Running in the 'Meda: Off to the races

Running in the 'Meda: Off to the races

Marty Beene

It must be cross-country season!

Monday marked the first day of school for most Alameda public schools, which means it was the first day of after school cross-country practice! At Alameda High, that meant more than 50 teenagers congregating at the edge of campus to navigate the logistics of the first day of practice. Yes, there was some chaos, although - to be fair - probably not as much as for the overall school day for the new freshmen.

Cross-country season is one of my favorite times of the year because the sport is so ... so ... amazing? Awesome? Incredible? Fun? As a high school coach, it's exciting to watch young people dedicate themselves to such a challenging endeavor, especially because all of them succeed in one way or another.

If you've never been to a high school cross-country meet, mark your calendars for Thursday, October 2. Encinal High School, assisted by Alameda High School, will be hosting a Center Meet for half the schools of the West Alameda County Conference at Crab Cove. The meet will start at 4 p.m., but the runners will arrive at around 3 p.m. to start warming up. There will be frosh-soph races for girls, then boys; junior-senior races (the conference uses this instead of "junior varsity"); and varsity races. There will be lots of screaming and yelling, much of it by the student-athletes as they encourage both their teammates and competitors from other schools during the races.

For those of you adults who are runners, don't think that cross-country is only for teenagers. The Pacific Association of USA Track & Field has a cross-country series for us, too. They've been doing it for many years - my running logbook for 1985 (!) tells me that I ran a race from that series on July 6, 1985 in Golden Gate Park. I wrote: "Sore from VB (I had started taking a volleyball class at Foothill College the night before); TOUGH course with 'sand bog' and several hills. 29th/37 Open Men."

That course is essentially the same today, starting in Lindley Meadow along JFK Drive (at 30th Avenue). The course is a loop (done twice) that includes ups, downs, grass, dirt, roots, rocks, sand, and maybe even a hay bale or two. This year, the race will be held on Sunday, September 7.

One thing to know about the association series is that you'll want to leave your ego at home. The races are very, very competitive, often with former Olympians and collegiate stars in the field. Most races include a who's who of Bay Area running celebrities of all ages. The competition between the various clubs is intense, and there aren't very many "joggers" who participate. As an example of the level of competition, the most recent race of the series was up in the Sacramento area. I looked at the results and counted only 4=four guys in my age group out of 27 that I might have beaten. Yikes.

But don't let that stop you, even if you consider yourself a slow runner. The races are most certainly open to anyone, and I would strongly encourage you to do at least one of them every fall. In fact, I was on a committee back in the '90s to revamp the scoring system (they track your placing throughout the season to determine overall individual and team champions), and my contribution was convincing the others to track everyone's scoring, not just the fastest runners.

There are still nine races left this season, including the September 7 one in Golden Gate Park, a race in Hayward's Garin Park on September 20, one in the Presidio on October 4, and another visit to Golden Gate Park for the association championship race on November 16. The cost for the low-frills races is $20 to $25, except for the championship race, which costs $30.

Which ones are you going to run?

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. Marty can be reached at