Category Archives: MEMBER RACING STORIES

Student Grant Fund Awardees 2017

The Empire Runners have a long-standing commitment to providing scholarships to deserving student athletes of Sonoma County making the transition from high school to college. Made possible by dues and contributions from our members, we are giving our 4 recipients a total of $5000 in scholarship awards this year. All club members should be proud of the part they play in this most wonderful of traditions through generous donations.

These four student-athletes will be formally introduced and awarded their scholarship checks at the Kenwood Footrace on July 4th. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding young members of our running community.

Our first recipient comes from a large family of Empire Runners. He began his athletic career as a varsity soccer player at Windsor High. With the changing of the boys soccer season to the spring, the Fall 2016 became open to explore cross country, and through determination and hard work he made varsity his very first year. As a first year runner, his coach was very impressed with his positive attitude and hard work.

To just discuss this athlete’s athletic accomplishments would be a disservice to his academic career. This scholarship student is not only a 4.5+ GPA but also graduated #1 in his class and was the Salutatorian at Windsor HS. His teachers speak of him in glowing terms not just because of his GPA but rather the impact he has in the classroom, bringing the level up for his fellow students. Our first recipient will be continuing his studies at UC Irvine and continuing his running in intramurals and we are looking forward to him coming home and running more Empire Runner events.

Please join us in recognizing this future Anteater, from Windsor High School: Dylan Moberly

 

Our next recipient also began his running career later after playing soccer and basketball his first 2 years of high school, finding his way to cross country and track his junior year. In his first year of cross country his impact was evident as he was voted most inspirational and accompanied his teammate who had qualified for the State XC Championships in Fresno. He has been an outstanding track and field athlete for Rincon Valley Christian running the 400, 800, 1600, triple jump and discus. His true passion is the pole vault where in just 2 years he has already cleared 12’9” and qualified for the NCS Meet of Champions. He has a PR of 18:00 on the Spring Lake Course which he then matched on a more difficult course at the NCS XC Championships.

This fine multi talented athlete has also had a strong and varied scholastic career, carrying a 3.75 GPA and excelling in music and piano. What impressed the committee the most was his thought that the influence of cross country has made him a better student. In his own words, “by making running a lifestyle, running 5 miles will not phase the individual. When something difficult becomes familiar, then other concepts become easier. Therefore, after running 5 miles, a test or paper no longer appeared difficult”.

This talented scholarship athlete will be continuing his studies and furthering his athletic career at SRJC. Coach Wellman is looking forward to this XC and multi-talented track and field athlete staying local and perhaps developing his decathlon skills.

We welcome this new Bear Cub, from Rincon Valley Christian HS: Nicholas Dolan

 

Our third scholarship recipient is the classic story of a runner with no experience who joins the XC team mostly for its social aspects, gets comfortable, works hard, sets goals… did we say works hard? Then she finally achieves her goal to run Varsity and has her best 2 races of her life at NBL, then NCS. Through her 4 years with the XC and track families at Santa Rosa High it wasn’t all just a meteoric rise but rather peaks and valleys, failures and achievements. But overall it looks like this classic story is just the first part of a multi-part sojourn with the next sequel being able to run at her chosen university.

From a 9 minute miler in her first XC race to a PR of 20:39 at NBL her senior season, she followed with the same time at NCS on a notoriously harder course. Her best team finish ever fulfilled her goals for XC and with this new found strength led her to success on the track.

Yet metrics alone fail in comparison to her impact on team dynamics, her hard work, toughness and respect she both earns and gives.

An excellent student with a GPA above 4.4 in a dedicated all honors and Art Quest curriculum, this recipient also filled her spare time with volunteering at a variety of events including a 6 year commitment at the Sonoma County Animal Shelter.

With a plan to direct her college career at Scripps University in the area of literature and writing with a goal of becoming an author, our third scholarship recipient can very well write her own sequel to this memorable story.

We’re pleased to recognize this former Panther and new Athena, from Santa Rosa HS: Samantha Baker

 

Our final scholarship recipient ran with the SR Express as a middle schooler but began his high school athletics on the football field. When he was recruited for the track team his running began in earnest. Natural ability led him to perform at an all-league level this first track year and continued well through junior year in XC and had him qualify to NCS. But that was not enough for this talented runner; his habit of setting “strong” goals drove him to improve his summer training regimen with the goal qualifying to State. He was a top area XC runner this last season with a PR of 15:32 (34th AT) on the SLC. A 9th place at NCS qualified him to State and his 11th place finish in his very first time on the difficult 5K Woodward Park course was evidence of his talent and commitment. It was more of the same in track with excellent times of 4:29 and 9:32 in the 1600 and 3200 respectively and a qualification to the NCS Meet of Champions. He was All Empire 1st Team in XC and Track.

Through all of this, our fine student athlete maintained a 3.6 GPA and worked at Fleet Feet as a shoe fitter. His outgoing nature, shoe knowledge and social ease makes him a top seller. His small team at Rincon Valley Christian often worked out with a combined group of Montgomery HS runners, to the benefit for all involved. He also volunteered regularly with Church events.

Commitment, strong goal setting and the determination to achieve those goals make this scholarship recipient attractive to a number of collegiate coaches. Those of us who follow College XC and Track will keep an eye out for him at Master’s University in Santa Clarita.

From Rincon Valley Christian HS we are pleased to present: Wes Methum

Mike McGuire and the 34th CIM

The 34th California International Marathon was contested on Sunday, December 4th. The weather could not have been more perfect and the pre-race organization was superb. Seemingly all the school buses in the county were enlisted to transport us from Sacramento to Folsom. We could then stay warm and seated in the bus until the start of the race. One could venture out to get some food or drink and witness one of the longest line of porta-potties ever assembled. A lady on our bus who works for a ‘potty’ company said the usual user to potty ratio is 75 to 1. CIM used 35 to 1. Truly a benefit for us runners! Finish line bags were collected at the back of two big vans. As the start came near, there was a crush of runners wanting to get their bags loaded. Some tried to throw the bag over the heads of the volunteers in the truck. A couple of volunteers got conked. The supervisor, stout and burly, shouted that if another bag was thrown he would shut down the trucks! The crowd became instantly cooperative. Good for him!

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The start was smooth and efficient with pacers and over-head signs helping runners get in position. Off we went down a slight hill with no pushing or shoving or need to dance around ill-placed runners. Race conditions, I think, were perfect – cool, not cold, no wind and no forecast of dramatic changes. Aid stations were well placed with the first one about three miles out and then becoming more frequent and with greater offerings as the course continued. To those who went to the Healdsburg Running Club trail running movies, I was quite startled to see Jenn Shelton standing on the side of the road at eight miles, sweaty, smiling and looking like everyone’s best friend.

I had run CIM in 2013 under freezing conditions but ended up with a pretty good time and place. This time I was concerned about how aging and spotty training would affect my effort. I had enough training miles but only one run of 16 miles. My 1/2 marathon and 20 mile splits were both better than 2013. Beyond 20 miles, it all became more difficult. My watch displayed a great deal more time needed to pass each mile. I began to list to the right. Spectators had to move back as I veered toward them! With my name printed on my bib, people were calling out to me to do well, euphemistically meaning ‘don’t die!”

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As runners flooded past me in the last couple of miles, I had to concentrate to keep one foot going in front of the other and to not trip myself. But the end came in time for a successful finish and actually a pretty good time. I was met by a lovely runner/nurse who chatted with me as she took firm hold on my arm and led me on a walk. “Let’s go to the med tent.” As we walked, a still-listing few feet to the tent, Bob Shor came up to say hello and to confirm the tent visit. Never having been in one before, it was a nice field trip. Two dozen people sitting or lying about with a busy staff offering water, soup, and encouragement. The young lady sitting next to me had just made her Boston Qualifying time and soon left with a warm cup of soup. I stayed about 15 minutes before thanking a volunteer and walking out much more vertical than coming in. By then, general stiffness had begun to take over and Frankenstein’s monster-like I set off to find Sandi.

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After several phone calls, we reconnected at the merchandise booth and headed to the drop bag corral. The fenced-in enclosure had thousands of bags lined out in number order. Volunteers would meet runners at a six foot cyclone fence, get our bib number and speedily return with our bag – no runners wandering inside the enclosure bothering those who knew what they were doing. I could replace my silver shawl with dry clothes.

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Then we walked among other celebrants with Sandi striding ahead only to look back and see she had left me several steps behind. Everyone seemed in good spirits as the weather conditions stayed pretty moderate for an early December day.

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One of the enjoyable parts of CIM is the community support. In many places along the route, live bands and recorded music encourage us along the way. There are also many places where throngs of spectators gather to wish us well. “Go (Dad!, Mom!, Larry!, Linda and Beth!)” “I came to hold a sign” “You Rock!” “Keep going. You paid for it” The support for individual runners was terrific. The sense of celebration and accomplishment was really noticeable and inspiring.

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My shoes displayed a remarkable wear pattern. Scuffing at both ends and a near clean slate across the mid-sole. The toe scuffing, I think, was from my shuffle over the last six miles. Traffic buttons on the road had to be avoided as too tall and some painted lines were thicker than others.

Heading home meant a stop in Davis at DeVera’s Tavern for corned beef, potatoes, eggs over easy and a tall glass of pilsner. Very tasty and a needed stop to unkink my legs. Then on to Santa Rosa. The “welcome home” clouds brought a wonderful 24 hours to a close. A few chores taxed my mobility and reinforced for me why I like marathons – you can’t do the event half trained or without realizing that reminders of the effort will follow you for days. Which one will be next? Any suggestions? By the way, my very expensive GPS watch measured CIM as 26.36 miles. I am sure the course has been accurately measured at 26.2. My watch got me to each new mile further and further ahead of the official mark. I can’t get credit in my running log for the extra tenth of a mile!

Wharf to Wharf…Santa Cruz style, by Sarah Hallas

My very good friend, Vojta Ripa talked me into registering for this race. Having finished the Montana Marathon just 6 weeks prior, I was a bit hesitant to compete again so soon. But as soon as I got to the start area, I had no regrets. Seeing so many familiar faces was worth the trip alone! The race course was absolutely amazing! There were 50 bands along the way, a ton of spectators and every mile had an arch of balloons to run through. The competition was fierce with everyone gunning for a top-100 spot to secure a top-100 finishers jacket (definitely a cool bonus)! I’m already looking forward to next year.  Here’s the link to the race! http://www.wharftowharf.com

BIB 296, SARAH HALLAS, F35, SANTA ROSA, CA, 36:51, 6:08/mi

BIB 198, VOJTA RIPA, M25, SANTA ROSA, CA, 32:39, 5:26/mi

BIB 19, REESEY BYERS, M23, SACRAMENTO, CA, 29:52, 4:58/mi

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The Marin Miracle Mile, with Reesey Byers

The Marin Miracle Mile is a USA Track & Field certified course and part of the USA Track & Field Pacific Association Grand Prix racing circuit, which took place July 12th in San Rafael. We wanted to get Reesey Byers take on the Men’s Open race!

Question: This was your first road race mile – how where your expectations different than the reality of the race?

I didn’t put any expectations on myself for this race. I just wanted to go out there, have fun and represent Strava well. I was a little surprised to be the first Strava member, I was really happy I could make an immediate impact to the team. Having just done a bunch of mileage lately I just wanted to come in and run as hard as I could and contribute.

The course was 400 meters down hill with two ninety degree turns, then 600 meters uphill with a 180 U turn at the top, then about 600 meters down to the finish line – what did you think of the course?

I really liked the course. It made the race a little bit more interesting adding some inclines and down hills. For time purposes I kind of wish it was just a flat Road mile to see what I could run but it was all about having fun and competing.

How was the competition – did you know any other guys in the race?

The competition was really good. I actually knew most of the top guys in the race. A bunch of us warmed up and cool down together before and after the race, we were all joking with each other about who beat who. It’s always fun when you can have friendly rivalry.

The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here: http://www.fordtiming.com/Results/2015/MIRACLEMILE/index.html
The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here: http://www.fordtiming.com/Results/2015/MIRACLEMILE/index.html

We noticed in the photo of you coming into the finish line your grimacing – what was going on mentally at that moment?

I just wanted to get to the finish line as quickly as I could. I had already been passed by two guys and I wanted to make sure I didn’t get passed by anyone else.

What was your time and where you satisfied with that as your first road race mile?

I ran 4:19. Timewise I wasn’t really pleased I was hoping to run much closer if not under 4:10. It appears that this year was much slower than last year so based off place I was pretty happy. It felt good just to be able to compete in the front and go for it.

Would you recommend this race?

I would definitely recommend this race especially as a first road mile because although it is competitive it’s also a lot of fun. Runners from all ages and talent levels come out to this race and see what they can do.

Since you graduated from Sacramento State, what you’re your post collegiate running plans? And tell us about Strava.

Strava is an elite development group. They are sponsored by brooks (which is good for me) and they are not location exclusive so we have many athletes all over California. What I liked about Strava is that they are very team oriented. We participate in PA cross country championships and club nationals as a team and many other cross-country, road and track races as a team. I knew a few people in the group and they really made me feel like I’d be an important member of the group and we are very supportive of each other. Most if not all of the members have part-time or full-time jobs so we aren’t making a living from Strava but we do get a great amount of support. Ex: entry fee coverage, travel fee support, gear, potentially hotel bookings, stipends are some ways that Strava support us.

The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here: http://www.fordtiming.com/Results/2015/MIRACLEMILE/index.html
The Miracle Mile, Sunday July 12, 2015, San Rafael, California. Full results here: http://www.fordtiming.com/Results/2015/MIRACLEMILE/index.html

What are some of your races in the near future?

My next race is the wharf to wharf six miler in Santa Cruz. I’ve never done this race before so I’m really excited. I got into the elite section so I’ll be running up there with those Kenyans (will try to anyway). After that I’m not going to be racing for a while, just building a good base for a few months and will probably start racing late September early October.

Reesey got 5th place with a time of 4:19 at the Marin Miracle Mile. Full results here: http://www.fordtiming.com/Results/2015/MIRACLEMILE/index.html

Link to the event: http://www.titanium-racing.com/event/miracle-mile-and-5k/

Carlsbad 5000, By Larry Meredith

For the fifth straight year a small contingent of Empire Runners made the pilgrimage to the Mecca of 5Ks in Carlsbad, California held on March 29. The event calls itself the “World’s Fastest 5K,” not because it is run on a downhill course, nor because it is pushed by tailwinds, nor because the surface is engineered for speed. On the contrary, the course presents a few gradual rises, runs back and forth along what can be a breezy coastline and offers standard road pavement underfoot. No, Carlsbad is internationally known as the “World’s Fastest 5K” because 16 world records, 8 U.S. records, along with numerous national and age-group records have been set on the scenic oceanfront course.

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On the current list of 5K world records by age (http://www.arrs.net/SA_R5K.htm), Carlsbad is the listed as the record-setting site 39 times. And now you will see that the most recent addition to the list is a 7-year-old Empire Runner by the name of Daniel Skandera who sped around the course in an amazing 19 minutes and 25 seconds. Competing in the 12-and-under age group against 77 others, Daniel placed 6th.

You might want to check out Daniel’s accomplishments at other distances (http://age-records.125mb.com/). He is listed as the world record holder at age 5, 6 and 7 for the mile; at age 6 for the 600-meter run, 1000 meters and 1500 meters run; at ages 6 and 7 for the 2000 meters, 2 miles and 3000 meters. O.K., so Daniel’s not listed in the steeplechase (an event his Grandpa Harry excelled at) but that’s only because he can’t reach the top of the barriers.

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But enough about the young prodigy among our band of long-distance travelers for a short-distance race. Our elder statesman Brad Zanetti was testing out his 60-year-old wheels and fared quite well, placing 12th in a field of 120 in his division.   In a race of over 2000 masters runners special awards go to the top 250 finishers and Brad claimed 204th, just 3 places ahead of fellow ER and long-time Carlsbad devotee Bryan Porter. Carlsbad rookie John Harmon earned a medal as well, taking 235th and placing 26th out of 188 in his 55-59 group. Larry Meredith placed 312th.

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Carlsbad’s final races are truly elite affairs and this year’s field of competitors did not disappoint the thousands of spectators lining the streets of this fashionable little burg. In the women’s race Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia turned in the 2nd-fastest road 5K ever run, a 14:48, to win going away. Lawi Lalang held off fellow Kenyon Wilson Too by just 3 seconds, finishing in 13:32. Third place went to America’s most decorated distance runner, Bernard Legat who, at 40, set a world road record for masters at 13:41.

If the time and expense of traveling so far for a 5K puts you off, don’t forget that the coastal corridor down south is home to some world-class breweries and Brad Zanetti is a willing and more-than-able tour guide for this type of extra-curricular pastime. There are swimming pools, hot tubs and beaches, local cuisine and family activities nearby. And with our cheerful designated driver Bev Zanetti negotiating highways and byways, a long weekend with a short race turns into a mini-vacation. Mark your calendar for the weekend of April 2-3 and join in on the fast fun next year.

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Never Say Never – The American River 50 Miler, by Shirley Fee

Never Say Never

One year or so ago after I had completed a few 50K races I was asked, are you going to do a 50 miler now? No! I replied with emphasis on the no.

Jump forward to a cold and dark April 4, 2015. What am I doing sitting on the ground,in a tent at Folsom Lake with my friend Anette Niewald and fellow ultra runner, Ted Watrous, plus a few hundred other runners? I must have mixed up my no’s with my yea’s. So here I am waiting for the start of my first 50 mile run. The American River 50 miler . I think I was tricked.

The American River 50 miler has become the second largest 50 mile race in the United States and is supposed to be a good course for first timers which is what Anette and I were hoping.

At five o’clock it was dark, the sky was full of stars and and the full moon shining on the lake created a shimmering diamond effect. There is something to be said about being up and about before sunrise.

As we were making a last trip to the porta pottie we were treated with a view of the eclipse of the moon. For once in my life I was able to see the whole eclipse from start to finish. It was an amazing and beautiful sight.

Start time is 6:00 am for the faster people and 6:15 am for the slightly slower runners. I’m feeling scared, excited, and filled with doubts as to whether I would be able to make the cut off times. Anette had similar thoughts especially since her husband was convinced that we both were going to die. He does not run and cannot understand why we do what we do.

Anette and I started together, we thought we had trained well, and felt good, but it was dawning on us, 50 Miles is a long way, a lot longer distance than we had ever run before. I say run but only the elite truly run almost all of it. We run as much as we can with walk breaks along the way. Our longest run was 31miles a few weeks before the race. My goal was to get to the finish before the cutoff time of 14 hrs. The first wave of really fast runners took off at 6 AM, it was still fairly dark so I watched the headlamps of the lead runners fly by and disappear into the darkness.

6:15 rolls around and off we go. I had a plan in my head and figured I would go out easy, warm up, settle down and be sure to drink and eat early on. The course started out on the road for a short distance then turned into a single track alongside the lake. I and Anette start out together with another woman I had met at a race last year, both reminding each other that we trained well and we could do this. We started slow, we couldn’t go faster because there were so many runners on the single track and dawn was just breaking. Lots of laughing, conversations and noise in general was going on. In the first mile a young man from Arkansas made a comment about not having rocky trails like this where he lived. I lifted my eyes from the trail to look back and make the comment that this was nothing, when Kersplat!! one of those little rocks caught me and down I went. I didn’t do my usual graceful three point landing, this time it more like a tree falling, down and bounce one side to the other. My left knee must have landed on a rock because it hurt, a lot, but I got up and walked a little bit thinking to myself this is not a good omen, I hope the day gets better. Note to self, keep eyes on trail.

We settled in with an easy pace, Anette got her groove on and went ahead. I continued to hold my pace hoping my knee would feel better soon. Talking with my other friend took my mind off my knee and it began to feel ok. The trail ran parallel to the lake giving us some beautiful views of the lake as the sun came up. After 4.97 miles we changed to the bike path to mile 12 then it was mainly bike path intermixed with a little fire road and short single track until we reached mile 24. I left my other friend a little before 12 miles, she was going to quit. She was not feeling very good so we said goodbye and I went on. By the time I reached Beals Point at mile 24 my legs were beginning to complain since I trained on trails and had done only one training run on bike path. My attitude was going down hill in a big fat minute. I kept thinking to myself “I didn’t sign up to do a road marathon, what the heck?” There is one great thing about ultra running though, that is the people you meet along the way. We know we have a long way to go so it gives us time to meet, greet, offer encouragement and support. Running an ultra gives you the opportunity to meet runners from all over the world and make new friends. The time flies by as you run along and chat with your new found best friend, no complaining allowed.

Finally we started up on a single track and the real views began, as we ran weaving in and out of trees with views of the lake and an abundance of wild flowers in blue, purple, yellow, white and one outstanding bush covered with brilliant red orange flowers, also, an abundance of poison oak. I’m sure many people who stepped off the trail for a break went home with a good case of the itchies. Itchies, is that a word? All the while all I could do is think how lucky I was to be able to see all the beauty surrounding me and enjoy the company of the other runners that shared one common goal, finish this race before 14 hrs.

I caught up to and was passing another runner so we had a short conversation, he had done this race before so told me to be sure and take it easy, as up ahead was about 5 miles of what they called the Meat Grinder. What? I tried to figure out what in the world he meant by meat grinder. In all my research about the course nothing was mentioned about the meat grinder. Ah, I thought, how bad could it be? We had trained on some pretty gnarly trails, it can’t be that bad. I continued on my way enjoying the views nature was providing until we got to Granite Bay. Wow! there are some very impressive homes on the hillsides of Granite Bay overlooking Folsom Lake. About that time my knee was beginning to ache after going up and down a few hills and going down hill was becoming painful. I had to slow down and be very careful how I planted my foot.

Also at that time I left the flowers, trees, and beautiful homes, to face great big boulders, little boulders, slippery boulders, granite boulders for crying out loud, with some areas that could qualify as mountain climbing because the trail was almost nonexistent. No shade, just bushes, not even poison oak, which had been plentiful earlier. In some places you had to step down two to three feet on more rock then step up two or three feet. I wondered, what do short legged people do? What do the Elite runners do? Do they run on this stuff? By then my left knee was not going to bend much so the going got tricky. I was alone, no other runners in sight. I sure didn’t want to fall, it was a long way to the bottom. That was the longest 5 miles of my life. All I wanted was to get off the boulders and on the trail to the next aid station which would put me at 40 miles. I caught up to another runner so we kept each other company and commiserated over the meat grinder.

Finally, back on a nice single track, soft easy trail in the shade I could start running again, except downhill, my new running friend noticed that I would slow down on the downhill, I told him about my knee and he gave me an Excedrin, yay for the traveling druggist. We continued on and after a short steep descent into the Rattlesnake Bar aid station, we were 9 miles from the finish. The Excedrin kicked in so I was feeling good. I grabbed some food and headed back up the steep incline back to the trail. It was a nice shady trail, winding around the hillside following the American River, up, down, over creeks, with an occasional small waterfall surrounded by big green frothy ferns thrown in for good measure.

I had been told about one last killer hill at about mile 37 or 38 called Last Gasp, so I held back and walked, jogged behind one group of men when I really wanted to pass them and keep running. I guess I didn’t trust my instinct that I could pass them and run and still have plenty of energy for Last Gasp and the 2 mile up hill finish. So I took my time and enjoyed the conversations. Earlier in the race another runner told me that all I had to do when I came to Last Gasp was put my head down and just count my right foot steps, when I got to 150 then I would be at the top. I could hardly wait to test that theory.

Finally, we came off the trail onto the fire road right down on the American River. Once we got off the single track and hit the road I decided it was time to take off, so I did. Eventually the road led to a power plant where it left the river and headed up. I’m alternating walking and slow running up the fire road waiting to come to Last Gasp because I know then, I’m just a couple miles from the finish. Anette and I had run part of the finish a few weeks before after we had done the Way To Cool 50K so I knew if I got past Last Gasp I had it made. It was 2 miles of uphill but it was not steep.

What is this?? I see an aid station ahead, I’m confused, the next aid station is supposed to be Last Gasp. As I get to the top I see the sign Last Gasp Aid Station. Darn! I didn’t get to count my steps. I had to laugh, in the description of the course you hear all about Last Gasp, nothing about the Meat Grinder. Sneaky.

As I start my last 2 miles I want to sing but figured I would not put that misery on the other runners, I just smiled really big and passed them. It was hard to wrap my brain around the fact that I just traveled 50 miles and felt so good, much better than I thought I would feel.

Anette had finished ahead of me in 12:20:30, she and her husband Tom were at the finish line to greet me. I finished 12:39:07. We both said, well that is done, now we don’t have to do another. Ummm, well, a few days later, we were talking about our next one. We didn’t die and we beat the cutoff time. I won my age group, and what made it better, I was not the only one in my age group. There were two others.

I don’t have the words to describe what it is or how it feels to run a marathon or ultra distance on a challenging trail other than you get to know who you are and what you can do. Yes it is competition, mostly against yourself and the trail. It is a time to listen to your breath, your feet hitting the ground and pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do and succeeding. Never say never, it will come back and bite you.

A Slice of Pi, By John Harmon

On March 14th of this year, an older brother of mine turned 60. While his sexagesimum was cause enough for celebration, it is also a special date in that it was “Pi Day” – 3.14.15. This date (3.14.15) comes but once a century. Even with unforetold research, it would be a stretch to attend let alone participate in the next one.

Pi, that noble symbol for which we owe William Jones a debt of gratitude – lest we be referring to it as quantitas in quam cum multiflicetur diameter, proveniet circumferencia is that irrational number which binds the circumference of a circle to its diameter. So to celebrate this unique confluence of dates, we embraced the theme.

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Seattle, the town of my birth and youth and still so for the rest of my family, accommodated us by staging a fundraising fun run/walk at Magnusen Park on Lake Washington (formerly Sand Point Naval Air Station and close to my childhood home) – The (“There will be Pie”) Pie Day Dash. It was a 3.1415926 mile trek. The event began at 9:26….of course. The object of this fundraiser is to fight Leukemia & Lymphoma – both devastating afflictions. Its champion is one Holly Westerfield, whom I was told teaches High School Math (“I like a shower. I like a bath. I like a girl who teaches math.”*). She puts on different fundraising events every year for her cause and decided to make it a fun run/walk this time around. Affixing it to Pi Day seemed appropriate for a Math teacher. I have a fondness for such wit and for Math and its instructors. It seemed like something my favorite teacher, Sister Maureen Rose, would have done. How can it not provoke a smile?

I surprised my brother and the rest of the family with entries into the event. Five of my family joined me. I ran the race while they walked. The Birthday Boy was drawn away that day, sadly, for a funeral of someone very close to him. But one of his sons joined my two other brothers, one’s fiancé and our mother. The weather in the days preceding the event was beautiful – sunny with only a hint of wind. But this was Seattle, so rain crashed the party. 2000 foolhardy soles (well if I say that then it was really 4000) completed the event with smiles on their faces and pie in their bellies – a slice of pie was the finisher’s award.

Despite the rain, we and the horde all survived – including a double loop course with the slower runners and walkers commanding the entire footpath leaving the lead runners to dash and dodge on the edges which I’d love to use as my excuse, but I shan’t.

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My intention was to test myself for the Carlsbad 5000 at the end of March. I finished with a somewhat disappointing 21:35 and only managed third in my age group – age group prizes were only to the top two places. But my mother, who walked the whole way despite hip replacement surgery last year, put on a furious kick at the end to edge ahead of the only other octogenarian female in the event (We practiced the Kim Conley lean just before the start which obviously paid off). In the evening, we convened at Mom’s to continue the celebration with libation, pizza pie and, now that you’re all following the theme, pie for dessert.

It was a great day for just family, for a milestone birthday and for the run – any way you slice it.

–john harmon

* As much as I’d like to, I cannot take credit for this little ditty. Dave Kneeshaw, a family friend, composed this – that story awaits another day.

“ What are you doing here? ” The Carlsbad 5000….by John Harmon

For the past several years, I have had to endure incessant and sometimes interminable stories of the famed Carlsbad 5000 by several fellow Empire club members – Bryon Porter, Brad Zanetti, Val Sel. Even the champions of few words, Larry Meredith and Dale Peterson, had something to say about it. Zen gardens, beer, beautiful weather, the Ocean, beer, the Elite runners. Did I mention beer?

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I had registered for it last year at their behest, but was unable to go. ER sent its largest contingent in 2014. Stories abound. I feared I had missed something epic, much like the Boston experience when Larry turned 50 and dragged half the county to the shores of the East Coast before it was too late. It was with this in mind that I registered again in December, still not knowing if I would again be thwarted by something else more requisite of my presence. But this year is different, as I have since retired from full time work and have a bit more command of my waking hours – although one would be hard-pressed to observe such. At first, it appeared we might have an equally large contingent. But slowly the proverbial wheels came off. Val came down with injury so debilitating she could not run if she hoped to recover. This took her and her happy band of Dave and McKenna out. Dale passed this year for reasons I now forget. He had run the 25K version of Carlsbad – doing the 5K all day (5X) is a survivor’s trophy. But now he was out. Finally Doug Murdoch dropped for a work conflict (I think) – something I am sympathetic to but no longer threatened by.

Jill and I flew down on the preceding Friday – with Brad, Bev (Zanetti) and Larry. Bryan was already there. Jill and I took in the zoo, then dinner at a little place we found years ago while the others trundled off to Carlsbad to seek out hop-infested lair. Saturday was a low-key day. I got up early and drove to the course start to run a preview. I was glad I did – despite what little good it did. While flat, there are a couple of upgrades which take your legs out – as proved Sunday. We picked up my numbers, visited an aunt and joined all the rest for dinner. After dinner, I dragged (with little resistance) Larry, Brad and Bev to a gelato place. While standing in line, a young gal struck up a conversation with us. She was in town from Boulder for the race. Larry probed further. Come to find out she was quite a talent – wanted to break 17:00 and has trained with Collen De Reuck. We asked her to join us. More on her later.

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The next day, I found myself standing at the starting line….in front. To my left was none other than Bernard Lagat. Bernard and I go way back. Bernard went to WSU. I went to WSU. Bernard runs. I run. Similarities fade at this point. We did meet at the Olympic Trials in 2012. Celebrating Kim Conley’s amazing 5000m qualification at a Eugene restaurant, a herd of us from Santa Rosa sat at our table digesting dinner and recounting for the umpteenth time Kim’s call to glory. In walks said Mr. Lagat with his wife and two kids in tow. We all stood to applaud. Several of us went up to him to congratulate him, snap a few gratuitous photos, etc. I mentioned I went to Wazzu. We did a secret handshake, he promised me he’d give me his gold medal and then he ushered himself and family to his table. It was a groupie moment.

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So here at Carlsbad you can imagine my surprise at seeing him standing there…with me. “What are you doing here?” he asked me. “Well I’m racing, of course. Why?” I replied. “Well, you’re in the wrong race. This is the Elite race.” This is where I awoke in a drenching sweat. It was 1 am. I could only take this as a bad omen.

On the real Race Day morning at 6 am, Larry, Bryan and I piled in with Brad and headed to a secret parking spot. Jill and Bev took a more leisurely approach and left 15 minutes later. It was cool with little or no wind – perfect weather. I had been training with hopes of pushing 20 minutes. A race two weeks earlier had sobered me, but my training had gone well. Nevertheless, I was resolved not to go out too fast. My warmup went well. Caleb and Daniel Skandera spotted me and wished me well. Daniel was there to run his age group (he ran an amazing 19:25, as is told in a related story). At the starting line, I wished Bryan, Larry and Brad “Good Luck” and found what I thought was a good place. It was 7 am.

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This is truly a wonderful experience, wonderful course, beautiful scenery – with the ocean and great weather. Besides what happened, it was awesome.

The first half-mile includes a little upgrade. I felt pushed as we approached the Mile mark – 6:37. Gad! I was already blowing it. As we approach a turn around, I could see Bryan about 20 seconds ahead. I never did see Brad (he was just slightly ahead of Bryan). Larry was a little behind me – still recovering from being out with injury. I leaned into the slight upgrade of the second mile before its slight downhill. I thought I was doing better, but timepieces don’t lie – I was not. A hearty yell from Bev and Jill spurred me on, but to no avail. With less than a mile to go, I faced what Brad had called “this nasty little uphill.” It took my legs out. My goals never made their way out of my mind. The final 300m is slightly downhill. I managed to hold my place, but couldn’t push ahead of anyone in front of me. I finished in 20:53 – well off my goal, but slightly better than my race the two week earlier – wait till next year. Brad finished in 20:28 with Bryan just 2 seconds back. Larry came in behind me.

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We went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and have breakfast. Larry and Bryan stayed to save a place at the beer pen (finishers get a finishing medal and two free beers). When we came back for the beers and to see the elite race, whom did we see but the gal we met the night before at the gelato shop. Kristen Johansen had just won the Women’s Open race (not the Elite one). Her time was 17:08. We congratulated her and took some photos. What a treat to have met her the night before and here she was the winner.

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When we made our way over to the beer pen, Larry was there as promised. We finagled our way through the lines and finally celebrated our race in style – with an IPA. As we enjoyed the live band and the sun and the beer, who comes by, but Kristen again. OK, she must have been stalking us. But now Larry could talk to her about her race too. We spent the rest of our time waiting for the Elite races near noon by drinking more beer and watching Larry dance to rock’n’roll. I feel a book – There Will Be Beer.

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It was time to get serious and find a key spot to watch the Elite Women’s and Men’s races. The others were the experts. Jill and I just tried to keep up. The course we ran is goes out from one street to the ocean-loop once along the ocean promenade-then finishes on another street. The Elite race starts and finishes on the same spot and loops shorter but twice so everyone gets to see the runners-up to 4 times. It very close watching – a lot like what you see in the Tour de France on the hill climbs. They do a great job of course management. Everyone is cheerful, helpful and makes it fun and safe. I’ve not seen a lot of elite racing up so close. It’s worth that experience alone. You watch the trailing men and women in these races stumble and sputter far behind the leaders only realizing their running at phenomenal speeds.

The women’s race was a three women contest, but quickly turned into the Genzebe Dibaba show. Her pursuit of a WR fell short by 2 seconds – 14:48. Deena Kastor, now 40, missed the Master’s WR by 17 seconds, finishing in 16:08.

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The Men’s race was just as exciting. Lawi Lelang managed 1st in 13:32 – slow by Elite standards. Bernard Lagat missed his goal of a Master’s WR coming through in 13:41 (3rd). The WR is 13:24. But his time was nearly a minute off the course master’s record. If he had let me stay in my dream a little longer, perhaps I could have paced him to the WR.

This was a blast to run, to see, and mostly to enjoy with this group. Maybe we can assemble a larger group for next year. I highly recommend it. It’s not too early to mark your calendars – Sunday, April 3, 2016.

THE BOSTON MARATHON: 1980 AND 2015, by Mike McGuire

1980

Nineteen-eighty, a time in running when scratching a line on the road would draw a hundred people just to see why the line was there. Then the race would begin. In the mid-70’s, a local event might be $8.00 and include a t-shirt, many of which adorn t-shirt quilts today. Empire Runner water stops often were card tables with cups and a jug of water or two of water, sometimes self-serve. Qualifying for Boston was 2:50 for men under 40, 3:00 for 40 and over and for all women.

In 1980, there were 5,417 entrants (’95 – 9,416, ’14 – 35,755). For this year, the event was capped at 30,000 including 6,000 non-qualified runners. Nineteen-Eighty was perfect for Spring Break but not for running a long way down the road. Since the run traditionally started at noon, with the boom of a cannon in Hopkinson, the sun was already high in the cloudless sky and held no promise of a cooperating temperature. One aid station was a single National Guard soldier, a couple of tables and a ‘water buffalo’ truck with its three inch spigot for filling cups. Offers of water and orange slices may have been festive for the spectators to offer but were life savers to the runners.

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About ten miles into the race, I bonked. Passing too many aid stations, due to crowding and being too confident from the start, did me in, and I still had a way to go. Most of the journey was just a slog without any key memories other than seeing the Pru in the distance (with it seeming to stay in the distance) and then a couple of turns to the finish. My wife collected me at the finish and escorted (dragged) me to the hotel room of Ken and Shirley Howe where I spent many minutes hugging the toilet bowl feeling the effects of dehydration and exhaustion. Welcome to the finish line! Rosie Ruiz had finished almost an hour before me and was not even winded!

In 1980 I was 35. Thirty-five years later I am running the Boston Marathon for the second time. Same course but a whole different world and event. Qualifying times exist in five year groups from age 18 to ‘over 80’. Qualifying times run from 3:05 to 5:25 for the fastest male division to the oldest female division. There is a ‘rolling’ registration period in which faster qualifying times can ultimately bump slower times. A significant number of non-qualified registrations can be awarded to runners who do fund raising for specific charities. (In the New York Marathon, the charitable donation is $2,620!)

The BAA (Boston Athletic Associate) is in nearly constant contact with entrants with everything from training tips to travel plans and security requirements. (The bombing in 2013 certainly changed event planning!) Along with everyone else, I have received an event passport with maps, time tables and do’s and don’t’s. Also a 22 page official program booklet and an official merchandise catalog. Big events must be very expensive to produce because sponsorship logos adorn every page.

Online comments about this year’s event have been interesting to follow. Boston, along with New York and Chicago, seem to be the ‘big three’ of American marathons with lots of people wanting to collect all three. With run-walking becoming more and more popular, entry fields have swelled. “Getting in” has become a huge challenge. Lotteries, fund-raising, qualifying times and awareness of opening of registration have to be part of one’s master plan.

Is Boston still the premier marathon event with its history and qualifying standards? Or is it merely a marathon that is run in the Boston area? Opinions abound. The 1970 standard was 4:00 hours, men only. 1971, 3:30, men only and a faster qualifying time to keep the run at 1000 entrants – “A good size to keep the course from becoming too congested.” – per a race organizer. 1972, first time women could be official entrants, but everyone qualified with a 3:30 time. 1980, most stringent qualifying time but additional age groups were added for men and women. 1990 through 2012, 3:10 qualifying time but 18 age groups with increasing times. 2013 to present, 3:05 with 22 age groups.

It will still be an exciting event from the expo to visiting friends to trying new restaurants to getting to the starting line and, with dignity, to the finish. Once the run begins, I won’t know age groups from ox carts or qualifiers from non-qualifiers. We’ll run to do our best. With my now-established pattern of attendance, I need to plan for 2050, Boston Marathon #154. I’ll be 105 years old, but the qualifying time should be slower than it is this year.

2015

I arrived in Boston about a week before Patriot’s Day. Those days are a story for another day.

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On the day of the big event, we were up at 5:15 for a drive from Lee, NH to Hopkinton. The weather forecasts were increasingly grim. Rain, heavy at times, strong winds pretty much all day from Hopkinton to Boston. During the drive, we had heavy weather, lots of rain falling and lots of water being thrown up by the cars and trucks on the road.

The arrival in Hopkinton was easy with volunteers and police officers ready and able to give directions. I was dropped off about two hours before my wave was to move to the start line. (My wife, Sandi and good friend, Bill Bryon, then drove to a train station for their ride to Boston. We would take the train back to New Hampshire later in the day.) I got in line for a shuttle into town. With no bags to check, I was ushered to the front of the line and immediately got on a school bus for the 10 minute ride to the Athletes’ Village.

My outfit for the day, from the outside in, was a Goodwill purchase ‘Portsmouth LaCrosse’ team pull-over and a pair of jeans ($12), long sleeve pull-over, t-shirt, long sleeve pull-over, tights, shorts, hat, gloves, shoes and wool socks. My plan was to shed as the day proceeded. Except for the gloves, I kept my attire for the entire run. Well, actually not the Goodwill outfit. That was deposited in one of the many collection bags. Maybe I can find it again next year!

The Athletes’ Village was the enclosed area of the high school sports fields. Again, there was easy entry, passing smiling security guards and on to a big open field. A light and scattered rain was falling. One side of the gym was lined with runners sitting against the wall; others were walking around, but most were under three large open tents huddled against the wind and rain.

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Organization of the Village was superb – many potties rimming the edge of the field, jumbo-tron screen with race information, loud and clear PA system with an announcer who kept us informed without over-using the mic. Food and drink galore – coffee, Gatorade, water, bagels, bananas, Clif Bars, Shot Blocks, and gels in never-ending quantities. The area was fairly litter-free, but it will always bother me that some people simply leave things behind rather than walk a few paces to one of the many obvious trash cans.

Easy conversation with fellow runners, especially under the tent where crowding encouraged chatting, always initially about the current weather and what might come. I talked with runners from Canada, Cincinnati, Ventura, New York and Finland. Some were first timers, others repeat offenders. There are fifteen or twenty ‘streakers’ – those who have run 25 or more consecutive Boston Marathons!

I lined up for a pre-race potty stop, perhaps 20 people in line, thinking I had plenty of time before the village exit. I measured my progress against two ladies who had started in the line next to mine. They arrived at their potty door two people ahead of me. Someone else’s line always moves more quickly! A rule of nature. I deposited my outer clothing for its trip back to Goodwill and followed my wave of 7000 down the hill to the start.

All along the .7 mile walk we were greeted by volunteers collecting discardable clothing. The local ‘clothes banks’ did very well by the Boston Marathon. Police in various uniforms were ever present. Neighbors on their porches waved and cheered us on. All this and we had not even run a step!

Once onto the main street (I guess it was the main street because with the crowd, I could not see above the shoulders of those around me!), we were ushered to our starting group by numbers held on long sticks. Everyone was calm and cheerful with no pushing or squirming forward to get an advantage. Gees, it’s a marathon, there’s no need get an extra foot or two! A light rain was falling.

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My group was still a block or so from the actual start and we moved forward as those ahead of us were sent on their way. We managed a walking start as our starting gun sounded. At this point, about 14,000 runners were already on the road. Since the road slopes down and is fairly straight, all we could see were bobbing shuffling heads. And that was the view for many miles to come.

Many Hopkinton residents sent us on our way with hearty cheers and the knowledge that their day was just about over and they could return to the daily life of a small New England town. Probably within another half hour, the last runner would be on his way and the clean-up and tear-down could begin.

The course is really pretty easy and in the early Spring not yet very colorful. But the crowds and history of the event make up for any deficiencies. The weather may have reduced the number of spectators a bit but is still pretty exciting to be cheered on and on and on. For a bit I felt like a well-known local. Many people shouted encouragement to “Mike”. A tall man passed me a little later with his name, Mike, plastered on the front of his shirt. My rooting section quickly evaporated.

With my GPS watch coaching my pace, I settled into race mode and was very consistent for many miles. I walked through most aid stations and pleased with how my layering was keeping me comfortable. Oh, the litter of clothing – caps, gloves, shirts, pants! Hopefully no one discarded items too soon.

My training for the marathon was lacking in long runs. One 16 miler, several 12 to 14 and a lot of 7 to 10’s. Alternating hamstring and Achilles problems put me behind the typical schedule. My plan (hope) was to run a conservative race and finish in no more than four hours. The plan worked well for 21 miles and then my pace began to slow as I looked forward more and more to the next aid station where I could take a walking break. Toward the end I took out my camera to take some pics but really more to do some walking. But I crossed the finished line with what looked like a running step and only 2 minutes off my 4 hours.

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The finish line was another example of fabulous organization with dozens of volunteers directing runners to food, drink, wheel chairs and meeting places. We were wrapped in hooded ‘heat retention cape’s, given wonderful finishers’ medals, treated to food and drink, and congratulated for our effort. I was content to know I had warm clothes and friends close at hand.

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Sandi and Bill and my nephew, Cole, who goes to school in Boston, texted me as to where to go – a short walk to a lunch counter diner with a view of the finish line. After changing into clean dry clothes, I settled in to recount my exploits.

Later we walked a short distance to a commuter train station for the beginning of our trip back to New Hampshire. Next, a wait in an Amtrack station allowed me to fill up donut holes before the hour ride back to our car and the final leg of our trip home. Actually, we stopped at a terrific pizzeria for a couple of slices and pints. And then we went home.

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Two days later our trip wound down as we were dropped off at Logan Airport. It was fun to see all the marathon shirts and jackets in the terminal. All runners greeted each other with congratulations and comments about the weather and the course. Everyone was in great spirits and convinced they would return next year.

Maybe a new set of ‘streakers’ has been formed.