Two years ago, 10 intrepid souls, all members of the Falls Road Racing Team, boarded the aptly dubbed "Sausage Wagon" and traveled from Baltimore to Lexington, Kentucky, for the 2012 USATF Club Cross Country National Championships. For 9 hours we endured fog and rain. We had no radio (the antenna was broken) and just two compact discs (John Denver and Ke$ha). I powered the 15 passenger van through the mountains. We stopped in Morgantown, West Virginia, home of the WVU Mountaineers, for lunch at the Black Bear Cafe. A few sipped moonshine. We continued on, finally arriving at our destination. The next day the team raced, and finished 31st out of 42 teams. Conrad was our top runner, finishing 145th in 33:11. The only time it didn't rain the entire weekend was for the couple of hours around the race. The Fellowship of 9 who raced vowed to one day return, in better shape, and do this race again.
Fast forward 2 years. The 2014 USATF Club XC Champs were in Bethlehem, PA, at Lehigh University. The field was enormous, and incredibly competitive. The nation's top teams were taking a crack at bragging rights, along with a top prize of $5000 for the fastest team. It was a 1:30 start, which meant I could go to Celtic Solstice in the morning and then drive there to see the guys race.
It had somehow gotten colder since the morning, and the wind made it feel even chillier. But the course was in good condition, and it was quintessential cross country weather. I made it in time to catch the very end of the women's 6km, where our friend Julia Webb finished 39th in 20:46. Then it was onto the men's race, with a field of about 600.
If you've never watched a cross country race, or it's been a while, you definitely need to check it out. It's so exciting, and because it's a long race run in a relatively small area, spectators get a similar rush running from spot to spot to cheer. While I wish it had been a bit warmer, it was fun watching our guys race. No surprise, Conrad was again our top finisher. He ran 31:51, which is insane, and that was only good enough for 156th place, which is even more insane. 155 dudes running faster than 5:07 per mile for 10k on grass. John Ealy, who I'm very excited is getting a chance to run with us more (not to mention was instrumental in getting the team outfitted with Under Armour singlets and shorts!), had an awesome race. It's easy to forget that NYC Marathon was just 6 weeks earlier, but John came out of that and got himself into pretty mean shorter distance shape. He was our #2 guy at 32:34 (222nd - so 70 people in 40 seconds).
Steve Febish was our 3rd guy, running 34:36. Interestingly, he ran 34:43 2 years ago. So that's cool. His locks were flowing in the wind. He looked glorious. In a bit of a surprise, Tim Burns aka Bethlehem Steel or Lehigh Thunder, came in at 35:06, ahead of Ed Aramayo (35:40). If we had a most improved from 2012, that would go to Ed. That year he ran 37:26 for 310th - beating just 28 people. This year he was almost 2 minutes faster, but finished 452nd! Sean Caskey did pretty well. He was hilarious at the end, with about 200m to go he put his head down and tried to outkick this guy. It was a serious push of the NOS button. Unfortunately, he pushed it too early and got dusted at the end. 36:01 for Sean.
Newcomer Will Thompson was a wildcard. I'm pretty certain he's never run cross country, and rather than warm up with the team, he took a nap in his car. Comes to the line wearing this vest and carrying a GoPro, which he claimed he was going to race with (fortunately, he didn't). Will was even-Stevens out there, steadily moving up as others blew up. He ended up finishing in 37:47, which was a distance PR.
Matt Franco died a slow and steady death out there. I had high hopes for him since he was the only one to do an XC race prior to this race. But he ran 37:56. Not to be outdone, Nick Klastava was the Ed Aramayo of 2014. Nick ran 38:44 and finished 538th. He beat 34 people or something. But hey, he didn't finish last. That honor would definitely have gone to me had I raced, so kudos for racing.
In the end, Falls Road finished 47th out of 68 teams (official), with an average scoring time of 34:09. That's not too bad! I mean, it was no ZAP Fitness scoring 61 points, but c'est la vie.
John Ealy earned his first ever Purple Drink Athlete of the Week honor after his awesome performance.
Next year's race is out in San Francisco, and I hear some momentum building to go out and race. For now, enjoy the photos from the day!
2014 USATF Club XC Nationals Photos