Late fall is the time for the major cross country meets, which for my 9 year old son means the Connecticut Middle School Cross Country State Championships and the Connecticut Association Junior Olympics Cross Country.
The historic October snowstorm in Connecticut played havoc with the meet schedule, and what were supposed to be meets on different weekends became Middle School Championships on Friday and Junior Olympics on Sunday of the same weekend. It is unusual for a youth to run two key meets in three days, and there is a chance that the performance in the 2nd meet could be adversely impacted. For reasons I’ll explain below, I had wanted my son to run both races when they were scheduled on different weekends, but now I wasn’t sure. I let him make the decision (I would have guided him if I thought there were any overuse injury risks), and true to form, he told me “Dad, I want to run both races, I think I can do this.”
He ran both and exceeded his and my expectations, especially in the 2nd race, the Junior Olympics. But first, here’s why I thought he should run two different traces with one goal in mind. The goal was to give my son exposure and experience in as many different major cross country meets as possible, so that if he continues with the sport he would learn and build on that experience year after year. We both agreed that experience was more important than performance at his young age.
Here’s how the two races differed:
Number and age of participants
The Middle School Championship is a large meet with 1,600 kids (grades 6-8), whereas the Junior Olympics is a smaller meet that attracts several hundred runners grouped into 6 age categories for boys and girls (ages 7-18). My son ran in one of the B races at the Middle School Championships, the lone 5th grader among almost 400 6-8th graders in his race, which contrasted with his Junior Olympics race, where he was one of 30 in the Bantam age group (ages 9 & 10). So while he ran with his peers in a smaller race at the Junior Olympics, the Middle School Championships let him experience running in a larger race with kids who were in some cases 4 years older, physically stronger and faster, mentally and emotionally more mature, and had more race experience.
The mass start of the Middle School Championships was fast and furious. The large number of entrants required a boxed start, where teams and unattached runners are assigned starting slots along a line that extends a hundred feet across and several runners deep. A quick start is important as the runners head towards a trail entrance and converge down to a single line. Starting too quickly can cost precious energy needed later in the race. The start of the Junior Olympics was no less fast, but with 30 Bantam kids at the start, it was easier for my son to establish himself in the field of runners and expend less energy moving up from the back of the pack.
Hammonasset State Park, site of this year’s Middle School Championships, is located on the Connecticut shoreline north of New Haven, and while the 1.7 mile course is flat and considered fast when conditions are warm, dry and calm, the course on race day was wet, muddy and riddled with puddles everywhere. Running on a flat “beach” cross country course was somewhat of a new experience for my son, as we train primarily on trails traversing hilly terrain in Waveny Park. He fell in love with the trails and hills on the Junior Olympics 3000m (1.9 miles) course in Litchfield’s White Woods Memorial Park, and his strong performance was testament to the training that we do.
The weather conditions on Friday and Sunday were also in stark contrast. At the Middle School Championships, cold and blustery conditions (with temperatures around 40F) on a wet, muddy course was a very different experience from the warm, calm conditions at the Junior Olympics on a relatively dry course.
As already mentioned, my son exceeded both his and my expectations. At the Middle School Championships, if we combine the results of the boys B races, he placed 205th as a 5th grader out of about 600 6-8th graders (top 33%). In the Junior Olympics, as a 9 year old in the Bantam category (ages 9 & 10), he finished 7th out of 30 starters (yes, there was some attrition during the race). More importantly, he was thrilled to qualify for the Region 1 Junior Olympics at Queensbury, NY. Of great long term importance is that he gained valuable experience running two very different races and being able to compare and contrast. And he had a lot of fun doing it!
Start of 2011 Connecticut Middle School Cross Country State Championships, Hammonasset State Park
Trying to outrun older kids on a cold, blustery day at Hammonasset State Park
Strong finish at 2011 Connecticut Middle School Cross Country State Championships
Start of 2011 Connecticut Association Junior Olympics Cross Country (Boys Bantam) at Litchfield’s White Woods Memorial Park
Rolling up the competition on the hilly course
All alone on the trails of White Woods Memorial Park, Litchfield
Proud to earn a Junior Olympics medal for 7th place finish
Qualified for the Region 1 Junior Olympics Cross Country in Queensbury, NY