All posts by Chris Mason

Chris is a local race director, timer extraordinaire, web dude and Empire Runner since 2004.

My 2020 Boston Qualifier

by Steve Lafler

I had a pretty good run at the Empire Runners Lake Ilsanjo Run in 2018 and was looking forward to returning in 2020, but my wish to run a Bostom Marathon qualifier got in the way this year.

I got my BQ March 1 at the Napa Valley Marathon – 3:33:29 chip time (needed 3:50, male age 60 – 64 to qualify for Boston).  I came fourth in my age group.  This is a dream come true for me.  I was going to run with the 3:40 group, but the pace leader stood there and clearly wasn’t paying attention when the race started!  Major fail. 

So I eased into my rhythm.  At two miles I noted the 3:35 pace group about 100m ahead, and kept my eye on them.  Around the 6 mile mark, a group of 6-7 runners formed and we discussed: “What the heck happened to the 3:40 pace leader?!”  I made a plan with three other runners to gradually catch up to the 3:35 group.

Feeling good after a water station, I floated away from the chase pack and caught the 3:35 pace group at 13 miles.  The groove, the cohesion of this new pack was fantastic with 10-12 runners locked in.  I had good stretches and not-so-good-stretches, but kept a positive attitude.  Taking Gatorade at aid stations and an energy gel every five miles stoked my engine.

I strode in front of our 3:35 group after a drink station with 3 miles to go, feeling good, and threw it down.  With two miles to go, I dueled with a woman who had also broken away from the pack.  She wouldn’t let me draw even with her, then I felt an uncanny lift in my stride – this is the return on all those tempo runs, all those long runs, a sudden burst of effortless pace that took me away from a tough competitor!

Haha, the last mile was dicey as heck but I kicked myself in the butt to keep it rolling. 

See you at the Boston Marathon in April 2021!

To what extremes would you go to get in your run?

I was willing to jump out of a second-story window.

by John Harmon

In late July of 2006, my wife and I were on holiday ending in The Thames Valley. We had just spent the last six months living on the Prinsengracht in Old Amsterdam. I have been given an assignment with European accounts and was stationed there to gain better access and build stronger relationships (that venture is a whole ‘nother story).

When we left our Holland adventure, we visited Normandy. I had always wanted to go. We took the train to Paris, grabbed a taxi to change train stations and then boarded another train to Caen where we rented a car and drove to Arromanches, which lies between Omaha and Juno Beaches. 

We were having a heat wave. It was miserable in Paris with the stone reflecting the 100F heat. But it was no better on the beach. No wind and high humidity. Still, it was beautiful and the sunset with the humid air was stunning.

We stayed there and in Mont Saint-Michel for a week. I ran every morning starting at dawn and before sunrise as is my custom. Then it was a necessity to avoid the heat. I ran from Arromanches toward Omaha. The two are separated by a high bluff from which you can see across the Channel. As I ran up the trail to the crest and along it, a bunker came into view. It was situated back from the bluff almost a km. It turns out it was Batterie de Longues-sur-Mer. I checked it out and ran on to Omaha Beach then returned. The sun shown brightly by now and its light on the amber fields of grain was beautiful. It’s an eerie feeling to be so alone in such a beautiful place knowing how much death and destruction occurred there. I think of this run often, but especially on D-Day. We visited the cemetery at Omaha that morning. That you can’t forget.

In the following days I ran the other direction toward Juno along the beach. The tides in Normandy are notoriously wide (later on that) and fortune was with me. I still had to make my way over a deep and long deposit of rotting kelp. With the heat it was full of flies and wreaked (I confess I have envisioned such an obstacle for XC at times just to make it interesting).

My most memorable Normandy running story is when I ran out the causeway to Mont Saint-Michel and then out into the bay (tide out, of course). The sand was powdery and soft, often crusted which would collapse beneath my feet. I got out about a mile and decided to return. My uncle (a history prof who spent his youth carrying an anti-tank gun around here) had told us stories of attacking armies thinking themselves clever to approach the Mont from the sea with the tide out. They typically perished in the crossing as the tides can reach speeds of 20 mph (it’s really flat!). It’s also a reminder not to go wandering about soft sand in chainmail. This was on my mind as I returned to the fortifications of the Mont only to then notice the multi-lingual warning sign, “Danger – quick sand. Do not go further.” One life down, eight to go (if one doesn’t count the other stupid things I’d done before that).

We traveled on to London and spent several days there. Hot still, we spent a lot of our time in air-conditioned buildings. I managed a run or two. In Battersea Park, an enormous bough broke from a maple and lay on the footpath I chose. I stopped to try to move it aside with no avail. It would pivot though, so a I happily swung to aside only to have the severed end sweep by me to slice a quarter-inch-deep slice on my thigh just above the knee. I still have the scar to remind me not to try such things again.

It was after London when we made our way to Henley-on-Thames and the point of this story. This is a special place. The river is narrow, there are beautiful estates lining either side, and there is rowing. We were just past The Championships so it was less crowded but the local clubs were all out. I come from Seattle, so rowing is a big deal (as with Berkeley). Henley is rowing’s holy land.

We booked a room at a B&B just outside town. It was a manor house – not Downton, but similar in that it was a working ranch and the owners were blue bloods through and through, with commendations from the Queen and all. 

They were a delightful couple but were working their ranch so they spent little time with us. I did visit with him a bit. Interesting chap – very proud of his heritage. Rightly so. 

He told us we were free to come and go but not before 7 am and not after 10 pm. They locked the house and set alarms on the ground floor. This came about as several estates had been burglarized of precious heirlooms by people posing as guests who canvased the property and then returned with a lorry to empty the place. They implemented this policy after each of their neighbors were victimized.  

This presented a problem for me. We typically retire earlier than most, but I needed to run early (the heat wave was still with us). He informed me there was no latitude in their policy. I looked for another option.

Our room was on the first floor (2nd story) just above the breakfast room. There was an embankment just below our window (a cellar) which decreased the usual height by about 4 feet (you see where this is going). The rooms and therefore their windows of a manor house are tall. I could stand easily in our window. It presented a good ten-foot drop to the grass below. I checked out the landing conditions below. There was a cellar access grate just off center which might pose a problem should I land or roll incorrectly. Thus I would have to project myself off to the left and further away from the window ledge to avoid this. The scenarios of disasters danced in my head. Was I crazy? Yes. Was it worth risking a broken leg, torn something-or-other or even a concussion? I had just turned 50 that spring. Perhaps it was a middle-aged-man moment. I decided to go for it. 

For the record, my wife was never in favor of this plan. The proprietor wasn’t too keen on the concept either. But in his defense, he didn’t try to talk me out of it. He just told me he’d bury me in a place where no one would find my body should the worst happen. He did have a wicked sense of humor, but on this point I took him at his word.

At 04:30 the next morning, I arose, dressed and stood on the sill of our bedroom window. My wife turned to get one last glimpse of me still intact. I took a deep breath and out I went – best not to think too hard about such things. The ground came quickly. I remembered to bend my knees and roll on first contact. It all worked out.  I checked everything – no apparent damage. One last glance up at the window met my wife’s relieved face. A blown kiss to her and off I went.

Upon my return, the proprietor met me at the front door – a little after 7. He smiled and said, “Well, you seem to be all in one piece. Please don’t do that again!” I didn’t.

The run along the Thames tow path was lovely. I’d do it again sans the jumping out the window bit.

Clo-Cow Lovers run the Half Marathon

The 5th annual Clo-Cow Half Marathon & 5K took place on September 13 in Petaluma.  Winning the challenging half marathon was Empire Runner Vojta Ripa, along with Sarah Hallas – who both won the inaugural race in 2011.  Tyler Harwood (also an ERC member) won the 5K, along with Petaluma’s Shannan Salvisberg. (results here)

The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.
The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.

In this exclusive interview, we chat with Clo the Cow to get the scoop!

Q: What is your secret for getting in shape for a half marathon?
A: Staying mootivated is the key!  I have found that moo-ving about the pasture and climbing hills can be udderly exhilarating.

The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.
The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.

Q: Top three reasons to run the Clo-Cow Half Marathon?
A: 1.) Cowbell medals! 2.) Run alongside moo cows 3.) Finisher photos with yours truly

The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.
The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.

Q: What is your favorite post-race recovery drink?

A: Clover chocolate milk, of course!  Did you know that more than 20 studies support the benefits of recovering with the high-quality protein and nutrients in chocolate milk after a tough workout?  Find out more by going to

The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.
The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.

Q: Do you prefer to run alone or with a group?
A: I love to run with a herd of friends; it makes me want to be a clover-achiever and work out those calves.

The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.
The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5K, Petaluma, CA, Sept 13, 2015.

Q: Has running affected your work in any unexpected ways?
A: Being Sonoma County’s best-known spokescow can be demanding work, so running is a great way to reduce stress and keep feeling young.


Q: How was it hugging all of those sweaty runners?
A: It was definitely a Clo’s encounter! But seeing those smiling faces made it all worth it!

Q: Any other races you recommend?
A: You can’t go wrong with the Urban Cow Half Marathon and Davis Moonlight Races.