First and foremost, I have to acknowledge the Falls Road Racing Team that this weekend earned its first overall team title at the RRCA MD 10 Mile Club Championships since 2002!
It was a huge accomplishment, and a very proud moment, for our team.
It's actually the event I take most seriously in my year. Ever since the first year I ran it, in 2006, I've been hooked, and have made it my mission - nay, obsession - to win the team title.
The 10 mile race takes place every February in the challenging neighborhoods of Columbia. I say challenging because for those of you familiar with Columbia know that it's hilly. That might be an understatement. You won't run a hillier route for 10 miles anywhere around here (evidenced by our love for flat 10M races - Cherry Blossom, Broad Street and Army). All of the local clubs toe the line, and for being such a difficult, long, winter race, it draws a large crowd (over 500 this year). It also draws one of the most competitive fields of any race I've done.
The real reason for doing this race is simple: bragging rights.
In years past, the scoring was based on the highest number of people from the smallest team. So say there are 5 teams entered and 4 of the teams have 30 guys and 15 girls, but one team has 20 guys and 10 girls. All teams would score 20 for men and 10 for women. There seem to be some years where only 3 girls have scored. Now the scoring is simplified: 12 guys, 4 girls (despite complaints by some people I know to score more girls, it remained at 4).
Normally Howard County Striders (hosts of the race) come out guns blazing and have a stranglehold on this race. I've seen them sweep the men's, women's and overall team titles and do it in commanding fashion. The first year I did the race, in 2006, despite our small numbers, we weren't too far back in the standings. I, of course, ran a forgettable 1:04:10. Even though I had just started racing again, I remember how terrible I felt. I felt extended from the gun, and it was really, really cold. I completely fell apart in the second half of the race, and was miserable afterwards. I ran with Jake and Ryan Schmidt until they took off. Spider won the race that year and Chris Nowakowski had taken 2nd, so Falls Road went 1-2, but it was no match for the Striders' offensive.
The following year, 2007, I was actually excited for the race. We had a solid team and a bunch of us were running pretty well at that point. Then the weather gods reared their ugly heads, and the Striders canceled the race as a precaution due to impending snowstorm. For the record, it didn't start snowing until 11am.
Onto 2008. We've got the biggest squad Falls Road has ever assembled, and we liked our chances. It was cold again. Kip managed to pick up 2nd place overall (1st in team scoring), but HoCo put 6 in the top 10 and just outmanned us. I wound up improving almost 5 minutes to a 59:25, which was nice for me, but that was our 5th scorer - and you're not going to get anywhere with that being the 5th person.
I don't care about my personal performance at this race, as long as it's not detrimental to the team if it's bad. And if I do well - great, as long as I ran the best I could. Every runner counts.
Usually beginning in January I have the task of putting together a squadron for the race. It involves prodding, bargaining, sometimes even begging. For the most part, this year wasn't that bad. Everyone has been running really well, but as always I felt like we weren't going into the race fully loaded - there are always a few people you'd like to have out there that were just not going to be.
Fortunately, Kyle led the way, taking 1st overall, and despite an expected strong showing from Howard County, Ben, Brennan, Arjun, Ed, Justin and Rodney all put in better than expected performances and helped balance our attack.
In the men's team competition we were still not able to take the top spot, losing to Howard County by over 100 points. That meant our women really had to run strong to help get the overall. On the women's side, Falls Road was again 2nd, but this time to Westminster. They handily outpaced HoCo Women. Then the announcement for overall team came down, and when they said Howard County picked up second, that left only one spot for us - first. A sigh of relief was about all I could muster before running up to receive our award.
As far as my own personal performance - 27th place at 58:55 - I was pretty psyched. Going into the race with two subpar performances this year (Miami and USATF XC) I didn't know what to expect. I've been running more miles this year, but not doing anything that remotely resembles hard running. The only time I have been running "hard" is when I run uphill. To record a 30 second improvement over last year is great. Weather was pretty good, definitely the warmest I've ever seen at CC, and I actually felt comfortable the whole race - runningwise. Taking a dump-wise, I actually had to STOP for 5 seconds around mile 8 to squeeze back the hostages that were attempting to escape. I also felt like my left big toenail was ripping off, which it kind of was, and is black and blue today. These didn't amount to much time, but a little discomfort towards the end. I was really close to getting Chuck Powell today, and without those little hiccups I know I would have. There's always next year.
Speaking of next year, at least we have a reason to go back - 1) Defend our title and 2) Attempt the sweep.
I won't mention the people that let the team down this weekend, but hopefully it doesn't happen again next year. We ended up missing a bunch of people and to do what we did with such a small team is awesome.
The race capped off a decent week with some highlights, including 3 4000m days in the pool and 54 miles of running. It was the first week where that distance didn't faze me. Great sign heading into 7 weeks to go before Boston. I want to hit a few weeks at or around 70 and then start to throw in some mixed efforts. I didn't get on my bike at all this week, but I needed to watch out for my knee a little bit after it was hurting a little.
The most exciting day of my week was Friday, when I ran 12 miles at Patapsco with The Kris, ending on a 7:08 trip up Gun Rd. This is the fastest I've run up the road and while it doesn't match what Godsey used to do, it was a good way to end a run. I then headed to the pool and swam a 3000m straight swim - the longest I've ever done by 500m - and was swimming pretty fast (for me, not OJ). So that was promising. My goal this year is to be stronger and fitter going into race season, and let the early races help with the sharpness.
This week I'm psyched because I'm going to the TERPS game vs Duke on Wednesday, and heading back to NJ this weekend to go see Seton Hall take on soon-to-be #1 Pitt on Saturday night. I think the Terps won this weekend over UNC because they wore yellow; in a similar fashion Falls Road donned the red singlets of the past on Sunday and won. Hmm...
Also interesting to me is to peruse archived results from Club Challenge. You see a lot of the same names, people who have been staples of the MD running community for years, and a lot of has-beens that no longer seem to run. There were a lot of triathletes a few years back, including one-time runnerup at Hawaii IM, Desiree Ficker. Then there are a bunch of people who raced for Falls Road once, and still do for other races - just not CC. That's annoying. It also appears that we only began our presence in 2002, around the time Jim was transitioning as owner, and went by the "Baltimore Running Coalition." I kind of like it, maybe we should go back to that!