Captain's Blog: Blake Johnson - Nov. 18, 2010

Nov. 18, 2010

Captain's Blog

by junior distance runner Blake Johnson

Marquette men's cross country runner Blake Johnson recaps his thoughts on the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in Rochester, Mich., and the thrill of competing once again in his home state.

This is the final entry in a series of blogs on the 2010 season by members of the Marquette University men's and women's cross country teams.

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

Our trip to the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet started on Thursday, Nov. 11 by leaving Milwaukee and stopping in Kalamazoo, Mich., for the night.  We didn't leave until late in the afternoon which allowed us to go to class and get our run in earlier in the day. 

The next day we finished the drive to the course at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and we stepped off the bus and began our pre-meet rituals.  We did an easy five-mile run around the course to prepare ourselves for what we were going to face the next day.  Following our run, we did drills and strides, and packed up and went to check into our hotel. 

Once at the hotel, many of us went straight to our studies to catch up on what we were missing in class, and the other select few played the glorious game of euchre. By this time we were all hungry, and luckily, dinner was catered by the hotel, which saved us from trying to find room at a nearby restaurant over run by skinny male and female runners who can eat twice their weight in pasta. Our meal consisted of the runner's delight of pasta, which was pretty much all that mattered.  They also provided us with note pads at our seats (the reason for this is still unknown), but it certainly provided some great entertainment as we passed notes, reverting back to our middle school days.


 

 

The night before the race is generally very "chillaxed". We usually just do our normal "broing" out consisting of playing cards, watching a movie, or working away at our studies, while the women's team is usually painting their nails and watching TLC as a group.

After dinner we had our usual team meetings.  This was the time when we all received our necessary numbers, chips, and other important meet information.  We got our four bib numbers (you could not possibly miss what number we were), and chips on top of that for a backup system to record our time.  Then Coach Nelson and Coach Cameron reviewed our goals, and sent us on our way.  It's about then the jitters start to come.  I noticed the team started to realize that the regional meet is the race we work hard for all season, and not only that, but the race goes from 8k to 10k.  What helps is the fact that we know we are prepared (the hay is in the barn), and we know what we need to do.

I personally felt more pressure as I was going to be racing back in my home state once.  Numerous family members and friends were going to be able to watch me race once again, as many haven't seen me do so since high school.  Many of these people rarely get to see me race, so I definitely wanted to give them my best effort.  However, some soothing hot chocolate (compliments of the famous Grandpa Bob) calmed my jitters, and I slowly drifted to sleep.

The next morning we were up by 8:15.  We continued with our race day ritual of doing a 10-minute "shake out" run to wake us up in the morning, and to allow our bodies to start preparing for the race.  Once on the bus, Peter Bolgert proceeded with his current race day ritual of writing inspirational sayings directly on himself (mostly on his forearm).  Since every little bit helps, many of us on the team came up with our own little mantras and joined in on Peter's ritual. 

As we rolled up to the course, it was pretty evident that our game faces started to come on.  The feeling of competition was in the air.  We strolled up to the course to find an empty team camp as the ladies had already headed for the start line.  As I sat my stuff down, one of the first things I noticed was my mom and dad, decked out in Marquette gear standing nearby.  It was a great feeling to have them there to cheer me on.  It reminded me of high school when meets were within an hour away from home, and my mom came out to scream and holler at every meet (she's loud... challenge her, I dare you).  They also brought along my neighbors for added support.  I gave them my hugs, and they went along their way to claim a good spot on the course.

Around this time the women's race went off.  Not being able to cheer for them is frustrating, but luckily we're very close with the women's team, and they understand our need to focus on our own race.  However, it is impossible not to cheer and offer some support when you witness firsthand how much work they have put in for this race.  Therefore, we usually scope out a prime spot where we can see the ladies a few times and cheer them on. 

Many of the women had great races and posted their fast times of the season. They were just outside their goal of a top-15 finish, but they did beat a BIG EAST rival, Cincinnati, which beat them at the conference meet just two weeks prior.

Next up was our race. 

The starters wanted all the runners to the line ridiculously early so we ended our warm up there and did all our drills and strides around the starting line.  After a while, we began to get jittery, and we wanted to go tear it up.  Finally, the race started, and it did so very quickly. 

Most of us went through the mile in about 4:50 (in a 6.2 mile race).  We knew we needed to stick our noses in the pack if we wanted to accomplish our goals.  Personally, my race was okay.  I recorded a new personal best over the 10k distance, so it is hard not to be pleased. 

The team as a whole ran great. Most of us had our best race of the season, which allowed us to beat our regional ranking by four places to make us 10th overall, and we ended up with one of the lowest team scores we have had at the regional meet in Marquette history. 

After the race we regrouped with the team and headed back to camp to be greeted by the women's team and fans.  Pushing your body to the max for over 6.2 miles really takes a lot out of you, and seeing them ready to greet you, and tell you "great race" means a lot.  It was especially great to have many rare, familiar faces that were only made possible by having the race so close to home. 

It was also great to be a part of Brice Cleland and Nick Szczech's, and watch Olivia Johnson's last cross-country race of their Marquette careers.  They will not only be remembered as fast runners, but also as great people. These are the type of people who make you glad to be where you are.  They make you proud because you are able to associate with them and their great character is also reflected upon you. They will truly be missed next season.

After cooling down and taking many pictures with all the great people who came out to support us, it was time to head back to Milwaukee.  I hugged my mom and dad goodbye, as many other teammates did with their own family members, and we went off in our tour bus with some already counting down the days until the first indoor track meet. 

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