Last Thursday I learned the difference between a road race and a cross country race. I normally train on paved roads and run local road races on paved roads – FLAT, paved roads. Thursday, my friend Greg and I went to Concordia University in Ann Arbor to run in the last 5k of a 4 week series they had been hosting. From the starting area you could see a few hills but the CU coach told us the course went through some woods and behind the dorms and that there were more hills we couldn’t see from the start.
At 7:00PM the coach gathered all the participants and explained the course again, then told us that although this was a casual race series with no T-shirts (I didn’t expect one for my $5 entry fee), there would be ribbons for the top ten male and top ten female finishers. The sole female grinned and the rest of us quickly counted the small field – Whew! only nine guys – everyone gets a ribbon! We lined up and the gun sounded. The small field took off. The high school aged kids sprinted toward the first hill while Greg, me and the two other apparent 40+ year-old guys fell in behind them.
I quickly realized that cross country is much different than running on flat pavement. This new Concordia course is a mixture of steep ups and downs and rolling, deceiving hills. I tried to keep a steady pace but could feel myself laboring up each hill. Eventually I crossed the finish and received a nice purple ribbon for 7th place. Not bad, I thought, no one needs to know there were only nine males running.
So, I need to add some trails, grass and hill training to my schedule. Or stick to pavement road races.