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On Saturday morning, CU Independent sports editors Caryn Maconi and Ryan Sterner raced the 27th Annual Rocky Mountain Shootout at CU’s Buffalo Ranch as unattached runners. Below, the two editors, both cross-country enthusiasts, reflect on their experience at one of the longest-running collegiate cross-country races in the nation.
Running the Rocky Mountain Shootout was, for me, an eye-opening indication of the talent of the CU women’s cross-country team.
I was a track and cross-country runner in high school, and as a member of the CU Triathlon Team, I compete several times a year in multisport events. I had confidence going into the race that “I wouldn’t finish last,” but beyond that, I had no idea what to expect.
The Shootout was a new experience for me. I hadn’t run a cross-country race since high school, I had never done so at altitude, and I had never raced the 5.8-kilometer distance. Most significantly, I had never raced against competitors at the collegiate level. I was thankful to be running unattached with nothing to lose, and I hoped to be able to use the race as part of my triathlon training.
I felt fast for the first mile or so, but vicious side cramps derailed my pace around mile two. Most of the CU cross-country women had been ahead of me from the start, but one by one, runners from smaller Division II schools began to pass me. I resisted the urge to walk, but at the end of the second climb of the notorious Jawbone Hill, I pulled over to the side of the course, nauseous from the effort. I managed to get going again a few seconds later and eventually finish the race in 67th overall, but my time of 24:49 was nothing to brag about compared to the race’s top finishers.
Looking over the results later that morning, I saw that CU’s top finisher, freshman Carrie Verdon, ran almost four minutes faster than me (21:03). In fact, CU’s top-five runners all had times under 22 minutes, and CU took the women’s Division I team title by a long shot. Taking into account the altitude and the course’s difficulty, the times recorded today were impressive to say the least. Verdon’s first collegiate effort did not disappoint, and she should be one to watch for the rest of the season.
I am honored to have had the chance to race against these talented women, and I can’t wait to see where their collegiate careers take them. As for me? I’ll take the race for what it was: a painful, character-building and extremely humbling experience. I’ll hang my race number on my bedroom wall and proudly tell the world that, in a race among “real” collegiate cross-country runners, I did not finish last.
My alarm sounded at 7:30 a.m. and I dragged myself downstairs to the kitchen. The sun had begun to peek over my neighbor’s two-story roof in an effort to tell me that it was morning, and yes, people actually can function at such an ungodly hour. I stole a banana from my roommate and choked down some dry toast before hitching a ride down to the Buffalo Ranch for the 27th Annual Rocky Mountain Shootout.
The ride didn’t actually take me all the way to the ranch. In fact it only took me to Baseline Liquor, an easy two-mile jog to CU’s cross-country course. I stepped into the morning air and was greeted by two vagrants pounding on the door of the yet-to-be-opened liquor store. My friend and I went around back where we were let in by his manager. Inside I was able to finagle a free Red Bull, which I hawked back at an alarming rate. Race shoes in hand, caffeine coursing through my veins, I thanked my friend and started off towards the race.
I had been running well since arriving back in Boulder for the school year and was looking forward to testing out my sea legs on the hallowed ground known as Buffalo Ranch. The race itself, due partly to the fact that CU has produced a slew of Olympians, is somewhat famous in the running community. To race the Rocky Mountain Shootout is to kick up the same dust that some of America’s finest distance runners once did.
My two-mile warm-up passed without incident. I arrived at the course a little jittery and found myself a little overwhelmed with the pre-race pandemonium. The starting area was a daze of short shorts, shaved legs, leashed dogs, the smell of sweat and enough dri-fit fabric to outfit a modest-sized elementary school.
The open runners were crammed into lanes one, two and twenty. Everyone was doing strides down the bumpy starting straight, avoiding eye contact with each other, and spitting a lot. I partook in the strides, the spitting, and the lack of eye contact, in a vain attempt to get in “the zone.” Before I knew it, the starting officials were waving us all to the starting line.
An elderly man, festooned in blaze orange, held up a hand, blew a whistle, and shot a gun — and in a flurry of Niked feet and gun powder, 250 effeminate and emaciated men (me included) pushed off the line. The race starts on a straight, 400-meter mad dash; the scene was pure carnage. A thunderous cadence of at least 500 human feet pounding against the gravel can be hypnotizing. It’s so loud that it takes you away from the race, and you find yourself curious as to what the hell that sound could actually be. I was immediately brought back into the race when behind me I saw a man hit the dirt hard.
I was boxed in and getting really antsy. I eclipsed the first hill and found an opening on the righthand side which I rode all the way to mile one: 5:40. Perfect. The race plan was to go out conservative, and I had done just that.
The second mile is flat, fast and easy to get lost in. I let go of the reins a little and passed the second mile in 5:12. My plan was for mile two to be 5:15; I was executing perfectly. I was holding ground and making damn sure to try and remain tough.
The hardest part about racing isn’t the physical aspect — that’s what all the miles and workouts are for. No, the hardest part is to not listen to your head. At a certain point in any race, doubt will start to creep into your mind and curl around your psyche. Like a feral cat or a rabid possum, your mind will start to turn on you — and before you know it, you’ve settled into a comfortable pace, content to give up, content to run slow, content to not hurt anymore.
I was expecting this feeling to set in eventually, but not at mile three. “This is far too early,” I said, but I had already given up. My resolve had been milked for all it was worth, and it only took twelve minutes of hard running. Mile three passed in 5:49.
“Stop running,” my feeble brain said.
“Okay,” I sheepishly responded.
Dropping out of a race is for the weak, but my mettle had been tested and I could no longer stack up. Just as I was about to stop running and maybe enjoy a nap or a good vomit, I rounded a corner and saw all the spectators lined up along the side of the course. Now don’t be fooled, it wasn’t a cliche sports moment where my spirits were lifted by the crowd and the chorus of “Chariots of Fire” started playing as I sprinted the last two miles like a god. No, this was pure hubris.
I refused to let these people see me a quitter. Not because I actually cared what they thought, but because I heard all the would-be words of encouragement, all of the “don’t give ups,” or the “give it another go, little buddy.” The thought of this made me want to throw heavy rocks at them. I would not let this hypothetical situation pan out. It had become a race of attrition.
Mile four: 6:32. This mile was the equivalent of being forced to eat your vegetables, or being eight and waking up to see your pet goldfish belly up in his bowl.
I gathered my strength, made one final push up the aptly named Jawbone Hill, and finished my final mile in a semi-respectable 5:16.
The finishing area was cramped. I navigated through puddles of vomit and kids lying facedown in the dirt and endured a few haphazard high-fives. I made my way out of the scene as hastily as possible, found my one friend that had come to cheer me on, and got the hell out of dodge before I had adequate time to reflect on my abysmal performance.
I did, however, hear that CU runner Jake Hurysz took home the victory in a flabbergasting 24:35. Jake and the rest of the CU squad nearly perfect-scored the race, finishing with a total team score of 16 and taking home the top team honors. After this race, the Buffaloes are still my dark-horse pick for 2012 NCAA Championships. If they can keep progressing, which they will under the tutelage of THE Mark Wetmore, they’ll be tough to beat come November.
As for me, I’m going to spend the rest of the day watching Judge Judy re-runs, brooding over my race, and dreaming of a day where all the pieces fall in place and I can put together a good time at the Ranch. Buffalo Ranch is cruel, a course which demands respect and will equalize those who don’t.
I’ll conquer her one day.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editors Caryn Maconi and Ryan Sterner at Caryn.email@example.com and Ryan.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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