By Phillip Reid
My 12th year at the USATF Club XC Nationals ranks among one of my best overall experiences. The travel day was smooth. The bulk of the Open Men’s team departed from SLO Airport, stopping at SFO before finally landing in Spokane, Washington. We had assembled a solid group this year with several new faces mixed in with some seasoned vets. Upon arrival in Spokane, we were greeted with temps in the low 20 degrees (F) range and plenty of salt on the roads--something foreign to us California kids. We jumped in the rental cars and drove to the hotel where we crashed for the night.
The next day, my roommate Will Geiken and I went to breakfast where we found many of our fellow teammates. After breakfast, we were surprised with a full spread of brand new HOKA ONE ONE gear being distributed in the lobby! Huge shout out to Joe Rubio, Kevin Searls, and HOKA ONE ONE for making this happen.
Following gear acquisition, the team went to Plante's Ferry Park, site of the race and located about 20 minutes away from our hotel. The course profile was grass loops over rolling hills with some tight turns and a couple of long straightaways. I've always liked these kinds of courses, with some challenging features to even the playing field without being too technical. Completing my strides and drills near the start line, I had a flashback to the 2012 edition of Club Nats in Lexignton, KY. At that race, my good friend Brandon Shirk uttered, "I'm going out HARD," seconds prior to the gun. He wasn't joking and he accelerated 30 meters ahead of the entire field taking me and many others with him in an all-out first 800m uphill and into the wind. Lesson learned.
We returned to the hotel after our team practice and hung out until dinner, which was held in our very own hotel ballroom. As with any Aggie affair, you must introduce yourself, listing your name, team (e.g., open/masters) high school, and college. Dinner was delicious and the company was even better.
Race day started with a standard routine of light breakfast, gear organization, and a hip hop mega mix. With temps in the mid-30s, no precipitation, and only a light wind, conditions seemed favorable. I was feeling good as we progressed through our warm up. We reported to the start line along with 450 other competitors, elbows pressed together and trying to get a couple extra inches of space.
The gun went off and I maneuvered into the top 50 during the first lap. There were plenty of Aggies on the course cheering and offering encouragement which helped out a lot. I started feeling pretty good in the middle laps and moved up steadily. I found my way in no man's land in the latter stages of the race but kept trying to pass as many people as I could. In the final 200 meters, I summoned every last bit of speed left in my old body to out-lean Luke Puskedra right at the finish line. I finished 28th overall, leading the team to a 7th place finish.
On the surface, this may have seemed like just another Club Nats experience. However, fostering connections with my new teammates and strengthening my friendships with people I've known for years made this one of the best trips yet. Big thanks to HOKA ONE ONE for the support, and for the tireless efforts of Kevin and Noreen Searls!