Cool, foggy weather greeted the Berries as five hardy athletes participated in the USATF Club National Championships. This was the most significant track meet of the year for the Strawberry Canyon TC, which took place on July 9-10 at San Francisco State University. In terms of classic periodization, it was an oddly timed duck in what is ideally the base-building portion of the training schedule. Hence a few other Berries whom had qualified for the national championships prudently opted to sit this event out and train for fall cross country.
The first day brought plenty of action for the Berries. First up was Niko Connor, who had to go it alone in the men’s 800-meter dash as a disappointed Joshua Seeherman scratched on race day, citing a lingering groin or psoas strain incurred while racing in Santa Rosa late last month. Josh came out to encourage his training partner Niko, who noted the pace went out a little too slowly, and was unable to come back to the leaders during the second lap of his heat. Niko fought down the home stretch and finished about a second off of his PR set earlier this season with a time of 1:59.77. Though a bit disappointed to end his season this on this note, Niko recognized his season was extremely long, and he had been fatigued for the past several weeks prior to this particular meet. His mark was still good for a respectable top ten 10th-place overall finish.
The final event of the evening was the men’s 10000-meter event which featured three Berries. Newcomer Patrick Reaves took out the early pace for us, coming through his first lap in 74.5 to David Yu’s 77.8. Joseph Binder, who said after the Marin 10K in May he would be shutting things down and rebuilding for fall cross country, was doing these races primarily as glorified workouts. Binder was about a second behind Yu at the 400-meter mark, and after a few laps, cruised through the rest of the race at a steady 5:30 per mile pace.
Yu ran an extraordinary race, pacing the first three miles in a steady stream of 76-77-second laps, teaming up with West Valley TC runner Todd Rose. They soon caught up to Patrick after the 2800-meter mark and passed 31:27 10K Central Park TC runner John Roberts. We could see the light start to turn on for Yu, who smoothly rolled through the 5000-meter mark in 15:55, about 11 seconds under his 10K PR pace of 32:11. At that point Yu looked very fresh and gave us a knowing little smile as he crossed the finish line of lap 14, fully aware of what could now be possible. He started to ease away from a tiring Rose, continuing to stalk the other runners lingering ahead of him. Next he caught and passed a surprised Sam Robinson of adidas Transports, who went out a little too hard with the early leaders.
Sam tried to hang with Yu for the next 1000 but David was not to be denied and Sam eventually fell off of Yu’s sizzling pace. David continued to close the gap on the tiring runners in front of him, all with PRs in the sub-31:30 range. At roughly 7.5K, Yu passed Rikki Hacker of the Kansas City Smoke, who ended up dropping out shortly thereafter. David smelled blood as he pursued other runners in front of him, passing the 8K mark in a monster PR of 25:15. His blistering pace started to wear him out in the last mile, as Yu managed to hold on for a 5:16 1600 between 8000 and 9600 meters of the long race. David literally had nothing left at the end as he closed with a 74-second last lap, but he crushed the 32:00-minute barrier and almost collapsed after the finish as the contingent of Berries fans erupted in raucous cheers.
The second day of the competition proved every bit as exciting as the first, as the Berries entered two runners into the very competitive men’s 5000-meter event and Emily Bartlett, our newest woman who joined us in June for her first workout. Emily represented the Berries in the women’s 3000-meter steeplechase, and went out at a reasonably conservative first lap of 86.5 seconds. She was comfortably in fifth-place while shadowing Bevin Peters of the Central Park Track Club.
The former University of Cornell runner was regrouping after an off-year of training subsequent to her entry into the University of California’s demanding graduate program, and tempered her expectations accordingly. Still, Bartlett passed Peters at the 1600-meter mark and started her assault on the third-place runner from the Greater Boston Track Club. Eventually Emily’s sporadic training caught up to her and Bartlett fell back, eventually getting passed by the hard-charging Peters and settling for a very respectable 5th-place finish in a time of 11:55.59. Though Emily was mildly disappointed in her time, she still managed to outscore the men’s team and her four points netted the Strawberries a 15th-place team finish. Emily shook it off gracefully and will regroup to focus on this autumn’s competitive cross country racing scene.
The men’s 5000-meter event was a barn-burner as Joe Binder and Sean McFarland limbered up at the starting line. Binder again utilized this as more of a solid training effort and went out at 77 seconds for the first lap and was content to maintain that pace throughout the race, coming home in a workmanlike time of 16:04.35, chugging home in 16th place.
McFarland, though, was ready for prime time and may have tied Elizabeth Scott for the open runner’s race of the year honors for the Berries. With his parents in town he came ready to put on a big show and take a bite out of his then-current 15:22 PR. Sean did not disappoint. He survived some significant jostling, erratic pacing and getting shoved into lanes two and three for the first mile. Sean’s first lap was in 72 but he was getting bounced around. Trying to avoid trouble, Sean’s second lap was in 77, and his third lap was a bit panicky as he jetted to a 68-second split as he tried in vain to free himself from the rippling welter of elbows and spikes. Sean came through the 1600 in 4:53, a bit slower than the race plan. Concerned for the outcome of his race as well as trying to minimize the potential risk of an injury, Coach Carl yelled at Sean (and saved a few choice words for the other runners, some of whom appeared to be on the verge of getting disqualified for their ruthless tactics) to take the lead at the 1600-meter mark, in which he settled into a better rhythm of 72.5-second laps
While the field was toying with each-other to determine placing and points, McFarland’s bold move to the front rendered a more honest race. Although some of the faster runners accelerated away later (including the first two runners who closed in a crazy 2:05 for the final 800 meters), Sean continued to hammer, cranking his pace up a notch after crossing the 3200-meter mark in 9:44, which indicated a 4:51 second mile. He started clipping off 71-second laps in the final mile, building up an even bigger head of steam. McFarland lumbered through the third mile in an outstanding negative split of 4:46, and with the gas he had remaining in his tank, Sean finished in 34 seconds for the last 200 meters. He staggered off after finishing the harrowing race in a spectacular performance. Sean’s final time of 15:04.43 was an amazing 18-second PR, good for 8th overall and 4th of the Berries all-time 5K PR list, also scoring the team one valuable point in the competition. (A vicious rumor has it that Sean celebrated his remarkable PR by downing an entire Zachary’s large deep dish pizza later that evening).
Given that we were a first-year club, the Berries ran extremely well and served notice that we are on the road to becoming a force to be reckoned with in the future. Next up is the USATF Masters National Championships held July 22-25 in Sacramento. (by Carl Rose)