I have a race in one week. The day is circled on my calendar. Every day I jot down my training and the circle haunts me from its space one row down. I haven’t tailored my training for this race and yet I harbor a mini-obsession about it.
Because I’ve run this race before and it spells FALL. I can run a marathon in any weather, anywhere. The first trail race of the year denotes spring on muddy trails adorned with wildflowers. But September means cross country. And my first cross country race is Sundodger.
If you think cross country is only for high school and college runners, you’ll be surprised to know there is a thriving Master’s division of cross country in the Pacific Northwest as well as throughout the country. It is the arena where seasoned road racers, track stars and trail runners meet and the strengths of each discipline are necessary for success.
Sundodger is not a fun run. People don’t dress in goofy costumes and gorge themselves at a finish line buffet. We are dressed in uniforms. We are a team, bravely facing off other teams. Bravery is requisite because we’re Masters competing in a college meet, so we’ll be tearing it up against legs and lungs half our age.
Sundodger – I love the name. It evokes images of heavy clouds bombarding runners who must dodge a gauntlet of raindrops. The race, however, means something different to me. True, the sun is scarce in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park. And dodging does describe the style of racing. It’s not raindrops that I’m dodging. I’m dodging the other women, their elbows pink from the cold, like jabbing weapons as I weave around them. It is dodging in tight, feather-light spikes around turns in the trail, stepping on the balls of my feet, pushing off roots and edges of puddles and pivoting, my ankles working hard, coordinating with my core to steer me.
Cross country gives me the exhilarating feel of a herd in flight. Maybe for some it is like being in a pack of wolves. But for me, it’s like I’m a deer. I’m running together with the herd but I’m always trying to break ahead, not necessarily victory seeking. Rather, I’m pushed by a fear of being at the back, of being devoured, engulfed. The whites of my eyes likely show, though I never look back.
There’s more adrenaline packed into the 22 minutes of the 6k for me than is spread out in an entire marathon. My race is about intense alertness and physical intent.
I hope readers are not turned off by this extreme description. Cross country is not all seriousness. There are elements of fun and team camaraderie. Honestly, I am one who hated cross country in high school but love it now, for its purity and quintessence in the vast milieu of weekend races. I manage to drive five hours round-trip several times each fall because the obsession hasn’t weakened its grip on me.