Well, I went back and forth about it, but as last weekend approached, I actually found myself getting kind of excited about playing in the dirt in Golden Gate Park with some really (really, *really*) fast people. Sure, my legs were still heavy and whiney after last weekend's all-out effort 10K, but I really wanted to dip my toe into one of these races & see how I liked it, and I knew I wouldn't get a good chance for a few more weeks. Since I'm super super out of practice in cross country and would be one of the slowest people there, though, there was no pressure to run a certain time or place; all I had to do was show up, run hard, & have fun!
If you're familiar with USATF (USA Track & Field), the governing body of most running events in the US, then the Pacific Association (or PAUSATF) is the regional branch of USATF that functions in Northern California & Northern Nevada. They oversee all kinds of events including road races, cross country, track & field races, elite/pro competitions, and even school track & field/xc. In the fall, they run a series of open cross country races that anyone can show up and run in, though most people run for a local team. Some of the teams are more serious or have particular membership standards, while others are open to anyone. There are team competitions where each team scores a certain amount of points for how its top five runners place, and also individual competition for places.
Too busy racing to take pictures, please enjoy these shots from the PA website & know it was pretty much like that.
Since I wasn't treating this as a "RACE"-race & needed to do a long(ish) run on Sunday, I ran from my house to the course (a little over 5 miles). I pretty quickly found Erin & the rest of her Wolf Pack team, and it was SO great to know at least one other person there, especially since I was super nervous about the whole thing & didn't really know exactly how the events worked. Fortunately everything was pretty straight forward--runners dumped their stuff in the wooden bleachers by the Golden Gate polo fields (most teams had tents for shade), then there was a table where you could either get your bib if you pre-registered or sign up and pay if you hadn't (like me).
I was pretty warmed up already from the jog over but I didn't want to get too cold standing around, so after I got my bib I did a little more jogging & a few dynamic stretches. I ran some strides with the Wolf Pack runners, & soon after the women were called to the starting line.
If you're racing these events seriously, you want to shove as close to the starting line as possible (because gun time only, no timing chips), but since I was just trying it out (and was DEFINITELY not one of the faster runners there!), I lined up near the back. The flag went up, the gun went off, and we were dashing around the perimeter of the polo field.
I had pretty much decided not to look at my watch at all. Because of all the different terrain (dirt, sand, grass, some concrete, single-track, several short but steep hills), I knew trying to keep a particular pace would be pretty much useless, and I also didn't know how my pace expectations for roads would translate to off-road. Throw in the fact that my legs were clearly not recovered from Race to the End of Summer, and I decided my goal was just to run by field, try to run hard and feel satisfied at the end, and see what happened.
The first circuit around the polo fields was pretty straight forward, just flat dirt & a little mud in places if you really tried hugging the curves. Then it was off into the surrounding woods. There were a couple of hills here but it wasn't too bad, though I found I really had to pay attention to where I was putting my feet if I didn't want to trip over a root or rock & eat shit, so that definitely slowed me down some. Of course most of the women immediately flew far ahead of me, but I found a sort of back-of-the-mid-pack group that I thought maybe I could try to stick with.
Photo source: Impalas Racing Team (actual race photo!)
Honestly, most of the course was not too terrible though obviously you have to take care around your footing. The only part that I would describe as annoying were a few sandy spots, one of which was kind of a steep hill. We had to do that bit twice, and while it wasn't TOO awful the first time, I really could have done without the second time.
I feel like I did okay in the first two miles, keeping up with my little pack and even passing a couple of people. Near the end of mile 2, though, I could feel my legs started to fade, especially every time we'd hit any kind of hill, and somewhere in there was a particular hill that sort of did me in. After that I really started to have trouble turning my legs over & very quickly started to lose any fight I had.
Photo source: runningprof.com (same course, different year)
I didn't look at my watch but I could tell I was slowing down a lot. My fatigue became particularly obvious when we hit the polo field track again, which should have been a nice, fast, flat stretch to hammer it a little. My legs had nothing, though, and when we looped back around through that hilly, sandy part one last time, I felt like my legs might fall off at any point.
When we emerged back onto the Polo Fields track for the last time I did my best to conjure some sort of finishing kick but my legs felt like Jello. If nothing else, I can at least say that I ran hard & left everything I had out there! (Though, apparently what I had was not much.)
Photo source: runningprof.com (same course, different year)
Afterward, I kind of laughed at my earlier predictions. In my head, I'd sort of thought, "Well, 3.7 miles, that's like a 5K plus a bit. Usually a slow 5K for me is around 22:00 or ~7:06 pace. Figure I'm still a bit wrecked from the 10K & call it ~7:15, plus all the terrain unknowns, so 7:25ish? For 6K, that's about 27:40. Completely reasonable!"
Lololol. Ultimately I clocked in at 29:04, with mile splits of 7:15, 7:24, 8:29 (!), & 5:54 for the last .72 (8:09 pace). First two miles not too shabby, but man, that third mile killed me! I would be so interested to see how much faster I could run this course on fresh legs with a bit of practice on the terrain.
After, I ran four cool down miles with Erin & a couple of the other Wolf Pack ladies, who were all lovely, to get ~13.2ish for the day. My legs were definitely complaining, but eh, it's good for them. :)
Later, I'd been joking with people that I was just happy not to come in dead last but that I was pretty sure I'd been in the bottom 25%. But lo & behold! At 88 out of 132, I just managed to crack the top two thirds. Can't be too crabby about that.
Location: San Francisco, CA (Golden Gate Park)
Date: Early September (Sunday, Sept 9, 2018 this year)
Price: $20 if you sign up ahead of time, $25 race day
Deadlines/sellout factor: I don't think these races have a particular field limit so they can't really "sell out."
Field Size: Finishers:
- Women - 132 finishers
- Masters Men - 129 finishers
- Open Men - 96 finishers
At first I thought it was weird that there are separate masters (40+) and open (under 40) races for the men but all women race together; it makes sense, though, when you see the field sizes. While there were only 132 women in all, there were 96 men under 40 & 129 in the masters field, so you can see why they hold two different men's races. In any case, it's only 6K, so none of the races take very long. Women raced at 9:00, masters men raced at 9:45, and open men raced at 10:30.
Apparently this is only the second year this race has been held on this course. Staging was at the Golden Gate Polo Fields (across from Spreckels Lake), so super easy to get to with plenty of easy parking & even fancy flush park toilets. It was nice to have the bleachers as a spot to leave your stuff, & pretty easy to find everything (by which I mean the registration/sign in table, as that is the only thing you really need to find).
If you're used to running XC in California, I think this was pretty typical, a mix of flat & hilly, dirt, mud, sand, grass, some brief sidewalk, & single track. It would have been nice if I'd had a chance to run it beforehand, but it wasn't a big deal that I hadn't (since it's not like I was trying to win this thing). I actually enjoyed the challenge of the different terrain, and the "Oooh, what's next!" kind of broke up some of the monotony of racing a 5K or 10K on the roads. If you've done some trail running, just think of it as sprint-trails, with elbows!
Lololol it's a XC race.
If you decide to run:
- If you have a chance, jog the course (or better yet, do a tempo run on it) to get a feel for what comes up when & the best ways to take the different spots. I think that would have helped me a bit.
- Wear stiff shoes, preferably with a bit of tread. I don't think I would go trail shoes because of the weight, but you definitely want something with some stiffness. I didn't wear my racing flats because they have almost no tread; instead I wore Saucony Fastwitches, which I think were good enough, but if I were going to make a habit of this, I might pony up for some spikeless XC shoes. (I don't think you can wear spikes in CA? But maybe that's just high school.)
- Don't be intimidated! I totally was but I showed up anyway. Yes, there were some STUPID fast people there (14 women ran under 23:00, which is 6:10 pace over hills & terrain, if you want to know), but there are also plenty of not-quite-so-fast people. 17 women ran over 33:00 minutes, or 8:51 pace, and people cheered just as loudly for them.
So, my job at this race was to decide whether I wanted to train specifically for these PA XC races this year or just use them as fun workouts, and I think it's going to be the latter. I had fun, but I think I want to get some low-pressure practice in on terrain before I throw myself into training for XC as my "A" racing goal. That said, I definitely want to run a few more of these if I can fit them into my schedule. It was really fun and I enjoyed the variety and the crowd.