Monday, August 18, 2014

PAUSATF Cross Country - The Secret California Race Series For Runners

Season opener of the Pacific Association Cross Country Grand Prix (photo: Gunnar Roll)
It was almost like they were hiding. A steep redwood lined single track opened up into a small field where there were a few tents and tables and a few hundred runners with their belongs strewn across the grass. There was none of the blaring "psyche up" music and race announcer noise we've become accustomed too at locally organized road runs put on by commercial race organizers. If even if there were, not many wouldn't have been there to hear it as they were on lengthy warm up or cool down runs from one of the three 4-mile races (open men, masters men and women). Probably fortunately, there was no sponsoring fitness club to encourage participants to do jumping jacks pre-run.

Registration for the UC Santa Cruz XC Challenge
If there was on-line registration I couldn't find it. You could save yourself $5 by mailing in a generic entry form but seeing the race was less than half what I'd paid earlier in the year for a race put on by a local shoe store chain I was happy to hand over $20 cash at the empty registration table which was at the parking lot beside three lonely looking porta pottys. I was handed a number and 4 pins.

Knowing what I was getting myself into I lined up right at the back of the Opens Men's event, which turned out to be very accurate self-seeding.  From my vantage point I observed a distinct lack of running store pushed paraphernalia; compression socks, fuel belts, GUs. Just mostly skinny guys in club singlets. There was no chip timing and the awards for 1st, 2nd and 3rd were announced very shortly after I stumbled over the finish line. The winning guys ran up and down the gravelly incline in around 5:15 min/mi pace. I boasted of a negative podium after the race (3rd last). There were no bars, cookies, hot chocolate at the post-race refreshments table, just some sports drink, cut up oranges and banana. I'm not sure if that explained why most around me were so skinny but I wasn't hearing any complaining.

Masters Mens race
Another unusual aspect was that there was money to be won. Both for individuals and the collection of USATF teams that were present. It doesn't amount to much ($50/$30/$20 of the winner of the Mens Open race), but better than the resounding nothing of most, much higher participation, local races offer. The teams dimension also added some extra motivation and the atmosphere was supportive with runners cheering their team mates from the sidelines.

While generally devastating for the ego, the Pacific Association Cross Country Grand Prix is a great reminder that, when you strip it away, being a good runner has a lot to do with, well, running. With races from August to November in locations from Santa Cruz to Sacramento and in between, lots can be learned by joining a PA USATF club and surrounding yourself with these athletes both young and old. Just don't expect to hear many inspiring stories about running changing lives. From the hot pace I suspect most of them started running at high school or college and just never broke the habit.
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