This was the 2nd year I’ve participated in adult cross country. Last year I signed up on a whim – mostly to meet people and just see how I liked it. At the end of last season I had determined that I don’t love the 5 and 6K distance, but I really enjoy the community so I decided to sign up again. This year I wasn’t training for a fall marathon, instead planning to focus more on short distance during the cross country season.
Race #1: Clay Central Park, Liverpool NY
September 10, 2017
The day of our first race was warm. It felt summery and it was appropriate as it was still summer. Our friend Brenda was riding up with us and she’d just completed the 100 mile Aids Ride for Life around Cayuga Lake the day prior. Wow. I was impressed. I don’t think that I would have been heading up to race the day after that!!
I’m doing a long term sub job teaching 7th grade math and we’d just finished the first week of school. I felt like I was drowning in work so, I brought a whole bunch of work with me and sat in the back. I spent the first 40 minutes or so reading the units we were in for Math 7 and Pre-Algebra but after that I socialized with Scott and Brenda and enjoyed the drive. Scott was really excited. I felt pretty excited too. I wasn’t all that happy about actually running (a common problem for me – I sign up for things and then dread them the day of), but in the back of my mind I thought it would be fun.
This is a two loop course on an almost totally flat field with just a short bit through the woods. Our team signed in and pretty soon we were ready to head off on our course preview. I had my regular sneakers on for this only to realize it was pretty muddy in the woods. Our run through was slow and helpful.
After multiple last trips to the bathroom and a granola bar I changed into my brand new spikes. I bought them this summer when we were volunteering at the Cayuga Lake Triathlon for packet pick up. It is hosted outside of Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company. Elizabeth convinced me to go in and check if they had spikes for a good price. Sure enough, there was a pair in my size on clearance. She said they’d make cross country feel more fun, so I bought them. Today was the first time I’d ever put them on my feet. In fact, Elizabeth had put the actual spikes in that morning before we left. So much for planning ahead!!
We gathered on the field and tried to come up with a team cheer. We came up with something lame like, “Go Finger Lakes Women” and listened a little jealously as our men’s team (High Noon) did their classic cheer. The gun went off and we were running.
I tried to tuck in behind my friend Tonya for the early part of the race. Last year we’d run near each other but I knew she’d been working a lot on her running this year. She had done an indoor mile series in the winter and focused on speed. Meanwhile I’d run a 50K two weeks prior. Not exactly good 5K preparation.
Before we even hit the woods I felt like I was exhausted. Then, my sock slipped down on one of my feet. It was down to the middle of my foot. As I exited the woods I sloshed into the puddles so I had a bunched up wet sock in my shoe. I briefly thought, “I think one loop will be plenty,” followed by, “wow that’s really what you are going to go home and tell your kids huh?” Your sock fell down and you stepped into a puddle so you didn’t finish the race. Hmmm. Yup, I’d be finishing this race.
I’m struggling with short races where I feel HUNGRY. I know it isn’t nutrition but some sort of manifestation of nerves. My stomach was growling uncontrollably and I felt like I was going to pass out. For awhile I was trying to stay with a new team of HS girls called the B team, and then we passed by their coach. Their coach yelled for them to speed up and they took off. I briefly thought about my kids and how lucky they are to have coaches cheering them on from the sidelines.
Almost as soon as it started the race ended. I was near the back of the pack, but my pace wasn’t terribly awful. I was chatting with someone afterwards. My observation was that it is ironic it is that a person can have all the same emotions that one has during a 50K in just a 5K distance. He laughed and agreed. Soon it was time to share race stories and enjoy some post race camaraderie. Our women’s team ended up coming in FIRST so we got a case of beer to save for the end of season party!!
Race #2: Akron Falls County Park, Akron Falls NY
September 24, 2017
It was a HOT HOT day in Central New York. The temperature was due to top 90 and the humidity was terrible. Our kids had raced the day prior in Syracuse in only slightly cooler temperatures. Again, I wasn’t excited about this. This is the farthest race away (2 hours) and Brenda couldn’t go so it was just Scott and me. Some of our teammates were going out for a late lunch on the way home, but I had to get back to bake so we planned to literally drive up there for a race and then drive straight home. We do things like this for the kids all the time, but it felt weird taking most of a day for our own race.
The ride there turned out to be amazing! Scott and I haven’t seen much of each other lately and we ended up spending the ride brainstorming different things for our work. We arrived energized and ready to see our team. Soon I was getting my spikes on and doing warm-ups with Tonya. We hit the course for inspection dangerously close to the start of the race though (and didn’t realize it). After a lovely warm-up run with teammates I looked at my watch and realized it was 5 minutes until race time! Yikes. We had time for the bathroom, a Gu and to decide to run shirtless. 3 of the 4 of us chose no shirts while most of the men decided to keep shirts on. It was a little ironic.
Even with proper snacking and a last minute Gu my stomach was growling. It was in this race that I realized it must actually be nerves instead of food. The prior race I was still holding out that maybe I just wasn’t eating enough. Suddenly I was glad that I only had 5 minutes to spend worrying instead of the 15-20 we typically have. This time we did a cheer with the men. They invited us to join them and then added, “Go Finger Lakes women” to the end. It was more fun and felt very much like a big team! They had a moment for us to think about a girl who was recently killed in Cross Country practice by a car. She was a Geneseo HS student. Scott and I went to college at SUNY Geneseo so somehow having a place to associate the situation with made me even more sad. I channeled that sadness into gratitude for being able to run today.
I started slow, probably too slow, but I didn’t want to start out fast like before and end up slowing down as much as I had in the last race. This race was a 6K which somehow changes everything in my mind. The first loop was good and rather uneventful.
The day prior, my daughter, Elizabeth had run a solid race. She has had a challenging cross country season this year, and she said she had finally figured out a way to run. She pushed the entire team dynamic out of her head and pretended that every person out there was cheering for her. She just kept picking new people to catch and used the cheering to fuel her. So I decided to try that as I ran. Whenever I heard a cheer I would think, “Amy they are cheering for YOU.” I would pick another person and another and just keep trying to catch up. One person was dressed very similarly to the fastest runner on our team. I knew it wasn’t her, but in the moment I said, “Come on, you are up here with Julie. Stay here. You can do it.” I passed this woman and then picked a new rabbit.
I ended up having a fine race, largely due in part to two things; Elizabeth’s suggestion and our long pre-run of the course. It wasn’t that it was long so much as the fact that it included the long out and back that we ended the race with. Emotionally during that pre-run I thought, “will this ever end?” so in the race knowing what to expect helped me a great deal!
The waterfall walk
After the race a bunch of us walked down to a waterfall. It was a slow amble where we were all able to talk and get to know each other better. This is a big reason I signed up for cross country; to get to know other runners better while doing something athletic. It turned out there was no water because of the extremely dry summer, but it was a fun outing.
After that, we watched awards where some of the faster individuals on our teams did well. The men took the tent down while I went to the car to change and then we headed home. When we got home I plunged right into baking and then I went for a hike with Elizabeth on the rim trail. Despite the heat it was a fun way to spend a Sunday!
Race #3: Watkins Glen State Park
October 10, 2017
At the last race I was talking with Tonya thinking it would be fun to have a gathering after our next race. It would be colder then and people could try our sauna out! After all it would be October so it should be colder!! We hatched a plan to invite everyone over when she was doing the final emailing for the race. We’d have lunch, hang out and sauna. A plan.
Well, race day brought 80s again. It was humid and felt sticky after raining overnight. Watkins Glen is only 30 minutes from us, so we didn’t have to leave very early. We left a little later than we should have and had a little trouble figuring out where exactly in the park it was once we got there. However, we were settled with ample time. We each ran the course with our crew and were ready to start at 11.
I wasn’t being the most positive person that morning. Instead I was openly worried. I am not really sure why I was so worried, except for that it was still hot. I was hot and humid enough that I felt like leaping out of my skin. Humidity really affects my running and I think I just was over the fact that it was 80 degrees in October. Everyone else was happily talking about how much cooler than last time it was. True. That’s fair. However, I accept extremes more easily. Somehow when it is 90 it is an achievement to run well. Near 80 is just annoying. You can’t really be proud about overcoming, but you are almost as uncomfortable. Regardless I was here and we’d be running in just a few moments.
It is rare to get to the start of a race, do your cheer and expect a gun to go off only to hear, “the race is delayed for 15 minutes.” It was because of parking; people had to move their cars because someone was blocking a camper. The ladies stayed and chatted, most lamenting their nutrition choices and some looking at the skies. They had started clouding up just in time for the race, giving us a respite from the brutal sun.
Just moments went by and suddenly the announcer said that it was now delayed until 11:30. We all had to move our cars. Now it was time to accept that we shouldn’t stand there anymore. We’d need to walk around, hit bathrooms again etc. I was suddenly bummed that I only had a bit of my Gu and tossed the rest. I had nothing else with me and my stomach was doing flip flops again. I found some post race Gatorade style drink and had a bit of that.
11:30 came before we knew it, but sadly the skies had brightened back up. They were cloudy and delightful for that entire waiting period so that was sad to think about. We started and after just a short run around a field we were in the woods. The running was DELIGHTFUL. The woods were pretty and the path was nice and wide and not muddy. I was really enjoying this until I wasn’t. I looked down at my watch and realized I was running SLOWLY. No wonder it felt fun. This course was 3 loops with some pretty tough hills. I struggle on both down and up when the hills are extreme and the race was no exception. I practically ran backwards down the big hill and walked back up. After my first loop I tried to focus on running faster but I was struggling. I couldn’t see anyone in the woods and my pace just kept dropping. At the last two races things were wide open. I could pick people off and I could see where I was relative to a person I’d identified as a marker. At some point in the race I just embraced the fact that it was a run. It wasn’t until loop 3 when I saw that there were people on loop two (there is a spot where you can see people behind and ahead of you) that I was jolted back into reality of, “you have a team and you are racing so pick up the pace to help the team.” It was a bit too late for that. I ended up with a really slow time for this. I did have some oomph at the end because one of the B Team girls was right near me. For some odd reason I felt compelled to finish faster than her and pushed hard to the end. My teammate Jen’s husband got a video of my finish and shared it with me. That was pretty cool of him!
Post race party
After the race (and awards .. the men won the Master’s division. As Adam posted in his report there may or may not have been another full team but you have to show up to win) we headed home to prepare for our party. Every woman I had talked with wasn’t able to go except for Tonya and Scott really didn’t have a sense of how many men may show up. We were kind of afraid no one would come, but we were ready for whoever did.
We had time to get home and start cutting veggies and people started to come. There were a fair number of men able to make it and with Tonya, me and the wife of one of the guys we had enough women to balance things well. A man Ximing Yin is from China and he is new to the team this year. He came to the party and he is just such a fun person! The group sat around our outdoor table on our deck and talked about running and life and had such a wonderful time. Our bunny came out to meet the crew and we at least showed everyone the sauna on this hot hot day. I think that this afternoon really felt the most team like I’ve felt – getting to know people beyond the running and really talking. Ximing shared all about his country and how he started a running club that grew exponentially. He met his wife through this and the club was the start of many a romance. He had a positive energy that was contagious and I felt grateful that he and the others that were free that day had decided to join us for our little post race party.
Race #4: Genessee Valley Park
October 29, 2017
This course is run on the famous McQuaid course that the kids get to run in their cross country seasons. I was excited about this until I saw the forecast. POURING rain the entire night before and that day. Xander had planned to go with us and Elizabeth was joining us for her first adult cross country race. With the forecast and Xander’s strong desire to do homework all day he decided to stay home. I had no desire to run in the cold rain so I was just scared. I got up early and baked until practically the second it was time to leave. I said goodbye to Xander as we piled into the car.
Scott and Elizabeth were excited. Elizabeth didn’t know what to expect but she’d been asked to join because they needed one more person to round out the Open Team. “Sure, she thought.” She had planned to do the last race of the season with us anyway since her season would be over so it would be fun to check out the race today.
When we arrived I suggested we sit in the car. It was cold and it was pouring. We stayed in the car for about 5 minutes and then smarter heads prevailed. We were at a race and we were supposed to be socializing and getting ready. I donned my NYC marathon post race poncho and headed to the pavilion. It was weird to be here without the chaos of the HS racing scene – we were able to park right by the race start!! Oddly, this race was our largest showing for the season. Pouring rain and everyone was here!! The ladies were getting ready to head out to preview the course. I stomped my foot and said, “I’m not warming up.” They looked at me a little bewildered as I said that I didn’t need to get wet before the race. In truth, it was that temperature level where once I get cold I’m really in trouble. 40s and rain. I knew my hands and feet would freeze and I’d struggle in the actual race. I occupied my time going to the bathroom, chatting with people before they left and after they returned and contemplated my attire. I ultimately decided to wear my lightweight Patagonia jacket that I got from running camp, my tank top underneath, capris, an ear band and gloves.
An Open Course
After the last race at Watkins I was really excited to have an open course. What I mean by that is that you can see where people are the entire time. There is no single track to zone out and forget that it is a race. As we got ready to start, Scott snapped a few pictures. A few of the men from our men’s team were around to wish us good luck and at literally the last second I decided to shed my jacket. I was FREEZING as we started but running with a jacket, however light, was probably not the best plan.
I started behind Tonya by quite a bit and I could see my Lizerd up ahead (Elizabeth’s nickname is Lizerd with the last 3 letters coming from her initials. So we can spell lizard correctly!) I thought, “I hope she can beat Tonya and me” in the back of my head. She had raced the day prior and it was a disappointing race for her. Cross Country didn’t go well for her this year and she was excited to be checking out the adult version. I wanted her to have a good experience today.
Back to my race. I had set my watch for 3.7 miles so I’d have a little beep in the middle to let me know I was halfway finished. I would get alerted again at 90% of the run. I’ve run this before and watched the kids run a very similar course so I was familiar with the terrain. The rain gave me something to focus on besides my nerves and because it was a USATF race there were women out there with their age and special bibs. I could watch how they were doing. I found myself thinking, “this is FUN!”
Hills and mud
The one hill in this race isn’t terribly bad. Early into the first loop though, I could see Tonya running next to Elizabeth. They were too far ahead of me to catch but I thought, “oh it is so early and Tonya is going to blow by her.” Then, I watched Elizabeth power up the hill and pull away. Soon it was my turn to tackle the hill. Hill running (up and down) is one of my weaknesses, and I could feel myself losing ground. We hit the top and the High Noon team was there cheering for me. That put some pep in my step as I hit a really muddy patch before heading down the hill.
When we hit loop two I was in lock step with another woman on the flats, and then she crushed it on the uphill blowing by me only to have me catch her on the flats later. I think this kind of leap frogging is fun – it keeps me out of my head, reminding me that positions change all the time and that it is never over until it is over.
This is going to be a good race
I found myself with energy. My nerves were calm (maybe because I was focused on worrying about Elizabeth instead of myself) and I was enjoying running. I saw that I was gaining on Tonya and wondered if I should try to pass her. I knew once I did that it would be something that I wanted to be able to stay with. Too soon and she would get me again and too late and I would miss the chance. Ultimately I think I passed her with just under .6 to go, maybe even less. After that I was grateful for spectators cheering, “go Tonya” because I could tell where she was relative to me by their voices. It didn’t much matter – I would only end up beating her or having her beat me by a smidge, but it was my motivation for the end so I went with it. I pretended that I was being chased by a ton of runners and kept thinking, “you can do anything for a few minutes.” I ended up finishing well and feeling happy with my results. I was most happy that Elizabeth beat me. She really enjoyed the people and how everyone was so friendly and supportive.
After the race
We had grand plans for this to be a family day afterwards. Xander was going to spectate and we’d go shopping and out to lunch in Rochester. Xander didn’t want to come with the rain and cold and he had a lot of homework so it was just the 3 of us. We were sopping wet and tired and I had a lot of baking to do when I got home. So we piled in the car and headed straight home. We stopped for a sub for lunch at Wegmans in Canandaigua, so sad that Starbucks was closed for remodeling. We really wanted to just stop for a coffee and eat when we got home. Of all the races, this race that I hadn’t even wanted to go to turned out to be my favorite to actually run.
Race #5: FLCC in Canandaigua
November 12, 2017
It was a cool, sunny morning as we headed up to Canandaigua for our last race. My friend Julie decided to try it out and I was riding up with her while Elizabeth, Scott and Xander rode up together. Elizabeth had an indoor golf lesson scheduled with her coach Lauren in Victor after the race and we planned to buy Xander new ski boots while she was at her lesson. I enjoyed the ride up as Julie and I talked about everything under the sun but the race (until we got close and then I filled her in about what to expect).
You never know what to expect
So at each race we put up our tent and seem to have a swarm of runners for our FLRC ladies team and the High Noon men’s team. The last race last year had a TON of people despite the snow as we even had Ian’s Red Newt team joining us. I expected this race to have a lot of energy and excitement. Only I was completely wrong. It was sunny and not even that cold so we didn’t put up the tent. Most of the women weren’t able to make it, and the men’s showing was light as well. Julie was standing with Scott, Elizabeth and me and I apologetically said, “Usually it is more than just our family. Really.” Luckily soon after that Tonya came over and then Elizabeth, Julie, Tonya and I started our warm-up run. Tonya did a longer warm-up, opting to scout out the hill. Sensitive to the fact that Elizabeth’s team usually just walks the course, and that it was Julie’s first race, I suggested we just run a little bit. We did a short, slow run through, leaving us with plenty of time to go to the bathroom, get into our race attire and feel ready to start. I had the nagging nervous stomach thing again which was annoying, but it wasn’t as bad as some other races.
My only memory of this course is when we came here last year for Elizabeth’s team. It was the first race of the season and she had big goals for herself. She wanted to run Varsity for the season (meaning she had to be top 7 in this race). The prior year she had flip flopped from JV to Varsity and she knew she had it in her to be faster that year. My sister was visiting and it was HOT. After watching her run well for over the first mile, we were standing near the top of the last hill awaiting her final push when she never came. I knew there was a problem when her whole team came up and she never appeared. It turned out that she fell and passed out on the course.
Time to race
The men and women are staggered for this race and the men were to run an 8K to our 6K. Adam led us in the High Noon cheer as it was time for us to start and then we were off. Because of my short run through I didn’t really know what to expect, and saw that we were out of the field and onto narrow spaces really quickly into the race. I settled toward the back of the small field that was there today. My stomach started doing flip flops as I splashed through mud and jumped over a fallen tree. I was afraid of the coming hill. I saw Xander cheering and perked up. He had reluctantly joined us. He wanted to be home doing home work and working on a presentation but we’d insisted today. I needed to give my best effort for this little guy!
It’s all downhill from here
Soon we hit the fated start to the downhill. It was a rocky path and I felt awkward with my spikes on as I ran down it. No one was around me, so this is where I started to think, “you are last.” Arriving at the bottom I was happy to see we got to run around a field – I liked open spaces. I was bummed that I really could see no one, but it was what it was. The race was small today so it makes sense that I wouldn’t be around too many people. This is where I started to really get stuck in my head. “You’re last” and “why do you do this exactly?” were thoughts that kept scrolling through. Once we were down in another flat area I was fine, and then a woman came up behind me. She didn’t pass me but instead just lingered a foot off from me. We didn’t talk. I just heard her breathing. I consciously slowed down to let her by because it felt like it would be nicer to run without someone a half step behind me.
You’re going the wrong way
I missed a turn because the woman ahead of me missed it as well. I followed her and a guy near the course hollered “go this way!” “But she went that way,” I pointed. Somehow I thought that just because another person did something it was totally ok for me to do this too. I didn’t even know if her move lengthened the course or shortened it and here I was lobbying a stranger to let me go the other way. I fixed my direction and continued on. By this time in the race it was past 3 miles and I had convinced myself that we didn’t actually have to run back up that hill. Perhaps we had already gained the elevation slowly? No hill for me? Was my course that different than Elizabeth’s high school course? Suddenly there I was back at the hill. No such luck. I would be running up it.
“Tonya’s just up the hill,” Scott shouted. “Liar, I thought. She’s already finished.” The fact that Scott was that the base of the hill made me RUN up it. I know that had he not been there I would have walked. This hill was almost as steep as the Watkins hill that I walked. Once I arrived at the top someone shouted, “almost there.” I knew full well I was .6 away from the finish so really not almost there. At least not in a race that is just shy of 4 miles. Almost there in a marathon, yes, but not today. I finished running the wooded part and emerged into the final stretch. My shirt said Run Fearless on it and one of the spectators yelled, “run fearless” at me. I got my last little bit of energy. I saw Tonya was ahead of me – she was almost finishing but she was in eyesight. Scott hadn’t been lying. I dashed in, happy to be done.
Season Results and Final Thoughts
A second season is done. The high point for me from this season is from our party after the Watkins Race. It was the race that most felt like a team to me. This is what I was seeking with Cross Country. Teammate Ximing Yin had brought so much energy to that day and our group felt like a true team. Ironically it was my worst race of the season as far as the actual running goes!
I enjoyed Cross Country again this year. It was another growth experience and an opportunity to meet more new people. This year I wasn’t scared the way I was last year. I knew what to expect more or less and while I had butterflies before the run, I wasn’t afraid going in. I will definitely sign up again next year and try harder to focus on speed this year!!
Since it has taken me so long to write this up, Scott and I are actually on a one month break from running right now! I’m not enjoying it a bit – looking forward to running again in a week or so. Just last night at dinner he said, “have you ever heard about the Mythical Miles group?” It is a winter group that trains indoors and works specifically on their mile pace. “Yes.” I said. “They meet on Tuesday nights,” he replied. “You free?” Yes, technically I am free. Elizabeth is teaching piano until late so 3 of us are free. We could do this over the winter … hmmm. Have we found a new training challenge? I’m guessing we’ll decide to step into this and it will be a true winter challenge for us.