Greater Lowell at National Club Cross Country

GLRR Men’s Masters Team

By John Barbour

Greater Lowell was among ten New England clubs represented at the USATF National Club Championships, held last December 12 in San Francisco’s magnificent and historic Golden Gate Park. Other than mega-clubs Greater Boston and the BAA, GLRR’s contingent at thirteen was one of the largest (a dozen dudes plus Liane Pancoast).

This event moves around the country from year to year, and to have it in one of the most beautiful locations in arguably the most beautiful city in America made this a special year. I’ll confess that as a Bay Area native I’m biased here; I first raced cross country in GGPark as a high school junior in 1970 (one of my opponents was Dana Carvey, a legitimately good runner), and was fortunate to compete in two national XC championships in the 1980s during the great Pat Porter’s string of eight consecutive national XC wins.

With the entire GLRR contingent over 40 (no shock there) you had Liane in the women’s masters race (6K) followed by everyone else in the men’s masters 10K – or at least that how it would have been in every year before 2015. Because of the growth of the men’s masters field (aging running boomers) plus there portion of the course being both winding and single-track, a decision was made to split the old men into two races, effectively “less old” and “most old”. Men aged 40-59 ran 10K as usual while men over 60 ran in a separate 8K race. Got it?

The long drought was abruptly broken in the week leading up to nationals as the first salvo of El Niño pelted the Bay Area, leaving the course wet. But the ground had been dry for so long that most water stayed at the surface, minimizing the mud factor, as Friday course inspections revealed. Lodgings were at the meet HQ at Fisherman’s Wharf, adjacent to the North Beach neighborhood, making access to pre-race Italian fare easy to come by.

Liane’s 6K was the first race of the day. She continued her comeback with a strong, consistent effort, running 28:49 in the 252-runner field to place 23rd in the 55-59 age bracket and 130th in overall age-grading. This race showed that the course wasn’t fast – races combined various sections, some run more than once including thick, rutted grass, an old horse track, and trail. Hills were moderate but “effective”, and the ground had absorbed water overnight making it everything a little softer.

Next up were the over-60 men, and GLRR lined up a strong contingent consisting of Bill Dixon (USATF national age 65-69 Road Runner of the Year), John Goodwin, Denny LeBlanc and yours truly. This turned out to be one of the memorable races I’ve been part of (and thus makes writing it up feel odd). On the line, I was next to friend and former local rival Reno Stirrat; a few boxes on the other side was Club Northwest which included two-time age group national champion Rick Becker. Further on was San Francisco’s own Tom Bernhard, USATF 60-64 Road Runner of the Year.

As expected (by me) Becker shot to the front and opened an immediate gap. Down the long grass start and up onto the horse track a half-dozen gave chase, but by the end of the 3/4-mile loop it had winnowed to two, Becker 5:20 at the mile and Barbour (aka me) eight seconds behind. From there the race proceeded like so: Barbour pulls up to Becker, Becker sprints away, Barbour pulls back up, etc. With 1K to go on a short hill Barbour (aka “yours truly”) got past Becker by a stride for the first time, then started to turn the wrong way. By the time the ship had correct course, Becker had a 5-6 meter lead, to which he added on the ensuing grass stretch and which yours truly (aka “Barbour”) could not close in the final 250 meters, finishing in 29:04. Third place was 1:13 behind.

Dixon, meanwhile, moved through the field like gangbusters to come across the line 15th, he too a close second in his age group (31:36). Goodwin’s strong race(32:37) made for a tight team finish, the GLRR Veterans second to Club Northwest 38-43 with Cal Coast 45 as LeBlanc (40:34) scored a top-10 place among 70-74s. Barbour and Dixon were #2 and #3 in age-grading, and #4 & #5 when all over-40s were factored in.

In recent years Senior men have been GLRR’s strongest team, but as they were one short of the five needed for a complete team their lot was cast with the Masters in 40-59 10K competition. As expected, Kevin Carnabucci (37:06) and Chris Hancock (37:22) led the way. Then came the Senior support in the form of EJ Hrynowski (38:28), Keith O’Brien (39:35) and Peter LaGoy (39:50) as the Masters-with-Seniors placed 21st in 40-49 team competition. Shawn Conway (41:11), Dave Connally (42:03) and a hobbled-but-game Bob Kearns (42:18) completed the team. Over 400 runners and 30 teams competed in this race alone. Finally, the Open races gave GLRR a reason to sheer as Pancoast daughter Stephanie, now a San Franciscan, ran 21:17 as the #4 runner on the #7 team (Team Strava).

After a brief hotel relax-and-libation session that included the Liberty AC Senior women’s team (including Shadi Reeder, married to Our Mark) it was time to walk up the street for awards at the Galileo HS, which gave the world someone once known mostly for fast running, O. J. Simpson. Next to the BAA (first place Open women’s team, second Open men, third Masters men) GLRR was the most-decorated New England club with silvers for the Veterans team plus Dixon’s and Barbour’s age-group medals.

The next day Mr. Dixon resumed his alter-ego and continued a journey, begun earlier in the week, up the coast to photograph California missions. (We’ll bet there was a winery stop or two in there somewhere.) Next year it’s on to . . . . Tallahasseee . . .