NCAA West Regional Championships

58 pieces of peanut butter toast. 24 Races. 5 years. One Dream: The NCAA XC National Championships. As I went into this week I knew that it would take another race at peak performance for me to be an All-Region runner in the top 25 and qualify as an individual for nationals. The race was setup to be a perfect day with some fast times. On Thursday, during our warmups, the smoke from the nearby fires was strong and it was a very windy day. The forecast for the race said both the wind and smoke would die down, and it really did. It was sunny, but not too warm at the noon race start, with nearly no wind. The course in Sacramento was the same as two years ago; Three big two mile loops, no hills, barely any dirt, and wide turns and straightaways. Much better than the San Diego course from two weeks ago, and an even faster course than the Wisconsin course from Pre-Nationals. 

From the gun, I got out in a really good position. I was up with the lead 20-30 people, which was exactly where I needed to be. I felt like I was cruising, not working too hard, and putting myself in a good position for when the pack started to pull away. The pack rolled through the first mile around 4:42, and Jose was right there with me. Around the 2k mark there was a little bit of a jumble on a turn and Washington State runner went down right in front of me. My legs did not make it out of this race unscathed. I’ve got spike marks on the front of both of my legs and my right knee. I was right in the middle of the pack and instead of using energy to put my hands up to tell people I was there, I would just let my legs do the talking as I ran into them. As we rounded the turn to start the loop for the second time, I was in a very good position. I was sitting somewhere around 15th-20th place and still didn’t feel like I was working too hard to be there. About 4k into the race I passed Jose, and took the lead for the Spartans. Just a little over 2k later there was a nasty fall on the inside of one of the turns and it took out a lot of the pack. I managed to avoid the runner as he went down right in front of me, but it was still a mess. I was getting shoved from all sides as I collided with other runners around me. I found myself near the top 10 on the outside-left part of the course trying avoid a similar occurrence on the next right turn that was rapidly approaching. This is where the race really took off. The lead pack started to make a surge to separate themselves going into the third loop, and I was not able to cover it. In the span of about 800 meters, I fell from around 10th all the way to 50th. The lead pack dropped me, Jose passed me, and I felt like I had hit a wall. Physically I felt gassed, and wasn’t sure how much I had left in me. I hit the 8k mark and told myself that it doesn’t matter what happens, but I’m not letting this race kill me here. I haven’t trained this hard, put in hundreds of miles this season, and devoted my life to this sport to give up because it’s two kilometers longer than I’m used to. There was UCLA runner directly in front of me, and a St. Mary’s runner in front of him and I set my sights on them. It turned into just picking off one runner after another, and not letting anyone else get passed me. I found something left in the last 2k of the race and just focused on relaxing my arms and having good form. When we got the last kilometer, I just went to the arms. If someone was going to try and pass me, they were going to have to work for it harder than I was. 

I finished 42nd overall and 1st for the Spartans with a time of 30:27.4. It’s the highest finish I’ve had in the West Region Meet by 15 places and the fastest time I’ve run for a 10k by 20 seconds. I’m content with the finish, but I wanted to make it to Nationals. It’s the race that I’ve been dreaming of running for 5 years, and it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t make that happen in my last year. Things don’t always go as we plan them, but I’ve been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to run for the Spartans and have everything go as well as it has. It’s been one hell of a ride, and I can’t believe that this is the end of my collegiate cross country career. I’ve grown so much as a runner and a person and this has been a truly life changing experience for me. I want to thank everyone who reads the blog for following my journey these past five years, for supporting me, for reaching out to me after the races, and for being the best audience that I could ask for. It’s been so great, and I can’t wait to be back for the first official season of the reinstated Men’s Track Program. I’ll close with a quote by Bruce that I feel applies to my dream of nationals, the effort I put into trying to hit that goal, and where it’ll live on forever.

“Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost, I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost, For wanting things that can only be found In the darkness on the edge of town.”

See you in the Darkness on the Edge of Town.

-Craig 

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Photo Credit: Savanna Perez
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