You Look Strong: A First-Time Cross Country Runner Takes On the USATF Club XC National Championship

Before this fall, Jaime Musgrave had never run a cross country race. By December, she had two Stumptown XC races under her belt and signed up to fly to Lexington, Kentucky with Rose City Track Club teammates Shauna Dool, Liz Anjos, and Krysta Gunvalson for the USATF Club Cross Country National Championship. Here is her recap of the experience.

The moment my teammate mentioned she bought a new pair of shoes for cross country I was instantly interested in growing my running shoe collection running a cross country race. Then another teammate sent out an email about the USATF Club Cross Country Nationals in Lexington, Kentucky, and I jumped at the opportunity for a “runcation” with my teammates. What an experience it was! I had no idea what I was getting into; I had to google “how many miles are in 6k” and I asked my teammate, “How will I know where to go in the race?” It was a totally new experience, and running short, hard efforts on grassy hills and jumping over hay bales at the races from Stumptown Cross Country series in Portland was incredibly fun!

Traveling to Lexington for cross country nationals was amazing. Leading up to the trip I was so excited to spend time with teammates, run the race, and explore horse country! The flight to Lexington was filled with other runners who were easy to spot in their Garmins, club jackets and Nikes. My teammates and I convened at our house for the weekend where we laughed until our abs were sore. The day before the race we ran out to the park where the race would be held, ran on the course and saw Noah Droddy running, and even snapped a group running selfie. This race was going to be a piece of cake, right?

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Perfecting the auto-timed grouped running selfie! Left to right: Jaime Musgrave, Shauna Dool, Liz Anjos, Krysta Gunvalson

Race morning was unlike many, because our race started at 11:45. There was no 4am alarm, in fact, I didn’t even set and alarm that morning. As I sat with my teammates sipping coffee, the nerves started to kick in. I started thinking, “This is NATIONALS. You’ve run two cross country races and are in the back of the pack every time. What business do you have doing here?” I really started to question why I had thought it would be a good idea to come to this race. I was so worried what the spectators would think of me to see me coming in almost 10 minutes after the first woman would cross the finish line. Determined to have a positive experience, I reframed my mindset and put my ego aside. It didn’t matter where I placed for this race. What mattered was that I would go out and run hard, and be proud of my effort.

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“We slowly and reluctantly abandoned our warm coats and sweatpants for shorts, long sleeves and RCTC singlets, and headed to the start line.”

My teammates and I drove to the race and got out of the car into the chilly 30 degree weather with the threat of snow hanging over us. We watched the Masters Men start their 10k, and ran our warmup alongside the course which allowed us to cheer our coach on as he raced. We slowly and reluctantly abandoned our warm coats and sweatpants for shorts, long sleeves and RCTC singlets, and headed to the start line. Normally I am pretty calm before a race but I was a nervous wreck at this point. Why are they making my team stand in box? Do I start on the whistle or the gun? Wait, those girls are running in sports bras in 30 degree weather?! Our team did our RCTC chant, the gun fired, and we were off!

Very quickly after the start I felt myself fall to the back of the pack of incredible women running this race. About 30 seconds in, I reminded myself of my goal and remembered that I was here to run hard. So I picked it up. One thing about cross country that I love is that you can easily run the course before the race, so you know where to turn and where the hills are because you’ve run them, not just looked at an elevation map. This boosted my confidence going into this race. I ran with two women and started pulling ahead of them, keeping my eye on the next runner that I wanted to pass. As we ran the course, the male teammates of the girls behind me started cheering them on, encouraging them to pass me, which I used to propel me forward. I was not going to let them pass me! A woman cheered me on, saying “you look strong,” which had become a joke between my teammates and myself over the weekend. I smiled and picked it up through the hill at the end of the first loop, ready to tackle the loop a second time before finishing.

The second loop was hard, and I kept chasing the woman in front of me who I just could not catch! I learned her name was Julie, because her teammates kept saying “come on Julie, keep it up!” For the final 3 km of that race I became Julie so I could feed off of their cheers as well. I made a point of not looking at my watch during the race; sometimes on these faster efforts I look down at the watch and think “oh I can’t run that fast, I should slow down” and I was determined to not do that today! As I came over the last hill into the finishing stretch, I thought of my coach who has me run 600m or 1000m repeats on the track to train me to be able to start that finishing kick sooner than my competitors. I drew on that to pick up my speed to see if I could catch Julie. I saw my teammates across the finish line and gave it my all to get to them. Just like that it was done. I could not believe how proud I felt. I was happy with my time (30 seconds/mile faster than my previous 6k PR!) but more importantly I was happy with how I was able to dig deep and run hard regardless of where I was in the pack.

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Lovely, warm sweatpants and freshly fallen snow following the race.

My teammates and I retrieved our lovely, warm sweatpants and coats, ran a cool down and watched the Open Men’s 10k for part of their race. As we were running back to our car, it began to snow- perfect timing! We chatted about each of our race experiences, congratulated one another, and headed towards the most decadent brunch together. What an incredible experience. The race, the time spent with my teammates, and the opportunity to challenge myself to do something unfamiliar and intimidating. I am so proud to be a member of Rose City Track Club and I can’t wait to race Cross Country Nationals again next year in Spokane.

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