The effervescent Strawberry Canyon Track Club sent four solid teams to compete in the Christmas Relays on Dec. 12th. Many teams mistakenly thought the competition would be minimized by the number of runners competing at USATF Club Cross Country nationals, but in true Bay Area and PA-USATF fashion it seemed many of the big hitters emerged from the woodwork, some of whom scrambled home from Charlotte in time to jump into this race for good measure. In retrospect, this proved to be the most exciting Christmas Relays open men’s competition in the history of the event.
Highlighting the day in one of its best team performances, the Strawberry Canyon TC open men’s A team crushed the existing club record set in the Cro Magnon era (1992) by nearly two minutes on the somewhat hilly 4.464-mile relay event, blasting an outstanding time of 1:30.21, an average of 22:35 per leg. Starting the day off with a flourish (more like an explosion) was one of the best across-the-board and spectrum efforts ever turned in by a Strawberry Canyon TC member dating all the way back to the origin of the club in the days of the East Bay Striders. Yes, there were many superlative efforts, but this day belonged to the Flying Frenchman, who posted the best Strawberry Canyon TC open men’s performance to date.
Hometown SF lad Christopher Gerber had this race circled on his calendar for a year and he showed up with the war paint. Chris did not disappoint, running the best race of his career. He dialed in and scorched the course, barreling around breezy Lake Merced in a phenomenal time of 22:03, leaving everyone in his wake. Many people in attendance (and chasing after him in his leg) looked more than a little stricken when Chris, a relatively unknown runner, crossed the line in just over 22:00, after having hit the 2-mile mark in the sizzling time of 9:37. Many spectators were scratching their heads and checking their watches. This was a scant 1:11 of of Brian Abshire’s course record. Only two runners have ever broken 21:00 on that course, and they were either 13:20 5K or 28:00-flat 10K-level former Olympians, respectively.
Christopher surpassed many great runners in his remarkable opening leg and came through in command with a solid 12-second lead. His 22:03 also broke the club record for a Lake Merced loop, smashing the old Christmas relays mark of 22:20 held by 30:29 road 10Ker and 14:48 5Ker Eugene Tung.
Running on the second leg for the Strawberry open men, was former NCAA Division III national 10,000-meter champion Tom Haxton, who is just rounding back into shape. Tom ran pretty well though he lost the lead spot to a swift Aggie, churning out a solid 23:03 leg. He handed off to the indomitable David Yu for the third leg. Close to David was a pair of strong runners from the River City Rebels and Chico Track Club, making it a hotly contested four-team race, and the West Valley Track Club, Transports Racing Team and Olympic Club Recovery runners weren’t all the way out if it either, all still within striking range for the closing leg. David Yu chased down the wayward Aggie and closed on him, walking him down with a furious charge in the last uphill half mile, a great move and notching a very strong effort in 22:46, which put the Strawberries into the lead again. David handed off to the speedy Sean McFarland for the anchor leg.
Sean ran an excellent leg, only seven seconds off of the former club record, but he had to contend with a ringer in Kevin Pool-the 29:36 10K runner from the River City Rebels. Sean ran a gritty 22:29 for his leg and valiantly held off a hard-charging Aggie to secure the second team spot for the Strawberries, the highest open men’s team Christmas Relays finish ever, and the broken 18-year-old club record was safely in the books. When the dust had settled, only 25 seconds separated four teams: River City Rebels (1:30.10), Strawberry Canyon TC (1:30.21), ASICs Aggies (1:30.24) and Chico TC (1:30.35). This was the closest four-team finish in the history of the event, the fastest times rendered by PA-USATF teams since the mid-1990s, and the fastest time recorded at the Christmas Relays in eight years.
The Strawberry Canyon TC open women were led by the irrepressible Lindsay Meisel who made a triumphant return to the racing scene when she scooted through a sizzling opening leg in 29:08. She handed off to Emily Bartlett, who averaged a solid 6:45 per mile pace on the rolling course and finished with an approximate time of 30:40. Emily handed off to Sarah Syed, who negotiated the course at under 7:00 per mile despite taking a lot of post-season down time and running the race to allow the berries to field a relay team. She completed the loop in 31:20 and handed off to Linda Dix-Copper who ran an excellent anchor leg time of 29:56. This allowed the Strawberry women to finish in the top ten, 9th overall among teams in a total time of 2:01.04, a very good performance for the women.
The old guys squared off a bit vs. the young guys as the Strawberry Canyon TC masters men finished very near the Strawberry Canyon TC under 20 boys team. The under-20 team won its age group division handily, putting together a nice team performance and an aggregate overall time of 1:43.31. Some of the splits were a little unclear, but Niko Connor led off with a time of roughly 26:00-flat. He handed off to Tom Liu who ran somewhere between 27:00 and 28:00 after taking an extended break from training. Tom handed off to Chris Gioia, who ran in only his second race as a Strawberry. He finished in about 26:00-flat. Irish Sam Mealy closed with a superb anchor leg and ran in the vicinity of 22:45, certainly counting as one of the top ten Christmas Relays legs in club history.
The masters men had a couple of winning streaks to defend and sent the last guys they had standing with a pulse to compete in this grand finale of three too many races this season in the crowded PA-USATF race docket. Unfortunately the ASICs Aggies masters runners came with a completely loaded “A” team, black hats and all, and won convincingly. However the Strawberries masters men still needed to score a point in order to win the team standings in the PA-USATF road race series as the men’s masters team champions. So finishing was winning regardless of the caliber of the effort.
For the Strawberries in the white hats, Jim Scattini made the long drive up from Salinas to run the opening leg, finishing in a solid time of 25:35. Coach Carl Rose ran the second leg and had a decidedly off-day and managed to run an uck-ish 27:53. Third was Tim Keenan, who was also a bit “raced out” and he ran a 25:50 which was probably just fair by his lofty standards. Jeff Mann wasn’t having any of this off-day nonsense, however, and blitzed the course in his fastest effort in five years with an outstanding time of 24:10, also destroying the club record in the 45-49 age group category for this race.
So ends the season for the Strawberry Canyon Track Club. Congratulations to everyone who competed, supported, and energized this great group!