Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Tradition Begins Now: Tucson Elite Athletic Club at USATF Club Cross Country Nationals

No event is ever complete without reliving stories of aborted alcohol smuggling missions to races (by teammates, of course) or post-meet makeout sessions in the back of the bus (again, by teammates, of course).  I neglected to share stories of my own college teammates’ nighttime escapades in beautiful Florence, South Carolina that involved unclothed women and altercations with hotel furniture, so that may have to wait for next year, along with asking Marines at Camp Lejeune to teach us how to eat bugs due to a team food shortage…but again, that must wait.   We got some serious business to cover here!

Last weekend I had the privilege of traveling to Seattle, Washington along with five intrepid ladies to represent the new Tucson Elite Athletic Club at the USA Track and Field Club Cross Country National Championship.  Yup,tough assignment, but someone’s gotta do it!   Competing against established running club powerhouses, the five girls put on a respectable showing to place 18thin the women’s open race, led by Maggie Callahan’s 16thplace finish.  Note that each team may carry eight runners with the best five scores counting. 

Flash back to August and the idea of putting a team on the start line of a national championship about 1,000 miles away was in no one’s consciousness.  Only a few months later, thanks to the shared vision and commitment of many people, five girls in Tucson Elite uniforms made it to the start line and crossed the finish, making the team official in the results of this national championship.  This race was a key milestone in the club’s mission to create an enclave for post-collegiate running in Southern Arizona. 

It’s no secret that post-collegiate running is an abyss for many athletes.  Only a handful of runners in the country are fast enough to make a seamless shift from running for scholarship money to running for a full time paycheck.  When removed from the robust support network of the college system, it can be hard to find the impetus to continue training at a high level.  Enter the club system.  Admittedly, nothing can replace the four or five (or six or seven!!) years of personal growth and friendships during the formative years of college.  However, creating a shared pursuit and then putting things together for a major event like Club XC nationals goes a long way toward sustaining direction when the “real world” does everything it can to pull us away from running.     

On a personal level, it is a refreshing change in mindset to think collectively rather than individually.  In golf we spend four to five hours every single round.  A half ironman takes at least four hours for the top competitors.  Marathons take at least two.  Ironman competitions take all day.  Sure, loyal customers of the same bike shop can unite in a uniform brigade of Lycra, but that’s not the same as jumping on a plane to a distant place and then having everyone’s score affect the team.  Although my own result did not count for the team (since I’m not a girl), just being part of the team certainly adds more meaning…just ask the caddies and spouses at golf’s major international team events.  Golf is the quintessential individualist game, but nothing gets golfers fired up like team competition!   


After the 3AM wakeup call, Katherine and I were on our way to Phoenix airport to catch our nonstop flight to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.  Our chariot for the week was a Jeep Liberty.  I wanted a Black Suburban like in Transformers 3, but that idea was nixed by Katherine due to budget reasons…it probably wouldn’t have fit anyway in the tiny hotel parking garage.   

Upon settling into the Hyatt Place, we decided to do some touristy stuff and made our way to Pike Place Market.  For us, this was somewhat of a pilgrimage too, since one of our cats is named Pike and was apparently given the name by his foster mother due to her affinity for Seattle.  Since we hadn’t eaten a decent meal yet, finding good food was also a priority and we hit the jackpot with chowder at Pike Place Chowder.  Taking full advantage of the unique opportunity to sample the local delicacies, this would be my first of three bread bowl chowders over the weekend. 

Our run for the day was at Discovery Park.  Major jackpot here with some of the best views we’ve ever seen on a run.  After Katherine was finished, I decided to tack on a few more miles and proceeded to get lost in the woods, though fortunately made it back to the car before the darkness got too thick. 

We then made a return trip to the airport to pick up Maggie and then were off to dinner.  Within walking distance of the hotel we found a pizza place called Bambino’s.  If you’re ever in that part of town, I highly recommend the place for quality pizza.


Whenever we travel someplace, we try to meet up with friends and colleagues in the strength and conditioning community.   Katherine and I began Friday with a visit to the facility of Tim Vagen, one of the leading dryland swim specialists on the planet.  Tim is not only a great coach, but a masterful teacher as well.  One of his athletes was proposing to his girlfriend that evening and wanted an extra tough workout to take the stress off, and he got what he wanted!  For swimming fans, we’ll have a recap of our morning with Tim in the future.      

After leaving Tim’s facility, we picked up Aryn and Nicole at the airport and then returned to the hotel for them to check in.  The main orders of business for the afternoon were to pick up race numbers at the host hotel (the Marriott) and then preview the course.  Fortunately, we kept the registration process at the Marriott to twenty nine minutes and saved the extra $3 parking it would have cost had we stayed thirty minutes or more.  $10 for thirty minutes of parking...yikes!    

For me as a golfer, the course preview was a unique experience.  I’ve played countless pre-event practice rounds, but never had a pre-event run on the course or seen so many runners running up and down the middle of the fairways.  Only the back 9 holes of the course were closed, meaning we shared the facility with paying customers for golf.  A few runners ran astray during the warmups and caused some unhappy golfers in the middle of their rounds.  One actually threw some clubs in disgust...maybe he needed to go for a run to burn off some steam?

Before heading back to the hotel, we made a quick visit back to Discovery Park to enjoy rare partly sunny day in Seattle.  In an effort to make myself somewhat useful, I stopped to snap this photo on Katherine’s iphone

From the course it was back to the hotel to prepare for dinner, which was at Buca de Beppo.  Apparently the girls found their entertainment for the evening in making fun of the skankily dressed high school kids.  (Do their parents know when they leave the house like that?) 

When we exited the restaurant I was a bit chagrined to see the valet parking booth had been taken down for the evening.   I called the valet parking phone number and was greeted by a voice saying, “’wassup, this is Mike.”  After a brief conversation, I determined that “Mike” was actually the gentleman entrusted with our rental vehicle.   You can imagine my relief when he actually returned our rental vehicle from across the street without having taken a trip across the border to Canada.   

Later this evening, Maggie’s dad (himself a runner and coach) and Katie arrived via their respective flights to round out the Tucson Elite posse for the weekend. 


From what I have heard, Club XC nationals used to have all the intensity of an intramural sloshball league.  Guys from around the country would gather for a weekend of drinking with a race thrown in.  However, what was once a lighthearted affair to relive glory days in the saloon has now become a major competitive event drawing some of the nation’s finest professionals racing for prize money and international team roster spots.

Race weather was typical Seattle fare: gray and drizzly, but perfect for racing.  Since having only six athletes did not warrant official tent space, we staked out the base of a lovely tree under which to place our belongings.   

When we arrived, the masters mens’ race had just gotten underway.  Hopefully in fifty years I’ll still be kickin’ it strong like the octogenarians in the field.    USATF did a great job in setting up a spectator-friendly course, though plenty of us in the men’s 10k could have done without the fifth 2k loop and settled for 8k!  Crowd support was excellent, as you could see the athletes more than once on each loop. 

A 1pm start for the womens race ensured some of the day’s best racing conditions.  It’s a welcome change from early morning starts on the road racing and triathlon scenes.  As noted above, the girls performed admirably against a field of more established teams who had a full cadre of eight athletes.  For not being in existence a few months ago and without bringing a full squad to the meet, this was a very encouraging result.       

After returning from the meet, the rest of the team stayed at the hotel to study for finals (I can’t vouch for how much studying actually occurred…), while Katherine and I met a local friend of ours down by the pier for a snack; the second clam chowder of the weekend.  We did see a couple of guys from the Boston Athletic Association team out for extra mileage along the pier, which admittedly made me feel a bit lazy.

We had also intended to visit Pike Place again, but  it closed at 6pm.  Since nothing says Seattle like the Niketown store, we then made our way there to check it out, and of course Katherine walked out with a pair of spikes for track season.

Dinner was up by the University of Washington, since the girls needed to get some shopping in at the University Village mall.  We finished the evening off with dinner at the Ram Restaurant and Big Horn Brewery, conveniently located next to the Apple store.


Early Sunday morning, I went to explore the city via running shoes, which is one of the best ways to see a new place (I won’t say who else did or did not run, to protect the innocent…you know who you are…).  Once I made my way down to the trail along the Puget Sound, I was greeted with a steady flow of runners from the meet.  No late night shenanigans for these folks.  Katherine pointed out this being an Olympic Trials year may have something to do with the high turnout, so we’ll just see how much Sunday running occurs after next year’s event!  I was having so much fun on this new trail, which included a stretch of wood chips, that I went out too far before turning around, necessitating a tempo paced effort back to the hotel to avoid being late for the airplane!  So much for an easy post-race run.   

As all good things must come to an end, we made our way to the airport to fly back to Arizona for the exams and work that we left behind, but not before getting bread bowl chowder #3 in the airport.   Can’t expect airport chowder to match the waterfront fare, but it was much better than anything we’d find locally at Safeway or Basha’s.

Hopefully this recap provided a lens into the culminating event of the Tucson Elite fall season.   Looking forward to Kentucky in 2012!   

(Note: the Tucson Elite website is under development, but in the meantime, please Like us on Facebook)



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