GOLDEN GATE PARK – XC CHAMPIONSHIPS – 11/20/22

  • The SPARTANS swarmed Lindley Meadow on a cool, crisp, cloudless
    morning in Golden Gate Park for the 36th Annual PA XC Championships. Yes,
    “swarmed” is the appropriate word as the Magnificent Seven (Art, Sal, Don, Lino,
    Brian, Nick, and Kurt) gathered to form the largest SPARTAN XC team to lace
    the shoes and kick the dirt since the days of Andrea and “half-inch spikes”
    Charles sported the SPARTAN singlet. Just two years ago, only Art and Sal kept
    the SPARTAN name on life support, journeying together to keep our teamless
    Club name alive in Covid year of 2020. Then last year Nick resurrected the
    SPARTANS from oblivion by taking on the Safe Sport requirements and putting
    our club on the circuit once again.
    So despite our cellar-dwelling performance this year, the SPARTANS are back.
    Be proud.
    Of course, things are a little different now. Gone are the PRs, the sub-
    seven mile pace, the mid-pack surge, and the 400-meter kick to the finish line.
    The discussion of tempo runs, repeat intervals, and hill training that once
    controlled the carpool conversation has been replaced with complaints of
    cramps, cortisone shots, and colonoscopies.
    But we’re still here.
    Be proud.
    The PA XC Championship is unlike all the other races. Once you arrive at
    the race site, you realize there is a unmistakable energy, and you sense a
    peculiar running vibe that lingers in the air as you carry your running bag to the
    registration tent and make camp among the hundreds of sleek harriers that
    stand, sit, stretch, and stride in all directions along the multi-colored canopy tents
    that line the hill overlooking the meadow. You can feel the competition, and you
    know this is your last chance to put in a good run, to beat that guy you’ve been
    battling all season, to cash in on every training day you’ve put in on the road, the
    track, and the trails. Most of the SPARTANS are quite familiar with the Golden
    Gate Park course: the start through Lindley Meadow, down Martin Luther King
    Drive, across the grass field, up the little single-track hill to the Polo grounds,
    then up the wide, Eucalyptus canopied trail, and finally back down to Lindley
    Meadow. And that familiarity may have been the problem for some.
    SPARTAN lore is filled with stories of SPARTANS going off course. Even
    the great “half-inch spikes” Charles faltered at Folsom and was tagged with a
    DNF. And who can forget the Championship race when Brian and Pat were
    chatting on the bleachers lacing their shoes when the starting gun went off. Now
    add this race to the SPARTAN history of missteps. First there was Sal who missed the turn up the hill on the second loop and started running down Lindley Meadow heading for the Pacific Ocean. I was trailing and saw Sal’s error. I immediately started yelling for Sal to come back. I felt like the little kid in “Shane” trying to keep Alan Ladd from riding away: “Sal! Sal! Come back Sal.” Sal finally heard me and corrected his error, but probably added 100 meters to his run. Lino and Art also had tired moments of confusion, but perhaps I set a new low-bar standard being the first SPARTAN to receive “You’ve been DQed” email from the PA/USA governing body. The problem was
    the new 8K course for the 60+ runners created a switch-trail chicane that was
    poorly monitored. The new course comprised two 1.5-mile loops (the west
    portion of the normal two-mile loop, cutting down to Lindley Meadow by the horse
    corral), then one normal two-mile loop. However, they did not anticipate that the
  • slowest runners would be lapped, creating a confusion confluence of cross traffic
    at a poorly monitored intersection. So instead of going down the hill into the
    meadow for a second loop, I followed the flow of runners who were lapping me
    up the Eucalyptus canopied hill and down to the finish—cutting more than a mile
    off the course.
    Don’t be proud.
    Perhaps it’s an age handicap as Brian and Don had no problems, but they
    agreed that the course was not well monitored. Don, in fact, had an excellent run
    that culminated in a dramatic sprint-to-the-finish victory over a battling harrier
    (checkout the video on the PA/USA website to see his dash to victory.)
    Well, there were some defeated, harried harriers limping back home, but
    all agreed the day remained victorious.
    Through Brian’s WVJS connections, we
    have formed some supportive ties with the WVJS who field an impressive
    women’s team.
    Next up is the National Club XC Championships December 10. Running
    or not, come on out SPARTANS and see some of the best harriers in the nation.
    Fortunately, the course will NOT be the same—but I can’t guarantee we wont get
    lost . . .  Kurt Gravenhorst
    1. Don Donoughe 37:31
    2. Brian Conroy 41;51
    3. Nick Butterfield 48:11
    4. Sal Martinez 51:39
    5. Lino Favela 56:16
    6. Art Sanchez 57:54
    7. Kurt Gravenhort DQ
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Martinez XC – October 31, 2022

                           Art, Sal, and I were the only SPARTANS able to make the short sojourn to Martinez for the Matt Yeo Memorial Aggie XC Challenge, but the “Three Spartaneers” were determined to toe-the-line in what the Aggie Website waggishly calls “the greatest cross-country race in the world, or at least America, or at least one of the top-10 in Martinez . . . .”

If the Aggies were, perhaps, a tad snobbish in the description of their event, who could blame them? The Hoka Aggies––who were formerly the “Asics Aggies” who were formerly the “Reebok Aggies”––are arguably the premier running club on the PA/USATF XC circuit. What other club can boast three Olympians, seven National record holders, a National Club XC Championship (Women 2019), perennial victories at the Bay to Breakers 12K 13-man Centipede run (setting a world record in 1991 with their 26-legs snaking through the course in 37:40), and a running shoe sponsor! I’ve asked Jerome to see if he could get a sponsorship for the SPARTANS, but thus far he has only received some mild interest from a start-up company selling stool softeners and incontinence underwear at ReadySetGo.com

The old-timey SPARTANS will remember when this race was initially run on the Hoka Aggies’ home turf in Davis. It was moved to Shoreline for many years, and the SPARTANS were pleased to have a XC race in their own neighborhood. I wasn’t happy when the race was again moved because then my only knowledge of Martinez was the grimy site of the Shell Refinery visible from 680 with its massive, Roman Candle towers spewing billows of smoke and pitch over a hellish landscape. I imagined running through a veritable Valley of Ashes while sucking in the noxious fumes of the petroleum-tainted air.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the freeway turnoff eventually rolled into the bucolic village of Martinez, a little gem of a town nestled between the Carquinez Strait and the Alhambra Valley. Martinez was the home of renowned naturalist John Muir, the birthplace of Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio, and remains the source of pure Alhambra water. The city is one of the oldest in California, and even the occasional melancholy moan of the Amtrak train that runs along the edge of town adds to the homey atmosphere. Back in the day, this was a favorite race of SPARTAN Francisco Verduzco who would coax the team into lingering in town long enough to have lunch and savor its old town charm. Fond memories . . . .

But I digress. The XC run is a 4.2m, two-loop course around, over, and through the meadows, ponds, creeks, and marshlands of the Radke Martinez Regional Park. The pretzel-twisting path has some grass and paved-path running, but it is primarily a single-track trail run that is, fortunately, well guided with arrows and course directors. (I did manage to veer off course once, but was quickly corrected by a then-trailing Sal and Norm Cantwell.) Of great humor to the SPARTANS was one course director who acted like a teenage girl at a Taylor Swift concert every time he saw a SPARTAN runner: “Here come the Spartans!” he would yell. “Speed City! Tommie Smith! John Carlos! Go Spartans! Go Speed City!” We didn’t have the heart to tell the guy we’re not really connected to “Speed City”; instead, we just raised a fist in salute and jogged on.

The Martinez run is a flat, sea-level course, and one long stretch runs so close to the edge of the Bay you can hear the little waves lapping the shore. Well, in truth, the course is not totally flat; in fact, it has perhaps the most peculiar obstacle in XC racing: a steep, wooden arch bridge over Alhambra creek. When I saw this obstacle the first time I ran Martinez, I thought, “Oh look. A Japanese tea garden bridge. How adorable.” Then I reached this pace-busting, hump-of-a-bump and quickly renamed it, “Puto Puente!” The arch bridge is an echo of a once flourishing Martinez fishing village, and when the city was creating trails through the park in 1979, it had to install an arch bridge over Alhambra creek to allow the last active family fishing vessel to travel to and from the Bay. For Harriers, this is a bridge too far that creates troubled waters.

Well, it was a cool, gorgeous day to run underneath a blue-bird sky, but if Kurt, Art, and Sal were part of a centipede, they would be the butt-end of the bug. Nevertheless, they finished and picked up their Hoka hat swag bag at the finish line, and they could also say that they once raced against the 2010 U.S. National Marathon champion. Yes, leading the field was 41-year-old Sergio Reyes who last January won the USA Masters Cross Country title by nearly a minute. Sergio pulsed through the circuit like an electron, setting a new course record, covering the 4.2 miles in 19:43 (that’s a 4:42 mile pace!). That’s just a wee bit faster than the Three Spartaneers: Sal (40:46); Kurt (41:11); Art (46:34).

The Three Spartaneers returned to their cozy green-lawn encampment to watch the Open Men’s race, chat with familiar harriers, and listen to the Aggie tunes pumping from the loud speakers. It was another great day filled with memories, or, as the Buzbee Boys are fond of saying, “It’s a celebration of Life!”

And speaking of “The Buzbee Boys,” the following day was the Senior Track Meet in Hayward and both Mike and Pat were there scooping up heavy medals along with me and SPARTAN Brian Conroy. It was especially heartwarming to see Pat running the track once again. Maybe we didn’t put a scare into the Hoka Aggies in Martinez, but we sure kicked some ass in Hayward!     Vamos a Correr,                         reported by Kurt Gravenhorst

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China Camp XC – October 8, 2022

– Reported by Kurt Gravenhorst   
             A 2022 record contingent of six spartan SPARTANS motored to San Rafael for the 4.2m Tamalpa XC Challenge––or what Tamalpa harriers simply refer to as “The Johnny” in memory of their running brother John Larson who, like our own SPARTAN brother, Paul Tjogas, unexpectedly passed away to run through the heavens much too soon.
 
            After both Art and Kurt, in true SPARTAN fashion, each managed to miss freeway turnoffs, the SPARTAN-mobiles were, nevertheless, soon rolling along the calm waters of San Pablo Bay and into China Camp State Park––so named for the Chinese-American shrimp fishing village that inhabited the area in the late 19th century. Gulf Oil once owned this land, and in the 1970s they tried to develop the 1,500 acres into condos and commercial real estate. Thankfully, the wise citizens rebelled and saved the open vistas of the bay, the salt marshes, the grassy meadows, and the rolling hills crowded with scrub oaks so we could have our run. But before Gulf Oil, the Chinese, and the Spaniards, the Miwok lived harmoniously with this land for centuries, and it was in Miwok Meadows that the SPARTAN harriers set their camp among the other tribal running teams.
 
            The Tamalpa Challenge is a favorite run for many on the XC circuit, and this was obvious by the line of parked cars that ran along both sides of the road for half a mile, making it a long trek to Miwok Meadows from your parking spot. An observer seeing the packs of harriers carrying blankets, tent awnings, yoga mats, and running bags along the road would think we were heading to Woodstock II. The SPARTANS heard the gun for the women’s race, and soon the women could be seen rising along the ridgeline in a kaleidoscopic ribbon of color––and one or two adrenalin bubbles pop in the belly . . . .
 
            The China Camp course begins on a fire-road which soon funnels you onto a romping, rolling, single-track trail through the wooded hills with occasional peek-a-boo views of the bay.  The course is not without roots, rocks, ruts, and rises; it’s a true cross country challenge. But it’s also rollicking good fun along a meandering, Le Mans type course full of twists, turns, hairpins, switchbacks and elbow bends.
 
            The six-pack of SPARTANS showed up at the starting line for the 10a gun, so the hardest part of the race was over. It was great to see Don Donoughe back from his mountain bike accident. Don’s young legs (63) led the SPARTANS with a stellar 34:16. Always steady top-gun performer Brian Conroy followed with a 37:32 in his second xc run this season. Sal Martinez, a ginseng root clenched between his teeth like a short stogie, continues his impressive season, stepping through the trail in 43:14. Kurt Gravenhorst has been saying, “Age is catching up with me,” for years. Well, let’s just say that Age finally caught him by the time he finished in 44:27. Albert Zimmerman broke his XC SPARTAN maiden as he continues on the comeback trail, covering the course in 45:09. Art Sanchez, in his fourth XC appearance despite his debilitating hip pain, fought through the course in 49:30.
 
            The Tamalpa tribe put out an artfully arranged banquet of après-race treats and, of course, a keg of beer. No more souvenir beer glasses, but Tamalpa is known for its beer-blast finish and the free brewskies remain part of the John Larson tradition. Some of you long-term SPARTANS may remember that the fastest time ever recorded at Tamalpa was Greg Burke running from the Finish line to the beer table.
 
            After a cool down for some and a small repast for others, the SPARTAN six-pack packed up and began the long walk back to the cars. On the way down the fire road they came upon Tamalpa running legend, Darryl Beardall who served as one of the course monitors. Darryl is simply called “The Legend,” and rightfully so. He has run in over 200 marathons, has won the Dispea twice (74 and 78) and has the following PRs: 5K: 14:45; 10k: 29:50; Marathon: 2:28:50; 50-miles: 5:18; 100-miles: 12:30. Now, at age 86, with a body beat down with ailments, Darryl was a poignant sight shuffling with his walker alone on the road. We greeted him as he approached, and when he reached us, he stopped. With his body leaning over his walker, he turned his head, flashed a toothless smile, and with a definite glint sparkling from both eyes asked, “How was it boys?”
 
            It was beautiful Darryl. Just beautiful . . .

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S F Golden Gate Park XC – Sep 11, 2022

As the saying goes, “What a difference a day makes.” Instead of burning through the searing heat of the Vacaville dust and dirt, the Spartans were blessed with the cool, misty, eucalyptus-seasoned air at the 36th annual Golden Gate Park Cross Country Open. Five Spartans toed-the-line––nearly doubling their Vacaville showing––for the 4-mile two-looper on this historic course where the Pacific Association XC Championships will be run in November.
The course traverses wet grass, rolling hills, soft dirt, sticky sand, and just enough splish-splash puddles to freckle the back of your singlet with mud. The iconic course begins with a wet run through Lindley Meadow, up a small embankment to John F. Kennedy Drive, and then a long, gradual downhill past Spreckles Lake; then a left on Chain of Lakes Drive until the cheery course monitors direct you to another wobbly meadow of grass leading to a stretch of sand and up a short, single-track trail that then opens up to wide path paralleling the Polo Fields. Follow that to a long, gradual uphill that eventually spills you out to John F. Kennedy Drive again and back to a downhill finish in Lindley Meadow. Now do that again, and you’re done.
It was a great race, a great day, and another great deposit in the old bank of fond and lasting memories. It was good to see and connect with many of the old timers like Jeff Hongo, Bill Brusher, Julios Ratti, and former Spartan Norm Cornwell. After the paparazzi finished with the Spartans, they headed back to the car, stopping for a time to watch the more relaxing activities of the Golden Gate Model Yacht Club guiding their ships languidly across Spreckles Lake. Now there’s an exercise that requires no warm up––just an all day cool down . .
–  Reported by Kurt Gravenhorst
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Vacaville Lagoon Valley XC Challenge – September 1, 2022

Three bleary-eyed Spartaneers rendezvoused in the blue-black darkness of 5:30am to journey to Vacaville for the 3rd Annual Golden Valley Harriers Lagoon Valley XC Challenge.  The 8am Master’s start was at first dispiriting, but when they saw a sizzling fireball of sun–that would cook the course to a toasty 107 degrees that afternoon–rise above the Vacaville hills, they were relieved to   
be the first group to toe-the-line
before the soles of their sneakers
melted into the dirt.
     When they arrived at the Lagoon Valley course, all heads turned their way, and a whispered murmur could be heard  riding on the heat waves:  “The Spartans are here.”
     The three Spartaneers ambled to the registration desk like the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday heading to the O.K. Corral.  The crowd of old geezers parted like the Red Sea in respect.  “Those are the Spartans!” they whispered to one another as they surreptitiously fumbled with their I-phones to take pictures.
     The race set off promptly at 8a with the Spartans following their usual winning game plan:  start slow and taper.  The 3-mile course was a serpentine, dirt-path two-looper that made-up with hills what it lacked in length.  The first hill was brutal and even had a name: Big Momma.  If it were any steeper, it could not be conquered with pitons and a rope.  The second hill came on lap two and it was of equal incline, but shorter duration.  The trail markings were a bit confusing causing both Art and Kurt to make wrong turns.  But what would a XC race be without a Spartan getting turned around or lost.  Both corrected their errors without turning the course into a 10k, but the heat was wearing them down.
     The Spartaneers finished admirably and stumbled to the shade of their small encampment for water and recovery.
–  Reported by Kurt Gravenhorst

 

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The Excelsior XC Challenge – October 27, 2018

A damp, deep fog bathed the hills of San Bruno Mountain Park as the SPARTAN six-pack (Brian, Nick, Don, Kurt, Sal, Art) gathered for the 5k Excelsior Challenge. To accommodate visitors to the small parking lot, runners were asked to park along the street of a side entrance, requiring a one-mile walk on a paved path through a dripping canopy of towering Eucalyptus tress that scented the air with a mild, lung-clearing mist.

Because of geography and conflicting commitments, there was no carpool; each SPARTAN arrived separately––striding slowly across the gopher-holed, cobblestone field like Gary Cooper in “Twelve O’Clock High”–– to our nesting spot beneath a small oak tree. Brian and Don went out to jog the unfamiliar course, Nick, Art and Sal began their individual warm-up routines, and Kurt went off to pee.

The fog had lifted slightly, but the sun could not break through when gunshot started the 9:45am Masters race. The Masters field seemed to be down at least 20 percent from other races, and the overall turnout seemed down even more than that. Perhaps it was just the fog, but there was a pleasing, subdued energy on the small clearing that served as both the start and finish of the race. But all that changed when the gun went off.

The course is unique on the XC circuit; I would liken it most to Crystal Springs, but it’s a beast of its own. The course has 300 feet of elevation gain, but it’s not just up-and-down: it’s up-and-down and up-and-down and up-and-down and up-and-down. It just keeps rolling and rolling along. As I began to rise above the fog, I thought, “It’s gotta go down sometime!?” And it did. The descent, however, is long and gradual; and just to remind you who’s boss, there is a little hill at the end to slap the sass out of that great kick you were about to let fly. When I finished, I would have bet my Adidas I ran up 3-times more than I ran down. It’s that kind of course. But I liked it; it is true cross country, and it will test you. And not only did the SPARTAN six-pack pass the test, because it was a virgin run for each of them, they all set PRs!      reported by Kurt Gravenhorst

48th Brain Conroy: 23:57     49th Don Donoghue: 24:06       63th Nick Butterfield: 26:37
71st Art Sanchez: 27:47      77th Kurt Gravenhorst 30:02       80th: Sal Martinez: 31:54

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SPARTANS at CHINA CAMP – 9/30/18

A contingent of five spartan SPARTANS gathered at SJCC to catch the 7am Uber-Hauler-Spartan-Mobile as Art Tahoed us up to San Rafael for the John Larson 4.2m Tamalpa XC Challenge.  To pass the time, the SPARTAN Super-Seniors thought of singing … Continue reading

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Spartans Kick Dirt at Golden Gate Park – 9/8/18

The largest contingent of Spartans in recent memory—eight senior harriers— gathered on the green fields of Golden Gate Park to kick dirt in the PA/USA 6k cross county challenge.  On a sun-kissed San Francisco morning—with just a baby’s breath of breeze wimpling through the eucalyptus groves—the SPARTAN EIGHT lined up to face the challenge.  Or should I say the SPARTAN FIVE . . . .

      What would a SPARTAN race be without a comical mishap or two?  The SPARTANS are notorious for losing their way on the course, but they usually manage to make it to the start.  But not always.  Adding to the SPARTAN lore will now be the story of Brian and the Buzbee Boys lounging on the Polo Ground bleachers, leisurely lacing their shoes, when the gun goes off.  (When Brian caught up with me about 600 yards into the race, I thought, “My god, he’s lapping me already?)

     Don led the SPARTAN pack, finishing in the top 100 of the Master’s Men, blistering through the course in 28:25.  The Senior SPARTANS could barely contain their excitement knowing this young lad—who does not yet know the feeling of old legs—will be turning 60 next month and joining a burgeoning Senior club.  Brian and the Buzbee boys did remarkably well, considering they were nearly a minute late to the starting line, with Nick finished just a step behind Mike.  A bit farther back came Art and Sal, and farther, farther back yet trailed Kurt, who was simply happy to kick-ass on 83-year-old Bill Dodson and goofy-foot Sampson.

     It was a gorgeous day, and the SPARTANS lingered long after the cool-down, not wanting to let it go . . . .

MASTERS
Don Donoughe: 28:25

SENIORS
Brian Conroy: 29:34
Pat Buzbee: 30:44
Mike Buzbee: 31:42
Nick Butterfield: 31:44
Art Sanchez: 34:53
Sal Martinez: 37:17
Kurt Gravenhorst: 38:23  (our reporter)

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Spartans XC Team – Golden Gate Park – 9/8/18

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Christmas Relays – 2014

Put this race on your calendar next year. It will only be one week after the USATF Cross Country Nationals, so we’ll all be in good shape for it.

Sunday was a glorious day for running. The rain stopped. The skies were clear and the air had that fresh scent that only happens after a cleansing rain. It’s been seven years since I had done a Christmas relay race and I’m betting that it has been at least that long for other Spartans. It is easy to pass on this race since it happens at such a busy time of year. There’s always a party the night before that makes getting up the next morning hard. But if you do, it is well worth it.

This is probably the most fun race of the year. At any time during the race, 3/4 of the runners are not racing. Most are warming up, warming down or milling around the finish line/passing zone. There is a festive party like atmosphere that was enlivened by the 21st Amendment Brewery truck which dispensed two beers (included in the entry fee) to all runners over 21. There was also a food truck if you wanted breakfast or lunch.

The course was not as flat as I remembered it. The first mile is uphill, but not too bad since the adrenalin is pumping. You can make up time on the downhill portion of the second mile. The third mile is an ever so slight uphill that gradually saps your momentum. There is a bit of a reprieve on the fourth mile, which is mostly flat with a little bit of downhill. The last half mile of the 4.464 mile course is an uphill that slows even the fastest runners.

I ran the first leg in the middle of the pack and passed off to Mike Buzbee, who passed about 20 runners to move us up. Sal Martinez, who was the last minute replacement for Art Sanchez, ran a fine third leg to keep us in good position. Francisco Verduzco anchored and was able to hold off the Tamalpa B team.

We finished third out of five teams in our 60+ division. Tamalpa’s A team was first in 2:03. Second went to the Mad River runners, a team of former standouts at Humboldt State, in a time just under 2:16. Our time was 2:23 and Tamalpa B was 2:29. Overall, we were 140th place out of 208 teams.The highly desirable Christmas relay mugs went to Tamalpa’s A team. This is based on a formula that awards mugs to the top 20% of teams (based on the number of teams that finished the previous year). With only five teams in our division this year, the mugs will only go to the first place team again next year.

Keep Running. Have a Happy Holidays and Goooooo Spartans! – Paul Togas

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