The Pete Glavin Cross Country (PGXC) series of races is for runners throughout upstate New York. You can win individual age group prizes and team awards for each race, also accumulating series points and awards (and bragging rights) along the way. For me, signing up was a way to ensure I remained fit as I tapered off from running longer distances this year.
Amy ran in the series last year to check it out. She attached to the Finger Lakes Runners Club team, and as such had a group of women to carpool, race and bond with. She loved her experience and thought I would too. After I checked out the last race of last year’s season, running in the freezing temperatures and snow on Cornell’s golf course, I was sold. We both signed up for the complete PGXC series this year.
I would like to tell you about my past experience running cross country, since most people associate it with grade school’s modified and varsity disciplines. I can’t help but think that some of the runners in PGXC are reliving their high school cross country glory days. I, on the other hand, had no such glory days. I dropped out of varsity soccer my senior year after a 3-year run because I was “concerned about my grades.” I was a high honor roll student, and it was a convenient excuse to not work out. My grades were just fine, but my 17 year-old brain wasn’t having it. I was not an athlete at that point in my life. So, my “glory days” were really about achieving academically, participating in the school play and making sure I’d have enough down time to play with my Legos.
Fast forward to mid-40s me and you’ll find an older version of that young man, albeit with a bit more balance and variety. I still love to achieve at a high level (but not with the same intensity), partake in the dramatic arts and make sure I have enough time to play (usually guitar, drawing or something else creative). The key added ingredient in my adulthood is fitness. You could say that I’m IN my glory days from a fitness perspective, and I think you’d be right.
Clay Park Central (Syracuse) – 5K
An all grass course on fields and paths, flat with maybe a roller or two which is perfect for getting used to the spikes after a summer of flip flops
The first race was upon me before I expected, having run a 50K at Green Lakes just a few weeks prior. All of my training to this point was for longer distances, so I simply put in maintenance miles leading up to this race. We carpooled up with Brenda Michaud. She’d done the AIDS Ride for Life 102-mile bike ride the day prior, so we had a great time catching up about that during the drive.
We got our bibs (well just, the tear tag from a traditional bib, kind of like what you wear in flag football) and spent some time setting up our tent and meeting each other. There were some new runners on the High Noon AC team I was on, including Columbia Warren. Columbia and I grew up together, and as adults see each other mostly at races. I thought it was cool that we would be running together again! We headed out for a loop on the 2-loop course to get our bearings and warm up. The day was getting hot, and I was already uncomfortable in the tight short-sleeved shirt I’d chosen. Adam Engst offered me a race singlet, but it didn’t fit too snugly. I decided to run shirtless, and though I was in the minority I’d be joined by two of my teammates looking for evaporative cooling as I ran.
The mass start (men and women, all age groups) was in the middle of a field along a white line. We were in the middle, with masses of runners off to our right and left. At the signal, I bolted across the field toward the first turn, running an irresponsibly fast pace (4:35) for someone who’d be running for about 20 minutes. I was the first runner to the turn where the path narrowed and we skirted a soccer pitch. I tried to settle into a good pace, knowing that as Adam Engst passed me I was succeeding at that goal. Adam’s a faster runner and should be finished before me.
The second loop turned into an endurance event for me. I focused on pace and not giving up any spots. In cross country, results are based on points, and points are based on the order in which you finish, not your time. Order matters! I picked off two runners as we rounded the last turn around a baseball field and approached the finish chute. As with the too-fast start, I really picked it up at the end, finishing with a sprint at 4:27 pace.
I was really happy to be a scoring runner for our team! There are a ton of fast people everywhere you look in this race, from 0-39 (open), 40-49 (masters), 50-59 (vets) and 60+ (supervets). Amy scored for her team, too, and I enjoyed hanging out with her after the race as we recovered our breath.
I surveyed the awards table. Wine, beer and chocolate. It looked delicious, but they had plenty of post-race fare for the runners. I devoured a banana, some Chex mix and a bar of something-or-other. The awards were fun to see: the Fingers Lakes Runners Club’s team won the Masters division! Our High Noon Masters nabbed second, but beer is for winners. I wondered if we’d win beer at one of the other four races? The GVH team is pretty fast. Individually I don’t think I’ll have a prayer either. I was 6th master with a time within the margin of error for my fastest 5K ever. I don’t think so. I will instead opt to run the fastest I can, aspiring to win beer and chocolate, but being content with the effort associated with a job well done.
The next race will be in two weeks. It is time to do some 5K-specific training! I’ve looked at Hal Higdon’s Advanced 5K plan, and it throws in some speedwork. Perfect! My daughter (who also runs cross-country) convinced me to buy some spikes. Amy had purchased some before the season started, and a lot of the High Noon runners had them. I’ll be wearing them at the next race!
Akron Falls County Park (Akron) – 6K
All grass course on fields, a couple uphills to make it honest and maybe soggy part so you can get some mud on the back of your shorts.
Summer came back in mid-September, so it was no surprise that this race fell on a 90-degree day. Amy and I enjoyed the drive to Akron Falls County Park. Despite being the longest distance from our home, the thruway miles clicked by as we talked and had a packed breakfast. Our running friends had already set up the tent in a nice shady spot so we’d have some respite from the beating sun.
We picked up our running tags and also our PGXC series t-shirt. There had been a misprint this year, marking all shirts boldly with PGCX, which sounds more like a train line than a cross country series. The organizers had promised the shirts would be ready for the next race, and they were!
The other runners had already headed out on a preview loop, so I spent a few minutes stretching with Adam. We headed out solo to preview the first and third loops of the course. We had spectate the kids’ cross-country meet in Baldwinsville the prior day, so I told him something I’d realized when talking about PGXC with another race parent. There’s no drama in adult cross country! I’ve heard all kinds of stories from my kids of their teammates talking smack about each other, bragging unabashedly about what place they come in while hoisting their ribbons in the air, and forming exclusive cliques within the team. There’s simply no drama in adult cross country, at least as far as I’ve seen. We love to run, and we’re all there for the challenge and the fellowship. Adam smiled as I told him this analogy, and we finished our preview run glistening with sweat and grateful for the shade of the tent as we awaited the start. We had a brief discussion of the merits of shirts. I waffled on whether to wear one, knowing that I’d brought my very lightest Patagonia to wear. Adam said he wore a shirt mainly for protection from the sun. David Keifer talking about some research that showed wearing a shirt actually resulted in better performance than not. I decided to keep my shirt on, and also carry a collapsible handheld filled with Tailwind.
I had no particular strategy in mind for this race, except not going out too fast. The race organizer reminded us of the recent tragic news that a 9 year-old girl had been killed by a driver during XC practice in nearby Geneseo, our alma mater. We’d be running today for her, her family and her community. Yet again, I was reminded once more about how lucky I should feel that I can run. My childhood battle with osteomyelitis jumped to the front of my mind once more. Adam was off to my right. As we started running, I fell in beside him and kept pace for the first mile. As we came back near the start, I felt my pace falter and silently bid adieu to Adam. His second mile split was the same as his first, but mine was a minute slower. I clearly couldn’t maintain that pace: I’d need another rabbit from the start if that were to be a viable strategy.
I also didn’t wear spikes this race, despite having practiced with them. During the preview, we noticed several road crossings that would be tough on spikes. That didn’t deter much of the field, though. As we crossed those hard surfaces, I heard plenty of the clickity-clack of spikes on asphalt. I secretly wished I’d been wearing them, but there were three races left to try them out. I gutted out the third loop, thinking of nothing but how frustrated I was to have slowed so much. I tried to sip periodically from my Tailwind, but my breathing was so labored it wasn’t worth it. I probably won’t carry again, even if it were hot for a future race. I’ve never been so grateful to finish, and instantly sought out shelter from the sun to regain my breath and composure. I walked back along the course to another shady spot and helped cheer in the rest of our teams. It was quite a sight to see the finish line area and the stream of runners walking back to the pavilion. We had all swaggered to the start line, full of energy, bravado and pep. Now, after just 20-30 minutes, we all walked as full participants in a zombie apocalypse, shoulders hunched awkwardly with each step as painful as the prior, cursing the mild uphill grade back to the pavilion. I joked with a teammate as I took in the sight: they should make the extras for the next zombie flick run a 5K before the shoot. It’d be rather authentic.
I enjoyed the post-race food and recovery beer, A few guys were trying out some home-brewed recovery beer on us, complete with a survey. We went on a short walk to Akron Falls to help our legs recover, but sadly the lack of rain meant there was barely a trickle of water coming down the stream. It was a pretty walk, but we didn’t make it to the waterfall. Awards would start soon, and there’d be more beer and chocolate that I didn’t win! I changed out of my sweaty clothing in the car and rejoined the group at the pavilion. Amy and I took a brief reroute on the way home to stop at Geneseo. We sat outside of Aunt Cookie’s and had a sub for a late lunch, followed by a stroll through campus. It is so different to go back so long after graduating. For some reason, everything looked so small to me. The buildings, green spaces and classrooms all looked tiny. Perhaps there’s something that age does to the brain, providing a new set point from which to compare your past. It’s a heady thought that’ll have to wait for now. It’s time to set my sights on a closer race two weeks from now: Watkins Glen!
Watkins Glen – 6K
All grass trails, rolling hills and 3 loops around so negative splits are encouraged, but did I mention there is a short but steep hill?
Will summer ever leave? I was wondering this as we began our short drive to Watkins Glen. We’d had many warm days as October wore on and today was no exception. Once we’d found our way to the Iroquois Lodge at Watkins, we parked along the road and picked up our bibs. Today’s race was another loop format. This time, it’d be three times around a loop. As we ran the warmup lap, though, it became clear that this was a bonafide cross country course. There were no patches of asphalt, plenty of twists and turns, and a lot of up and downs. One pair of hills were so steep I thought I might have to power hike them up and down!
We were toeing the start line when Mike Nier made an announcement that the park had asked some of us to move our cars. It was unclear whether this was me, but it turns out there were so many cars to move, the start of the race was delayed by a half hour. The insult came in the form of cloud cover: the sun had beat down all morning, helping to dry the grass, and at 11 a.m. dark clouds covered the sky. We all moved our cars under this blanket of shade and returned to the start line. As the clouds parted, just before 11:30, the group emitted a groan. We’d get to run in the full sun anyway!
I chose my spikes as footwear today, and was really happy I did. The all-grass course had a lot of sharp (acute) turns, and as we negotiated the first loop I was grateful for the traction. Just before we started, Adam reminded me to not go out too fast. Good advice, but tough to adhere to given the tight quarters as the trail narrowed into the woods. I was a bit caught up in the pack I was in, so kept pace with them until it thinned out a bit.
On the second loop, I was grateful to have a runner near me who was also named Scott. He was on “The B Team”, stocked completely with high-school kids, so had plenty of spectators watching. Every time someone yelled encouragement to Scott, I believed they were talking to me. Every little bit of encouragement helps! Scott had soon run far enough ahead of me that I was alone again, though.
The sun and humidity was taking its toll on me after loop 2. I knew I was getting progressively slower, but I wasn’t sure by how much. Mike Nier, before the race, had talked about one of those Peace/Faith/Love roadside signs he’d passed. He drew a parallel to the loop format we were running today. On the first loop, you’d have a sense of inner peace that’s easy to find as a runner. On the second loop, you’d have to have faith in your training, to persevere. On the third loop, you’d need love to get you through. As I started the third loop, i thought different things about love: “Boy, I’d love a cold drink right about now.” Or, “I’d love to be done right about now.” I approached the last big hill of the course knowing that I was almost done, and anything I did on that hill would be quickly remedied by stopping at the end. I sprinted up it, using my spikes for sure footing, and barely lost any pace. I launched myself off the top of the hill onto the grassy field that stood between me and the finish. Accelerating past the first turn, I heard Adam encourage me further, telling us to work together. I gathered that a teammate was right there with me. One more turn into the finish chute and I was done! Columbia Warren had been right on my tail, finishing just 3 seconds back.
I enjoyed the post-race food immensely. After treating myself to a water and cheering on the other runners, I downed a banana and went to retrieve more comfortable footwear from the car. Back at the food table, I spied a jar of Nutella! Oh dear. I would normally just grab a spoon. I spread a liberal amount of the chocolate-nut goodness on a bagel half and dug in. My teammate Jessie was of a similar persuasion, eating the same thing in the shade. I joked with him that God must have made the Nutella/bagel combination on the eighth day. It was that good.
Awards time revealed that my masters team took first place, and as such got to go home with a case of beer. Ah, sweet victory! We were surely helped by Adam Engst’s masters win, but the results also revealed that we were the only complete masters team that day. Well, we got the beer anyway! Amy and I offered our home for a post-race party, and so we headed out quickly to get back and start the grill. Including us, ten runners came to hang out afterwards. We had a wonderful time with grilled sausage and peppers and onions, salad, rice and bean soup, brownies and beverages. Adam brought some mini kiwi fruits from a tree on their land, too. They were so good!
We spent the afternoon talking and laughing on our deck. Ximing Yin told us some great stories about running in China, which was extra special. You couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm for running and meeting new people, and him taking wonderful pictures throughout the event. That’s the other half of the team sport coin: there’s fitness, and there’s fellowship. Caring for our fellow humans. Talking with them, and more importantly, listening. I felt, as we were sitting there that afternoon, that I was a part of a team.
Genesee Valley Park – USATF Niagara (Rochester) – 6K
All grass fields, a sloping hill and one of the best spectator courses in Rochester, which is perfect to watch the other two races unfold for the Niagara championships bragging rights.
Compared to the balmy weather several weeks ago, this weekend made it clear that winter is on the way. The temperature hovered in the mid-40s, normally perfect for running, but the real issue was water. Lots of it. A weather system parked itself over Central New York and started dumping water the night before the race, and would continue to do so until the morning after the race. Elizabeth joined in for this race, too, rounding out the women’s open team for Finger Lakes Runner’s Club. Amy, Elizabeth and I enjoyed the drive to Rochester and found a decent parking spot near the pavilions that would keep us dry until race time.
The kids’ McQuaid cross country meet is held at this park as part of their school cross-country series. It was going to be fun to race it myself, and the course they’d set was advertised as three 2K loops. After watching the women start their race (men and women were separated today), I walked through the sopping field back to the pavilion to stow my umbrella and strip down into my shorts and singlet. I watched the remaining laps of the women’s race and warmed up a bit, running haphazard lines across the main field and periphery.
As we waited for the signal to start, an organizer shouted out that the course was starting to get muddy in places. This was hilarious, because the entire course was mud; it was just muddier at the turns. As we started the first loop, Adam came up next to me and warned “Slow down, Scott.” I turned to my right and said “Is that the voice of reason I hear over there?” I did slow down, but was grateful to get out in front of the mass of runners. The race itself flew by. Alex Colvin came alongside around mile 2 and I enjoyed pacing off of him for a bit. Casey Carlstrom reeled us in not far into mile 2 and we were a trio for a bit. Alex and Casey were both veteran runners who were “running down” into the masters team to give us a better chance at winning. They were fast! Adam had also recruited Scotie Jacobs, a local (fast) ultra runner, to join us. I hoped to hold on and finish in the top 5, given these roster changes.
As we started the third loop on the grassy infield, I wondered how much longer it’d be. I hadn’t studied the course closely, but I knew we had to do “three loops.” I was shocked when the guys in front of me peeled off toward the finish! Shocked, and grateful. I was so ready to be done! I had been focusing on not letting the GVH runner behind me pass on the last loop, and had thought I had to go up a hill toward our pavilion one more time. Just as I was focusing on that challenge, the race was over. I didn’t give up a single place over the one-hundred yard dash to the finish, though I would have liked to have kicked sooner. There’s always next year!
The results for our men’s masters team were good, though we didn’t find out ‘til later. Dry clothes and the promise of warm coffee won the day, and we were soon headed home after getting a group picture of our clean fronts and muddy backs. We were so disappointed to learn that Starbucks had closed for renovations in Canandaigua, though! We dejectedly drove by, seeing construction workers outside and a sign in the window. Why, caffeine gods, why?
I was thrilled to know how we’d done as a team when Adam wrote later that evening. Our High Noon masters team eked out a victory over GVH with a 34 point tie that was broken by Sean Nicholson’s 6th man tie-breaker. Adam’s strategy of stacking the masters team in favor of diluting our strength across a weaker veterans and masters teams paid off! The performance netted us our second case of beer for the season. Personally, I ran my fastest 6K race of the season. My average pace was only bested by the first race in the series, though that was a 5K. Two more weeks of training, and we’ll toe the line at the last race of the season!
Finger Lakes Community College (Canandaigua) – 8K
Fields, Hills, Trails … perfect. No wonder it was voted best XC course of the PGXC series
The last race of the series would also have the best weather for cross country running. It was dry, sunny and in the mid-40s. FLCC is close-ish to our house as compared with the other race venues, so we had a relaxing morning at home before heading out around 9. The women’s race started at 11, and I enjoyed cheering Amy and Elizabeth on while waiting for my 11:45 start time. Xander had come along to take pictures and video, too, which was super cool. I had debated whether or not to wear spikes. There is a 100-yard stretch of hard-packed gravel on this course, and we run up and down it. I chose to wear my trail shoes. Now, even post-race, I’m not sure what choice I would have made if I did it again. As we rolled through the first mile of the 8K (5 mile) course, I noticed the ground was soft and muddy in spots, which would have been perfect for spikes. I lost my footing around one particularly sharp turn, and almost ended up on my side. Gratefully I stayed vertical, passing Amy, Elizabeth and Xander shouting encouragement from a soccer field.
Xander got this great series of videos while spectating!
I pounded down the gravel incline, grateful to have shoes on for this stretch of hard, cobbly surface. We were entering an area of wooded trails, and my teammate Casey came up alongside. It was nice to run with him for awhile, and I enjoyed his encouragement. The leaf-covered wooded trails reminded me of running at Taughannock. I felt at home here, but it was short-lived. Soon we were heading back up that incline to the upper part of the course. I again passed my family shouting encouragement as I crested the hill, and I set my sights on a GVH runner who was just ahead of me. I passed him just around mile 4 and vowed to not get passed by him. I knew my pace was dropping off, and my mind started going other places now. I plan on taking some time off of running to reset, so I thought of that. We were about to go buy my son some new ski boots, since his feet keep growing, so I thought of that. I was coming up on that sharp muddy turn where I almost fell, so I thought of that. I realized I was thinking way too much, so ironically thought of that.
I gave all I had as I approached the finish. The GVH runner I had passed was far enough behind me, or so I thought. About 20 yards from the finish line, I sensed him right behind me. I turned my head to the left and saw him in my periphery. Could I go faster? I didn’t know. I turned the volume up to 10, so-to-speak, and started half sprinting and half-falling into the finish chute. DO NOT GIVE UP THE PLACE. The series director, Mike Nier, was here for this spectacle. I managed to stay upright and finish with my place intact. I paused just long enough to have my bib torn off, then walked a few more steps to put my hands on my legs and try to catch my breath. It was an all-out effort, and I was grateful to be done.
As an individual, I ended up solid mid-pack in the M40-49 rankings, 7 out of 13 for the ranked runners with 39 points (I’m still not sure how this works). After race 4, I was third in the masters series, but in this final race, it looks like four GVH runners, who didn’t come to all the races, ran and did very well, beating both Adam and me. Top ten in each age group takes away a bottle of wine, so that’s a pretty decent prize. Also, our High Noon men’s masters team took the series win, thanks to Adam’s smart decision to run our faster veterans team down with the master for a few races. I think there’s some more swag coming our way for that, too. We’ll have a picnic in early December to celebrate the season. Amy and I are looking forward to that! If you’re interested in running adult cross country in upstate New York, you should total check out this race series. It really is fun, and you don’t have to be a fast runner. You just have to love running.
|Race||Time||Mile Pace||All Men||M40-49||Place on Team|
|Clay Central Park 5K||19:25.4||6:14||39/127||6/21||2|
|Akron Falls 6K||24:23.2||6:32||48/112||6/19||2|
|Watkins Glen 6K||26:38.9||7:08||45/142||5/13||2|
|Genesee Valley 6K||23:29.2||6:17||12/78||7/13||5 (w/ vets)|
|FLCC 8K||33:15.8||6:41||43/99||8/13||4 (w/ vets)|