Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Westmonster 5K

The air hung in the warm moisture of August in the foothills of Montecito.  Nestled there in its shaded glory is the Westmont campus.  It is quiet, like a forest padded by pine needles, the air stays calm, and the sky is fabulous.  Westmont boasts a cross-country course that truly is that.  In a day where everyone's looking for a personal record, there are fewer and fewer courses that offer you nothing close to that.  Westmonster boasts a course that other college cross-country teams prefer not to run.  After all, it leaves too many runners in tears.

I love the name of the race, Westmonster.  It has multiple meanings and sounds kinda cool.  There is a hill on the course (well, as it turns out, there are MANY hills on the course) that hits in the middle of the second mile.  The 15% grade is nicknamed the "Monster."  Yes, fitting.  I love the Monster.  It sucks everything you had left right out of you, gnaws slowly on your lungs and heart, picks pieces of your soul and will away until you simply wonder if you will not just drop dead right there and roll back down to the observatory.

So, last Thursday evening I arrived with my son to the Westmont campus for my second consecutive Westmonster 5K.  Now, just a side note, it is August, it is late afternoon on a muggy, hot day.  The time of day that acts as a funnel, taking the rising heat and humidity and concentrating it into an impossible summer heatwave.  Now having said that, I should also admit that it was only 80 degrees.  It was humid, making it feel like 90 degrees, but as you can see, I have become a coastal wimp.

So as I was saying, I arrived early to the campus so I could walk much of the course.  Although it covered basically same area and terrain as last year, the course had been rearranged this year and I had yet to find out if it was going to be harder or easier.  I took my time on the first loop as I walked, noting the subtle and sometimes not so subtle inclines and declines.  There was dirt, gravel, sloped grass, some kind of powder dust that was the consistency of flour, flat, firm pavement, meandering sidewalks, sudden turns off the main path onto hidden, shadowy trails.  There were even a few lovely U-turns or close to it.  I noted with moving discomfort that there appeared to be more uphill than downhill, but that's because the Westmonster gives you one sweet gift: a final mile of almost all downhill.  Of course the downside to that is the first two miles take almost everything and give nothing back, and then tops it off with the Monster.

So the walking of the course was productive and having made all the mental notes I could afford, I spent the next half hour warming up.  The warm up left me feeling hot, drenched and thirsty and I decided to stretch until the start.  I bypassed my typical routine of strides and drills knowing that I would likely feel the lack of these within that first mile, but didn't want to risk loosing too much precious energy at the end of an already long day.

Jessica Meyers Left, Cindy Abrami Right
So off we went, starting on a slight down slope which rolled right into a sharp upslope and a right turn toward the Eucalyptus lined trail ahead.  As expected, I didn't feel too sharp in my first mile.  I think my warmup was inadequate but on the other hand, it kept me from going out too fast.  However, I was rather surprised to find myself being passed by all sorts of guys and I had two females ahead of me.  But when I race, at some point I quickly have to let everything go that I don't have control over, and run my own race, which I do have control over.  I happened to be all too familiar with this course, and likely the others weren't.  I would soon have the pleasure of picking them off as they learned the hard way that the only way to run the Westmonster is to economize your effort carefully.  As we rounded a practice field and were filtered onto the back powder dust trail I began to calm a bit.  I still had the two girls ahead of me, but I just sort of hung back and watched and listened.  You can tell a lot by a person's breathing pattern.  The trail turned sharply to the left and began to ascend a gravel road back toward the heart of the campus.  This began a long uphill stretch that lasted for close to a mile but was at least on level paved ground for the moment.  I felt good going up the hill which was shaded by a canopy of trees, and soon passed one of the girls (Becky I would later learn).  I remained close on the shoulder of the other female still in a bit of a testing mode to see what she had to offer compared to what I was holding back.  Our pavement came to an end and after the shortest slight downhill, we turned sharply to the right onto a dirt and gravel path and continued up and into the middle of the campus.  Across a footbridge, along pine needles under massive evergreens, and finally we were spit out onto a concrete path near buildings, across a grass lawn, and curled around to the left as we finished loop number one.  It was at this point that I decided I no longer need to test my female competitor but decided to challenge her.  I passed her on the inside as we ran past the starting line back up the steep hill.  This time at the top of the hill we turned sharply left, continued up and eventually curled back around through the middle of the campus again.  I knew the Monster was only meters away and I began the mental preparation as we ran across a shaded trail.   I gave myself a moment of recovery, actually letting my competitor think she had a chance to pass me back, but I knew that wasn't going to happen.  Boom, out of the trail, across the sidewalk, across the grass, and steered right by volunteers, there lay the Monster.  I settled into the reality, dropped my chin down, leaned forward into the slope, shorten my stride, picked the pace I would keep, kept the pace and powered up.  I waited for that moment to hit.  To feel that sense of defeat.  This time, it never came.  This time I beat the Monster and I put distance between me and she that followed.  All that was left was the final mile.  The final mile isn't all bliss as it has an awkward and difficult U-turn to the right, covers a multitude of surfaces, but at least it offered that much needed bit of recovery along with the knowledge that the finish was within steps.  After the final stretch around the tennis courts and along the side slope of the grass, I entered the stadium and completed most of one lap on the track.  The Westmont track has a digital scoreboard of sorts which displayed the running clock so I didn't have to look at my watch to discover my time.  Slower than last year by 12 seconds.  I quickly had to conclude that the course was indeed harder this year, but who really knows.  It's cross-country and comparing cross-country races can be like comparing oranges and apples.  I gave it what I had today and I gave it what I could in the heat.  It was fun.  It was actually fun.

This was the first of four races for me that come all within 10 days.  Ha, it usually takes me 14 days to recover from one race, let alone handle four in 10.  But I'm thankful to have it in me ... or to at least see if I have it in me.

The Westmonster is an awesome 5K.  It is now dubbed by its organizers as Santa Barbara's toughest 5K.  It raises funds for the Westmont athletic programs and the Westmont athletes were out in droves cheering us on.  They lined much of the course with youthful exuberance and made it even that much more enjoyable.  It is well organized, the course is well marked and directed, the timing was accurate and to top it off, there was a fabulous catered healthy dinner enjoyed by athletes, volunteers and spectators, as the sun began to set over the horizon.  And it was a spectacular sunset.  Just beautiful.
Presidio Sports posted an online article and video which can be viewed at the following link:  Ho, Abrami Knock Out Tough Westmonster

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