Are you looking for a darkhorse to cheer for at the US Olympic Marathon Trials on February 13, 2016 in Los Angeles? Perhaps a runner from the small town (less than 500 population) of Fawn Grove, PA, who will also be celebrating his 28th birthday when he makes his marathon debut in a couple weeks?
Jonathan Grey ran PR’s of 4:18 in the 1600m, 9:11 in the 3200m, and 15:41 in 5K cross country while at Kennard-Dale High School. He began his collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to William & Mary after his freshman year. At William & Mary he was a 3-time All-American, with top finishes of seventeenth at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships and fifth in the 5000 meters at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
After graduating in the spring of 2011, he joined Team Minnesota. Although I didn’t know him or talk to him at the 2011 XC Club Nationals in Seattle, we both raced there. I came in 92nd in the Masters Men’s race with a time of 36:06. He was 1st in the Open Men’s race with a time of 29:38. We both had really good races that day.
Jon has been running some fast times of late. In the spring of 2015 he set PR’s on the track in back to back months at Stanford. In April he ran 13:37.79 in the 5000 meters and then in May he ran 27:59.88 in the 10,000 meters.
I first met Jon at the 2015 USA Championships. We ended up at the same table after the meet for dinner at the Wild Duck Café. He had just come in 14th in the men’s 10,000 meter race. It was really hot that night and the next day he tweeted a picture of the Hayward Field track, melted on the bottom of his spikes. After I was introduced to Jon, I made sure he quickly got a beer in his hands to re-hydrate. We then talked a little bit about the upcoming XC Club Nationals meet in San Francisco. As often happens after something like this, a couple weeks later we became Facebook friends.
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook (and doesn’t hide me) was well aware that I was a tad bit excited about Club Nats. At Club Nationals, towards the end of the day, the Pamakids were hanging out at our tent. A young runner walks over and immediately starts talking to me – it’s Jon Grey! He has a big smile on his face and he says that he’s been following me on Facebook. He knew I would be here and just wanted to come over and say hi. We talked a little about our races. I think he told that he came in second. I may or may not have told him how proud I was of our open men’s team for coming in 57th and beating the Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. It was only later that I realized that I had seen him during the race because he was the runner leading the pack for most of the race, running with a white baseball cap on backwards. Garrett Heath passed him in the final 100 meters but it was still a pretty awesome race. And I think it shows what a cool person he is, that after this race, he wasn’t down and disappointed. Instead he decided to come find a friend he met once at a restaurant six months earlier just to say hi.
In the summer of 2015, Jon moved to Boulder, CO to be coached by Lee Troop and run for the Boulder Track Club. He has been racing very well including top 10 finishes at the October USATF 10 Mile Championships and the November .US National 12K Championships (both part of the USATF Running Circuit)
At the 2016 Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon, he not only ran under the Olympic Marathon Trials half marathon qualifying standard of 1:05, to qualify for the Marathon Trials, but he won the race in 1:02:47. He’ll be one of 168 runners toeing the line with their eyes on a top three finish and a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
This marathon on his 28th birthday will be his debut. But Jon seems ready to go. The team just got back from a three week sea-level camp in Tucson, AR. (I guess when you live at altitude, instead of an altitude camp, you go to a sea-level camp). He told me that they were able to get speed/turn-over work in at sea level that would not have been possible at altitude. Jon says his race plan is simply to be patient. Because it’s his debut he wants to focus on being tactically efficient. That being said, he also says his goal is to be top three. He will focus on running a smart race that gets him the highest possible place, whatever that may be.
So if you’re not sure who to look for or who to root for at the 2016 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials, consider rooting for Jonathan Grey. I will be.
As the Pamakid Open Men prepared for their third USATF Cross Country Club National Championship Meet (Club Nats), they were looking to improve on 50th (and last) in 2011 in Seattle and 45th (and last) in 2013 in Bend. Beating someone, anyone, was all we were asking for.
During the week leading up to the 2015 Club Nats, it was unclear if the Pamakids would be placed into the A race or the B race. While willing to run in whichever race we were placed in by USATF, deep inside, most wanted to compete against the best of the best in the A race. An invitation to run in the A race would also give us the opportunity to do what had alluded us in 2011 and 2013…to get out of last place. It turns out that we were initially placed in the B race but the Pacific Association Cross Country Chair, Carl Rose, argued on our behalf that it was wrong to have the Pamakids as the only club whose A team was being placed in the B race. Rose campaigned for meet officials to move us into the A race and when the start lists came out, the Pamakids were in the A race.
The next step was to find a team of similar speed that we could battle to get out of last place. I scanned the entry list and one team name couldn’t help but jump out at me, the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. I didn’t know much about them but I decided to get the Open Men fired up by issuing them a challenge via a group e-mail. The next few hours saw a furry of e-mails that included some predictable laundry jokes. Steve Holcombe did some scouting, also known as Facebook stalking. Before long we had the rundown on their team – one 2:30 marathon runner up front, some 39 minute 10K runners, and a super senior who jumped in to fill out their team. We had our rivals!
The key to victory (yes, that’s what we were calling not being in last place….victory), was for our #1 runner to get as close to their #1 as possible and for our #2 runner to hopefully beat their #2 runner by the same number of places that their #1 beat our #1. Then it would come down to our #3-4-5 runners winning their match-ups, and possibly making up a few more points for us if necessary.
At the starting line, our Open Men went looking for their rivals so we would know what uniform we were targeting. To no surprise, they wore nicely pressed and just laundered Kelly green uniforms. It was game on!
It was amazing how our back pack runners quickly found their rivals. Having not been at the starting line for this race, I didn’t yet know what the rival uniform looked like. My wife, Malinda, ironically carrying a white laundry
basket that the team was using to carry sweats back to our tent, started to describe the Kelly green uniforms to me. But then Ray “Tower” Yu ran by just before the one mile mark and he was pointing excitedly at the runner ahead of him. Now I knew what I was looking for.
Just before the 3K mark, I saw Adam Roach, the Launderer’s #1 runner. Malinda and I started counting the runners between him and our #1 runner, Steve Lloyd. But then Malinda saw Nick Symmonds and yelled, “Hey look, it’s Nick Symmonds!” “Where?” I asked. As we had this conversation we lost track of what number we were on. We cheered on our top two runners, Steve L and Justin Mikecz, and then I started counting the runners between Justin and their #2. But again, I got distracted as people started talking to me. My gut feeling was that it was close but we were probably behind. “The boys are going to have to go to work the second half of the race to make this happen,” I thought to myself. We would later learn that I was pretty much spot on. According to the chip split times, at the 3K mark we were losing to the Launderers by 20 points.
Malinda and I went back into the Polo Fields to cheer for them again. This time I tried to stay away from people I knew so I could stand alone and count undisturbed. I approximated that Steve L was losing his match-up by 90 points and that Justin was winning his match-up by 50 points. That meant we needed our 3-4-5 runners to pick up 40 points for us. Things were trending well. Steve H passed the Launderers #2 (David Erstad). Ryan Pletzke and Ray were not only pulling ahead of their #3 (Mark Moehling) but also closing the gap on Erstad. It was also helpful that our #6 and #7 runners Merick Dang and Jeff Huizinga were beating the Launderer’s #4 (the super senior, Jim Tiffany). Now was not the time to defer to your elders. Take him out! John Gieng running as our #8 runner was still helping the cause, displacing the Launderers #5, Ryan Dunham. We were gaining an important extra one point because at Club Nationals, they score eight runners.
We ran back to the 7K mark. A lot of the runners had passed already and I missed Roach, so I couldn’t count what the lead over Steve L was. I did count that Justin was 50 or so placed ahead of Erstad. I had the same feeling that we needed to pick up some more points. The points were hard to come by for our 3-4-5 runners because there weren’t that many runners in striking range around them. I felt that Steve L and Justin were the key. With a good finish they could pick up ten places and that might be what we needed. We kept yelling to our guys, telling them where our rivals were and to fight for every place. The chip timing splits would later bear out that it was indeed close. We had made up the gap and pulled ahead by a mere two points at the 7K mark. A big part of this turnaround from 20 points down to two points ahead was Justin moving up 20 places while his match up #2 runner was in the same place.
The way we were passionately yelling for our guys, you’d think we were cheering on the Hoka One One guys fighting for the team championship. The guys were focused like never before, game faces on and laser stares with their eyes. We kept feeding them information about the Landerers. At one point when we were yelling at our team and pointing at one of the Launderers, saying, “That’s their #2! That’s their #2!” The Launderer made a weird expression on his face as if to say, “Are they talking about me? Why does anyone care that I’m the #2 runner on my team?” Didn’t he know this was Club Nats and the Pamakids were coming for them?!
With less than a half mile to go, the runners streamed by us again. It was going to be close so we just kept cheering on our guys. The Launderers #2 runner (it was now Moehling, who had passed Erstad due to an apparent shoelace issue on JFK Drive) was a few steps ahead of Ryan and Ray. This was huge. We could swing two to four points with a good finish. Ray nodded as he came by and I knew he was measuring his kick to pass Moehling and run us out of last place. Ray ended up passing Moehling to give us four runners ahead of their #2. Ryan, Merick, and Jeff all beat their #3. We were picking up “little” points that could be the “big” difference.
The rest was a bit of a blur. Knowing it would take time for the results to be announced, we took some team photos and went back to our tent for our Pamakid potluck picnic. At some point I looked at my phone and saw that the results were in. I called for everyone’s attention as I was about to read the Open Men team results. I held up my phone and dramatically scrolled down to the bottom of the results….this took several seconds and only helped build even greater anticipation. I checked last place, first. Hmm. The Mostly Bearded Track Club had supplanted us for the honor of last place (it turns out the Mostly Bearded #1 runner dropped out after the 7K mark which resulted in a 200 point swing in their team score). In 58th place, 13 points behind 57th place was….the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners! We were 57th place! A mere 13 points ahead of our new rivals! A big cheer went up in our team area. “They don’t just hand out 57th place, you know,” said Jeff. In the bleachers next to us, the Asics Aggies, who like us missed the podium – with their 4th place finish, seemed to get a kick out of seeing us cheer for our 57th place finish and joined in the whooping and hollering.
Our journey out of last place began in Seattle and included a road block known as Rolling Thunder. The journey continued in Bend. But before we could arrive at our final stop on this journey, we had to battle through a laundromat in Monterey Bay. Thanks for the great race, Wednesday Night Laundry Runners.
The place was Bend, Oregon.
The year was 2013. The same year that I had double bouts of pneumonia, once in February and again in May.
Thanks to the pneumonia, I knew the 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my fastest race. When I previewed the hilly five loop course on Friday, I hoped that 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my slowest race.
For him, 2013 was probably just another year. His third year as a masters runner. Another year removed from the PR’s and glory of the late 1990’s back when we were both in our late 20’s.
In between my bouts with pneumonia, we raced three times. At Sac Town 10 he beat me by a comfortable 7 minutes, 25 seconds. In the 5K, I closed that gap to 1:22.
In the fall at Martinez, it took one of my best races of the season to finish 11th in 23:57. He was 6th in 23:17. He must have gotten lost. Or he was injured. Maybe he had pneumonia.
At Club Nationals, on the first of the five loops, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me – long hair, black jersey. Could it be? I knew I wasn’t tearing it up, so I concluded he was having an off day, probably running despite an injury. I passed him. But he would re-pass me. I kept hoping I would be ahead of him when we ran by people I knew who had a camera. Maybe a picture would be taken showing me ahead of him. That would make this race memorable, I thought, because certainly neither the speed in which I was running nor place I was in in the race were memorable. I was so “not in the zone” and un-focused that this is what I thought about for most of the second, third, and fourth laps.
On the fifth lap he passed me on the final uphill. Normalcy had returned, I thought to myself. Even injured he has so much talent that he beats me. But as we approached the downhill sprint to the finish, I noticed I was catching up to that black jersey. At least I thought it was him. You see, I had never been this close to him in a race before, so I wasn’t familiar with what he looked like from such close range.
The last 200 meters. I may never have a chance to beat him again in my life I thought. And so I gave it my all out kick on the uneven terrain. I passed him in the final glorious meters, edging him out 40:22 (144th) to 40:25 (148th).
But it gets better. My Pamakid teammate, Monica Zhuang, was right by the finish line. And she was taking pictures. She captured the moment.
For him, it was a race that’s probably been long forgotten.
For me, it was the day I beat the 1998 USA 1500 meter champion, Jamey Harris. I have the picture to prove it and a story for the ages.
Running the race you want to run, when you want to. That’s the challenge all of us runners face. It’s what keeps us motivated to train and to sign-up for big races – all in the hope that things will come together perfectly on race day. The 2011 USA Club Cross Country National Championships (aka “Club Nationals”) was my big goal race. I first thought about the Pamakids attending this meet over three years ago. We started talking specifically about the 2011 Club Nationals last year. Trip planning to go to Seattle has been going on for the last nine months. To say I’ve been targeting this race would be an understatement.
Since turning forty last year I have had a great year of training and racing. However, in the fall my focus was on coaching more than my own training. As a result I had some up races and some just okay races. At the Pacific Association Cross Country Championships (PA Champs) on November 20, I went out too hard and lost a lot of places as I fought through the muddy conditions. Coming off that disappointing race I really wanted to run a better race in Seattle. My main goal was to be competitive for the entire 10K, ideally moving up as the race went on rather than being passed.
I bought cross country spikes problems in case the grass was wet and muddy so that I would not have traction problems as at the PA Champs. I studied the course map and on Flotrack video of the course. The course was more or less a 2K loop that would be run five times. I decided I would use the kilometer marks to monitor my pace rather than the usual mile markers. Based on my recent previous times, I figured I could run sub-37 minutes on this 10K course. My goal was to run 3:40 per kilometer and 7:20 per 2K loop in order to run under 37 minutes. With those splits, I calculated I would place around 130th, but my more ambitious goal was to try to break into the top 100, which would likely require a low 36 minute time.
The energy at the starting line was intense. Over 350 of the fastest masters runners were toeing the line and there was an electricity in the air. I was excited to be with my Pamakid teammates at this meet, but I also had my game face on. I noticed Margaret Gallagher taking my picture as I did my drills and stride outs. Five minutes before the race began the officials fired a gun to indicate sweats off and no more run outs. Our Pamakid masters men’s team stripped down, took a team photo, and did our “Go Green!” cheer. As we stood at the starting line anticipating the gun it grew eerily quiet. I looked down the row of runners, all crouched in the set position, toes behind the white line. Then bang, the gun fired and we were off.
For the first 400 meters the challenge was to get a good start but not get sucked out at too fast a pace. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a field this large and competitive. Over 350 runners from all over the country were jockeying for position along the grass straightaway. I had to use my elbows to protect my space and avoid falling. There were many times that I was surrounded by other runners and had no choice but to go with the crowd. It was so crowded that speeding up and passing was not an option, nor was slowing down unless you wanted to be trampled. When I hit the 1K mark, I clicked my watch and carefully took my eyes off the course to check my watch. It read 3:36. Beautiful! Only four seconds faster than goal pace. I settled into a rhythm and ran with the crowd of runners around me. I had no idea what place I was in but I saw Dan Mancini of the River City Rebels next to me so I figured there was a good chance I was in the right group.
I hit the 2K mark at 7:15 and smiled to myself. I was right on pace and the danger of going out too fast was pretty much over. Now I could concentrate on maintaining the pace and passing people. I was in a real groove and that’s exactly what I did. I passed twelve runners on the second 2K loop, running 7:11 and pulling away from Dan Mancini. I hit 5K in 18:02 so I knew I was not only well on my way to a sub-37, I was flirting with a low 36 minute 10K. The third loop was another 7:11. I was in the zone.
Sometime mid-race I noticed that Nick and Francesca Cannata-Bowman, two kids that I used to coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) who now live in Seattle, were cheering for me. Their sister, Sophia, is a current SHC runner. I’ve been to a lot of meets coaching members of the Cannata-Bowman family and it made me feel great to know that this time they had come to see me race.
Slightly after 6K, I noticed an Asics Aggie uniform ahead of me. I surged and passed the runner. Seconds later I heard someone cheer for this person. “Go Hongo,” they said. “Hongo? Jeff Hongo? I just passed Jeff Hongo!? I must be having a great day,” I thought to myself. Now I had to work to make sure Hongo didn’t re-pass me, so I tried to speed up just a bit. I next lapped my Pamakid teammate Mark Huffman. Mark encouraged me saying, “Go Andy, you’re having a great race!” I was getting pretty tired and started wishing the race was 8K instead of 10K. I knew I had enough gas in the tank for the fourth loop. It was the fifth loop I wasn’t so sure about.
By this point in the race, although I felt like I was surging, all I was doing was working harder in order to keep from slowing down. The good thing was that I was still passing runners fairly frequently. I tried to never settle into my position but instead constantly target the next person I wanted to pass. It was working, though, as my fourth 2K was 7:18. One lap to go. Pamakid teammates were all over the course cheering. There was no chance to let up or someone would see you and give you an earful. Malinda had told me that my form was tight the last couple races so I made a conscious effort to relax. As I rounded the final turn I knew I had about 400 meters to go. It was a long straightaway but I had plenty of company around me and I knew I needed to kick better than I had at the PA Champs if I wanted to be proud of my race. I got up on my toes and pumped my arms hard. As I approached the finish line I could see the clock, 35:55, 35:56, I was still 50 meters from the finish line so breaking 36 minutes wasn’t going to happen. But it was going to be a great time (and later I would learn that I was 92nd, achieving my top 100 goal!).
I looked up and saw the National Championship banner that indicated the finish line. At the team meeting the night before the race, I had reminded all my Pamakid teammates to take a mental snapshot of the scene as they raced towards the finish at the USA National Championships. I took my own personal snapshot so that I will always remember coming down the final straightaway at my first Club Nationals….having run the race I wanted to, on the day I wanted to.
The USATF National Club Cross Country Championships are taking place in Seattle, Washington on Saturday, December 10, 2011. For the first time in recent memory and possibly in club history, the Pamakid Runners have runners traveling to compete at this meet. The last time the club had representation at this national championship meet was in 2006, when the meet took place in San Francisco. At that meet in 2006, newly minted master, George Rehmet placed 120th in the 40-44 age division and Keith Johnson placed ninth in the 65-69 year old age division. Also racing in 2006 representing the Hoy’s Excelsior team was John Spriggs. John will be racing for Pamakids this weekend.
There are two cross country championships a year in the USA. In February what is commonly referred to as the ”Winter Cross Country Championships” takes place. This serves as the qualifying race for runners who want to run at the World Cross Country Championships. This meet tends to be more elite and individual runner oriented. The list of recent champions at this meet include Olympic medalists and American record holders like Dathan Ritzenhein, Meb Keflezighi, and Shalane Flanagan. In 2008, Jocelyn Rodriguez ran in the Junior race at this meet for Pamakids, placing 33rd out of 63 runners.
The second meet is the National Club Cross Country Championships and it takes place in December. This is the meet taking place this weekend and it is often referred to as “Club Nationals.” The meet is more team-oriented with an emphasis on clubs from all over the country coming together to compete against one another. The list of recent champions, while still impressive, includes more the second tier of elite athletes like Aaron Braun, Scott Bauhs, Renee Metvier Baillie, Rebecca Donaghue, and Delilah DiCrescenzo.
I am very excited that the Pamakids are going to Seattle. To say that going to Club Nationals has been on my bucket list is not quite accurate, because I’ve been wanting to go to Club Nationals for longer than saying something is on your bucket list has been in vogue.
The Pamakids will have 21 runners competing this weekend, with two supporters (one fiancé and one six month old baby). Most of us are staying at the Seattle Hostel so that we get a real road trip/team bonding experience.
The races will take place at Jefferson Park Golf Course, which was also the host for the 2010 Pac-10 Conference Cross Country Championships. The course is basically a 2K loop that is run multiple times depending on the race distance. There will be four races (Masters Women, Masters Men, Open Women, and Open Men), with all the women’s races 6K and all the men’s races 10K.
The first race of the day is the Master’s Women at 10:45 A.M. Representing the Pamakids will be Louise Stephens (2011 Pamakid Female Runner of the Year and sixth place in the Pacific Association Cross Country Grand Prix), Malinda Walker, Amy Sonstein, and Cammie Dingwall. Registration shows that we can expect 140 runners in this race with 16 masters teams. The Pamakids look like they have the potential to finish somewhere between 10th and 13th.
At 11:45 A.M., the Masters Men will take the course. Running in Pamakid green will be Anthony McGrath, Adam Lucas, Jerry Flanagan, John Spriggs, Paul Zager, Mark Huffman, and yours truly, Andy Chan. Over 340 runners are expected in this race with 23 masters teams. With a solid day, the Pamakids can shoot for top 20. If everyone has a great day, maybe top 15.
The Open Men will be the final race of the day at 1:45pm. Justin “Beast Mode” Mikecz, Steve Holcombe, Raymond Yu (fresh off a 3:06 marathon at CIM last weekend), John Gieng (the 2011 Pamakid of the Year), Steve Perez, and Thang Ta (2011 Pamakid Most Inspirational Runner) will represent the Pamakids and be amongst the 370 runners with 45 teams.
For many, this will be the largest and most competitive cross country race they’ve ever run. It will be an experience to toe the line with runners from all over the country, many of whom are the best of the best in their respective age divisions. The Pamakids may not be in contention for the win in any of the races but we’ll compete hard like we always do and we plan to paint the Emerald City, Pamakid Green!