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Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Postcards from Portland: Golden Valley

NXN Friday
Members of the Golden Valley cross country team at the NXN course preview on Friday, Dec. 3 at Portland Meadows.
Editor's note: Ever wonder what it's like to go to Nike Cross Nationals? Postcards from Portland is intended to offer a window into the world of NXN through the experiences of first-time teams who made the grade -- and the trip.

The boys from Golden Valley High School, aka Santa Clarita XC Club, won the school's first-ever state championship (in any sport) on Saturday when it won California's D2 championship. All the way home from Fresno, the team had no idea whether it would survive the selection process for NXN. Hopeful, but unsure, the team dispersed after a long ride back to the school. Brothers and co-coaches Chris and Rob Evans were in the process of returning the team van when the got the phone informing them that Golden Valley was in. Chris and Rob jumped and screamed and high-fived -- in a darkened empty parking lot. Phone calls to the runners on the team followed moments later.

Here, in their own words, is a look back at their trip to Portland:

Saturday: Coaches woke us up at 5:30 for a short shake out run and stretching session. This helped calm our nerves and mentally focus us for the morning.  We all felt better after this.

The bus ride over to the course was eerily silent, except for Carlos Lopez, who was taking pictures of everything with a constant smile on his face.  We arrived, got our chips and sat in the grandstand waiting for our race.

We were introduced at 9:38 and jogged over to the starting line -- with our one-gallon water jugs.  Spikes taped on, legs and body warm, we took off our sweats and toed the starting line.  The cannon exploded and it hit us: We were in a national championship race.  We got out fast and still saw a mass of bodies around us.  Our teammate, Juan David Garcia, went down in the first 200, finding himself in last and working his way up to be our top guy.  We don't remember much from those 16-17 minutes. Glimpses of teammates. The whoop-de-doos were fun. Those last hay bails took us to another level of pain. And a mass of people sprinting to the finish.

When it was done we were interviewed as a team.  Coaches were trying to figure out where we finished and a couple of us went to the medical tent to clean our wounds.  We heard 10th. And then, 11th by two points.  We were thrilled!

Seven of us started our training during the first week of June.  Six months later, the same seven guys were running together as a group of brothers in the national championship.  It was an amazing season and an amazing experience.

Friday report: Coaches woke us up at 6:30 to go outside the hotel for a morning shake out and stretching session.  It was freezing and cold ... very different from southern California weather.  It seemed like we were the only ones outside.  After we stretched we ate and got ready for our course preview.

As we arrived at Portland Meadows, we saw "The Course."  We walked to the starting line to find our box and the nine of us (coaches and all) set off for our first look at the course.  Our first impressions: We had never seen a course like it. There was never a moment to lose focus or get too relaxed.  Between the mud, hay bails, hills, uneven ground, step-ups ... the course demanded our constant attention.  Our first trip over the hay bails resulted in Juan David Garcia's face plant into the mud and muck.  It was great. This helped loosen the mood and made us all laugh.  We did four strides from our box and felt prepared for race day.

That evening there was more time at Nike, dinner, and then focus for Saturday.  The night ended with a team meeting -- our team motto "The readiness is all" (Hamlet) -- was perfect for the night. We were ready.

Thursday's report (Filed Thursday evening): The 4 a.m. wake up call may have been painful, but during the boarding of the flight, it finally sunk in...We are going to NXN.  From the plane, to the bus, to the hotel, we were moved from place to place like elite athletes.  Nike took over the whole hotel just for this meet!?!  Our banner was hanging in the hotel lobby?!?  We realized ... this dream had become reality.

It only got better when we arrived at the Nike campus. We walked into the the Tiger Woods Center, saw the national championship trophy, and behind it were our racing bibs hanging from the ceiling. The staff led us into the lounge to wait as they prepared our gear. Meanwhile, we spent our time in the lounge playing ping pong and video games and enjoying the free snacks and fruit laid out for the athletes.

Ten minutes later, a staff member came and led us to a private locker room where we received free spikes, shoes, jackets, socks, and uniforms fitted for each of us individually. This was AWESOME! After taking pictures with all our new gear on we were interviewed by Runnerspace and asked to describe our experience so far at NXN.

Afterwards, we relaxed a little while longer in the lounge and then went on a run. We followed a wood chip trail that led all around the beautiful campus. On our run we got to see Galen Rupp and Mo Farah working out together and watched them do mile repeats. Now we are waiting in the lounge again, hanging out, and waiting for a dinner that we know will be delicious.

We are enjoying this opportunity!

Santa Clarita XC
Kristian Martinez, Juan David Garcia, Nolan Del Valle, Carlos Lopez, Aaron Nguyen, Brendan Tinoco, Gabe Levy