Monday, November 9, 2009

Weekend at the IHSA Cross-Country Championships

Over the weekend the Illinois state high school cross-country championships took place in Peoria, Il and since I currently live in Peoria I figured I'd head down to Detwiller park and check out some of the future elites in action.

It was a beautiful day for spectating; 73 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze. Possibly a little warm for racing.

I'm not much for nostalgia normally but being there among all the spectators and teams definitely took me back to my old cross-country days.

I arrived just in time to catch the start of the girls 2A race where the lone competitor from my Alma Mater, Carbondale Community High School, Junior Lacey Gibson was competing. She wound up finishing 47th place with a time of 19:21 on the 2.5 mile course!!! Definitely a great achievement for her and hopefully something she can improve on next year.

Next up was the boys 2A race which turned out to be one of the wildest races of the day. The gun went off and within the first mile the lead pack had dwindled down to about 5 boys. At this point local runner CJ Elward decided to make courageous and unexpected move. He pulled away and created a huge gap between himself and the 2nd place challenger. By the two mile mark he had a 14 second lead (about 100 meters). By the 2.5 mile mark he was still maintaining his lead but was noticeably fatigued. With 400 meters left Elward still had a 10 second lead but by now he was weaving back and forth, unable to run a straight line, and stumbling into fences and trees. With 200 meters left the challenger, Paul Zeman, shot past him and finished strong for the title in a time of 15:09. Meanwhile CJ Elward did all he could just to keep himself upward and moving forward as he was passed by 70 more runners and wound up 72nd place.

Later Elward said that he had blacked out and didn't even remember finishing. It was a heart breaker of a race but also amazing to watch. The poor kid gave it his all, and I have to commend him for his courageous tactics of trying to run away with the state title with 2 miles left in the race. In the end the heat got to him and he fell short of his goal. Truly a heartbreaker and I'm sure he'll be devastated for a long time. Hopefully he'll continue to compete in college and will have some more great races to help him put this day of regrets behind him.

The premiere race of the day was the boys 3A race. The gun went off and similarly to the 2A race the lead runner, Sophomore runner Lukas Verzbicas, had opened up a sizable lead over the competition. However, unlike the 2A race there were no expectations of anyone catching Verzbicas. The real story line was whether or not Verzbicas would be able to break the state course record of 13:50.6 set in 1972 by Olympian and National Champion Craig Virgin.

Lukas took off at a blistering 4:32 first mile but in the end couldn't maintain it and finished in 14:07. Of course he already owns the junior record for the indoor 5k of 14:18, he won the junior triathlon last year, and he's only a sophomore, so hopefully he'll have two more shots to break the record.

Verzbicas is hoping to compete in the 2012 olympics as a triathlete but says he could potentially focus on running if his times improve enough that he'd be able to challenge the East Africans. Either way its going to be exciting to see what this kid can do in the future.

Overall it was an exciting and motivational weekend for me. It gave me some slight pangs of regret that I never had the focus or drive to put in the training I would have needed to get me to the state cross-country meet when I was in high school. I came close to making it twice (5 seconds short as a sophomore after running the race of my life, and 15 seconds short as a senior after running a terrible race) but it never really mattered quite enough to me at the time.

Luckily I still have many great years of running ahead of me and many new challenges. Many old PRs to attain again and many new PRs to set.

I might never be in the olympics but I'd at least like to break 20 min in the 5k again (and then 19 and 18 and possibly 17???)... And I hope that I can someday get that marathon time under 3:30 (then 3:20, then 3:10 and off to Boston, and possibly 3:00???)...

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