Sunday, October 1, 2017

Race Week 2017 at Apalachee Regional Park Championship Cross-Country Course

At Apalachee Regional Park, it's not just the first week in October. It's Race Week.

During the 2010 cross-country season, the second year of the Apalachee Regional Park Championship Cross-Country Course, the first week of October was the biggest that ARPXC had seen to that day. The Leon County Schools had their middle school championship at ARPXC on Wednesday, the colleges raced on the course during the first day of the FSU Invitational on Friday, and the high schools had their turn on the course at the Saturday session of the FSU Invitational. For a course that had been jungle and old pasture land just two years earlier, it was an impressive amount of racing.

Since then ARPXC has hosted the USATF National Club Championships, the AAU National Youth Championships, and the NCAA South Region Cross-Country Championship. Meanwhile, Race Week has gained significance. When ARPXC became the site of the FHSAA State Final in high school cross-country, the FSU Invitational became the pre-state meet. Arguably, it's an even higher quality event than the State Final, because at the Invitational the top runners in Florida compete against each other regardless of class, as well as against some tough athletes from out-of-state. When Florida State started hosting South Region Championships at Apalachee Regional Park, it encouraged university teams to come check out the course at the Invitational. Even more should be making the trip to Tallahassee now that the NCAA has selected ARPXC as the venue for the 2021 Division 1 National Cross-Country Championship.

Wes Blake, Gabriel Jager-Sumner
Gabriel Jager-Sumner and Wes Blake

As significant as the Invitational has become, Race Week 2017 opens with the Leon County Schools Middle School Cross-Country Championship on Wednesday, 4 October 2017, the fifth and final meet of the league's cross-country season. Over the years middle school cross-country in the Leon County Schools has proven a nursery for future state champions at the high school level. Carly Thomas, Joe Franklin, Sukhi Khosla, Alyson Churchill, and Rachel Givens each won state titles while running for Tallahassee high schools; each ran middle school cross-country in the Leon County Schools. Deerlake Middle School may have something to say about that, however. Deerlake won the Swift Creek Invitational on 7 September 2017, becoming the only team that has beaten Swift Creek during 2017. One advantage that Swift Creek will be counting on, however, is Paige Churchill. Seventh-grader Churchill has won all four Leon County Schools meets so far this season, and has a six-race winning streak in the league going back to 2016. On the boys' side, Deerlake has won all four meets going into the Championship, but Swift Creek closed to within ten points at the most recent race, the Mustang Stampede. The race for the individual title could be interesting indeed. Montford eighth-grader Ben Kirbo won the two most recent races, the Mustang Stampede and the Everhart Invitational, but at the Fort Braden Run he finished behind the winner of that race, Deerlake eighth-grader Filippo Reina. Meanwhile, Fairview sixth-grader Patrick Koon won the season opener, the Swift Creek Invitational, which, just like the Championship, was held at Apalachee Regional Park.

2016 FSU Invitational College/University Women's 5K

Apalachee Regional Park gets a day to cool off from all the hot racing, but competition returns on Friday, 6 October 2017, with day one of the FSU Cross-Country Invitational. The first race is the university/college men's 8K, starting bright and early at 7:40 AM. One noteworthy entry in this race is the Tallahassee Community College men's team. The Eagles won't be in the hunt for first place, but they are the first men's team fielded by a Florida junior college during the 21st century--hopefully, leading a renaissance of junior college cross-country in the state. The university women race 5K at 8:20 AM, then there is a long down period till the middle school girls' 3K at 5:00 PM. The middle school boys' 3K follows at 5:30 PM, then there's a high school boys' junior varsity 5K at 6:00 PM and a high school girls' junior varsity 5K at 6:30 PM.

Girls' Elite 5K
2016 FSU Invitational High School Girls' Elite 5K

Saturday, 7 October 2017, is the big day for high school racing during the FSU Invitational, with eight races scheduled at ARPXC. Competition gets going with the elite section of the boys' 5K at 7:40., followed by the elite section of the girls'5K at 8:05 AM. Michael Phillips of Chiles won the elite boys' 5K in 2016, then went on to win the state title in class 3A. Alyson Churchill of Lincoln won the elite girls' 5K in 2016, then went on to win the state title in class 3A. No guarantees, but you could very well see a state champion or two in the elite races this year. Not as fast but just as entertaining, the boys' select 5K is at 8:35 AM, the girls' select 5K is at 9:00 AM, the boys' varsity A 5K is at 9:30 AM, the girls' varsity A 5K is at 9:55 AM, the boys' varsity B 5K is at 10:25 AM, and the girls' varsity B 5K is at 10:50 AM. That's a lot of racing, and at no point will the running pause for a time out or for a team to go into a huddle.

If you miss Race Week, you'll have to wait till the end of the month for racing to return to ARPXC; the NJCAA Region 8 Women's Cross-Country Championship is at Apalachee Regional Park on Saturday morning, 28 October 2017. That will be a fine race, but it's a snack compared to the feast that is Race Week.