Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nike Cross Regionals Recap 2009

I am sitting here typing away at an outdoor pool in Phoenix. It is about 8:30 at night. I have a fresh cup of coffee and the temperature is about 70 degrees. Chloe is asleep upstairs with Beth after a very busy day, but I am sitting out here staring at a beautiful crescent moon. And people ask me why I don't take the kids to Wisconsin during Thanksgiving Week???

Today was our big race. The Nike Cross Regional Championship. Tempe, Arizona. We came here last year, had some great success, so we have been planning on coming back ever since. Wow, I am very glad we did.

Our first glimpse of the course on Friday night was an eye-opener. The entire park was under construction! With all the fences and holes and construction material lying around, it looked like a war zone, like Sarajevo in the 1990's. Most of the course was marked, but not all, so we did not have a very good idea of where we would be running the next morning. Another thing there were a lot of were negative coaches and parents. Complaining about this, bitching about that, they were everywhere. It was all we could do to keep our kids away from all that. Pretty to similar to track in a lot of ways, actually. Eventually, we figured out 95% of the course, it was totally different from last year, but we went back to the hotel confident we knew what we were up against.

The next morning, an early wake-up call. We got to the course with no problems, figured out that our predictions of six big power hills interspersed with long stretches of concrete were correct, and set about the task of warming up for the race. To say there was a big crowd was an understatement. They split the boys open race into two divisions, due to numbers, and the girls races were overwhelmingly large fields. Luckily, with the new set-up of the course, the wider start was able to accommodate all of the athletes. There was kind of a running celebrity scene, with Dyestat on site, Bernard Lagat and Bret Schoolmeester roaming around the course, and Ryan Whitenack offering his thoughts on Taoist philosophy to all of the crazy parents in the crowd.

We did not have a full team, so our two runners were in the earlier open races. Even though this was not the championship section, the girls winner ran a 19:30? and the boys winner was clocked by my watch at sub 16:10. Very competitive times, very fast racers, and all this showed the course was in fact more difficult than in the two years prior. In 2008 and 2007, the top times were much faster than this year. (It must be those six hills, one right after another, they reminded me of a Tour de France stage!) The new course did not worry me in the least, however, as I felt if our racers followed the plan of not stressing the first 3/4 mile, racing the two laps with all the hills in them like that was the only race, then holding on and gutting out the final 3/4 mile home, we would do very, very well. We had practiced running steep hills, with Coach Neale, and we had developed the power to be able to attack them with Coach Whitenack. The last 3/4 mile, when you are dead and you need to race from the heart, Coach Dianne had fine-tuned all fall long. All our racers had to do was follow the plan, and success would follow.

Well, as I am sure you have heard, we had some amazing success today. Katelyn Wojan smashed her 5 km PR, with a 19:55, good for a fifth place finish in that open race! She ran a 20:12 on the faster course last year, and to come up with a sub 20 minute race this year is really impressive. I know for a fact Katelyn trained very hard, as her goal was go under 20 in this race, and she did it. She should be very proud of herself, she has turned herself into an excellent 5 km runner. Tyler also had the makings of an amazing race. He got out fast and had a great first mile split. However, he was running with a broken rib sustained a week before. During the race, he took an elbow right to the swollen bruised spot, and unfortunately could not finish. He did go back, after the championship races were completed, and finish the course. In his his mind he had completed it, which was the right thing to do. His training was excellent over the fall, and even though we could not celebrate it today, I know we will be celebrating it big time this spring.

I am very proud of the two athletes who ran their hearts out today; very, very, very proud. As I have said before, I wouldn't have cared if they each ran the course in an sixty minutes or in fifteen minutes. These two dedicated themselves to a brutal training program over the fall, they sacrificed more than anyone can imagine, they changed the very core of their lifestyles to become better athletes, and they showed their loyalty and commitment time and time again. I value these qualities in athletes a million times more than speed or strength or power. Thank you Katelyn, thank you Tyler, this has been a wonderful season of coaching for me.

And thank you to Coach Whitenack, who came on the trip, and proved again how important and indispensable he is to this program. Thank you to Coach Neale. His enthusiasm, his perspective, his connection with the athletes is amazing. Thank you to Coach Hawk. He is an architect of how we do things, his support and presence are vastly underrated. Thank you to both Coach Maroneys. Jimmy, you are always there for the kids, even when they don't realize it. The kids know you love them and support them, and that allows them to focus on what is important. And Dianne, it is a testament to your caring and knowledge when you see the athletes using the tools you taught them literally ten seconds before the most hectic moment of the race. They trust you, they believe in you, the depend on you, and so do I.

Last but not least, thank you to Beth. Without you, none of this would be happening. Your support of my passion has been unparalleled, and I could never hope to pay you back. You take care of so many aspects of my coaching career and this running program we have built together, I don't have the cyberspace to list them here. But, I want everyone to know that I love you and I am so grateful for you and for Chloe. Your are both the biggest prize I could ever win. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now what? Well, winter track starts on Nov. 30th. We got a big winter race season in front of us, and then an even bigger spring season. Until then, relax and recover. Heal up, rest up, eat up. Pay attention to you H-N-R. You deserve it. Congratulations.


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