The Wickham Cross Country Invitational in Manchester, Connecticut is one of the highlights for every high school cross country runner in Connecticut, and increasingly in New England, as this year 3,500 runners descended on beautiful Wickham Park on a spectacular autumn day with gold and red leafs dancing against a clear blue sky. It is an opportunity to both measure one’s fitness before championship season (conference, state and regional meets) and to race the Connecticut state championship course with less on the line. For middle school runners, the Wickham Invitational offers the same benefits. Increasingly, the event is attracting the best runners from all New England states, elevating it to a very competitive, regional meet. The boys and girls high school championship races were won by nationally ranked runners from Connecticut. as was the boys middle school race.
For my son, this was the third cross country invitational in three weeks, following the Wilton and Brewster Invitationals, and now back to 100% health and fitness after an illness that affected his Wilton race. He set a couple of goals for his race: to run faster mile splits than the week before at Brewster, and to place in the top 50 and earn a medal.
With a 9 am start time for the boys 7th and 8th grade race over a 3K distance (1.86 miles), we left New Canaan at 6:30 am to drive to Wickham Park and arrive by 8 am. My son and several other boys and girls represented the New Canaan Running Club, and he was excited to line up for the race. With more than 250 boys at the start, it would be a mad scramble up the first hill before heading into the narrow trails through the woods. Emerging from the woods, my son was running strong and around the top 60. He would have to move up another 10 places to achieve a top 50 finish. The next time I saw him coming up the hill to the finish, with about 200 meters to go, he was in 53rd place and trying to find another gear. Everyone was closing fast, and I remembered the 200 meter speed work on the track after our long trail runs. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough, and although he should easily make the top 50 next year, he would be disappointed to be “oh so close”.
I met my son at the end of the finish chute. He was very happy with his performance and time, and his improvement over the past three weeks. The medal was not so important anymore. After the boys and girls races, we walked to the parking lot with his coach, who reviewed the race with him and suggested a few things to work on. My 7th grader used the opportunity – one on one with his coach (a former Olympian, multiple all-American at Iona College, and now the New Canaan High School boys XC and track & field coach) and out of the earshot of his teammates – to ask him questions about the high school teams and what it would be like for him to run on the freshman and varsity teams. I loved eavesdropping on the conversation between teacher and pupil. Precious life moments. Worth more than a medal.
Fighting for a top 50 finish (New Canaan Running Club, No. 269)