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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China Camp XC – September 30, 2018

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 . . . .

Don Donoughe: 28:25

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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USATF Pacific Association Cross Country Championships – 2014

Six Spartans toed the line for the masters race. There was Mike Buzbee, Art Sanchez, Nick Butterfield, Sal Martinez, Francisco Verduzco and myself. We did well enough to secure 4th place (out of 8 teams) in the overall standings for the 60+ division. For the championship race, it appears that we finished 5th or 6th depending on whether Tamalpa enters a B team. My unofficial tally is as follows:

Tamalpa – 10
Empire – 13
Tamalpa B – 38
Golden Valley – 45
West Valley Joggers and Striders – 49
Spartans –50
Buffalo Chips – 70
If we take out the Tamalpa B team, we’re still a couple of points behind WVJS and Golden Valley. We’re close.

It’s always great seeing all the familiar faces (some who only come for the PA championships) and going out to lunch afterwards. For Mike and I, there was the added bonus of seeing George Wright, our sponsor and mentor for the New Ways Athletic Club more than 40 years ago at Chico State.

In case you missed or if you want to relive it, videos for all three PA championship races are on You Tube. You can find them at . Go Spartans! – Paul

This usually closes the season for us but this year no one wants the season to end just yet, at least until we can do the Christmas Relays. Who is up for that? It is on Sunday, December 14th. Pre-registration deadline is Dec 6. Four person teams. Each relay leg is 4.46 miles. Cost before Dec 6 is $72 per team (without t-shirts) and $120 per team (with t-shirts). Registration after Dec 6 is $96 per team (no shirts). So if you are up for it, the second question is do you want to spring extra $ for the t-shirt?

Go Spartans! – Paul

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USATF Pacific Association Cross Country Finals Course – 2014

“What better place is there to be on Sunday morning than in a beautiful park in one of the greatest cities in the world watching cross country.” I didn’t make that up, that’s what our race announcer said and apparently a lot of people agreed. Over five hundred runners toed the line in three separate races. And lots of people came to watch the runners inaugurate the course to be used for next year’s National Club Cross Country Nationals. The race t-shirts showed a bucket list of three races, this year’s 2014 PA championships (with the box next to it checked), 2015 PA Championships and 2015 National Club Championships (boxes unchecked). We’ll be running this course for a while so get used to it.

The race starts near where the 2006 Club Nationals race started. This area used to be called Speedway Meadow. This area is host to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and has been renamed Hellman Hollow after the passing of Warren Hellman, the sponsor of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The finish is near the southwest end of the Polo Field roughly 1/2 mile from the start. Our first dilemma upon arriving was trying to choose where to set up our tent. After checking out both start and finish areas and noting that no one was set up at the start, we decided to camp near the finish where everyone else was camped. Registration check-in, t-shirt pickup and water are close by, but it is a 1/2 mile walk to the start after peeling off your sweats and putting on your racing shoes. We had to run an abnormally long straightaway to the finish and one wonders if the start and finish could have been closer together, especially after seeing the segments on the course map added up to 10.4 kilometers. However, after running the race and comparing times from last years race, it would appear that the course is 10.0 kilometers.

The start at Hellman Hollow is great. It is wide with good footing and almost 400 meters long before it starts to narrow. The course takes a counterclockwise turn around the polo field dirt track, which is approximately 3/4 mile long and then heads back past the starting line along the north side of Hellman Hollow. Just about when you feel yourself get into a rhythm, the bumpy ground here takes you out of rhythm. Then it is a near hairpin turn where you reach a dirt trail that parallels Kennedy drive. This is a different portion of the same dirt trail that we run for the regular season race. There is a trail that we take during the regular season race between where everyone goes to cheer us on the backside of the course (regular season) to where the trail comes into Kennedy Drive for the last short stretch before the finish of the regular season loops. It is slightly uphill and difficult. For this course, we get to run that trail backwards and it is a lot more fun that way. When we get to that point where everyone congregates to cheer, we veer right across Lindley Meadows to the trail paralleling Kennedy Drive. This a much better crossing as it is more level and easier to negotiate than that diagonal hill crossing that we usually do during the regular season. From there the course is the same as the regular season course. A jaunt down the trail alongside Kennedy Drive and then the twisty sandy portion through the forest area and then the narrow grassy area and log jump. Instead of veering left and snaking up the hill, we go right and climb the hill (which is the way we used to do it on the regular season course). We then circle around the outside of the Polo Field until we reach the midpoint and then cross in and run on the track. After 1/4 lap, we veer left (at exactly the same point we left the track on the first loop) and then head out Hellman Hollow and repeat the loop. On the second loop after we come into the track, we follow the track all the way around to the finish. There is probably close to 1/2 mile left at this point. Even when you get to the final straightaway, there is still more than 300 meters left and you have to resist the urge to sprint early. Saw a lot of people shoot their wads too soon on that final straightaway.

Overall, I thought it was a good course. A little bit longer than the regular season course. Slightly faster, but not as fast as you would think as there are plenty of things on the course to upset your rhythm and momentum. This is an excellent spectator course. There is one spot on the course where you can see the runners pass by six times and by moving around a little bit, you can see them up to ten times (during a 10k race). Results have been posted on the PA website. I found some race photos on the Empire ( and Trkac ( websites. Those mainly feature their runners, but if you look you can find Spartans too.

Go Spartans! – Paul Tjogas

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Spartans Fun

Sunday, part of my bike ride took me along the westerly side of San Francisco’s Lake Merced. Memories of Spartan teams competing there in many Christmas Relay came flooding back. The imperceptible downhill at the start and on the backside, bringing the “I’m doing great!” feeling. Then the long rise back to the finish, bringing, “uh oh!” Having Pat point out all the old college stars and Olympians.  Lunch afterwards and recounting the “almosts”.

Nothing like the good old days. But … these are the good old days. All we have to do is put in the effort and then wait a few years.

For our installment on this year’s good old days, the Spartans club membership renewal has been completed so we continue as part of the Pacific Association of the USA Track and Field Association. Thank-you for your membership fee contributions – Paul Togas, Kurt Gravenhorst and Francisco Verduzco.

We may now compete again in the fall USATF cross country series.
Be sure to go to our race listings to see PAUSATF events through June, that you may want to enter.

You must be a USATF member to participate. Renew now at

Hope to see you at the Monday/Wednesday evening interval workouts at Lincoln High School. Remember, the short, intense bursts of interval workouts are the best training tools. And the camaraderie makes it fun … almost.

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February already! Did you renew your membership in the USA Track and Field, Pacific Association? If you plan to compete in any USATF events, you need to be a member. In addition to being able to compete in events such as the fall cross country series, you receive discounts on various running related gear as well as the monthly magazine. To complete your renewal, go to Remember to include your Spartans club affiliation.

The club membership is not yet renewed. Usually a club member pays for the renewal, since we collect no dues. If you compete in some USATF events and haven’t paid the club membership for a few years, why don’t you email me,, to arrange for payment of the 2014 dues?

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