The Strawberry Canyon Track Club sent its strongest ever open women’s team (and its motleyest ever open men’s team) to the Shoreline Challenge Cross Country race in Mountain View. The women’s race in particular, was a major barn-burner and a coming out party of sorts for the Strawberries.
The Pacific Association races are somewhat random affairs. For some races, a good number of the top runners stay home, while others are star-studded battles. This year’s Shoreline XC field was stacked almost beyond measure. Virtually all of the PA teams sent their top runners and it promised to be a thriller.
The women’s course was changed to a 3.0-mile cloverleaf-styled course on the dry gravel and choppy hills adjacent to Google’s offices and the Shoreline Amphitheater. Overall finishing results indicated times slightly were slower time than a track 5000.
In a dramatic see-saw affair, Carola Conces and Rebecca Eckland battled and pushed each other to arguably the best race of their lives, and in doing so burned off of a lot of their rivals. They both hit 5:36 at the mile, kind of looked at eachother and more or less thought to themselves: “WTH?? Oh well, let’s try to hang on.”
Going with their natural strengths, Rebecca would surge ahead on the downhills and Carola would surge past her on the uphills. Finally in the final 200 meters, Carola had opened up about three seconds on Rebecca and vanquished the cluster of four runners behind her. While Carola was clear of a lurking group of three other runners, Rebecca now had to pass two strong Impalas (including 1:19 half-marathoner Michelle Meyer), and also needed to fend off a challenge by the ever-dangerous speedster Nicole Campbell of West Valley Track Club.
While Carola sailed to the finish, leading a string of runners in her wake, Rebecca responded to the challenge, put her head down, and unleashed a sizzling final kick, outgunning the other three women for the finish, and fought back to within one second of her teammate, Carola (17:30-12th place), who placed just ahead of Rebecca (17:31-13th place).
Suffice it to say they had both just delivered an absolute monster of a race that even left the announcer a little baffled.
Debuting and finishing third across the line for the Strawberries was Maria Monks, the mighty MIT mathlete and graduate student at Cal. By her own admission, maria said she knew she had gone out a little hard, but she also attained her pre-race season-opening goal of (18:10 on the nose, 22nd place) which was a solid debut run for her. Maria beat some very good PA runners and she is only gong to get stronger and stronger, which will bode very well for the Strawberries in the future.
Next across the line for the Berries was the ever-reliable Cal sophomore Christine Bowlus, who despite missing out on a complete warm-up and coming into the race a bit fatigued this week, still was able to hammer home a strong run of 18:34 (34th place). The Berries fifth woman was Elizabeth Ottenheimer (19:41-58th place) who has been our most consistent participant in the PA fall cross country race circuit. The former teenage distance prodigy is making a good comeback after many years away from running with consistency, and it’s only a matter of time and hard work before she puts it all together.
Overall the impressive women’s team unquestionably turned some heads, and placed a convincing 4th behind the big three in the PA: the ASICs Aggies, New Balance Silicon Valley and the Impala Racing team. There is work to be done but this race instilled some confidence and demonstrated nicely how our women’s team could potentially close the gap on the established teams.
The “open” men’s team entered a hodge-podge crew in their race, but we put five brave (hapless?) souls on the line nonetheless (six if Irtaza is counted, but he was not a PA-affiliated member at the time of the race).
This combined open and masters men’s race took place on a new course of 4.0 miles, and featured a race field that was decidedly less competitive than the women’s race (other than the slew of ASICs Aggies top guns who represented their club at their home race). It was noted that we had the widest age-range spread of any open team (from Rory Runser and Irtaza Haider at age 18, to Bill Brusher at 60).
Joe Binder was motleyest crew runner numero uno for the Strawberry Canyon Track Club, and he utilized this race as a bit of a rust-buster and post-ultra-season-opener after nonchalantly scoring a team gold medal and lifetime achievement for the United States in the IAU World 100K championships in the Netherlands last September by taking 19th in the world. Ironman Joe rumbled home in 21:03-17th place, and will really help us out in the home stretch of the season.
Next across the line was Rory Runser, who ran a decent time of 21:46-31st place. Following Rory was (unscored) Irtaza Haider, who almost set a 4-mile PR on the choppy course with a time of 22:15-44th place.
Then it was up to the “old guys” to close out the scoring for the Strawberries. Seniors all-around MVP Barry Smith had yet another strong performance in the 50-54 age division and finished in 23:51-approx 5th senior. Cross Country masters MVP Daniel Sivolella came across next in 24:23, and super-seniors MVP William Brusher (age 60) closed out the scoring with his time of 28:47 and 12th in his age group.
The men’s team appeared to have finished 5th overall and will concentrate its efforts at future races. Such is the nature of the beast on the very crowded PA-USATF race docket.