I first heard of the Three Course Challenge in the fall of 1999. I read the article that appears below in a magazine. This cross country meet in Seaside, Oregon with muddy fields, overgrown fields, tall grass, and waist deep murky water sounded both challenging and interesting. The fact that a team’s varsity seven would have to draw poker chips to see on which course they would run (two on the easy course, two on the medium course, and three on the difficult course) added to the uniqueness of the meet.
Four years later I saw the magazine cover below and I was reminded of this meet. This time I did more than say it looked interesting; I started making plans to take the Sacred Heart Cathedral team to this meet, whose motto is, “Celebrating the sport of cross country.”
Seaside High School Coach Neil Branson has been the meet director since its inception in 1990. There’s a pasta dinner at the high school the night before and then teams can stay overnight in the barracks at Camp Rilea (where the meet takes place). Camp Rilea is an active national guard training area, thus it features a variety of terrain that provides the challenging courses that make up the Three Course Challenge special.
For me, one of the meet’s coolest things is to wake up, get out of bed, walk outside and already be at the meet. For the kids, the course is what is memorable. “Camp Rilea is a setting that screams CROSS COUNTRY,” says the welcome letter, “We are not talking a golf course, this is the REAL thing with dirt roads, animal trails, open grassy fields, sand hills, and with luck a good stretch of water for thrills and spills. The courses are NOT measured for two reasons. One, I change them often due to adjusting to new “obstacles.” Two, I want kids to just run, have fun, compete, and forget the clock.” The energy at the meet is palpable, with music and a drum corps creating a festive atmosphere.
What makes the course most memorable, however, is the mud pit that is usually in the middle of the moderate and difficult course. I spotted a national guard officer filling a big hole with water to create said mud pit. Over the years, and thanks to YouTube, the mud pit is the main attraction. Kids have been known to lose shoes and fall face first into the water. So of course everyone wants to see and capture the action on video! A crowd gathers around the mud pit early, with spectators hanging off of trees to get the best vantage point.
From humble beginnings (90 runners in 1990) the meet has grown. There were 1,778 runners at the 2004 meet. When I went to the meet a second time in 2007 there were 2,298 runners. This year, it seems even bigger with 90-95 teams registered to race. I seem to be going with my team every third year. At this rate I should be Oregon-bound again in 2013. To date, assistant coaches Tomas Palmero, Sherie Lo Giudice, and I are the only ones to have been on all three trips (me and Tomas as coaches, Sherie as an athlete in 2004 and as a coach in 2007 and this year). Another interesting note is that four of my current assistants who are going this year (Sherie, Rhiannon Cadelinia, Rachel Giovannetti, and Natalie Martinez) all raced at the 2004 meet where we came in fourth.
When we went in 2004 and 2007 we flew on Southwest Airlines from Oakland to Portland, took a bus to Seaside, and stayed Friday night at Camp Rilea. The meet was on Saturday and then we spent Saturday night at a hotel in the resort town of Seaside. Sunday morning we went to the beach, and then it was back to Portland on the bus, and from there we flew home.
This year, the cost of duplicating that itinerary would have been over $400 per athlete. Due to the economy I couldn’t justify charging our parents that much and I also feared that we would not get our usual traveling party of 36 (2004) to 45 (2007) at that price. Fortunately we came up with an alternative. More correctly, senior Geoffrey Yep came up with the idea. We are taking the train!
We leave on Thursday evening on the 10:12 P.M. Amtrak train. We arrive in Portland on Friday afternoon and will do our usual: bus to Seaside, dinner, overnight at Camp Rilea, run the meet, overnight in Seaside, go to the beach Sunday morning, and take the bus back to Portland. Then we’ll get on Amtrak again for a seventeen and a half hour ride back home, arriving at the Emeryville station Monday morning.
We leave on our five day, four night, eighty-four hour epic trip tomorrow. I can’t wait!