Sunday, August 31, 2014

Introducing the New Welterweight 12K "State Champion" of the World...

A proliferation of "championships"
Parade of Champions

Boxing fans are familiar with the ridiculous alphabet soup of different "official" sanctioning bodies each promoting their own championship. At any one time there can be several different boxers in the same weight class each holding up their shiny bedazzled gold belt and claiming to be the champion.

As I've recently discovered, we have a similar situation in mountain/trail/ultra running. While USATF is probably the most well-known and prestigious organization, there's also a handful of other race series and magazines such EXTERRA, Trail Runner magazine, and Ultra Running magazine who bestow their own championships and runner-of-the-year awards.

And then there's my favorite... the Road Runner's Club of America (RRCA). I love these guys. I really do. They offer a "championship" for almost any/every distance imaginable including some rather odd non-standard distances like 20K, 12K, 8 mile, and 4 mile. I'm pretty sure they must hand out hundreds of "championship" medals each year. If you personally haven't won one of their championships, chances are that your spouse, neighbor, dog, or training partner has!

Big Johnny Brings Home the Gold!

Running down a dream...
All my life -- well at least since high school -- I have dreamed of winning a state championship. In high school I was a decent wrestler, a mediocre runner, and a sub-par tennis player. While I won an occasional tournament, race, or match, my only experience at a state championship involved purchasing a ticket in the sitting in the stands with my brother.

So when I heard that a local favorite race of mine, the Bill Flodberg Mt. Madonna Challenge, was hosting the RRCA California 12K Trail State Championship, I got pretty excited. This was a race that I have always run well at in the past. I even won the race outright in 2009. The super steep 40% grade of the opening mile-long climb really suits me well.

I figured that unless a bunch of super fast guys from out of town showed up to contest the event, I might have a decent shot at winning again this year. And if I didn't win outright, I should hopefully at least be the fist guy over 40 to cross the line -- which would give me bragging rights as the master's champion. In fact, master's champion sounds more impressive than just regular champion. I imagine people whispering, "Wow. He's not just a regular champion, he's a Master-Champion." Ha ha.

As I picked up my bib before the race I ran into fellow ultra-runner Rickey Russel who has edged me out in every race we've even run together including beating me by 14 minutes at Quad Dispsea last November and finishing 18 minutes ahead of me at Miwok 100 this year. I also saw another fast looking guy warming up, who turned out to be San Jose State City College runner Bihama Vedaste.

Lovin' my new Scarpa TRU trail shoes
As I expected, Rickey and Bihama took the race out hard, immediately opening up a slight lead over myself and Travis Finucane of Gilroy, with the rest of the field already well out of sight just a few hundred meters into the long opening climb. I tucked in behind Travis for the first mile or so as he set a really nice pace. Then as soon as the climb leveled out a bit after the first mile I made a surge and accelerated past Travis, trying (in vain) to bridge up the two leaders.

Rickey and Bihama slowly extended their lead and eventually pulled away out of sight by the top of the two mile climb. I hammered the rest of the course as hard as I could, trying desperately to catch up to the leaders. But as I would later learn, despite my best efforts they continued to pull away from me, eventually opening up a four to five minute lead by the finish. Still, I managed to finish in 3rd place, and most importantly I was the first old guy to cross the line earning me the coveted Master's State Championship!

While I didn't witness the battle at the front myself, I later learned that Bihama pulled away on the final downhill mile to take the win away from Rickey who had lead the entire race. Bihama came home with both the winner's trophy (which my wife Amy describes as looking like a giant cookie jar) and the RRCA state championship. And while I took home the master's championship, poor Rickey who lead almost the entire race before being outkicked came home empty handed in second place. But I suspect he will be back next year looking to take home that cookie jar!

Have I shown you my medal? Oh, I have?


Many people have asked me how winning a "state championship" has changed my life. (Ok, no one has actually asked me that...but damn, I wish that they would!). In truth, not as much has changed as you might expect. Much to my surprise and dismay there is no State Champions Only Parking at the grocery store nor any special Sate Champions discount at coffee shop. I still put on my pants one leg at a time each morning much like you ordinary schmucks and muggles who don't walk everywhere around wearing a State Champion medal dangled around your necks.

Yes, of course I wear my medal everywhere I go including to the office and customer visits. Is that even a serious question? Though I admit that I do take it off to shower as I'm not sure if it's rust-proof or not and I plan to wear it for many more years to come.