Sunday, February 11, 2007

U.S. Cross Country Championships a.k.a. Ralphie's House

Boulder, Colorado
After a virtual stampede at the U.S. Cross Country National Championships, officials are considering renaming the event The University of Colorado Alumni Invitational.

Torres and Culpepper early on

In what amounted to a 12K Buffalo training run, former CU runners Alan Culpepper, Adam Goucher, Dathan Ritzenhein and Jorge Torres swept the top four spots of the race held at Flatirons Golf Course in Boulder. Despite a muddy course that had been packed down by the prior Masters, Juniors and Women's fields, the four distanced themselves from the non-CU competitors fairly early on, much to the delight of the local crowds.

Goucher chasing down Ritzenhein while being chased down by Culpepper

Ritzenhein took the lead early on and within a lap or two had built a few second gap on Goucher in second, Culpepper another few seconds back and Torres leading the rest of field for the scraps. After the Women's Open event was won easily by Deena Kastor ahead of Boulder native Shalane Flanagan and former Buff Kara Goucher, the large and knowledgeable crowd was looking forward to a shoot-out in the Men's event. Thanks to the pride of the Buffaloes and a blistering early pace by Ritzenhein, the spectators got what they wanted.

Culpepper pulling away

As Ritzenhein began to fade with two laps to go, Culpepper caught Goucher and the two bridged up to the lead together. By the beginning of the last lap Culpepper began using his long, effortless stride and marathoner's endurance to crack his fellow Buffaloes and had a few meter gap which he widened to approximately twenty-five seconds by the finish. Goucher passed Ritzenhein by a few meters for the silver and Torres pulled in for fourth a few seconds later.

I have to give a huge shout out to Alan Culpepper here, truly one of the best endurance athletes in the world and just a great human being. I first met him back when he was just a polite, unassuming, long haired, skinny Freshman at CU while I was running 400's at BHS down the street. Now...many years later, he's still a polite, unassuming skinny guy, but the hair is shorter and he has steadily progressed into one of the best distance runners in U.S. history. Seriously, two-time Olympian with national championships in everything from 5,000m, 10,000m, 12k Cross-Country and the Marathon? That's a pretty amazing combination of speed and endurance. I mean...he's done 3:55 in the 1500 and ran his first marathon in 2:09:41 to tie the American record for a debut in the event. On Saturday he knocked out a muddy and sloppy 12k in 37:09 with a 4:59 pace. That's flying in those conditions. Anyone that has ever even tried to run a 10k road race in under 40 minutes should know what I'm talking about. Not easy. And that's 2k less and on the road. For real...12k in muddy conditions in 37:09 is cruising, especially when you're "technically" more of a marathoner. Way to go Pepper...doing CU and YL proud.

Culpepper and Goucher make the bridge to Ritzenhein

All in all, it was a great event. It would have been a bit better if former CU Buff and defending Bolder Boulder champ Sarah Slattery had been able to compete against Kastor in the Women's event but apparently she had an ice-related mishap and was unable to contend. The reason I mention this is because it speaks to the conditions that Colorado athletes have had to deal with this winter. Ice, snow, freezing hasn't exactly been easy to get the miles in. That makes the performance of the Boulder and greater Colorado athletes all the more impressive. With runners coming from all over the country it was clear that the best of the best reside in Boulder County and continue to uphold the Black and Gold pride of CU.

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