; and two guys, Keith Davies and Jim Cuono, who I hadn’t met nor did I know much about their running. In addition to that, PACTC had an over 50 team – Paul Hines, Russ Patton & Pete Heeson, and a women’s team – Joan Affleck, Mary Pat McFarland, Sarah Tabbut, & Suzanne Pacitti.

The guys immediately set on briefing me on the course, and we all then proceeded to run part of the course as our warm up. I felt a sense of camaraderie almost instantly: an easygoing banter, strategizing from a team perspective, and a solidarity coming from the knowledge that we all had a stake in each of our performances. One great thing about XC was that all five people who score are equally important for the final result, and even the six and seven guys (we only had six) are important in their ability to displace people from other teams. This is pretty basic cross country stuff, but is all new to me, and I was drinking it in.

The course started on one side of a big field that funneled and then went between the park administration building and a rectangular pool. It then went into the woods and would go up two fair sized hills. It was also a well known secret that, though it was advertised at 5k, was actually 79 meters short (so the USATF championships were not on a USATF certified course). Given this, I gave myself two goals: a top ten finish and a sub 16 minute time

As the time approached the 11 am start everyone started lining up at the starting line that stretched for a good one hundred yards, and we looked like an infantry charge about to commence. With my goals in mind, when the starters pistol went off so did I. To my surprise no one went with me and when the course funneled into a path I was in the lead. Against my better judgment I looked back, to make sure I didn’t take a wrong turn. Chuck later said he wanted to scream at me to slow down but decided not to.

As for me, having gone over my head and held it for two of my last three races, I thought lets see what happens. I held the lead almost up to the first mile marker (5:08) when a pack of guys overtook me on the uphill. A couple of more individuals overtake me soon thereafter, including Kevin Kelly, a former coach of mine and organizer of the Chester County Running Store team, with whom we have a friendly but palpable rivalry. Kevin is generally much faster than I, so I found it encouraging that I spent much of the second mile hanging on to him and dueling it out with a Central Park Track Club guy and someone else.

Up the second hill, steeper than the first, and the second mile marker (5:14) was right in the middle. This hill did not feel bad on the warmup but the last part of it was lung searing this time around and I had to slow a bit when the course again leveled. From here it was a loop through the woods and an almost 600 meter straightaway across the field to the finish. After about 100 meters I recovered enough to again get position with the two guys I was dueling, Kevin had moved up ahead. But I really had to push, this was tougher than any 5k I had run. Then we were out of the woods and it was a sprint to the finish. One guy got ahead of me and I got ahead of CPTC guy. When I could read the finish clock it was at 15:50 and ticking. It mesmerized to where I didn’t dig for that last bit I had, but despite this lapse in concentration I got in at 15:59 (last 1.? miles in 5:37) and, more important, 8th place!

30 seconds or so later Chuck and Scott came in one after the other and Jeff came in soon thereafter – 4 guys under 17 minutes. Jim and Keith came in at around 17:30 and we realized we all did well and maybe even had a shot at winning something. I have never felt so spent after a race, and my lungs were burning, a very unpleasant sensation I never had before. And now I have a sore throat to show for it.

The race is over and you immediately huddle with your teammates to see how things went, how people finished, who placed where and ahead of who on the other teams. There is never enough information, though, to know how the team scored. I got called on what I was thinking with my jackrabbit start. In my defense I said that, while I slowed some, I did not crash. And then Chuck, like a final arbiter, decides that that was okay, that perhaps the leaders had started off a little too tactically and that I just ran my race. And then the proof was in the results, despite a start and a finish I would like to have done differently, I met both of my goals and we were now looking to see if PACTC would place.

In the meantime, we cooled down by jogging to different parts of the course to cheer on first Paul, Russ and Pete, and then the women in their respective races. In between we waited around and replayed the race again and again. The anticipation was finally cut by rumors and then confirmation that we placed third, only three points away from second and beating Chester County, the fourth place team, by eight points. We were ecstatic.

So I am a member of the third best over-40 cross country team in the nation. A bit arcane I grant you but as close to an officially sanctioned national championship of any kind as I’m likely ever to get. This was a totally different way to run, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can better appreciate the allure of being a harrier, and why guys get so nostalgic about it. And Chuck won’t have to twist my arm nearly as hard to get me back next year.

Finally, two folks whom I owe big thank yous for helping me get to the finish line as fast as I did. Mike, the crash course on running cross country you gave me over the last two weeks was invaluable in giving me the confidence that I knew at least the basics of how to run over hill and dale. And Rebecca, your support from 300 miles away was touching and surprisingly effective in getting me pumped to race this thing.


Blogger John W said...

Geat Job Seebo! Finishing 30 seconds in front of Chuck means you must have run a great race.

We'll have to take more of the Saturday morning runs into the woods to get you prepped for next year.

8:58 AM  

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