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LetsRun.com Goes To Amman - 2009 World Cross-Country Coverage
Installment #5: The Course - "Brutal"

March 27, 2009
By Robert Johnson

LetsRun.com's Robert Johnson is in Amman, Jordan to cover the World Cross-Country championships. Below you will find installment #5 of his coverage.

Photos: The best way to get a sense for the course is maybe to view the course photo album. The 1st three pages are mainly on the course. If you look at the last three pages, you'll find some US team photos.

*Click here to read installment #4 about Amman
Click here to read installment #3 about the US team and German's possible injury, Amman and to see exclusive interviews with Julie Culley, Bobby Curtis and Ed Moran
Click here to read installment #2 where I tried to analyze the junior boys race
Click here to read installment #1 about the flight and sightseeing trip to Petra click here

Photos: *3rd Photo Gallery (The Course) *2nd Photo Gallery (Amman/Runners) *1st Photo Gallery (Petra)

All week long we've been waiting to see the course and we finally go the opportunity to tour it on Friday morning. The IAAF all week has kept the journalists and all of the teams off the course supposedly so no one could would get an unfair advantage. That explanation made sense to me but when we got there today, I think they kept us away because clearly they were just building the course. The press tent wasn't up, the start wasn't up, a lot of the netting on the course wasn't up, etc.

Kim Smith: "This is gonna be brutal."

The course is at the Bisharat Golf Course. Don't let the name fool you. The greens on the golf course look like they were made out of mud and I didn't see many blades of grass anywhere on the so-called course. In reality, they just bulldozed the XC course on top of the golf course, so there is zero grass.

I'd describe the footing as very firm as it's dry and probably similar to that of the back hills of Van Cortlandt Park. They had a roller out on the course to try to get rid of the ruts as there were a few rocks and what not but nothing that would concern me if I were running it. Some of the Europeans were surprised to see it be so firm and were saying that one could even run it in flats as it's so firm. I certainly wouldn't want to be in flats on the uphill.

Kenya's team captain Mark Kiptoo described the dry, firmness of the course as being similar to what they are used to in Kenya. Anyone hoping for a mud bath, you've got the opposite.

More detailed explanations below:

  • It's very hilly. If you like flat courses, you are in BIG, BIG trouble. I'd say the long loop of 2k is maybe 1/3rd downhill, 1/3rd uphill, 1/3rd flat. It's probably less than 1/3 flat actually and that's just on the long loop; the opening 1,500 meter loop has way less than 400 meters of flat on it. Overall the course might be 75% hilly and 25% flat. People were saying it's by far the most difficult course in a long, long time.
  • The start is gonna be insane. It would be very hard to go out conservatively on this thing as the start is straight uphill for a little less than 200 meters before the runners are forced to take a sharp left hand turn which very quickly becomes a total 180. The turn isn't very wide at all (roughly 10-15 meters wide) so they'll want to get in position. Then it's downhill for probably 600 meters. The first 800 is gonna be unbelievably fast as it's way net downhill and the runners are going to have to sprint the uphill.
  • The finish is going be a real test of strength. The finish includes a straight uphill for maybe 600 to 800 meters. A long damn way. Then there is a 90 degree left and a 100 meter flat sprint to the finish. At the finish, they have planted some grass - the only grass on the course - and that part is pretty soft.
  • The footing is firm throughout. The course is 100% hard-packed dirt except for the finishing part that I talked about. This certainly isn't a European soggy XC course, but if it somehow rained, it would be a mud bath. Don't be fooled by the fact that this thing is supposedly being held on a golf course.
  • The course is narrow. But there aren't that many runners in the race so it should be allright after the start.


Conclusion: The course is very, very difficult. New Zealand's Kim Smith was running around the course as I was walking it and she recognized me and just said, "It's gonna be brutal." A lap later all she said to me was simply, "Brutal."

The course is so hilly and narrow at the start that it struck me that if this were an NCAA course, all of the coaches would be up in arms. But they'd have probably been up in arms all week. "What do you mean we can't get on the course until the day before? The course is too hilly. The opening turn is too soon and too start and too narrow."

I was talking to an Ethiopian journalist and he summed it up best: "To me, cross-country is life in East Africa." What he meant is that the runners from his country are used to running across hilly, dirt fields. They aren't used to running on manicured golf courses or sidewalks like Westerners.

Photos: To truly understand the course, I think you need to scroll through the 140+ photos that I took as I walked it. If you look at the first page or two, you'll get a real good understanding of what it's truly all about. The last 3 pages have the US team on them.


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