Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Gold Country Grand Prix

My first race, the 2009 Turkey Trot 5K
I trained hard through the Turkey Trot 5K in 2009. It is the last race of the year for the Gold Country Grand Prix, a ten race series in Nevada County hosted by the Sierra Trailblazers Running Club, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I finished the race under 29 minutes, and was hooked! My goal for 2010 was to place in the top three overall in my age group in the Grand Prix. The point structure, which gave 10 points to the winner, 7 to second, 5 to third, 4 to fourth and 3 to fifth place, with one point awarded to all other finishers, would award consistency, and if previous years' season end point totals were an indicator, I could get a top three with consistent fifth place finishes in the 30-39 age group.

 A mix of road and cross country 5K/10K, spaced about a month apart from April to November, the Grand Prix takes the runner from rolling farmland and river canyons, to high school cross country courses and quaint mountain town road races. As a new runner, I did not realize that so much variation in terrain makes it difficult to compare performances based on time. Nor did I know that to deliver the best performance in a given race a runner should train on similar terrain.

What I did know was that I was having a blast! Running was paying dividends so much larger than I had expected. My training runs were mostly unoccupied roads winding through the forest. I used the local high school track for some workouts, especially when the roads were too messy (although I have overcome any aversion to bad weather or conditions, as Bill Bowerman said, "there is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"). Running became a surreal period of time. My mind would be freed of all the shackles of daily concerns and distractions. A clarity of thought combined with the focus of how my body was moving and moving with intention, provided a meditative state which became addicting. At first the races were an intimidating contrast to training; running off a starting line with dozens, or hundreds (or thousands) of people is like being herded, and the more people, the longer it lasts. Once the crowd thins, however, running on a race course becomes a unique social experiment. The people you come across all share the burden of the experience, and this common ground is a great equalizer. The community stretches far beyond the race course.

I experimented with various training plans as the 5K races came and went over the first half of the year, but eventually became preoccupied with life at the expense of participating in racing. I kept running, however, and ended 2010 in seventh place for Men 30-39 with a newfound sense of competitiveness I did not anticipate. My original intention was to be a "completer, not a competer", but my goal for 2011 ended up focusing on running all ten Grand Prix events again. The 30-39 age group had a deep field of fast runners, some of whom actually won the races outright, so placing in the top three overall was not in my reach, but placing in the top three at any given race was still possible, and I hoped to get as much hardware (i.e. age group medals) as I could. So I trained harder...

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