Six of our finest Whippettes travelled to San Francisco, CA to compete in USATF Club Cross Country Nationals on Saturday, December 12, 2015. The race venue was Golden Gate Park located 3 miles west of downtown San Francisco and was terrific location to host the event – wide open start, spectator friendly and a tough-but-fair course.
Travel plans for the crew varied but everyone arrived at our spacious AirBnB by noon Friday. The house featured two floors with 4 bedrooms and a pullout sofa, expansive kitchen, three bathrooms, a ping pong table, and located a half-mile to the starting line—great place to call home for three days.
Friday afternoon, the team headed for a preview run of the 6K course to strategize for the following day’s race. With the heavy rains Thursday night, the first 200m of the race on the open grass field was already very soft and muddy. The next ¾ mile is a firm polo ground loop suitable to finding a rhythm. The next kilometer is back on the muddy grass field culminating with a short uphill. Left hand turn at the top of the hill transitions to a firm but rocky slight downhill for the next 2 kilometers. But this is where the fun starts: hard left U-turn onto a double-wide winding trail before another muddy grass 200m uphill to the 5K mark. The final kilometer is back on the firm polo grounds leading to an exciting finish straightaway.
In national championship events where the competition is fast, competitors are unknown (unlike local races) and team score is paramount so race strategy is completely different. During our family dinner back at the AirBnB, we decided it best to start out in pairs through the first two kilometers – Jennie and Kate, Jessica and Brigette, Cassie and Helene. That ensures smart racing in the first part of the race where the pace can be very fast.
Race day schedule began with the Women’s Masters 6K race followed by the Men’s 60+ 8K race and Men’s Masters 10K race so excitement was palpable. The ladies headed out for their warm-up 45 minutes before their 11:45am start time, removed their layers, changed into their spikes and headed to the starting line. Some final advice and a Whippets chant precedes them lining up. And we’re off!
With finish times not as relevant, there is more value in hopping around to various strategic points on the course than the mile markers. The first spot: the grass field near the 2K mark to ensure they relaxed on the muddy grass uphill. Second spot: the rocky road stretch to remind them of good form and to not push too hard in preparation for the final uphill. Last spot: the 5K mark to tell them the hard part is over and use their speed to fly around the polo ground.
Jennie was our first Whippette finisher in 161st place in 22:51 – 6:08 pace. To put that in perspective, she went through 5K around 19:01 on a muddy course and still had a kilometer to go. Running that 6:08 pace for another 400m, she would have finished as the 4th overall female at November’s Race to Deliver on the roads of Central Park – not a muddy XC course. That’s how competitive the field is.
Kate finished next in 23:34 (6:20 pace) followed by Brigette in 24:07 (6:28 pace), Jessica in 24:23 (6:33 pace) then Cassie and Helene in a fierce battle – 25:57 (6:58 pace) and 26:00 (6:59 pace), respectively. Our team score totaled 941 points good for 34th overall.
Following the race, we headed back to the house to relax before heading out for the evening festivities – post-race party hosted by Strava at The Factory then various locations throughout downtown meeting up with other NYC clubs and various national teams.
Overall, the trip was a great success – a chance for our ladies to compete at the national stage, bond together in a unique way and leave the normal NYC race routine. Finally, thanks to our sponsor – New York Custom PT – for helping make this great trip happen. Look forward to next year’s event in Tallahassee, FL!
Photos courtesy Zach Hetrick