Editor's note: Alan Boraas is one of the designers of Tsalteshi Trails, which will be used for Saturday's state meet. He offered to give fans a close look at the state course.
Cross country running is one of the few sports that is done outside on rolling terrain through the Alaska woods. Smart runners know the course like the back of their hand and plan their strategy accordingly.
Let's take a tour of the five-kilometer state course at the Tsalteshi Trails.
The start is by the high school track where 100 or so runners in each race charge out in mass across the soccer fields. Start out too slow and you will be buried back in the pack with little hope of moving up. Start out too fast and you will die on the first hill.
The first hill is a long 150-meter climb called the Angle Hill. The Angle Hill is where pre-race preparation counts heavily. A runner who has not warmed up before the start will go into oxygen debt just after the Angle Hill. Smart runners will warm up for at least 20 minutes and use the Angle Hill to position themselves for their first move, about one kilometer into the race.
ASAA/ First National Banks Alaska Corss country Running champioships, 2000. Hosted by Skyview High School at the Tsalteshi Ski Trails, Soldotna, Alaska.
Double Click on map to see a larger version.
After the Angle Hill is a kilometer of gently rolling trail called the Eagle Trail that is normally lined with parents, coaches and teammates. Here runners will recover from the hill and let the energy of the fans and the start carry them through the first kilometer.
Experienced runners will be taking stock of their body and noting breathing, cramps and how strong they feel. They also will be taking stock of their competition.
After rounding the corner into the woods past the Four Corners, the runners will encounter a long, steep downhill on the Beaver Trail. It takes more technique to run down a hill then to run up. Better runners will tilt their body forward and pump their arms like a sprinter, letting the momentum carry them down.
At the Biathlon Corner, runners turn onto the Raven Trail. After a hard right turn the runners will climb a long, winding uphill. Some may choose this hill to put some distance between themselves and those around them. Others will make a move at the top of the hill.
From here the trail winds and turns for over a kilometer back to the Birch Corner. There are no major hills in this portion of the race, so smart runners will may play cat and mouse, slowing down making competitors pass and then immediately passing them back, trying to break their opponent's mental focus.
After the Birch Corner, the trail repeats itself along the top of the Eagle Trail. Along this ridge runners will prepare themselves for the critical second lap, planning where they will make their move and trying to anticipate where those around them will make theirs.
On the second lap some strong downhill runners will make a major move on the Beaver Trail, the same long downhill as on the first lap. At the Biathlon Corner the trail takes a left up a steep uphill. Most races are decided on this hill, where strong runners will surge to drop an opponent. Surge too hard or too early, of course, and you are in trouble.
Some runners will wait and surge at the top of the hill, knowing there are some turns where you can lose visual contact from those behind you, demoralizing any runners with thoughts of catching up.
On the rolling section of Moose Run, runners will plan their final move. Strong runners will start their final surge almost half a kilometer from the finish at a small uphill. Others will wait until the turn at Birch Corner and put on a hard run down the Angle Hill. Those that can't surge will be passed, losing valuable places to a competitor.
At the bottom of the Angle Hill is the final sprint to the finish. The sprint on the grass is deceptively difficult since it is a gradual uphill slope, though it looks flat. For most, however, it won't matter. Friends and fans will be lining the finish run for the last sprint of the year or, for seniors, a career.
This year it looks like the trail could be wet from rain. That means puddles and the potential of slipping on the downhill or uphill. Athletes must pay attention during the pre-race course walk. They need to know the muddy sections and the sandy sections to know where the best places to surge are. And they need to experiment with a variety of spike lengths, normally longer for wetter conditions and shorter for drier conditions.
After five kilometers of intense competition cross country runners normally are seen congratulating one another with handshakes and hugs. This is the message of cross country running -- to run hard against someone on challenging terrain with all competitors coming out the better for it. It is quite an unusual sport and a great outdoor sport for Alaska.
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