Though it is within human nature to hope for smooth sailing adventures, no memorable trip ever went without taking at least one wrong turn. That being said, this year’s trip to USATF Club XC Nationals is one I will remember for a long, long time. Nearly everything about my team’s adventure was spontaneous or disastrous in some capacity.
I was hesitant to even commit to the race in the first place, since I’ve been battling an ankle injury for a month and a half. After carefully considering the consequences of racing on injury versus giving up a racing opportunity while being in great shape, I decided to train very carefully, take a bit of a risk, and go. Yet the cards seemed to be stacked against me- from the moment I booked the WRONG airline tickets onward. Somehow, in a frantic rush to buy a cheap round trip ticket, I scheduled my return flight for the day when I was supposed to return to work. (No wonder why the ticket was so cheap!) Yet my travel plans seemed smooth compared to my teammates’.
This year Club XC Nats were in Tallahassee, Florida- beautiful, sunny, and incredibly difficult to access by plane. There are no direct flights from Boston to Tallahassee, which deterred many from traveling, and half of our team who decided to compete got stuck in Miami with a canceled flight. Luckily, they found a way to make it in time by renting a car and driving seven hours across the state. Finally, by 9pm Friday night, the whole team made it to Tallahassee, ready to race.
Racing in a national meet is equal parts exhilarating and humbling. As I stood on the starting line, surrounded by 180 competitive and committed women, I could feel the energy, prestige, and mystique that accompanies running against the nation’s top post-collegiate female cross country runners. Many were friends, acquaintances, and colleagues from the Boston area, while most hailed from other regions of the country. And all of them were just plain FAST. In most local road races or even local cross country races, any competitive runner can expect to comfortably charge towards the front of the pack from the start. In this race, the opposite was true. Ten seconds off the starting line, and I quickly felt the massive pack fly past me. After a “conservative” 5:56 first mile split, I was asking myself why I could barely hold onto the back of the large group. Needless to say, it was not the race I was hoping for. I ran my slowest time of the season on a supposedly fast course and couldn’t get the legs to turn over, yet still felt exhausted at the finish line. Fortunately, many of my teammates had great races, and we placed 14th, despite the enormous amount of setbacks we faced to even get seven women to toe the line that day.
On a more exciting note, the remainder of the weekend was a blast. On Saturday afternoon, my teammate Leah and I went to find lunch, and searched around town for about a half hour until we finally found the only place open, which happened to be a small deli. We ordered our food, sat down at a small table in the corner of the restaurant, and looked up to discover that Sam Chelanga, a Nike sponsored athlete who won the men’s race, was standing next to us. We extended a polite congratulations after his incredible victory, and in exchange he asked to sit with us, since none of his teammates were around. In most sports, professional athletes are hailed as heroes and celebrities, but what I love about the sport of running is that from elite to sub-elite, to hobby jogger, we are all out on the same course, and ultimately are able to find connection with one another despite our differences in time or place. Sam’s first place finish was significantly faster than our back-of-the-pack performances that day, but we all enjoyed each other’s company for a short time.
After a fantastic night out in town to celebrate the race, everyone (except for me) boarded their planes to return home. With the extra day, I explored a little more of Tallahassee beyond the racecourse and downtown bars. I booked a room in a family’s home through Airbnb- which in my opinion is far superior to staying in hotels. Though it can be uncomfortable and stressful staying in some strangers’ space, I met some hospitable Floridians, who have 7 cats, 3 kids, and grow much of their own vegetables in their garden. As the mother sat at the table explaining her latest projects of homemade soaps, scrubs, and shaving cream(exactly as my mom does), I realized their household is not too far off of my own family’s.
My last mini adventure included running to the Miccosukee Canopy Road, which the father of the household explained, “You’re bound to be killed on the road where the cars drive- stay on the trails.” So naturally after a 2.5 mile run to the trailhead, I realized the running trails were closed for construction, and accidentally ended up on the road of death. When a few cars flashed their lights at me while I ran along the precipitous margin, I determined it was time to cut the adventure short. Despite the disappointment in not reaching my destination, I experienced a new corner of the world- one that should never be reached by foot. But as Robert Frost knows well, the detour isn’t always the wrong path. So today, I took the road less traveled by (foot), and that has made all the difference.