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.
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.
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