The first ten to twelve days of December are my busiest of the year. They are also some of my favorite events. From The Running Event, a trade show for core running, to the USATF Convention, to the NIke NXN, to the American Sports Builders, to the FootLocker Nationals, it is a busy first two weeks of the month. This story is about the NIke NXN.
Manlius, post race, just before they get their first place trophy! photo by Larry Eder
Bozeman, American Fork, Temecula, before the announcements, photo by Larry Eder
I love the NXN because it features a wonderful affirmation of the team aspect of cross country. I love the FootLocker because it features the individual affirmation of the same sport. The events co-exist, at least in my mind, and provide the top young runners in our country will championships that have meaning for each group.
Here’s my piece on the 2016 NXN. And this year, the weather was perfect, as was the mud!
I was prepared this year. My hoodie, rain proof jacket, warm jeans, and steelhead fishing gloves plus numerous hats were packed. My trip from Orlando was punctuated by two very full flights, but, with aisle seats, some work and a fine nap, I survived.
I had expected a torrent of rain, wind, and perhaps snow. In the past NXNs, we have been hit by whatever Mother Nature could find.
This year, we missed bad weather by twelve hours.
The sky’s started cloudy, and by the time I left Glendoveer Golf course around 1:30 pm, the sun shone brightly, as if Fred Aronsen and the gods of Portlandia had somehow intervened.
The 5,000 meter course, featuring several loops, was complicated by mud, damp footing, which slowed the runner, as if nymphs, satyrs and wood creatures grabbed the runners feet, holding them in the mud just a energy sapping bit of time longer, in order to provide another challenge.
The girls race was two races within one, as Brie Oakley, pushed by great woman of distance running, such as Doris Brown Heritage and Peg Neppel, whispered in her ear to fly across the course. Oakley needed no outside impetus, as the runner from Southwest began to accelerate by 1000 meters. By two thousand meters, Brie had eleven amazing seconds. And as her drive to the finish exceeded the speed of the chase pack, the winner put twenty eight precious seconds between herself and the battling teams. Manlius, Temecula and Davis were in a battle, but, by two miles, Manlius had the advantage, only taking 41 points to win for the 10th time in eleven appearances. Davis and Temecula battled to the very end, with only seven points separating second and third.
I am impressed by Manlius. They have a program that works. I was disturbed by some of the complaining about Manlius. The team seems focused, and winning ten years out of eleven is pretty damn impressive. Want to beat them? Focus, and see what you can achieve.
For me, the girls race was not only compelling but iconic. While I find the “i” world troublesome, the truth is, the best 31 teams in the nation, 200 plus of the finest girl cross country runners were on the Glendoveer course. Two hundred of the 250,000 girls running cross country were in PDX today, in a panorama of bright colored uniforms and racing shoes, showcasing the power of girls athletics.
Life changing experiences, training for a common goal, and reaching for the stars, are part of the patois of the NXN culture.
Nike has presented cross country as if it mattered, which it does. I hate to bring up money, but an event like this takes money. Estimating the budget, staffing and human hours to make NXN regionals work as well the Valhalla of cross country, the NXN regionals would suggest a budget in excess of $2 million U.S. From the the high quality streaming video provided by the team at Runnerspace, to the announcing of Paul Swangard, Ray Gonzalez and Chris Derrick, plus course signage, food trucks and security, the meet was top notch. Nike PR’s Noelle Nova and team provided an upgraded work area and did their best to bring top finishers to media post race.
The boys race had fifteen young men bidding for the individual crown, although between 10-11 , Casey Clinger, en route to defending his Boys title, broke the race open, holding seven seconds plus in fast closing Sam Worley. The top three teams for the Boys were Bozeman, American Fork and Brentwood, who overcame Davis for third. Casey Clinger, the boys’ winner was quite sad over his team not winning, as Bozeman was a bit of an upset. Casey showed class and I appreciate that. He would have given up his first place individual for his team to win. In second was the fast finisher, Sam Worley. In third, Brodey Hasty, a junior, broke up the fast finishers. Brodey told me post race, ” I would have had to have a big lead to hold off Sam Worley, that guy has a huge kick! ” Enough said.
Brentwood took third over Davis, 163 to 180. Naperville came in at 181!
While I was standing waiting for the results, I was fortunate to meet Maurica Powell, the women’s head coach, who steered her team to a one point win in the NCAA cross country championships. I am so impressed with that woman and her wonderful team. Katie Rainsberger was beaming while she hung out at the NXN, an event she has won in the past.
One of the reasons American distance running is doing so well is because of coaches like Andy and Maurica Powell. Coaches who love their jobs and love their athletes, and helping direct them over their careers.
Walking around the course on Saturday, I saw Lance Harter, Arkansas women’s coach, and several other coaches, watching the finest teams in the country battle for cross country dominance. Nike CEO Mark Parker seems to truly enjoy the Nike NXN. Most years, he gives the awards out. I believe it helps him center his company’s focus on running. Hanging with several hundred of the finest, most enthusiastic cross country runners in the country reminds you of the DNA of the sport and the business. The close team battles means that all seven athletes on a cross country team have the potential to make a big difference.
As I walked away from the meet, I was thinking about my friend, Johnny Truax, Nike running geek supreme, who missed his first NXN during his move to Eugene for Nike. Johnny lives running (and hunting) every day of his life. Like myself, Johnny searches the trees surrounding Glenoveer for the Oregon hoodie of the gray haired Steve Prefontaine, who, as his his reward for eternity, whispers from behind the trees to cross country runners who are in the tough part of their races, searching for motivation, “are you giving your best?” I like to think of Steve Prefontaine during cross country season. His sense of wonder at the world, from his travel to his racing, to having fun with friends, never waned, and with the early ending to his life, never had the chance to mature. It is good, and for someone of my advanced years, it is the tragedy of such a fine human being, whose life was cut short before he could experience all the world had to offer. Watching him race on You Tube videos does not convey the bravado and joie de vivre of the man from Coos Bay. Those who are his fans have Tom Jordan’s book, Pre!, and memories from those who knew him. The picture that reminds me of the quality of Prefontaine is one where he has his arm around John Ngeno, both laughing after a hard fought race. That is the essence of our sport. Those moments where we challenge each other, and find out, how similar we are, no matter where we were born.
Back to Glendoveer Golf Course and the NXN.
The sun and the mud made it a real cross country race. Slow, energy sapping mud, was the equalizer. Big kicks meant little if you could not be in the hunt. But, the 2016 NXN will be remembered for the sun, and the mud, glorious mud.
The company formerly known as Blue Ribbon Sports almost became known as Fourth Dimension. Thank god, Jeff Johnson, living above a mortuary and sending out early BRS shoes in embalming fluid boxes, had a hallucination/dream about the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. Those early days were dedicated to running and NXN reminds Nike just how special a cross country race on a golf course in Portland can be.
The NXN is good for Nike’s soul, as it reaches for that $50 billion business threshold. NXN whispers into the air at the Nike campus that running, yes, is the DNA of the Beaverton based global sports giant. Nothing shows that more than a few hundred muddy cross country runners.
#Finish on empty, as the hashtag says.
Nike NXN Trophies, photo by Larry Eder