– 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 . . .