In college November was always synonymous with championship cross country. As you get older, xc might get a little burlier as the calendar turns to December. The 2013 US Club XC Championships in Bend was the deepest race I have ever run on one of the more gnarly courses I’ve covered (2006 D3 nationals in Wilmington is a clear outlier here).
Returning from Alaska I found my way back to familiar territory in Oregon and joined up with the Team Run Eugene crew to race against clubs from all over the country. While my first time at this event, it has lived in my imagination since college when Steve Pasche fondly told stories of racing with his Twin Cities club team, each year getting fired up for an end of the year xc brawl.
Preparations were not ideal, but my spirits were high. Coming off a break from my first marathon I had mostly done distance runs, not much in the way of race pace, and certainly no practice defending my space. On the other hand, xc always lights a fire under me, seeming to renew strength I forgot I had. And to make matters even better the course was supposed to be a complete bear.
Rob and I arrived at the course the afternoon before and confirmed the bear status. This was a Max King designed, central Oregon certified, European style course. Never mind the fairway stretches and loops around tee pads, it was the volcanic rock strewn down hills, slanted curves, and long up hills that drew attention. Five 2k laps of this stuff. I was grinning ear to ear.
We walked and ran the course, and after my eyes had taken in the features I started focusing on all the other runners. All over the country! Colorado, New York, Boston and beyond. We felt like locals. The rest of the team arrived, and the night before was spent holed up in Sunriver switching into longer spikes and playing star wars monopoly.
The women’s race went off first and gave a taste of the mania to come. TRE did well under the conditions and congestion, finishing 10th out of 34 teams. As the men’s gun sounded and 400 souls rushed for position, it was clear I would be running a Luther style race trying to pass as many as possible.
Lap one was all about staying on your feet. Charging the first hill off the starting line I was already deep in the pack and saw someone hit the deck out of my periphery. Into the second turn, the crowd pushed wide and I found myself high stepping through six inches of soft snow—the part of the course that had not been plowed. Then quickly reposition for a descent, elbows and spikes flying. Next the canted downhill, a shaded slick section where another racer tumbled at my side. Charge the muddy uphill, hoping to gain back those timid steps. Gear down through the pine slalom, and then shift again for the fairway and gradual climb. Short steps into the steep knoll, followed by a leap over the hay bales. Recover your rhythm and breathing. Congrats, you passed a few! Get ready to repeat.
That was basically my race. Each lap commanded attention to the course features, adjusting positioning and tempo for the section ahead. After the first lap I already felt a bit of acid and worried about another 8k, but with so much concentration the laps started passing by quicker. I settled into the oscillating rhythm of the course and steadily moved up. I caught up with my teammates, encouraged them on, and pressed forward. I passed big names like German Fernandez and tried to grasp the rarity of the situation. This was definitely the kind of course that was going to make or break people.
By the final lap it seemed as though I’d been passing people the whole way, yet the string of racers in front of me looked endless. I stagnated a bit in the last kilometer, feeling the cumulative effects and just wanting the finish line. The last hill was tough even for a guy who likes hills. I caught one more runner on the downhill home stretch and generally had a warm post race glow given all the passing I seemed to have done. Before the race I assumed I would be our sixth man, but I ended up our third. Only later did I find I’d finished 112th overall. What!? Sure the field was 400, but clearly there’s work to be done.
While the end results were not what our group was looking for (18th of 50), we were committed to enjoying the weekend and the evening festivities. The rest of the night included me getting kicked out of a party I had failed to rsvp, inspired street donuts from the Glazed and Confused cart, beers with old Luther buddies Chili Frye and Erik Bies, inspecting the dance party, more food cart action (dumplings), and finally a late night hot tub under the stars.
The next day Mr. Fox and I did a sunset snowshoe up Mt Tumalo for recovery. Beautiful end to a great race weekend. Thanks to all who made Club Cross happen, a terrific event that should return to Bend.