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CrossCup Meet Program
The approach of autumn means cross country season is about to be in full swing. Cross Country has always been my favorite running medium. Unlike track & field, cross country has one event to determine the winner. All runners anxiously toe the line at the same
time in a mass start. All eyes glaring down the course for the best angles. The start is a blur of spikes, elbows and dust or mud. At the start, in really large meets, the spiked feet of the competitors make an audible reverberation like a herd of horses. In cross country you can run on any terrain imaginable…grass, dirt, sand, pavement, creeks, mud, outdoor roller-skate rinks (yes I ran across
one during a race). You name it; it could be on the course. Hills on the course can help you separate from other competitors. Blind curves can aid you in a “you can’t catch what you can’t see” situation. Rarely do you see boring tactical races but usually just an honest race of fast starts with a series of moves and counter moves to determine the champion. Cross Country is truly running at its
Very early in my running career, I think some time in 9th grade, I dreamed of running cross country races in Europe. The stories I had heard, likely exaggerated, left me curious and intrigued. Stories such as: you'll be running in mud up to your neck and if the weather did not permit mud they would ship it in from somewhere. A few years back, I got my chance to run in a genuine European Cross Country Race.
With the support of the Atlanta Track Club, and some investigation on my part, I was able to run the first meet
of the IAAF Cross Country Circuit. The ASLK CrossCup Meeting in Brussels, Belgium was my destination. The IAAF XC Circuit is a series of 8-9 international (mostly European) XC meets that culminates with the World Championships in March. In this series of meets, quite possibly anyone fast could show up, that is anyone
such as Olympic medalists and World Champions.
Once we arrived in Europe, we spent a several days sightseeing. I will give you a quick summary: Paris was fantastic, Berlin was decent, Amsterdam was pretty cool but unfortunately we did not get to see much of Brussels but the drivers are nuts! When I go back, I think I will race first and site-see after. I do not recommend trying to
see most of Europe the week before a big race.
After the whirlwind sightseeing tour, we arrived at the headquarters hotel in Brussels and settled down
to focus on the race. My goal in this race was to finish in the Top 25 and thus score at least one IAAF Grand Prix point. At the hotel, I was able to realize just what I was getting myself into. The list of the participants included the
2nd through 9th place finishers from last year's World Championships, as well as the European Champion
and other Olympians. Once I read this list I could not help but say aloud, "I am gonna' get my ass kicked!" My sister, my travelling companion, very eloquently stated. "Well, you'll get it kicked by the best!" I thought to myself,
that's a good point. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain at a meet like this.
The day of the meet was one to remember. The meet started in the morning with young children who ran 1000 meters and ended with the Senior Men's 10.5K race (my race). In-between were hours of age-group competition at various distances. The meet was a real event. The crowd was surprisingly large. There were a few thousand spectators at least. Anyone who has been to a cross-country meet knows that crowds are rarely an issue. There were clusters of young Belgian fans following the Kenyan contingent trying to get autographs while they warmed up. Another impressive item was the media coverage. There were TV stations actually covering the meet!
One odd thing about European meets is that the distances tend to be arbitrary. For- instance, my race was 10.5K. Not 10K, but 10.5K. Why? I haven't a clue. Another peculiarity is that despite having plenty of space, they tend to run several small loops. The loop was over 1200 meters, and we ran it 8 times. Most U.S. meets try to avoid such repetition. Maybe it was to make the race more fan friendly.
When it came time for my race, I wasn't the least bit nervous. I was, however, beaming with
excitement. I was about to run the most competitive race of my career and get a first-hand lesson on how the Big
Boys do it in the Big League.
The gun went off and what followed was a flurry in long spikes and MUD. Within 100 meters, a shoe of the
runner just ahead of me shoveled up a piece of mud the size of a softball and managed to hurl it 20 feet into the air. This mud ball was heading on a direct course to hit somewhere on my person. For a split second, I thought it was headed for my face, but I must have misjudged it because it landed dead in the middle of my chest with a thud. I then realized that the stories and rumors I had heard were by most accounts true.
The course was not that hilly, but it was certainly slow. The 1200 meter loop consisted of several finger-loops
and plenty of mud. The earth beneath seemed to soak up the rain in a way that the ground felt like a swamp. Very few sections of the course were firm enough to get a good push off. These conditions made for a very exhausting race. I felt that I had raced a half marathon.
In the end, I finished 42nd out of 110 runners well short of my goal. However, 42nd actually received
prize money! A race official was in the finishing chute handing out wads of Belgian Francs to finishers that were due. I think I received 50 Belgian Francs or about $27! My time for the 10.5K course was 35:05. I finished a full 2:50 behind the winner, Richard Limo, a 20-year-old Kenyan. I didn’t have my greatest race but even with a great race, I may have been 27th, only a mere 1:50 behind the winner.
For me the important point is I that gained experience by running in one of the best cross-country races on
earth. Was I humbled by my experience? Absolutely. Did I learn valuable lessons about racing? Definitely. The main thing I learned about myself is: I would rather be a small fish in the biggest pond than a big fish in a small pond.
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