I had been watching it for days with a disquieting uneasiness: a massive atmospheric river rolling down from the Gulf of Alaska––an atmospheric river primed to plummet the fields of Golden Gate Park like the falls of Niagara just in time for the running of the 24th USATF National Club Cross Country Championships. This would be no ordinary rainfall. Forecasters warned that this storm system was a tempest––a drenching downpour that would lash the Bay with wind gusts measuring a solid 10 on the Beaufort scale. This was a storm that would make the Rains of Ranchipur look like a spring mist.
As race day approached, my anxiety increased. Yes, I still had mild PTSD from the Rocklin race of 1999 when the wind howled with such ferocity even the great “half-inch spikes” Charles purposely took a wrong turn just to end the wind-blown torment. So two days before the race, I sent out the email: “Sorry SPARTANS, but with age comes wisdom. I’m staying home.”
Then on the eve of race day I told my son (unofficial SPARTAN Dean) of the madness that Don, Art, Sal, Brian, and Lino were going to literally weather the storm and run the race.
“What’s mad about that?” he asked.
“Are you kidding me? It’s going to be a cold, drenching, windy, muddy slop of a mess for five miserable miles!”
“Sounds like fun to me.”
That comment haunted me for the rest of the day. Was I now too old to see the fun in such a happening? Not the fun, perhaps, of creating the memory, but rather the fun of forever having it? No. “The day we ran the 2022 Club Championship” was not a story I wanted to be told; it was a story I wanted to help tell. At 7 a.m. the next morning, I sent Art a text: “I’m coming.”
The storm did not disappoint. Don from Burlingame and Sal from Santa Cruz drove up separately, while the remaining SPARTANS arrived with Art and began the half-mile trek through the wind and rain to the registration tent. We were a comical sight, wrapped in so much plastic we looked like walking Glad Bags as Lino tried to shelter under his mushroom umbrella which was hopeless against the swirling, wind-swept rain.
Registration was nearly as difficult as the run. Securing a wristband and a bib number on both the front and back of your singlet required a group effort as harriers fumbled with the tiny safety pins with icicle fingers and chased after the paper wristbands that would blow out of their hands. Then there was the occasional 45mph gust of wind that would catch the roof of the tent like a Spinnaker while the registration ladies grabbed the canopy frame and hung like monkeys to keep the tent from sailing into the Eucalyptus trees. By the time we returned to our campsite beneath a small, useless shelter of trees, it was 10 minutes to the starting gun.
The SPARTANS all ran the 8k in a field of 245, age 60+ harriers. Our race started in the East Meadow, ran around the Polo Field, down to Lindley Meadow, then down MLK Drive, then back up to the Polo Field, through the East Meadow again, the Eucalyptus grove, and somehow made it back to the Polo Field for the finish. Sections of the meadows were an energy-sucking, soggy quagmire, and the muddy trails followed flowing rivulets of water on the downslopes with occasional patches slick as black ice. It wasn’t long before the back of every harrier’s singlet looked like the mud flaps of a Proud Boys 4-wheel drive pickup truck. There were, of course, puddles everywhere, some as big as ponds and ankle deep (see photo). And the wind gusts blew so violently I hadn’t seen trees sway like that since I dropped acid back in ’69. At one point in the course the inevitable happened: a tree came timbering down on the course requiring the meet directors to alter the route of the remaining races for fear the Eucalyptus trees would start toppling like Tinker Toys.
At the conclusion the race, we all stumbled around like shivering loaves of soggy bread, dreaming of nothing but dry clothes and a warm room while a single thought was in the mind of each: “Why the hell do we do this?”
I don’t know the answer to that question. But when I got home, I took a hot shower and fell into bed. Then just before I fell into a dreamless sleep, I felt an involuntary smile slowly stretch across my cheeks. And then I said aloud, to absolutely no one in my empty home, “Damn, that was fun . . ..”
And the results of this Madness?
1. Don Donoughe: 38:34. Don continued to carry the blue-ribbon banner for the SPARTANS, and he put a cap on a very good season. We are SPARTAN proud to have Don continue on the team, and we hope to kick dirt with him for years to come.
2. Brian Conroy: 45:23. Always strong and steady, Brian’s upbeat, positive nature is perhaps the strongest thread keeping the frayed SPARTAN tapestry––and our singlets––from unraveling.
3. Sal Martinez: 50:27. What an inspiration and joy this harrier brings to the SPARTAN club. His very presence lifts the SPARTAN spirit, and I hope to see him run past me, with his always-encouraging word, in many future races.
4. Kurt Gravenhorst: 55:43. It’s a wonder he’s still around. That’s praise enough.
5. Art Sanchez: 57:13: Art deserves the SPARTAN courage award. Art ran in more XC races than any other SPARTAN this season despite a relentless, debilitating hip injury. Three times he fell on the mud-slick course, and each time he got up and endured. Simply heroic. He is a harrier at the very core of his being. We all wish him recovery in the off-season because running XC would not be the same without him.
6. Lino Favela: DQ. What can you say about this 81-year-old superman? He brings his peaceful, quiet presence to every race, and always reminds us that it’s not how well you finished that is important. What’s important is that you toed-the-line. I was surprised when I saw Lino standing at the finish line when I came in. I asked, “Lino, did you take a shortcut?” He simply smiled and said, “Who knows?”
––Bill Busher (Strawberry Canyon): 54:50
––Julius Ratti (Unattached); 47:47
––Mike Buzbee (former SPARTAN now with River City Rebels): 44:20
––Jeff Hongo (Hoka Aggies): 41:16 (10k course)
Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night––and Happy New Year. And keep on keeping on . . . .