Today was the Wasatch Rendezvous meet at Cottonwood Recreation Center. It's a great way to spend a Saturday morning--the junior varsity runners go first, then they have the varsity runners go, the seventh-place runners competing against all other seventh-place runners, the sixth-place runners against all other sixth-place runners, and so on, up to the first-place runners. Each school determines who runs in which place, and there were about twenty-four schools competing.
My son's coaches determined that he should run with the first-place runners. When the coach pulled him aside after training yesterday to tell him so, he told me, he replied, "Why?" The coaches wanted to give Josh, the kid who's been in first place for his school all season, except for the last meet, a chance to relax a little. He's been struggling, and last season, when it came to the Region qualifying meet, he choked, and the team didn't qualify. But the coaches also wanted to see how my son would do.
He got a little bumpy start--the official asked all the runners to step back from the line a bit, and my son looked to the side just as the starting pistol went off. He pretty quickly took up the seventeenth spot, and that's where he finished. The course was 2.9 miles, and he finished at 17:08.8, which gave him a 5:49 minute mile. Not bad at all, but not what he had hoped. When we spoke to him afterward, he was disatisfied with his performance. When he'd taken the hills--and it was a very hilly course--his legs had felt tired. "I feel like I could have run better," he said.
We noticed that, with so few kids running, maybe the first ten or so runners had a pack to run with, and there was a bit of position-shifting among that group. My son, however, occupied position seventeen with quite a bit of space between himself and the sixteenth runner, and quite a bit of space behind him as well. In that position, I guess, it's up to the runner to push himself to go faster, to cut into that distance. One thing I love about watching any of my kids play sports is seeing them take their experiences and figure out what to make of them. A less-than-stellar performance can be the occasion for figuring out how to take your game to the next level. I'll be interested to see what and how my son learns from this race. At some point, he'll tell me about it--I won't ask.
We watched Josh run with the second-place runners. His time was about eighteen seconds faster than my son's--so it's pretty clear that he's still the fastest runner on the team, though the top three kids on the team all finished within twenty-five seconds of one another. I've always enjoyed watching Josh run--he's tall and lean, has an easy stride; but he's lost some confidence this year--the expression on his face looks more uncertain. I wonder about the strategy of switching kids around in situations like this. I'm pretty sure the coaches weren't trying to play mind games with these lads, but that doesn't mean that the runners' minds weren't being played, nonetheless.