Teamwork Can Stop the Unstoppable

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Anyone who believes that running is a solitary sport is not fully participating. A late bloomer, I missed the team-oriented high school and college running experience. It wasn’t until my first few cross country races, in 2007, at age 36, that I understood the value and satisfaction of running as a team.

In cross country, runners are scored individually, but team scoring takes priority. I understood the rules, but really, it wasn’t until 2012 (age 41), my first full cross-country season, that I really got it. That year, a spartan crew drove almost four hours to Redding, California, for a 5K cross-country race in the blazing heat. We had just enough women to score in either Open (under 40) or Masters (40+), but not both.

Andy Chan, coach and club president for my running club, Pamakid Runners, played with the numbers to determine the best option. I was adamant about prioritizing the masters’ women. (Selfishly, because I was one of them.)

“We have to consider what’s best for Pamakids, not just what’s best for the masters’ women,” Andy kindly pointed out. Oh. From that point on, it clicked. Pamakids’ goal is for all of our teams to place as high as possible rather than concentrate on one particular group. In other words, everyone matters.

Today, our 40+ women’s team placed second in the Christmas Relays, a fun four-person, 4.5 mile loop around Lake Merced. The race concludes the USATF-Pacific Association’s annual road racing series, where individual and teams earn points in events ranging from 5K to the marathon.

A second place finish in what has become a competitive holiday tradition is something to be proud of. But we didn’t just place second. Our 40+ women’s team earned enough points today to WIN the 2014 PA/USATF Road Race Grand Prix. WIN! Entire Series! [Andy gives a nice account of what this accomplishment means to him on his Chanman’s Blog.]

A series win means that the Pamakids women achieved what was previously considered impossible: to finish ahead of Impalas. Impala Racing Team is an all-women’s “elite development racing team” based in San Francisco. Comprised of more than 100 women, the Impalas have more Olympic Trials qualifiers in their roster than any other team that I know of. They have sent women to the Trials every year since its inception. Impalas are unstoppable. Its under 40, 40+, 50+, even 60+ teams are always on top, always, and it’s been that way for as long as I’ve been paying attention (and most likely longer).

We stopped them.

Our Christmas Relays SuperTeam: Louise, Danielle, Monica and me.
Our Christmas Relays SuperTeam: Louise, Danielle, Monica and me.

It wasn’t just one race that led to our win. Our women made another long drive to Redding for a 10-miler in March. We made another trip to Sacramento for a 10-miler in April. We placed first in both of these races, giving us precious points. Impalas finished ahead of us in many other races, but we did well in many more. Andy has all of the specific stats (there are a lot of stats), but it would be the Christmas Relays that would determine the final outcome. Impalas ran well. We ran better.

Pamakids had runners competing in various men’s, women’s and coed teams at today’s Christmas Relays. By my guesstimation, nearly 30 of us celebrated the day with a loop around the lake, snacks and a champagne toast. In a prerace speech, Andy pointed out the successes in other divisions: we earned multiple high placings in ultra, cross country and road racing in both genders. A few individuals placed tops in their field also. We have a lot to be proud of. But in the postrace toast, Andy reminded myself and everyone else that victory isn’t just about the 40+ women. It’s a victory that everyone can share.

Pamakids is an inclusive club. We don’t have tryouts, we don’t care how old you are or how fast you run. All we require is a positive attitude and a willingness to give back a little to the community.

Formed in 1970, Pamakids was a force to be reckoned with in the ‘70s and ‘80s. After many years of dormancy, a few ambitious members reinvigorated the club in the early- to mid-2000s. By the end of that decade, the club had grown by leaps and bounds (again, I don’t have the stats, but suffice to say we got bigger) and the racing teams flourished.

For a short time, the club got noticed more for its quantity and its enthusiastic cheering sections than for its speedsters. Now, we have proven that we—the whole quirky, good-natured lot of us—are unstoppable.

Go Green.

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