2008 Tamalpa Open XC - Race Story

By George Frazier

An undeniable magic always imbues the John Lawson Tamalpa Challenge -- our annual homage to the indomitable spirit of Johnny Lawson. That magic, manifest even on a gloomy, blustery day at China Camp, was present in the wet, but cheerful, volunteers, the beaming Lawson family, and a series of incredible running performances.

In the women’s race, won again by Kara June, a potential superstar appeared from nowhere in the person of 13-year-old Julia Maxwell, who finished 7th overall in the highly competitive women’s race. Julia, whose longest previous race had been a 1.1-mile middle-school cross country race, beat a host of name-brand runners, including Rosemarie Lagunas (by 8 seconds), Lisbet Sunshine (by 1 minute and 8 seconds) and Jenny Wong (by 2 minutes and 25 seconds). Julia is the daughter of the late Canadian Olympian Brian Maxwell and Jennifer Maxwell, a longtime Tamalpan.

Tamalpa’s next finisher in the women’s race was Karen Steele, who led a powerful senior team that included Mimi Willard, Christina Lachman, Mary Wells, Karen Kiely, and Tricia Wallace. The masters women, led by Tammy Gonzalez, included Jennifer Maxwell, Michelle McLaughlin, and Ann Charlton. Janet Bowman and Edda Stickle placed second and third in the super senior division.

The next magic moment occurred when Tamalpa’s reigning superstar, Brian Pilcher, was the overall winner of the men’s 40-and-over race. Brian, finishing in 24:45, edged masters-division tough guys Jeff Hongo (by 9 seconds), Gary Gellin (by 13 seconds) and Ty Strange (by 15 seconds). Brian, who knew every twist and turn of the course, having volunteered to mark the course, took the lead with about a half mile to go. Thinking that Jeff Hongo would probably attempt to retake the lead, Brian stormed through the rain to the finish line, with his wife Becky leading the cheers.

To put Brian’s performance in perspective, it’s not only amazing that a 52-year-old could beat all the 40-year-old kids, but it is likely that his effort was the first outright victory in a USATF cross country race by a Tamalpan of any age! While it’s possible that we might be wrong about this, none of our tribal elders couild remember a previous Tamalpa winner of a USATF or TAC cross country race.

Brian led an outstanding (and winning) team in the Senior division that included Tom O’Reilly (4th Senior), Jim Howard (5th Senior), Mark Richtman (6th Senior), Brian Purcell, Brad Bryon, Ken Grebenstein, Peter O’Reilly, and John Catts. Don Porteous won the Super Senior division in a tough battle with Bill Dunn of WVJS. Russ Kiernan won the Veteran’s division, with Bernie Hollander finishing second and Darryl Beardall third. Sam Hirabayashi won the Super Veteran’s division in a tough battle with exactly no one.

Brad O’Brien finished 9th overall to lead a 40-49 squad that included David Bronstein, Don Lindsey, David Leipsic, and baby-sitter-seeking, late-starting Greg Nacco. Nick Wilton volunteered to watch Ziggy and Marley as Greg looked for childcare about five minutes before the start of the race. Scott Schneider, who finished close behind Greg, provided similar last-second babysitting services for Seth Davis during the open race.

As the rain turned to a torrent, current Tamalpa top dog Mark McManus provided some considerable magic of his own in the open men’s race by fielding a complete Tamalpa open-division team. Mark, who is intent upon bringing some youthful vigor to Tamalpa’s racing teams, finished 13th overall and was followed by his teammates Matt Hirschey, Mark Churchill (fresh from Vermont with his wife, Mary Fagan Churchill), Wayne Patton, and the aforementioned Seth Davis. The club needs to thank, encourage and help Mark as he works to build a viable open team.

The real magic of the race we call “The Johnny” was apparent just after Seth Davis finished, as a young, lithe blond runner wearing bib number 1 crossed the finish line in 49th place (of 62 finishers) in the ultra competitive open race. That runner, of course, was young John Lawson. At age 13, John demonstrated the running talent and personal determination of both his father John and his mother Kelly.

Kelly Lawson, of course, is a Tamalpa legend for her running (she’s the only person to have won all 10 TCRS races in a single season, including an epic battle with April Powers at Deer Park), her incredible spirit and infectious enthusiasm (anyone who has been cheered-on by Kelly knows exactly what I mean). She is the godmother of this event, bringing out her entire clan—including daughter Summer, who ran the finishing tags from the finish line to the results tent.

If Kelly is the godmother of The Johnny, Ken Grebenstein is the man behind the curtain. As race director, Ken not only handled all the pre-race logistics, he managed the last-minute gathering of the easy-up (or not-so-easy-up in some cases) shelters that provided some protection on a very soggy day. Ken’s smiling and stalwart volunteer corps included well-known Tamalpa heroes like Lillie O’Reilly, Kees Tuinzing, Jen Erickson, Frank Ruona, and Dave Pinto, but some unsung heroes like Nick Wilton (volunteer coordinator), Mike Radcliffe and Peter Badertscher (lead bikes), John Catts (trail sweep), Mitch and Becky DeShields (transporting and tending the beer), Moylan’s (donating the beer), Tim and Diana Fitzpatrick (bagels and coffee), Janis Lasser (registration and toleration), the Lawson clan (finish line), Charles at Fleet Feet (bibs and prizes), Kelly Lawon (funding for mugs), and Brian Pilcher (course marking).

For those of us who are lucky enough to have shared the trails, roads, and tracks with Johnny Lawson, this event allows us to actually feel his exuberant, excitable, enthusiastic energy. There’s only one Johnny Lawson Tamalpa Challenge. And there was only one Johnny Lawson. We miss you, Johnny.

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