By Roger Dix
Understandably, a number of Aggies who remembered the last time the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships were held in Spokane may have been reticent to make the trip this time. Memories of race time temps in the teens and a vicious 40 mph cross wind might have been a little much to overcome. As I tracked the daily temps for Spokane in the preceding weeks and days it was certainly comforting to see daytime highs in the mid 30s and lows barely dropping to the 20s, with little wind or precipitation. It was cold running weather for a California guy but nothing outrageous.
I think that most California runners who make the annual pilgrimage to Club XC Nationals in December are very used to the fact that almost every other spot in the US is much colder than we are used to. We understand that while 50 degrees is cool in California, 50 degrees for Club XC Nationals would feel amazingly warm. With what I have seen California XC runners expose themselves to in December, I feel that it takes a special toughness to run XC no matter where the individual comes from.
Several top local area runners were on my flight from Sacramento to Spokane, including Aggie teammates Peanut Harms and Tom Cushman. With all of the good runner conversation it felt like the shortest two hour flight I had ever been on. As we got off the plane I could feel a distinct wintery chill, but in actuality it was highly tolerable. That night we received our room and roommate assignments, amd went out for dinner followed by a team meeting. The next morning after breakfast we all received our HOKA ONE ONE swag (thanks HOKA!) that made us the best looking team at Club Nats. In the early afternoon we had our course preview. It was a great looking course and no snow!
One difference between this year and years past was the pre-meet dinner. Instead of going to a restaurant where we would invariably be out for a couple hours, we had dinner catered to a convention room in our hotel. Dinner was fabulous, and there was plenty of food for runners who needed to feed their high-metabolism appetites with seconds and thirds. It was very relaxing and a good team bonding exercise, during which everyone introduced themselves.
I was really proud of the way everyone ran their heart out on Saturday. It was great to see a team-complete for the men's super seniors and women's seniors. We had some outstanding performances, including an age group championship for Patti Gray Bellan in the women's 55-59 age group; Jaime Halpern finishing 9th place in the Masters while just two years shy of being a senior; and our open men's and women's teams finishing 5th and 7th against the best runners in the country.
As to my own race, I felt like I competed and ran hard on the 6.46 mile course. There were a lot of tough runners in the field but I could hold my head high knowing I raced hard. I must say thank you to the wonderful Aggie cheering section. Whenever I heard my teammates along the course, I tried to give them something to cheer about by summoning the strength to move up a place or two.
It was a wonderful experience and I hope to see more of my Aggie brothers and sisters toe the line next year at Club Nationals. Huge kudos to HOKA ONE ONE for all the support, and to Kevin and Noreen Searls for their tireless and relentless dedication to making sure all the runners are well taken care of as set about competing.