Camaraderie in Racing? Yes, at a national championship.

Is it possible to have camaraderie in racing? Or does it need to be a battle? If racing in 2016 taught me anything, it’s that I believe in the former. And here’s why.

Misery loves company

I spent last weekend at USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, FL. I have to admit to a significant lack of excitement about this race. It’s a tough time of year, both from a running perspective (burnout from training since mid-July), and from a scheduling perspective. Everything seems to want to happen on the first weekend in December. As a mom, it’s a tough time to get away. I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to fly to Florida.

And then there was the weather. The benefit to dragging oneself to the other corner of the country – the southern corner – is warm weather. And yet I found myself angry packing a suitcase full of things that hardly resembled those of my dream beach vacation. Full tights, gloves, hats, and long sleeves instead of my simple race kit. The polar vortex that brought an unusual snow day to Bainbridge reached all the way down to the Sunshine State. It was 34°F at race time in Tallahassee.

But flying into Panama City, FL, I hooked up with my friend and new teammate Camille Shiflett, who gamely agreed to join Club Northwest at the last minute. And I remembered why Club Nationals is the best race of the year. It’s all about the team: the men, the women, the open and the masters. We’re all leaving important things behind to come together to compete in the sport that we love. We’re all going to hurt. But we’re doing it together.

2016 Club Northwest team in Tallahassee, minus Camille and I who were already en route back to the airport

Trying to BEAT someone sets you up for negative thinking

I realize this may sound like some hippie-dippie yoga-speak, but for me, my intention makes a difference. Standing on the starting line trying to beat someone else sets you up with a negative mind set. Now the race is out of your hands because it depends on what the other person does. I’ve done this. Gone out way too fast being a jerk, thinking I needed to stay with someone in order to beat them. Things got ugly real fast, and though I didn’t actually die, I really wanted to.

This is supposed to be fun. It’s more fun to work WITH someone than against them.

The race started at 8:00 a.m. east coast time. This meant temperatures in the 30s and 5 a.m. biological west coast time (see aforementioned “misery”). When the gun went off and I looked over, I was so happy to see this amazing gal by my side.

Photo by Michael Scott

I think it’s well documented at this point that Sonja Friend-Uhl is an incredible runner. But in the last year she has become a good friend and I love that we can race together and work for faster times together.

Camaraderie in racing

Photo by Clay Shaw

Yes, there will still be a winner

USATF National Club XC Championships 2016

Photo by Michael Scott

And no, it wasn’t me. Though we ran through 4000 meters side-by-side, I had fallen off the pace by 5000m, and finished the 6k 22 seconds back in a time of 22:37. It was my slowest time of the cross country season, in conditions much more favorable to a fast race than any of my other races this fall. Is this evidence against camaraderie in racing? I still think not. I had a fun morning running with friends, and my gals Camille and Deborah Fletcher helped clinch the team title for a second year in a row.

With Camille Shiflett and Deborah Fletcher, 2016 national champions, 40s team

In the end I’ll take a runner-up national champion place and camaraderie in racing over contentious win any day. Perhaps that makes me a weaker competitor, but life’s short. You gotta do what makes you happy.

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