The idea that I’d make a disciplined start here is an absurdity that flies in the face of every cross-country race I’ve run since the Obama-Kenny era. And so it was with the Charlotte Winter Classic. The gun fired and despite prerace delusions of sense, I marauded down the opening kilometre with gay abandon in a stampede of comically short-shorts, colourful singlets and high V02 maxes. The start was slick until we reached a bit of gravel and then a slight bump a kilometre in. 5min miling instead of the planned 5:20s. Oops. Conservatism was out the window: adrenaline and adolescent competitiveness took over and I was fucked for the latter stages in this 8k grind. 
I was in a mediocre frame of mind beforehand with a lot of miles in my legs (being without a taper and all), so perhaps the struggle and sluggishness ought not have been a shock. And yet it was one of those beautiful, blue and cloudless North Carolina days that makes me glad to live in such a place. The yellowy-brown and bright blue conditions in contrast with my native Irish green and dark grey for which I’m accustomed to on cross-country days. I get nostalgic because it reminds me of the ferocious Irish championship races I miss each winter. But I’m grateful to be here today with the Bull City Track Club team competing in a team event, something pathetically rare in this state. And it is beyond astonishing to me that these “club” races charge us $50 for the pleasure of oxygen debt. That is a perfect scandal but I’ll leave it to another day to debate.

The course was quite snaky but flat with a few humps that barely registered a groan. That short gravelly section on the opening drag was the only trouble-spot really. Once I settled in to a more sustainable pace I focused on surviving the mental struggle and not losing places. I enjoyed a little battle through mile 2 with two Asheville Running Collective runners. Chris caught up with me for the second lap – his more sensible opening mile now paying off. We ran together at a decent clip on that final lap but I honestly never felt capable of pushing it harder. With around 500m to go Chris picked it up to finish strong. I managed to hold off some Asheville lads who were gaining ground, finishing in 27:00 utterly exhausted. Slightly disappointed with that, because I felt confident of a 26:?? today after how well training’s been recently. Then I remembered it was better than the last two years, so it’d be churlish to complain. Older yet faster: I’ll take that. 
We ended up third team (out of three, to be fair!). The rest of the lads were seemingly uninterested in the spoils of a podium finish (fancy Balega socks anyone!) because they hurried to the cars, leaving a bemused Eric and myself to join the Asheville and Charlotte teams for an embarrassing group photo. The BCTC women took the gold (plastic trophy). Well done ladies, and to all those you raced. 
There was fine banter and company in the luxurious McIver mobile on the drive. #Brexit and its discontents were even broached. To top off a brilliant day with the crew, we dined at a Charlotte BBQ Smokehouse where I also enjoyed a sublime coconut porter. 
Gavin 23rd, 27:00.