Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bib of the Day -- First to the Finish Invitational, Peoria, IL

OK, this isn't MY number, as today is a day off for me, but my son Matt and his Aurora Central teammates traveled two hours southwest to Peoria for the First to the Finish Invitational. It's a meet that is run on the state cross country course and is a good prep for the state meet on Nov. 9.

This is actually the second time the Chargers have run there this year, after running a night race there at the end of July. This race was a little bigger, though, as there were 735 boys that toed the long, long line. In all, between the six races (boys and girls, three classes), organizers say close to 5,000 kids participated.

Cross country is a bit of an acquired taste, but once you get the hang of the sport it is a lot of fun. The knock on XC is that runners disappear into the woods at the start and you don't see them again until the finish. There are a couple of courses where that is true, most of the courses where Central races you get the chance to see the runners several times, which gives you ample opportunities to see the runners.

Plus, it's a great sport because it is a participation sport. While not every member of the team got to run today, on most race weekends everyone gets a chance to compete. One of the things that turned me away from team sports when I was in high school was the fact that I would practice for a couple of hours a day and rarely get off the bench during games. Unless you really love the sport a lot or are more into the team for the camaraderie, it's hard to put in the work and not play. Especially now, when the expectation of most sports is for athletes to do so much off-season work in terms of conditioning, weightlifting and other commitments.

That and the camaraderie is really cool. Let's be honest, XC usually doesn't include the "cool kids", so everyone seems to enjoy and respect each other. Everyone roots for everyone else, and one of the biggest focuses is on having fun and setting PRs. I can buy into that sort of stuff.

This was the fourth race of the season for the boys, and the results have been a bit mixed. Heading into today's race, they really needed a bit of a confidence boost. The day got off to a good start as the weather was perfect, the sun was out and it was about 65 degrees at the start of the race.

Matt and the team went down last night and stayed at a hotel, so Kevin (son No. 2, if I hadn't mentioned it) and I were on the road at about 7:15. We arrived about an hour before the race and everyone was in good spirits.

When the gun went off Matt and Javi, his teammate and one of his best friends, got off to a great start. Matt loves running on this course, and I was happy to see that he was super aggressive, which is when he runs his best. On this course, they ran by us three times, and each time it looked like he was always looking to move forward, which he hadn't done much of this year.

When the race was over, Javi had set a PR of 16:00 to finish 46th, while Matt dropped a 16:43 to place 99th. That's 46 seconds faster than what he ran in the summer race, and just three seconds slower than what he ran in last year's state meet. For the first time in a while he came off the course with a smile on his face, which was good to see.

In all it was a great confidence boost for the entire team. The season is going by quickly, and the state meet is just eight weeks away. There is a lot of work to do between now and then, but today was a big step forward.

For me, I'm stepping back tomorrow, going 14 as we get a break before the 20-miler next weekend. The weather is going to be great, should be a good day!

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