So, first the backward step. After a satisfying performance in Spokane, I took a couple of easy days early this week. Then, in the midst of a two day business trip, I came down with a bit of a flu bug. Body aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, mild fever - heck, even my eyeballs hurt. So, I had to actually take a few days off (Thurs. to Sat.). Certainly not the end of the world; and, probably helped me from getting even sicker and missing even more time. But, still don't like going backwards when the momentum finally seemed to be swinging forward.
But, back to the good stuff. I walked away from Spokane feeling good about my performance. I've had better days at USATF XC Nationals. Twice I've been top 15 in my age group and top 20 overall. But, all things considered, I'm quite happy with how things developed.
In the 5 or so weeks between Montana Cup and Spokane, I made some nice advances in my fitness. I felt as if I had some solid training. My mileage was creeping upwards in a nice steady progression. My hard workouts were improving in quality. My knee was holding up nicely to the daily training stresses. And, I was mentally feeling as if I was actually ready to race.
My primary goal had been to close the gap between myself and Tom DeLuca and Craig Kenworthy based on Montana Cup finishes. An secondary goal was to be within :30 per mile of Ray Hunt. Given the way that Ray had been running this year, I knew that this would be a good marker of how I actually stood.
As the race started out, the pack basically ran away from me in the first 1K. I was pretty concerned that my fitness hadn't actually improved. Tom and Craig were well ahead of me, Kirk Keller was barely in view and John Herring was out of sight. Ray was also out of view; but, that was pretty well expected.
At about a mile, I started to get into a groove and people started coming back to me. Before long I saw Kenworthy. He was clearly having an off day; but, I was still happy to pull up to him none the less. Shortly after that, I felt as though I was back in contact with Tom D. It took a bit longer; but, I ultimately was able to get up to and past Tom as well. Unexpectedly, Kirk was suddenly in view and it looked as though he was slowly coming back to me. I can't remember where it was that I got to him; but, there was still at least a full loop (2+ miles) left.
I then had illusions of being able to get to John Herring. He was now in sight; but, getting up that far was just a pipe dream. However, I continued to pull people in all the way to the finish. (Even though I didn't quite have the drive in the last couple hundred meters to get to one last batch of runners.)
And, in the final results, I was 2 minutes behind Ray (20 seconds per mile). So, all in all the race was a definite success based on my goals going into the event.
(Don't get me wrong - none of this was about me versus them. But, in a race of this nature - national championships with runners from all over the country - you have to consider known athletes to be able to use as markers to gauge your level of performance.)
In the end, I raced well and competed well. I felt strong all the way through the race. I felt "connected" to the race and wasn't just there running through. I was actually competing and racing. I stayed in race mentally the whole way. I'm still missing the general fitness to be able to be "fast"; but, it certainly was a huge improvement over where I had been in the last couple of months.
For the first time since April Fools Day, I think that I was actually able to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
The Muddy Buzzard