Night Cross Country Races
I had my first experience coaching at a night cross country meet last week when I took the Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) cross country team down to Orange County for the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic. It was a unique experience for all of us.
The first order of business came in the days before the trip. We would be travelling to Southern California by charter bus, leaving San Francisco early in the morning and making a lunch stop along Interstate 5. But what about dinner? High school kids are not used to racing at a time normally reserved for homework or Facebook. The Varsity Girls raced at 8:15 P.M. The Junior Boys at 8:50 P.M. The Senior Boys at 9:20 P.M. These were all pretty late starting times, well after most people’s usual dinner time. Our coaching staff instructed the kids with the late race start times to have a late afternoon/early evening snack in order to fuel up for their night race.
September 14, 2012 turned out to be a record setting day for heat in Southern California. The temperature topped out at 99 degrees in Costa Mesa, where the meet took place and it was still in the high-90’s when we arrived at Estancia High School around 4:00 P.M. Thankfully, the temperature dropped into the 80’s for most of our races.
Another challenge for us was the fact that, for the first time since 2009, we went to a meet that I had not been to before. We didn’t know which way to walk after we got off the bus. We didn’t know where to check-in to get our race bibs or where the best place to set up our tent was. I hadn’t realized how much easier it is when you and the upperclassmen on the team know all these details before arriving.
We eventually found our way to a spot among the other 100 or so teams who were also at the meet. It turns out that the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic is the third largest high school cross country meet in the country. The two-day event attracts 225 teams, and approximately 10,000 runners cross the finish line.
The next challenge was to figure out the course. Our Junior Varsity (JV) Girls had the unenviable task of racing first. Something as simple as getting to the starting line was a challenge as they ended up on the wrong side of a fence and had to walk all the way around it to get to the starting line. It was still in the 90’s when they raced but they ran tough and learned some things about the course. We had a mid-meet team meeting where the JV Girls gave tips on racing the course to the rest of the team. I was very proud of our JV Girls for providing such good information for their teammates.
The rest of the meet was a bit of a blur. As the sun set, the large temporary lights stationed
throughout the course started to take effect. I found it difficult to spot the SHC kids due to the poor light, and taking pictures with my point and shoot camera was near impossible. I changed my focus to just enjoying the meet and running to as many spots as possible to try to see our runners in the darkness. Most races had very strong competition with fields of 250-300 runners. As a result the SHC runners always had other runners around them and this pushed our kids to keep racing hard.
We ran some phenomenal times. The energy of good competition and racing at night combined with some good nutritional prep work and tips from the JV Girls about the course resulted in a terrific experience at my first cross country night meet.