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

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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