So, it’s one thing to put on an ultra race or trail race and it turns out that it’s quite another to put on a USATF Club XC National Championships. Not to worry, I’m recuperating well after a few nights of sleep. Right now it’s that deep sigh of relief after you just get done with something you’ve been stressing about for a long time, it turns out great, and it was a lot of fun to do but you’re just glad it’s over.
We’ve been working on bringing the Club XC champs to Bend for about three years. It was almost that long ago that Kevney, the sports guy from Visit Bend, the Bend tourism agency, brought it up and we decided that the Club XC champs would be a great way to help stimulate the local economy during December and spread the word about Bend being a world class endurance sports destination. We’ve already had multiple USA Cycling National championships and the Leadman race but we’d never focused on a large scale running event that would hit a different demographic.
The Club XC champs presented us with a great opportunity in terms of size and demographic. We put in our bid with recommendations from other local athletes such as Lauren Fleshman and a great package. After a couple months of waiting we found out we got it and then the real work began to bring to life this event.
There was a great team that did much of the hard work with Visit Bend leading the charge and working on details. I was lucky as my job was to make sure the course was ready to go and come up with one of the best courses the racers have ever run on. Of course this was going to be subjective since every course
director is going to be biased to what they like. For me, it was about getting back to the real roots of cross country, of Europeans racing from one town to the next across plowed fields, through ditches, and over fences. In other words, a race that doesn’t favor the roadies and track guys. I took a lot of inspiration from cyclocross, since I think they’ve done more than a few things right in growing that sport, and wanted to put in barriers, side hills, and other technical and strategic features. Several years ago as I was getting back into racing and doing more regional and local races there was a foot race prior to each of the Cross Crusade Cyclocross races over in the Portland area. I would load up my truck with Dog and Wife and head over and camp for the weekend next two the race venues. In the morning, a small group of 50-60 XC runners would be the first to test out these cyclocross courses each week and man, it was a blast. It was easily the most fun I would have racing during the year. I would then watch as 1000 cyclocross racers filed in and raced over the course in various races the rest of the day. Sometimes I’d throw my bike in before leaving and then race that as well. But I often wondered, why can’t we get this kind of turn out for a series cross country race in the North West. I suppose there’s something cool about a bike, but I saw some good potential for a cross country series if the course was interesting.
That was my goal with this event and why I was/am so passionate about how the course should be laid out. Trail race directors get to do this all the time but laying out a cross country course you get to start with more of a blank canvas and use a little more creativity to bring it to life. I want people to have fun and enjoy running. To be thinking as they run a course, man, this is fun, not, ugh, can’t wait for this to be over. I did have to make a few concessions in how difficult I made the course, I wasn’t allowed more than one hay bale barrier and even that had to be removed for the masters but I didn’t want this course to be overly difficult either. I wanted people to say, “that was the hardest course I’ve ever run, but man, that was fun”. And that’s what I got. And the response from everyone I’ve talked to has been just awesome.
My college coach Jerry Smith taught me the most important rule about building a course is to use the landscape and let the course come out of it. There’s a course there somewhere and you just have to find it. You can’t force out a good course that will keep runners engaged. It’s just there and you have to figure out how it flows from the land. There will always be constraints such as finish chute length, course width, and starting line width, so you have to tease the appropriate course out. There’s no right course, just some that run better than others.
The amount of work to put the course together was a bit more than I’d expected but at the same time I loved every minute of it. It was like one big crossfit workout. Pull a hay bale over here, haul the rubber mats somewhere else, pound 500 post (I didn’t do all those), walk half the course, run to the other half, put out the fencing, etc etc. At the end of each day I had that totally exhausted but good exhausted feeling that only comes from a long hard day. Took care of that soreness I had from the 50miler the Saturday before real quick.
This type of event is the kind that only gets done and done right with a lot of help and a lot of volunteer help. The great thing about Bend is the dedicated and connected running community. It’s the only way we could have pulled this off as well as we did. Through several trail work parties we took a rough area through the woods and made it into two very fine looking 12ft wide pathways. A group of a couple of guys even dug out and moved a boulder the size of a 1976 Beetle (or so they told me).
The one thing I was dreading about a December race date was it snowing. I told everyone that I really didn’t need it snowing before the event because I’d be the one out there shoveling, sooooo, what happens, it snows. Then the wind blows all the snow all over the place and leaves us with 1-2ft drifts.
Probably not runnable like that. Through the power of social media and also very good connections, we had 6 snow blowers out there the very next day. They took care of every inch of course. I like it difficult but no body likes to run through the snow. That little maneuver put us back on track and I will ever be thankful for their help out there…and everyone that ran should be too.
My biggest accomplishment however, may possibly have been our announcers. I actually got Jesse Thomas (pro-triathlete, Oregon high school XC Champ, etc) and Matt Lieto (pro-triathlete and Ironman announcer), both general goof offs as some entertainment for the crowd of racers and spectators. That along with fire pits, an expo area with food, beer and cookies made for a USATF event that hopefully raised the bar on what a national championship can feel like to those who raced.
After a week and a little bit of catch up sleep I feel good about how it went off and so far have heard only positive comments from those I’ve talked to. I think there were some that still thought it was probably a bit too difficult but no one has mentioned it to me. And I’ve got to say, since I was able to run myself, albeit a little bit fatigued, that it was indeed a fun course and everything I expected. It kept my mind from wandering too far, the feeling of fatigue only crept in long enough for me to realize that I’d just done a weeks worth of hard work and run a 50 miler, then it was back down the roller coaster where I found myself letting out whoops and hollers all the way down. That’s when you know it’s a fun course and having a hand in it’s creation made it that much better.
Now it’s back to the day job and thinking about next year. For now I’ve decided that a good long break is in order. This year I’ve been feeling a bit drawn and the body in need of some recovery.