Whippets Field 3 Teams At USATF Club XC Championships
Photo: Simon Durkin
Bethlehem, PA – Three teams of Whippets laced up their spikes to compete in the USATF National Club XC Championships hosted by Lehigh University. Road-tripping down to PA, racing with elite runners, competing in a field of more than 70 clubs from across the nation, and copious amount of mud made the event an all out blast. The women’s 6K course and men’s 10K course was replete with open fields, wood chip trails, a challenging hill, and cheer-tastic spectators. In classic Whippet style, each sub-team cheered each other on to hammer-dropping performances with a special shout-out here and there heard by Coach Simon Durkin.
Arguably among the most competitive club races in the country, the Women’s Open Team, led by Jessica Chichester, followed by Kate Snider, Georgina Norton, Helene Delone, and Megan Jones, finished 33 of 38. The Men’s Masters Team was led by Jonathan Kline, followed by Robert Campbell, Scott Batten, Keith Slyman, Michael Alcamo, and Sam Pagan, and finished 32 of 40. Ned Cunningham front lined the Men’s Open Team, followed by Skyler Mosenthal, Chris Forti, Taylor Hartstein, and Matthew Wong to place the team 66 of 72.
Photo: Michael Scott
It was a cool overcast late morning in December but a chance to experience a type of racing I had never tried before.
The USATF XC Club National Championships on the campus of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA is considered the event for US cross-country racing. I came armed with my newly acquired cross-country spikes and with several runs in them I felt that I would be able to handle what was thrown my way.
While I arrived the morning of the race with plenty of time before my 11:30 am start time, I had left my Garmin GPS at home: always quite dangerous for me when it comes to racing, as it helps keep me in check so that I don’t go out too fast and pay for it later. I did want to record the event via some sort of GPS software so, somewhat timidly, I decided to strap my iPhone 6 to my arm…. The thing is honking huge, takes up just about my whole bicep, looks ridiculous, and the timing on these things is always off because I’m clumsy with it. I pressed the buttons way before the start, and way after the finish so that I could focus and include the workout to share the course.
XC Nationals – Keith Sly’s 6.3 miles run
After meeting up with Coach Forti and the rest of the brave Whippets who had agreed to toe the line, I pinned my number on my singlet, installed the 1/2” spikes that Matt [Wong] provided to the team, and then anxiously waited to warm-up. Coach told us to warm-up in our trainers, which we all did around the campus, taking in a short portion of the course as the Masters women were already racing. The grass was cut to a nice level so as to make running not too difficult, and the rain from the previous week had, for the most part, been soaked up.
The start line was a whole other experience that I highly recommend. It was basically a spray painted white line across a HUGE open field with numbered boxes (2 for each team), so we had to locate our box, which was almost at the end (Box 80). After checking in with the race official to show that we all had matching singlets, back numbers (which had our Age Division on them), and timing chips, we proceeded to do our final strides and meet for a motivational talk by Coach Forti, who told us to “Be the HUNTERS, not the HUNTED…” on our second lap of the circuit. With a hearty “GO WHIPPETS!” it was time to toe the line. The eeriest part of the race was the dead silence prior to the start. Everyone waited for the flag to drop and the gun to go off before sprinting out for the start of this 10k with no clocks until the finish line and only markers for each kilometer which started around the 5k mark.
To be honest, much of the course seemed to fly by, but it was a challenging course with one pretty steady hill that we “Masters” had to run twice. The first time up, the “Hill” seemed manageable but the second time up this “Hill,” I found myself looking for my GPS for the first time, worrying that my pace was falling to an unacceptable level; however, without it there I pushed hard to the top. As you might expect, there were a couple of pretty muddy spots which I just ran right through being that this was a XC race, so “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and I did have my newly acquired spikes.
The course was also set so that our team-mates could cheer in several places and with Simon [Durkin] doing his best Ben [Ko] impression, jumping out from behind trees and taking photos; it was great. The finish line was a great experience with teammates shouting encouragement all the way to the finish; it was awesome.
I went into this one wanted wanting to run 7 minute miles for as long as I could, and as it turned out, I finished in 43:30.63 which was 7 minutes per mile on the nose. My expectations was met, and I could spend the rest of the afternoon cheering on my team-mates in the Open Division.
Thanks to all my Masters team-mates who were crazy enough to do this with me. While we are still waiting to see how the Masters 40+ team ranked, some pretty impressive times were turned in:
Jonathan Kline 36:44
Robert Campbell 40:21
Scott Batten 41:15
Keith Slyman 43:30
Micheal Alcamo 44:50
Sam Pagan 49:18
So, who’s racing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 2015 ??
Photo: Simon Durkin
The women’s team consisted of myself, Georgina [Norton], Jessica [Chichester], Helene [DeLone] and Kate [Snider]. Most of us met for the first time that morning but we instantly clicked and were all excited about the race. For the Whippets our day started with cheering for the Men’s Masters race so we all got right into team spirit mode! Personally I haven’t had that awesome experience of cheering my team mates and then going to race myself since grade school tack!
Then us ladies got serious, we all did our pre-race warm ups together and scoped out the trail. It was my first time ever using XC spikes so I was probably asking too many shoe related questions like: Do you wear socks ( I did)? Are these spikes high enough for the trails were about to run ( they were ok)? Most of the other women were practically pro’s at XC having ran at college level – so I found all their knowledge they passed on super helpful!
Then on to the race! The course was perfect for my new spikes! I can’t speak for the other women but for me this was my best race to date. My plan for the course was:
1. Not to go out too fast, I knew there were a lot of very skilled women racing and I didn’t want to lose it in the beginning by making that mistake.
2. Use the down hills to my advantage and let gravity take me- This helped me pick a few women off.
3. Kill it at the end!
I know many runners measure races in terms of skill, times and status – but I also measure my running experience on the amazing comradely of all the skilled runners I’ve met since I joined the Whippets ( which is many!) Also the team spirit that comes along with joining a team – which is at it’s height in these team XC races! So that said, this race was by far the best race I’ve had all year!
Last but not least a very big THANK YOU to Chris Forti for organizing the team!
Photo: Simon Durkin
The main gist of this race report is pretty simple, so you can just read the first few sentences if you don’t have a lot of time. I got my butt kicked. I came in 531 out of 572 and ran a relatively slow time for me (I ran only 38:24, almost two minutes slower than a 10k I ran on another tough course earlier this year). Despite this though, I had a blast! It was great to run cross-country on a muddy day with some great teammates and it was awesome to be in the company of some really fast runners out there.
Now for all the details. The race was in Bethlehem, PA – on the same course as the famous Paul Short Invitational. It was basically two 5k loops with a large hill that you end up doing twice. There were rumors that the course was 10.2 kilometers, but the word on the street is that they shortened it to make it a true 10k. Regardless – it almost doesn’t matter since it’s cross-country and times don’t really matter so much – it’s all about how you run relative to everyone else.
Anyway, after watching the women’s masters, men’s masters, and women’s open heats (and I think tiring myself out a bit running around for hours cheering), Chris gathered us at the start line and we checked in. We did our “go WHIPPETS” cheer and the gun went off. I wasn’t in great shape going in, since I had basically just been doing base mileage for about 8 weeks and had done my first workout in months two weeks before the race. Still, I thought I could average around 6:00 pace on the day (spoiler – totally wrong on that).
Mile 1: I think I went out the first half mile in around 5:20 pace and knew I was in for a long day when I looked back and realized I was already in the back of the pack. My goal going in was to take it out a bit hard and settle in at around 6:00 the rest of the way. I went through the flat first mile pretty much on target at around 5:45, which was fine.
Mile 2: I don’t remember much about this mile, except that it was flat and circled back around toward the start line before going up a pretty big hill. I settled in at 6:02 for this mile. Things were going to plan, but my legs were feeling pretty dead, which wasn’t a great sign so early in the race.
Mile 3: The third mile was where my goal time went to die. This was the first time up a long hill that wasn’t incredibly steep, but seemed to go on the whole mile. It was UGLY! I slowed down to a pretty embarrassing 6:40 and, to be honest, was totally out of it mentally at this point.
Mile 4, 5 and 6: These miles looped back around and the end of mile 5 was the start of going back up that hill. I ran a 6:10 and a 6:30. Again, sort of ugly… Mile 6 was better only because it went downhill the second half of the mile after completing the uphill. I ran a 6:15.
Mile 6.2: As evidence that I was out of it mentally for the race, I was able to at least have enough energy for a big kick. I saw Taylor ahead of me and thought maybe I could catch him. I ran 5:05 pace the last 0.2 up the hill, so was happy about that (especially since I out kicked a few guys).
Anyway, this was a totally humbling experience. I got my butt kicked by a few local NYC guys that I normally beat and finished near the back of the race. Normally I’d be a bit embarrassed by this, but those guys I normally beat still run close to 1:20 to 1:21 for a half and I wasn’t in top shape. I guess if that’s my baseline, then I should feel good about having 3.5 months to get my goal of close to 1:18 at the NYC Half in March once I start mixing some real workouts in.
Also, I had a great time and am glad I went since we only had 5 guys, so I was able to contribute to the team’s first every club nationals appearance. Also, I was one of the older guys in the race since all the masters guys were in the masters heat. I would totally do this race again, but may wait until I turn 40 so I can have an unfair advantage and be among the younger guys in the masters race!
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.