Club Nats is Where It’s At

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The second weekend in December was the swan song for the 2015 cross country season, with three separate championship events taking place in San Diego, Albuquerque, and San Francisco. 

Fans of high school cross country were following the Footlocker National Championships, held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Even with the rise of NXN (Nike Cross Nationals), Footlocker is still a showcase for individual high school talent, and Saturday was no exception.

On the boys’ side, heavy favorite Drew Hunter pushed the pace early and opened a lead that grew to as much as 22 seconds. Unchallenged, he came home first with the largest margin of victory since Chris Solinsky won by 20 seconds back in 2002. On the girls’ side, Weini Kelati pushed the pace from the start but had company almost every step of the way. After a furious sprint, Kelati just did manage to hold off Maryjeanne Gilbert by less than a second to claim victory.

You can find results of Footlocker 2015, here.

The second championship of note was the National Junior Olympics cross country meet in Albuquerque New Mexico. If you’re not exactly sure how junior olympics relates to anything else, you’re not alone. Of all people, I should know how USATF manages the JO program, but I haven’t a clue, really. All I know is that kids in six separate age groups (8 and under, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, and 17-18) qualify for a national championship through regional meets held around the country.

So that also happened on Saturday. It didn’t get the media coverage of Footlocker, which is fine by me. I already have a little bit of a problem with national championships for 8-year-olds, but whatever. At least it’s not subject to a media circus fueled by the overarching commercial interests of Footlocker or Nike.

You can find results of USATF Junior Olympics CC 2015, here.

The third national championship event was the 2015 USATF Club National Cross Country Championships, held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Having seen Facebook posts in the days leading up to the event, I was vaguely aware that “Club Nats” were happening, but I was surprised at the depth of the races, with open and age-group competition in five-year age groups all the way up to 80+.

The men’s open race was won by no less a talent than Garrett Heath, representing Brooks Beasts. The women’s open race was won by Amy van Alstine, representing HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite. Both races were very deep, with recognizable national level runners filling up the top spots. (I note that 19 men broke 30 minutes for the challenging 10K course, and 42 women were under 21:00 for 6K.)

Moreover, the age-group races were equally impressive, relative to the quality of the fields. Picking one age group at random, if you were a 60-year old man and you ran 6:30 pace for the 8K race, you would have finished 22nd. Over 60 and a woman? Well, then you’d have had to run sub-6:40 pace to beat the reigning champion and all-world age group athlete Kathyrn Martin (who had the best age-graded performance of the day with her 24:48 for 6K.)

The size of the fields, the number of teams competing, and the overall excitement generated by the event made me feel that Club Nats is on the rise. Maybe it’s just because there’s not much happening in pro running right now (unless you count Galen Rupp’s solo 61:20 Olympic-Trials qualifying half marathon as especially newsworthy), but the “citizens races” in San Francisco, held with little media attention, felt big.

You can find all the results  from Club Nats here.

So maybe the future of the sport isn’t so dire. Maybe the future of the sport is the club system, and legions of adults — most with jobs, careers, and other things to do besides running — congregating to compete in team races, supported but not smothered or over-hyped by our national governing body.

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for the past thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. About a dozen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past eight years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, MA. I've been writing for as long as I've been running. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and after a two-year hiatus, began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. In my experience, writing about running is way harder than running itself. I also still have a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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