Chanman's Blog


The Battle with the Launderers

The Battle_the 57th place team

2015 Club Nationals – 57th place team

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!

The Battle_start3

Early on, the Launderers and Pamakids easily found each other .

The Battle_start1

It would be a battle between two teams in green.

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.

The Battle_1K_1

Ray knew who he was going for and was excited about it.

The Battle_1K_2

Merick and Jeff brought their game faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle_Steve L with Symmonds

Nick Symmonds just a step ahead of Steve L.

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.

The Battle_3K_1

The Pamakids cheer on Ryan near the 3K mark.

The Battle_3K_2

Merick and Ray, putting some distance on their rival.

The Battle_3K_3

John was our #8 runner but it was close and his displacement point was going to matter.

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.

The Battle_Justin halfway

A key was going to be how many people could Justin pass in the second half of the race.

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 Battle_Steve H halfway

We were passionately cheering for everyone, like here cheering for Steve H.

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 Battle_last 800_4

Less than 800 to go. We were all yelling and screaming to see a big kick.

The Battle_last 800_2

It was time to kick our way out of last place.

The Battle_last 800_3

Jeff bringing it home. Pamakids in the background trying to count the points.

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 Battle_the WNLR team

The Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundy Runners at 2015 Club Nationals.

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Beating Him

2013 Club Nationals. Bend, Oregon.

2013 Club Nationals. Bend, Oregon.

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).

The kick I will always remember.

The kick I will always remember.

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.

Winning the 1998 USA Championships in the 1500 meters - Jamey Harris

Winning the 1998 USA Championships in the 1500 meters – Jamey Harris

Running the race you want to run, when you want to

Go Green!

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 opportunity to race with these guys is what motivates me to have a good race.

On your marks. Set.

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.

 

 

There were a lot of elbows being thrown and the footfalls of 350 of us sounded like thunder.

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.

 

Mid-race I came upon a familiar rival, Jeff Hongo of the Asics Aggies. I knew I was having a great race if I was near Hongo!

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!).

 

National Championship

Looking at the National Championship banner and taking a mental snapshot. Photo by Margaret Gallagher (SportsImageWire.com)..

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. 

USATF National Club Cross Country Championships

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.

It may not be as muddy at Club Nationals as it was at the PA Champs, but it's going to be colder.

The Open Women will race at 1:00 P.M. It may take a miracle but the Pamakids are still hoping to have a complete team. Danielle Bisho and Kelly McCloskey have been scheduled to run this race all season. Unfortunately Joanna Luk has an injured ankle and her status is uncertain at this point. If needed to have five runners, Louise Stephens and Yvonne Ou are prepared to run. Louise would be doubling back from the Masters race to run again (so she’d actually be racing 12K on Saturday and it will be her twelfth and thirteenth cross country races of the season, the only person to attend all twelve meets and the only person to run a double) and this would be Yvonne’s first race of the season. There will be an estimated 270 runners in the race with 35 teams.

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!

 

Some but not all of these women will be racing at Club Nationals...and the Soonar mascot may or may not make it.

 

Reflections on the 2008 USA Cross Country Championships

As I’ve said in a previous article, the USA Cross Country Championships have a long history and it was a privilege and an honor to attend the 2008 meet in San Diego.  651 runners competed in the six USATF sanctioned races.  If you count the 71 runners (me, Malinda, and 69 new friends) in the Community 4K race, there were over 700 runners. 

You could really feel a buzz in the air when we arrived at the meet.  There was eager anticipation by the participants to race and by the spectators to watch some elite running.  There were knowledgeable announcers who kept you excited with up to date information as the races unfolded.  You could hear the PA system everywhere you went on the course.  And after races they used a wireless microphone to interview athletes in the finish line area.  The announced attendance was 5000.

The Community 4K Race was a unique opportunity to participate in the event as well as spectate.  You don’t get to play 18 holes on the golf course before the Master’s or take batting practice at Fenway Park before the first pitch.  But here, we got to run on the same course, the same day the elite runners did.  That’s special.  And that’s something that makes cross country special.

I think the officials used the 4K race as a dress rehearsal for the six “real” races that were to come.  We had a timing chip on our shoe and the timing mats were out at the appropriate spots.   They had us do a group strider.  Then it was two steps behind the line.  Final instructions.  When they said runners to your mark, we stepped up to the line.  At the gun we were off.  Malinda is convinced that for this dress rehearsal race they even had people walk the course on purpose so the course monitors and officials could practice dealing with lapped runners. 

The course was mostly grass (cut short for good footing).  It was a 2K loop, which we did two times.  The first 1K was pretty flat and fast.  But the second 1K included some small hills and quite a few turns.  It was the kind of course I’ve seen on television when I watch high level cross country races.  And it felt great to be able to race on such a course.

The course was also extremely spectator friendly.  You could, with almost no effort, walk back and forth 20 yards and see the runners four to six times per loop depending on how tall you are.  For someone like me, who puts a lot of effort into seeing the race, I got to see Jocelyn every 60-90 seconds during the race.  The course was roped off with flags but since it was a such a knowledgeable group, the course monitors let the spectators duck under the ropes and cross the course.  They knew that the spectators were smart enough to know when it’s okay to cross and when not to.  I really liked that.

Another unique aspect of this meet was the accessibility of the athletes.  In many sports the athletes emerge from out-of-site locker rooms, play, and then go back into their locker rooms.  Here, the athletes were right there in front of us for their warm-ups, during the race, when they finished, and for awards or to change into sweats.  It was all right there in front of you.  There was no VIP seating, either.  The person standing next to you could be someone’s coach, or girlfriend, or father.  There was a real human element to watching the runners talking to friends and hugging teammates after the race.  It was really no different than being at Golden Gate Park for a cross country meet.

There were 6 other things that stood out to me as being special while at the USA Cross Country Championships.

  1. How well Jocelyn Rodriguez raced.  She started off in the back (as I had instructed her to) and then slowly moved up.  It was impressive to watch and I could tell being patient early was paying off as she was constantly catching and passing people.  It wasn’t until I got home and saw her splits online that I truly appreciated what a great race it was.  Her 2K splits were: 7:44. 7:56, and 7:51.  She was running as fast as Division I college freshmen in the last lap.  She did not get passed by anyone but she moved up from 44th after 2K to 33rd at the end.  And the three runners just ahead of her, were at one point 20-40 seconds ahead of her, but Jocelyn chased them down and was just 2-3 seconds behind them at the end.  What a race!
  2. German Fernandez, a high school runner from Riverbank in central California, was great.  We (the SHC team) saw him dominate at an invitational in Half Moon Bay in October (2:05 first 800 on his way to 11:04 for a 2.4 mile course (4:37 pace) that includes a huge hill).  Then at the State Meet, we got to see him break (not break…shatter by 14 seconds) the 21-year old 5K course record at Woodward Park (14:24).  So I knew who German was and was not surprised to see him battling for the win.  But he did it in such dramatic fashion.  Malinda and I were positioned about 200 meters from the finish line.  At this point, the runners had to make two sharp 90 degree turns before the 200 meter straight shot sprint to the finish line.  German came into the turns just a step behind the leader, Ryan Sheridan of Iona College.  Malinda got some great pictures of these two runners eyeing each other and battling for position.  Finally on the final turn, German burst by Sheridan on the inside to win 24:18 to 24:19.
  3. Shalane Flanagan, in addition to having some of the strongest looking abs I have ever seen, ran a dominating race.  She pulled ahead after the first 2K lap and just kept pulling further and further away (5 second lead at 2K, 16 seconds at 3K, 28 seconds at 4K).  Consider this, Flanagan’s 1:10 winning margin over Renee Metiver means Metiver was actually closer to 13th place Colleen DeReuck (1:05 between 2nd place and 13th place) then she was to 1st place.  2007 World Championship 10,000 meter bronze medalitst Kara Goucher didn’t race here and she is also very good.  Flanagan and Goucher are two US women to get excited about following on the international scene.
  4. There is a lot to get excited about on the US men’s distance scene, too.  The depth of the men’s race was great to see and I’m beyond the “Wow, they’re fast” stage.  What amazes me is how tightly packed these guys are.  The lead back came through 2K in 5:49 (4:40 mile pace) and there were no less than 55 guys within 10 seconds of that lead pack.  I wonder what it must feel like to be running at that speed with that many people all around you.  As they run by you can almost feel this wave of energy from all those people running fast in the pack.  Another measure of the current strength of US men’s distance running is the fact that Ryan Hall came in 5th.  He came into this race in the middle of his training for the London Marathon and admittedly was not in his best race shape.  But after seeing him dominate Ritz and the rest of the field at the Men’s Olympic Trials in New York last fall, I think we all still expected that Ryan Hall, even at less than his best cross country race shape, was still going to win.  Well, guess again.  US men’s distance running has improved so now if Mr. Hall is off his game just a little, people like Ritz, Jorge Torres, Josh Rohatinsky, and Ed Moran (who I admit to not know too much about) will beat him.  That’s a good thing for US men’s distance running.
  5. Ritz is freakin’ awesome at cross country.  He’s a good (OK, very good) track runner (collegiate record holder (27:38) and 2004 Olympian at 10,000 meters).  He’s a very good marathoner, too (2:11:07, 2nd at the Men’s Olympic Trials).  But he’s GREAT at the hill and dale of cross country.  Give him a brutal course with tough hills, poor footing, and bad weather and this guy thrives.  In 2001, he won a bronze at the Junior World Cross Country Championships.  In 2005 he had an amazing cross country race on a muddy 9.8K course in Belfast, holding off a chase pack of Kenyans to win the race.  In San Diego, while supposedly nursing an IT Band injury, he splitted 17:29 for the first 6K and 17:34 for the second 6K.  While everyone else was slowing down, he was maintaining, so his lead grew from 1 second to 26 seconds in the second half of the race.
  6. 21-year old Scott Bauhs is the “next Brian Sell” – the no name from a small school that mixes it up with the big boys.  I had never heard of this guy until he was top American at last October’s Rock ‘n Roll San Jose Half Marathon in 1:03:04.  If this hadn’t been a race Michelle Gallagher ran at, I may not have even figured out who was then.  He ran high school at San Ramon Valley High School.  His freshman PR’s were 5:01 (1600) and 11:00 (3200).  He graduated with PR’s of 4:16 and 9:09 (was 2nd at the State Meet in the 3200).  He’s now a junior at Chico State, where he was 2007 NCAA Division II national champion at 10,000 meters.  He’s red-shirting this year at Chico State, so instead of racing a the NCAA Championships last fall, he was part of the infamous Chico State cheering squad (they run around the course with huge flags, no shirts, and body paint all in support of their team).  I immediately liked this guy when, in talking about this, wrote on his blog:

Tomorrow there will be 14 athletes and 3 coaches flying from Chico out to Joplin MO to tear it up. Later that evening there will be a couple dozen crazy fans making the ritual trek across this vast country to make sure that everyone in Joplin knows who Chico is. 

After his 10th place finish in San Diego, he’s on his way as the youngest member of Team USA to the World Championships.  He writes a blog for flotrack and I get this feeling he’s just a guy who loves to run, has some talent (but maybe not Hall or Ritz talent), and is willing to put in the hard work to become not just good but great.  I caught a great moment right before the awards ceremony.  Ritz was going down the line shaking people’s hand, saying good job and that they’re going to do awesome in Scotland.  It appeared he basically knew all the guys.  But he hesitated at Bauhs and asked the “kid” his name.  Bauhs replied, “Scott”.  So Ritz said “Great to meet you Scott, you’re going to do great” and shook his hand.  I’m sure Bauhs has spent a lot of time on the internet reading about Ritz and that must have been an unforgettable moment for him to be talking to Ritz like that.

In closing, this was a great event to attend.  I will never forget how close you could get to the athletes and the action.  Catching that exchange between Ritz and Scott Bauhs was priceless.  Right before we left I took out a sharpie and got Ritz and Hall to autograph my meet program. 

2 great runners.  1 great meet.  Priceless memories.

Cross Country in February

Posted in USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on February 20, 2008
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Cross Country in February?!  That doesn’t make much sense.  To us Americans, February means track & field (indoor track & field if you are from the east or midwest, outdoor track & field if you are from sunny California).  But internationally, cross country is a winter sport.  Most countries hold their national championships in February and the IAAF World Cross Country Championships are held in March.  These World Championships are considered one of the greatest distance running events of the year as it pits different runners (cross country, track, and road runners) with different race distance specialties (5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon) all in one race, with team scoring and national pride at stake.

For 2008, the USA Cross Country Championships were on February 16 in San Diego.  This served as the qualifying race for the 36th IAAF World Cross Country Championships, to be held March 30 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  If you haven’t been following the World Championships the last 35 years, here what you missed: KENYAN DOMINATION.  Kenya’s string of 18 consecutive men’s team titles (1986-2003) is considered the “longest winning streak in international sporting history.”  

Among recent highlights for Team USA at the World Cross Country Championships are a bronze medal team performance in 2005 (team of: Lauren Fleshman, Blake Russell, Shalane Flanagan, Shayne Culpepper, Amy Mortimer, and Melissa Buttry), back-to-back silver medals by Deena Kastor in 2002 and 2003, and a bronze medal in the 2001 Junior Men’s race by Dathan Ritzenheim (first medal for an American junior at this meet since 1981).

The actual race distances have changed throughout history.  For awhile (1998-2006), there was both a short course and long course cross country competition.  The short was 4K and the long was 8K for women and 12K for men.  Trivia #1: Shannon Rowbury placed 11th in the short course race in 2006 in New York (13:02 for 4K).  Currently, there is just a single race for women (8K) and men (12K). 

Also, for a period of time, the USA Championships were held in November or December.  This catered to the American “fall cross country season” and allowed athletes to  follow the traditional American cross country calendar (with races in the fall and a championship in November or December).  However, this meant selecting a team from the USA Championships to go to the World Championships, three months early.  A lot can happen in three months and often this December selection meet left the US with a less than stellar team performance at the “winter cross country World Championships.”  So in 1999, USATF (the US track & field governing body) decided to create two separate cross country championships – 1) The “Fall” National Club Cross Country Championships (more for club teams like Pamakids), and 2) “Winter” USA Cross Country Championships (the more elite competition, with selection for the World Championship team based on the winter championship race).   

Trivia #2: At the most recent Fall Club National Cross Country Championships, the winner of the women’s race was Delilah DiCrescenzo.  Ms Delilah has received some notoriety of late not just for being a fast runner.  It turns out she is the Delilah of the Grammy nominated song Hey There Delilah by the Plain White T’s.  The lead singer of the group Tom Higgenson met Delilah in 2003 and the Olympic hopeful runner inspired a song.  Last weekend, Delilah went to the Grammy’s with the guys from the Plain White T’s.  This weekend, Delilah ran at the Winter USA Cross Country Championships and came in 16th.

Back to cross country…  Trivia #3: San Francisco and Golden Gate Park have been a part of the history of the USA Cross Country Championships.  In 2006, San Francisco was host to the Fall National Club Cross Country Championships.  Our own John Spriggs. George Rehmet, and Keith Johnson were among the participants.  The last time SF played host to the Championships before that was November 25, 1989.  That Thanksgiving weekend, in a downpour, Pat Porter won a record breaking 8th consecutive individual title, while Lynn Jennings won her 3rd straight title (she would go on to win 7 straight as well as three World Cross Country Championships, 1990-92). 

In addition to the competition for senior (senior meaning older than junior, not senior like 50 years+) runners, the Winter USA Cross Country Championships also currently has races for Juniors (20 and under) and Masters (40 and over).  The Juniors are competing for the opportunity to run at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, too. 

Below is some history on the USA Cross Country Championships from the USATF website:

This year’s national championships were the 110th edition of the men’s event and the 44th race for the women. The men’s race dates back to 1890, when the first championship took place under the guidance of the Amateur Athletic Union (USATF replaced the AAU as America’s track and field governing body in 1979). No events took place in 1893-96, 1899-1900 and 1904. The USA Championships were not conducted in 1998 due to the change from hosting the event in early December to conducting the event in February, beginning in 1999. The first women’s championship took place in 1964. The men’s and women’s Championships were held together for the first time in 1979.

Past champions of the men’s event include all-time greats such as seven-time champ Don Lash (1934-’40), four-time winner and 1972 Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter (1970-’73), three-time New York Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, eight-time U.S. cross country champ Pat Porter (1982-’89), two-time Olympian Bob Kennedy and 1996 Olympic Marathon Trials winner Bob Kempainen. At the 2000 Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Adam Goucher became the first and only man in history to win both the long and short course races at the same Championships. The 4 km competitions for senior men and women were added in 1998.

The women’s competition has also seen many great champions including five-time U.S. champ (1966, 1968-71), and five-time World Cross Country champion (1967-‘71) Doris Brown-Heritage two-time champ Francie Larrieu Smith (1972-’73), nine-time U.S. champion (1985, 1987-’93, 1996) and three-time World Cross Country champion (1990-’92) Lynn Jennings, two-time short course champ Amy Rudolph (1998-’99) and six-time defending 8 km champion Deena Kastor. In 2000 Kastor also won the short course race, making her the only woman ever to win both titles in the same year.

Looking ahead, the next Fall National Club Cross Country Championships are December 13, 2008 in Spokane, Washington.  It’s unconfirmed, but I’ve read online that the 2009 USA Cross Country Championships will be in February in the Baltimore, Maryland/Washington DC area.