“What better place is there to be on Sunday morning than in a beautiful park in one of the greatest cities in the world watching cross country.” I didn’t make that up, that’s what our race announcer said and apparently a lot of people agreed. Over five hundred runners toed the line in three separate races. And lots of people came to watch the runners inaugurate the course to be used for next year’s National Club Cross Country Nationals. The race t-shirts showed a bucket list of three races, this year’s 2014 PA championships (with the box next to it checked), 2015 PA Championships and 2015 National Club Championships (boxes unchecked). We’ll be running this course for a while so get used to it.
The race starts near where the 2006 Club Nationals race started. This area used to be called Speedway Meadow. This area is host to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and has been renamed Hellman Hollow after the passing of Warren Hellman, the sponsor of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The finish is near the southwest end of the Polo Field roughly 1/2 mile from the start. Our first dilemma upon arriving was trying to choose where to set up our tent. After checking out both start and finish areas and noting that no one was set up at the start, we decided to camp near the finish where everyone else was camped. Registration check-in, t-shirt pickup and water are close by, but it is a 1/2 mile walk to the start after peeling off your sweats and putting on your racing shoes. We had to run an abnormally long straightaway to the finish and one wonders if the start and finish could have been closer together, especially after seeing the segments on the course map added up to 10.4 kilometers. However, after running the race and comparing times from last years race, it would appear that the course is 10.0 kilometers.
The start at Hellman Hollow is great. It is wide with good footing and almost 400 meters long before it starts to narrow. The course takes a counterclockwise turn around the polo field dirt track, which is approximately 3/4 mile long and then heads back past the starting line along the north side of Hellman Hollow. Just about when you feel yourself get into a rhythm, the bumpy ground here takes you out of rhythm. Then it is a near hairpin turn where you reach a dirt trail that parallels Kennedy drive. This is a different portion of the same dirt trail that we run for the regular season race. There is a trail that we take during the regular season race between where everyone goes to cheer us on the backside of the course (regular season) to where the trail comes into Kennedy Drive for the last short stretch before the finish of the regular season loops. It is slightly uphill and difficult. For this course, we get to run that trail backwards and it is a lot more fun that way. When we get to that point where everyone congregates to cheer, we veer right across Lindley Meadows to the trail paralleling Kennedy Drive. This a much better crossing as it is more level and easier to negotiate than that diagonal hill crossing that we usually do during the regular season. From there the course is the same as the regular season course. A jaunt down the trail alongside Kennedy Drive and then the twisty sandy portion through the forest area and then the narrow grassy area and log jump. Instead of veering left and snaking up the hill, we go right and climb the hill (which is the way we used to do it on the regular season course). We then circle around the outside of the Polo Field until we reach the midpoint and then cross in and run on the track. After 1/4 lap, we veer left (at exactly the same point we left the track on the first loop) and then head out Hellman Hollow and repeat the loop. On the second loop after we come into the track, we follow the track all the way around to the finish. There is probably close to 1/2 mile left at this point. Even when you get to the final straightaway, there is still more than 300 meters left and you have to resist the urge to sprint early. Saw a lot of people shoot their wads too soon on that final straightaway.
Overall, I thought it was a good course. A little bit longer than the regular season course. Slightly faster, but not as fast as you would think as there are plenty of things on the course to upset your rhythm and momentum. This is an excellent spectator course. There is one spot on the course where you can see the runners pass by six times and by moving around a little bit, you can see them up to ten times (during a 10k race). Results have been posted on the PA website. I found some race photos on the Empire (https://empirerunnersclubphotos.shutterfly.com/61230#61216) and Trkac (http://trkac-racing.teamsnap.com/files/623763) websites. Those mainly feature their runners, but if you look you can find Spartans too.
Go Spartans! – Paul Tjogas