Before Comeback Runner of the Year Ned Cunningham made his way to Lehigh for a very successful run at the XC Club Nationals, he led the way for the Whippets in this tune-up held in Van Cortlandt Park, on one of the very toughest XC courses in the nation.
In addition: Ned, who had spent much of the past year returning from a nagging lower leg injury, leveraged this result into an over-all 1st Place (and 5 mile PB) at the Philadelphia Insurance Companies 22nd Annual Turkey trot, held, naturally, on Thanksgiving Day. It’s been a year of redemption and triumph for the Phast Philadelphian, to which we say: Congrats and welcome back to the front of the pack!
All Photos: Simon Durkin
The night before the Fred Lebow Cross Country Championships, I was told a quote by Steve Prefontaine: “The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today’s a good day to die.” In typical Ned fashion – against a field stacked with NYAC jerseys, a nationally ranked high-school athlete, and many of UA and CPTC’s strongest runners – I took Pre’s quote to heart and raced to win.
It was a disaster.
For those who don’t know the Van Cortlandt Park 5k layout, it starts with a flat and fast opening mile that seduces racers into Pre’s suicide pace. The opening forces an aggressive start as, within the first 200 yards, the racers must jockey from a wide lane into a narrow gravel path. They then fight for optimal positioning around a series a leftward turns circling several soccer fields.
Without regard for my own survival, I went out hard and found myself in 7th place at the first mile. I was told that someone behind me ran a 4:57 opening mile, so I must have run 4:53-4:55. Yes, that’s suicide pace.
But, the flat and fast abruptly ceased, as the next mile and a half led me through brutal undulations that turned my efforts to run a steady tempo into a stop-and-go fartlek. I can’t remember much about miles 1.25 through 2.5, but I’m almost certain my pace hit 6:00 on some of the uphills and sub-4:30 on the downs. I’m sure I ran over 5:50 pace, far from the steady 5:20’s I should be able to run for this distance.
Winding back onto the flats at mile 2.5, I wanted to kick. CPTC’s number two passed me with 800 meters to go and I knew, for the sake of scoring, I couldn’t let him win. I even failed in this regard. I knew when he kicked from so far out that he would burnout. So I sat and threw down the hammer in the final 250. I started going after the UA guy in front of us. I had CPTC buried. But, in the final 25 yards, he pulled a Billy Mills and found a whole new gear. He passed so quickly and so late that I couldn’t even respond.
Ultimately I finished 15th and ran 17:08, 13 seconds slower than my high school time on the same course. I know I’m fit to run thirty seconds faster but I need to invert my approach: run the opening mile at a fast but controlled tempo pace, hang tough, then unleash a wild animal for the close. I need to be more aggressive in the middle mile. If a guy comes up on me, I need to tag him. I can’t be scared of burning out. And getting out-kicked in a final sprint… I won’t let that happen again.
This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, its board, or its captains.