Neither delayed airplanes, frigid weather, a bumpy course, a challenge from a new 70’s team and even an unlucky bib number could deter the 70’s Tamalpa team from defending their national club cross country title and making it three championships in a row. The team of Gene French, Len Goldman, David Mccormack, and Don Porteous made the trek to Lexington KY the site of this year’s meet. While Gene chose to take a red eye flight arriving Thursday morning, the other three runners traveled together on a mid-day flight out of SFO. Things got off to a rocky start, with a plane equipment issue, causing a 2 plus hour delay while a replacement plane was put into service. Once airborne things went smoothly and our intrepid runners arrived in Lexington at 10 pm (East Coast time) on Thursday night. It was interesting to note that there were a lot of runners on our flights both coming and going. Fridaymorning weather conditions were definitely frigid, with highs around 30 degrees, temperatures none of us were used to, let alone having to race in. After relaxing Friday morning, we picked up our bib numbers at the host hotel where we were staying. Due to the sequence in which bib numbers were assigned, Len drew #1313, good thing none of us are superstitious and it gave us all a moment of levity.
On Friday afternoon, we drove to the course, Masterson Station Park, to familiarize ourselves with the layout. The park is a large open space, tree lined in some spots. For the men’s teams 60 and over, the race distance was 8K and it consisted of two – 4K loops. Once we started jogging our bodies warmed up, of course we all had several layers on and it was sunny. The course consisted of some gently rolling hills along with flat sections and an uphill finish. While relatively flat compared to many of the courses we have raced on during the PA cross country series, we knew that on the second lap of the race we would be feeling it.
The start of the race featured a slight drop in elevation, but the surface was kind of lumpy and uneven, plus the ground in spots was soft. By the time we finished the jog through, all our shoes had loaded up with mud, which was a concern because none of us race in spikes.
We found the course pleasant enough, no real sharp turns and wide enough so passing other runners wouldn’t be a problem. Fortunately except for the starting part of the course, the rest of the ground was smoother, and we were pretty much running on grass or dirt most of the time. Compared to the course in Tallahassee, where last’s year’s championship meet was held, this one was definitely harder and the frigid temperatures would add to the difficulty. Still we were optimistic about our chances, the unknown factor being a team from Seattle, Eastside Runners, who based on some research by Don, had some fast runners and might contend closely with us. We all synchronized our watches and planned to leave for the course at 7:45 on Saturday morning with a 9 a.m.start for our race.
Saturday seemed even colder, and there was forecast of snow flurries later in the day. Our rental car had a layer of frost on the windows which took several minutes to scrape off before heading over for the race. We got a good parking place near the start line, and walked around to check things out. One good thing, it was so cold, the ground was frozen and there would be no problem with shoes loading up with mud.
After checking in with the clerk of the course, we went back to our cars to get out of the cold. With about 20 minutes to go, we headed over to the tent near the start line that had a gas heater and where we could put our warm-ups. We all were running in tights, gloves, long sleeve shirt under our singlet and a hat or cap on our heads. Prior to the start we were all doing jumping jacks to try and keep warm, but it was a futile effort and we all shivered as the arctic cold sunk into bodies which were unfamiliar with conditions like this. Our team plan was to try and finish in front of as many 70 year old runners as possible. Since everyone in our race had to wear an age group number on their back, it was easy to spot who they were. There were 110, 60 and over runners on the start line, and 34 of them were in the 70-79 age group, with 6 teams competing for the 70’s team title.
As the gun went off signaling the start of the race, I tried to find a line to the first slight turn we would have to make about 400 meters into the race. Everything was pell-mell and I quickly lost sight of Don as he surged ahead. He later told me he was trying to run up with the top two 70 year olds in the race. I was more concerned at this point about staying upright in this part of the course and getting into a racing rhythm.
As we approached the first turn, we entered a large soccer field that we would run around twice during the course of the race. Footing seemed better here and smoother, less bumpy. The race organizers had both kilometer and mile markers. As we started the first slight uphill part of the course, the mile 1 marker was upon us. Don ran around a 6:40 split and I was about 6:52, not bad but this was the easiest part of the course too. As we worked ourselves around the course, it became a bit more rolling and a few turns to add to the fun. Around 1.5 miles, I passed a 70 year old runner, I later found out it was a runner from Genesee Vally, one of the teams challenging us for the title. Ahead of me about 100 yards, I could see another 70 year old runner who was running unattached, David Glass. He was one of the favorites for individual honors. I was hoping I could close the gap or that he would falter, but it was not to be. I did see Don as we rounded a bend in the course near the 2 mile mark, and he had about 200 yards on me, so he was running well. Of course I could not tell what was going on behind me, but I knew Gene was steady and reliable. Just in case something happened to one of us, David was our insurance, we knew he would finish and provide support. As we passed the 2 mile mark, the course had a steady uphill section for about 800 meters, plus the wind was now in our faces and you felt the sting of the cold. I drafted on another runner who was running my pace to provide some relief from the wind.
At the 4K point in the race, Don was 15 seconds behind the 70 age group leader in 17:25, I was 18:06 in 4th place, Gene was 18:55but he had several 70 year old runners close to him and the second lap of the race would be critical to our team chances. David was providing back-up support and went through in 22:45.
Both Don and I tried our best to catch up with the 70 year old runners in front of us, but they proved their mettle and we never really closed the gap all that much. The second lap of the race as expected, due to fatigue, was slightly slower than our first, I doubt very many runners ran negative splits under those conditions. However unbeknownst to us, Gene was in a real battle trying to move up and at the same time holding off any runners in our age group trying to pass him. The winner of the race was David Longmuir of Eastside Runners in 34:56. He and the other 70 year old runners from his club were unknown quantities before the race, but proved to be our stiffest competitors. Don was second, 39 seconds back of the winner in 35:35. An unattached runner, David Glass, was 3rd. I finished in 36:42, 18 seconds from the 3rd place runner. So the next set of finishers would determine if we were to defend our championship.
As it turned out, Gene ran a solid second lap, passing the 70 year old runner who was 24 seconds ahead of him at the half way point, plus finished before both the 2nd and 3rd runners on the other scoring teams, so our victory was assured. His time was 38:15, with David finishing as our 4th runner, 46:33. For team scoring purposes, its the top three finishers placing in the race, we scored 11 points. Eastside Runners scored 18 points to secure 2nd place and the final team podium spot went to the team from Genesee Valley with 24 points.
It took a team effort, as it has every year to win the team title, and all Tamalpans can take pride in having a national championship team to its credit.
At the awards ceremony we were presented with our team plaque and medals, and then quickly headed to our motel and out of the bone chilling cold to take a well deserved hot shower. It was a very satisfying team win, and I think we showed the other teams in the country that we can run and win under all types of conditions. At next year’s race in Spokane, the other 70 year old teams will be looking to take us down and will be bringing in new talent, but we will give in our best effort to “4-peat”.
Link to results:
One important aspect of the national meet is that it of course draws runners from throughout the country, many of whom we have raced against both in last year’s meet and the one held in San Francisco in 2015. The fellowship of runners and our common bond is very strong and while we take our racing seriously, we also enjoy the camaraderie of the other runners, especially those who are in the 70 age group. In fact, Don found out during the course of meeting some of our competitors, he had raced with them during his high school cross country days, some 50+ years ago. For Gene and I, it was a chance to renew acquaintances, from national meet competitions in previous years. In David’s case, it gave him a chance to make new friends. So 2017 ended on a high note for us all and we were thankful to return to sunny California and leave the frigid cold behind us.