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Archive for March, 2010

How to 4-Peat

Friday, March 19th, 2010


Team RunnerGirl won the Gasparilla Marathon Relay for the fourth year in a row on February 28, 2010.  While this is extremely exciting news, I also felt a little let down once crossing the finish line for the final time.  2010 marked the tenth and final running of the Gasparilla Marathon and along with it, the marathon relay ended with the highest number of teams participating in the event’s history.


I am sure that the increased participation was partly due to this being the “Final Voyage” (embroidered on the back of the marathon and relay shirts).  Out of 118 relay teams consisting of all male, all female, mixed, and masters teams, RunnerGirl was second across the finish line behind only an all male team.  The RunnerGirls won the overall female division for the fourth year in a row in a time of 3:03:00 which was over 30 minutes ahead of the second place female team.  RunnerGirl has dominated the team events at Gasparilla.  I know this might sound like bragging, but I want to give credit to the incredibly talented and hard working women who have made up Team RunnerGirl over the years.


In 2005 Gasparilla added a team element called the Chick-Fil-A Team Trio where times were combined from the 5K, 15K, and half marathon.  Kelly Fear ran the 5K, Rachel Chambers ran the 15K, and Rae Ann Darling Reed ran the half marathon for their first Team Trio victory.  In 2006 Team RunnerGirl again brought home the gold, which was not gold at all, but a giant stuffed Chick-Fil-A cow and a year’s worth of free Chick-Fil-A for each team member.  Melissa Reifschneider ran the 5K, Rachel Chambers ran the 15K, and Rae Ann Darling Reed ran the half marathon.


Then in 2007 Team Trio was replaced by the Gasparilla Marathon Relay where four runners cover 26.2 miles by running 7 miles, 7 miles, 8 miles, and 4.2 miles.  The runners exchanged an ankle strap with timing chip on it at each of the relay exchange points.  The team then met the final leg at the Davis Island Bridge so the four could run the last quarter mile together and cross the finish line as a team.  RunnerGirl won the female division of this inaugural event in 3:09:12 with team members Cherie Coston, Rae Ann Darling Reed, Rachel Chambers, and Pam Chaffin.  In 2008 Team RunnerGirl defended their title with their fastest marathon relay time of the four years:  2:59:44.  This team featured two professional triathletes from Southwest Florida which helped the team run its personal best marathon relay time.  The 2008 team was Rae Ann Darling Reed, Heather Gollnick, Heather Butcher, and Pam Chaffin.  In 2009 RunnerGirl won again in a time of 3:12:59 despite windy and rainy conditions.  I was set to run the first leg this year but was diagnosed with a stress fracture just a few weeks before the event.  Luckily the fastest distance runner on the high school cross country and track team that I coach was available to take my place.  Responsible for Team RunnerGirl’s 3-peat were Jessica Pate, Melissa Reifschneider, Heather Butcher, and Pam Chaffin.  Then 2010 brings us to the 4-peat for Team RunnerGirl with Rae Ann Darling Reed, Shana Bickel, Heather Butcher, and Diana Nelson.


As I mentioned, it was very exciting to win again this year, but I also felt the disappointment knowing it was the final year of this event.  I am hopeful that Gasparilla will come up with some new creative team or relay event in 2011.


But getting back to “How to 4-Peat.”  When putting together these teams over the years, I kept it really simple.  I looked for runners who were faster than me.  That’s it.  That’s my secret.  Using this simple method to put together racing teams, I found that I stepped outside my comfort zone and did not just ask friends or people I already knew to be my teammates.  In doing this, I have met some of the most amazing runners and triathletes in my area.  I mean, how cool is it to say that I ran a relay event with teammates who have competed at and won Ironman Triathlons, Triathlon World Championships, National Triathlon and Duathlon Championships, and so many others.


Team RunnerGirl has been so incredibly rewarding with the team titles we have won but even more rewarding with the amazing athletes I have gotten to know and now consider friends.


A sincere thank you goes out to all the amazing women who have run as part of Team RunnerGirl over the years.


















Trail Races: Cross Country for Adults

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010


Most people who start out running cross country and track in high school would agree that the overwhelmingly popular response to the age old question of whether they prefer cross country or track is:  CROSS COUNTRY!  Drop by any high school anywhere and I am confident that you will find the same result.


There is just something unique about cross country.  To the untrained eye, it may appear to be an individual sport, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 


 Here are a few excerpts from an article on OregonLive.com written by By Joe Dudman: 


“Two of my favorite photos in my high school yearbook are on the cross country page:  In one of them a runner is yelling herself hoarse as she cheers on a teammate approaching the finish; the other is a group photo of the small, rag-tag, yet obviously tight-knit team.  One of my regrets is that I wasn’t part of that team.


I played soccer instead, and while I wouldn’t have traded in a single minute out on the “pitch,” I know I did miss out on the camaraderie and spirit of the cross country team.  And three fun years on my college cross country team only confirmed the value of what I’d bypassed in high school…


Make no mistake, cross country is a team sport, and not just in a philosophical or sentimental sense.  Every runner, from front to back of the pack, has an impact on team scoring.  Every place counts.  And everyone on the team – along with every spectator and coach – knows this, and understands that a mid-pack runner moving up a place or two can make a difference in the team score and vault a team onto the championship podium.


That team aspect of cross country is what makes it so exciting, and it’s why the cheers don’t die down once the lead pack has passed by.  It’s why teammates so often run together, a slower, less experienced underclassman pushing herself to match strides with her faster teammate, until the day she stays with her through the finish and realizes she really can match the times of the seniors she looked up to as a freshman.


I always have fun looking through the results of the State Cross Country Championships the next day, impressed by the individual champions of course, but equally impressed by the teams that place high without any single runners reaching the podium.  Sometimes individual success translates into team championships, but more often than not I’m fascinated by the teams who win despite a lack of finishers in the lead pack.  Those teams succeed as a group, and every one of them is a champion, regardless of how they placed individually.


That’s what makes cross country such a unique and exciting sport…”


And my favorite description of the sport (author unknown):


“If you run it right, cross country is a testament to suffering.  Success in this sport requires pushing your body to the brink of exhaustion, demanding all it’s capable of delivering for mile after mile of unforgiving terrain.  But you do not suffer alone.  You run as part of something bigger.  You run as part of a team in its truest sense.  And that’s why, when the pain sets in, you keep running.”


Having grown up running cross country and track in both high school and college, I definitely miss that team aspect of the sport.  But luckily in the past couple of years I have discovered trail races so I can at least experience the “mile after mile of unforgiving terrain” several times per year.  I love being able to experience that feeling of muscles and lungs burning and not worrying about mile splits or pace.  Trail races allow us to reclaim our youth – back when we used to have high school rivals and were not afraid to throw down a challenge (either out loud or just to ourselves) about wanting to beat a certain competitor over a few miles of challenging terrain.  Trail races allow us to race against ourselves, the terrain, and our competitors.  They take pacing out of it.  We can leave the watches and splits at home and truly race.


As I get older I have noticed that I appreciate the natural beauty of the parks and trails more than I used to.  Perhaps because there are fewer beautiful places to run.  Perhaps because the trails I have raced on lately have been such a wonderful challenge.  Perhaps because they bring me back to my cross country days.  It is probably a combination of all these things.


I do wish there were more trail races out there and if they could incorporate a team aspect for a few of them, more adults could see what they missed out on in high school and then encourage all the middle and high school students they know to run cross country while they have the chance.


I know I have written several times before about trail races but I simply want to share the joy to all who will read this.  I urge you to try a trail race soon.  You will not regret it.  Rather, you will wish you had discovered it long ago.











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