Masters Runner Aimed High At XC Nationals
Finishing a satisfying 15th overall, Todd Straka gets it done!
The U.S.A. Cross Country Championships came to Boulder February 15 and for months I’d been looking forward to racing with some of the best Masters runners in the country. Like any competitor, my goal was to bring my best race that day. But nagging in the back of my mind was the fact that injuries have plagued me every February for the last several years. First and foremost I needed to be healthy when I stepped on the line.
Starting back in November, my typical training weeks comprised of one to two days of easy cross training, or a rest day, and mostly easy running days. In January I started picking up a few workouts, including a longer run on Sunday, keeping the mileage to 35 miles or less a week.
I tried to pay extra attention to the smaller details like diet (even though I have a soft spot for holiday treats), and supplementing with iron, vitamin D and calcium to hopefully evade stress fractures. Core work and light stretching, foam rolling, massaging tight areas with a lacrosse ball and using RecoFit compression gear to help recover quicker all helped me get to the starting line healthy. (For the past few years I’ve used RecoFit’s calf sleeves when training and racing, and the full-leg sleeves when sleeping or warding off “restless legs” when working or watching TV.)
Characteristic of Boulder’s February weather, the infamous wind roared ruthlessly throughout the night before the race and I couldn’t sleep a wink. I also relived the sour memories of one of my past championship races in similar conditions – Spokane, 2009, with freezing temperatures, strong winds, and a mix of rain, sleet and snow. I was fit and over-confident going into that race, but half way into it my legs could go no faster and I was quickly swallowed up and spit out. I didn’t want this to happen again, not in my backyard.
When you’ve raced a while, you learn who to look out for and who to compare times and distances with, keeping an eye on a few you hope to beat. But this is cross country. Conducted in the winter, this race is all about the elements: mud, rain, wind, snow and now altitude. Times are usually thrown out the door and it’s simply about how hard you can push against your fellow athlete and yourself.
I was a bit relieved to hear my coach confirm my thoughts on a race plan: go out within my ability the first two laps, then start to reel people in. My race at the 2011 National Championships played out this way and I gained at least 20 spots in the last 2k to finish 19th in the Master’s event. It was a fantastic way to close out a race — each person you passed gave you more strength to continue to push forward.
And this 2014 race went (mostly) according to plan. I felt controlled through the first two laps of the 2km course, the lead pack just within reach as we vied for early positions. Held at the Flatirons Golf Course, the ground was a mix of solid footing on the grass to soggy, squishy and one particularly muddy corner in the later part of the loop. The course was mostly flat with sweeping turns, a few rollers and even a small creek ditch.
On lap three I tried to remain relaxed, keeping step with some strong runners, biding my time to kick in the fourth lap. Unfortunately, I lost contact with the next runner so I just focused on finishing strong and to not get passed. I took 15th overall, 6th within my age group!
Overall the experience was gratifying and empowering. I enjoyed working with the organizing committee to help promote the event. I had the honor and fortune of talking with some very talented runners, both locally and nationally, as I contributed to articles for “Throwback Thursdays,” each of them contributing inspiring insights into the sport.
I laughed with former teammates, friends and competitors from across the U.S., including my hometown. Although not a club championship race, there is a supportive undercurrent to the team competition and to the awards given. It was fantastic to see teams comprised of ultra runners, age groupers and those who just like to get out there and compete. I didn’t run in high school or college so I missed out on that cross country team camaraderie and I felt it here in spades.
The icing on the cake was watching the women’s and men’s elite races afterwards, something that everyone who is interested in the sport should see. It’s a rare opportunity to closely watch such races unfold as this winding course is super spectator friendly and you can see the athletes a multitude of times. So put the 2015 race on your calendar, bring your cowbells and come out to cheer as the best in the country compete for the top spots and a chance to run at the world championships.
Bio: Todd Straka is a competitive Masters runner balancing work, family and his passion for running. Todd loves running local races from the mile to the marathon or just enjoying quiet moments on the trails around Boulder. With his camera/phone along for the ride he often takes photos of his experiences on the run. He currently competes for the Runner’s Roost Race Team.
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