Gifts of Giving

To: Santa Claus, North Pole
From: Running Life
Re: Wish List

Dear Santa –

Hi! It’s your favorite Monterey County running columnists again. You’ve been great at giving us the stuff we’ve asked for in years past.

Honestly, Santa, we know that 2008 has been a brutal year. You’ve probably got people asking for jobs or retirement funds that have vanished, or for help paying mortgages and medical expenses. So we understand if the requests of two crazy runners fall pretty low on the list of priorities.

But you know what, Santa? The two of us are actually doing OK. We’re fortunate to still have those things that are most dear to us, and we’ve enjoyed another healthy year of running. So we thought we’d help you out by sharing in the gift-giving this year.

Under the right circumstances, runners can be a pretty generous group – but we sometimes need a little bit of help. This year, the following gifts would allow runners to help others:

1. Continued success for local races

Almost all of our local road races were created as fundraisers for charities or nonprofit organizations. The more successful the race is, the more the charities benefit.

Unfortunately, in tough economic times, it gets harder to justify paying $30 for a 5K or $80 for a half-marathon, so a lot of races struggle to survive. We hope that more runners can still afford to help these races stay successful in 2009.

2. Second life for old shoes

Santa, we don’t have to tell you how quickly runners go through running shoes. The two of us are ashamed to admit how many pairs we wore out in the past 12 months.

However, just because a shoe is too broken down for training doesn’t mean it’s not good for anything. Most of the shoes we discard can still be used for many months by people less fortunate than us.

Luckily, both of our local running stores – The Treadmill in Carmel, and Fleet Feet in Monterey – accept used running shoes, which they redistribute to charity organizations. We’d like for those old shoes to serve others for as long as possible.

3. A Just Run program in every school

You know all about our Just Run program – right, Santa? It teaches elementary students all about healthy eating and exercise, and is an easy way to promote fitness and combat childhood obesity.

The program has had great results, but we’d like for it to do even better. Could you please help the adult volunteers in each school get the support they need to succeed, and help any interested parents to implement the program in schools that don’t have it yet?

And if for some reason you don’t know about Just Run, go to and learn all about it.

4. Shared blessings

New running programs aren’t just about kids, though – and we’d like to see the gift of running shared with more people next year, Santa.

Like we said before – running has been good to us. And since Christmas is supposed to be about giving, here’s what we’d like most of all: to inspire one person, or maybe two, or even 100 (but we don’t want to seem greedy) to start a running program for their own health and enjoyment. If you could somehow help us to do that next year, Santa, you will make both of us very happy indeed.

Thanks a lot, Santa. Best wishes and safe travels next week!


Mike and Donald
Monterey County, CA


Banned From Pebble Beach

You may recall a recent column when we took some shots at the Pebble Beach Company for restricting our running club from an access point to the Pebble Beach Golf Links, even though the club had been using the route for nearly 30 years. They even went as far as stationing a guard at the crossing, which – in light of the PBC recently issuing nearly 30 layoffs – seemed quite excessive in its severity.

Needless to say, the crackdown made very little sense to us. So you can imagine our shock when, shortly after our column ran, the PBC constructed a giant fence across the access point that says “access prohibited” in large red lettering. The guard was gone (perhaps one of the layoffs?), but the message remained clear: runners were personae non gratae around the Pebble Beach links.

The two of us shifted into attack mode. We decided to do a little bit of muckraking, and sharpen our journalistic teeth on the meat of the soulless corporate monster. It would be an investigative report to make Woodward and Bernstein proud.

It was a great plan, until we actually picked up the phone and started talking to people.

In particular, we had a long conversation with Mark Stilwell, an Executive Vice President at the PBC. He’s a descendent of the famed General Stilwell – which is mildly impressive – but more impressive was that the first thing he told us is that he’s a runner. He runs in local races and exercises with his kids, and enjoys running and hiking on the roads and trails of Pebble Beach.

What was MOST impressive (to us, anyway) was that he actually reads our column – and he was aware of the Headwind razzie we gave the PBC last month. So, while we felt a little guilty about that, we were happy to have apparently found a sympathetic ear to our running club’s plight.

Then Mark started telling us the difficulties he’s dealt with from the access point just inside the Carmel gate. Golfers – many of whom travel here from all over the world, and pay several hundred dollars to play a round on the famed course – frequently encounter runners, off-road bikers, and equestrians at all hours of the day.

Most of this public traffic crosses the 11th hole fairway, sometimes as golf patrons are playing on those very same holes. Tournament play doesn’t deter some headstrong folks, either – as Mark reported that runners took to the Pebble Beach course during last month’s Callaway Tournament.

As a result, the PBC now enforces a rule that has been on its books all along: no foot traffic on the links while the course is open to golfers. Since the course opens at 7:30, and the running club departs Ocean Avenue in Carmel at 7:15, there’s no practical way for runners to cross and exit the course by 7:30.

There are also liability concerns from runners crossing the links, as they pose unexpected hazards for golfers and runners alike. The thought crossed our minds that a runner hit by a car on 17-Mile Drive could still leave the PBC potentially vulnerable to a lawsuit – but Mark disagrees with this, as standard rules of the road (sharing the roadway, staying alert for other users, etc.) apply within Pebble Beach borders as they would in any neighboring municipality.

As a runner, Mark appreciates our dilemma – and during our conversation, we discussed some practical suggestions for the Saturday running club. Since he’s a trail runner, his main recommendation was for runners to get off of the roads, and onto the 26 miles of public trails that crisscross Pebble Beach.

The trails are a combination of fire roads, equestrian trails, and single track, offering steep climbs and breathtaking views within a few miles of Carmel Beach. There is a trail entrance close to the intersection of Carmel Way and 17-Mile Drive, so runners can avoid most of the shoulderless road that leads to the Pebble Beach Lodge.

Obviously, if you run the trails, you’ll need a map. Mark provided some at the Carmel gate for runners to pick up upon request, and he mailed us a stack of maps – so if you’d like a map, send us an e-mail and we’ll get one to you.

Another option is for runners to run south from Carmel instead of north. The views are still quite impressive from Scenic Drive to the Carmel River Beach area. From there, runners can head past Mission Ranch to the Mission trails, or across the river (except in high water, of course) on the trails to Monastery Beach and Point Lobos and back.

We understand that there’s no substitute for running along one of the most fabulous roads in the world, so we’re not saying that runners should stay out of Pebble Beach. Realistically, it’s only the half-mile stretch of 17-Mile Drive between Carmel Way and Live Oak Road (or the quarter mile between Carmel Way and Crespi Lane) that is especially dangerous – so if you’re cautious, there’s no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of running amidst the mansions and majestic beauty of 17-Mile Drive.

Unfortunately, crossing the golf course links at the 11th fairway will likely become a thing of the past. We don’t have to like the decision (honestly, neither of us do – let’s just say we’re not revoking their Headwind award), but we should abide by it. Hopefully, the change of routine won’t detract from what is an otherwise perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.


The Marathon Bug

Let’s say you’re one of the thousands of runners who finished this month’s Big Sur Half Marathon. Your body is now reasonably well recovered. You’ve got a great sense of accomplishment from running 13 miles, and you’re feeling pretty darn good about your running life.

Maybe you still look adoringly at your finisher’s medal – and perhaps, every so often, you squint your left eye closed so that the word “half” is obscured, but “marathon” is still visible. Maybe you find yourself wondering what it would take to get a medal that looked like that. Sometimes you talk yourself out of it, but the idea lingers, and preoccupies your thoughts with each passing day.

If this is you – congratulations! You’ve caught the Marathon Bug. Trust us, it probably won’t go away. The only question now is, what should you do about it? How do you make the leap from 13.1 to 26.2?

The answer isn’t as hard as you may think. In fact, you can probably have yourself ready for the Big Sur Marathon next April. It is still 22 weeks away, which gives you plenty of time to train.

Your first, most important step is to commit yourself NOW to reaching the goal. Go to and register for the race. Your motivation to train will be much greater after you’ve officially signed up. Where your money goes, your body is likely to follow.

Between now and the end of April, you’ll gradually progress your training towards your marathon goal. At first, you don’t have to change the number of days you run, or the number of miles. The most important adjustment is to reserve one day per week for a marathon-specific training run.

For instance, from now until the end of the year, do a long run of 10 or 12 miles every other weekend. On the opposite weekends, run three to five miles at a pace that’s slightly faster than your target marathon pace. This isn’t dramatically different than most half-marathon training plans.

Starting in January, your overall mileage will gradually build, as the length of your training runs increase. Long runs should increase by 1 or 2 miles every other week, and marathon pace workouts can be anywhere from 5 to 12 miles. Many runners will raise their mid-week mileage as well, but this is depends on how your body responds to the longer weekend runs.

Your longest run should be three weeks before the race, and should be at least 22 miles. Working backwards, your long runs in March should be 18 to 20 miles, in February should be 16 to 18, and in January should be 14 to 16. If you just ran a half-marathon this month, and you keep training through December, starting a 14-mile long run in January shouldn’t be too intimidating.

Finally, don’t hesitate to enlist some help. Find someone who runs marathons and pester them for advice. If you have nowhere else to turn, contact your local running columnists – we’re glad to give training tips.

Yes, the road is hard sometimes, but the rewards are worth it. If you thought the sense of accomplishment from running 13 miles was great - believe us, the pride of a marathon finish is exponentially more. And it’s available to anyone who wants to make the leap.

Don’t be afraid to take a bold step and scratch that Marathon Bug. Chances are, it will never go away unless you do.


Yes We Can!

In the spirit of election week, we’re dedicating this column to the 6,000 runners who declared “Yes we can!” on the streets of Monterey and Pacific Grove this weekend during the Big Sur Half-Marathon events.

Some are well-known, such as KSBW anchor Erin Clark, who stated on the air that her main goal was simply to finish the 13.1 miles. Erin finished in 2:26. Some are celebrities within the local running community, like 67-year-old Hansi Rigney, who always wins her age group. She won by about 30 minutes in 1:47; but this year was mainly excited to see her husband Bob, who at age 75 ran his first half-marathon. Bob said “Yes we can” and finished 2nd in his age group.

Two friends of the Rigneys from Berlin, Hans Sherler and Kristina Otto, travelled all the way from Germany to participate in the race. They belong to a Berlin Running club named “Kilometerfresser” – literally, mile-eaters. They joined runners from every state and several foreign countries who visited here to run.

Shirley Smith from Salinas also ran her first half marathon (2:09). She has two young boys, and did all of her training while pushing her 2-year-old, Tallon, in a baby stroller. Tallon’s favorite comment is, “Faster Mommy, faster!” Shirley raced without the stroller but almost certainly with her son’s voice in her ear.

Veteran runners are used to saying “Yes we can,” and ran yesterday’s race with various hopes and expectations. For example, Carolyn Walter from Salinas ran on her 47th birthday, and her wish was to beat her brother, who was here from Southern California for the run. Carolyn ran 1:55, but lost to her brother, whom we’re sure she’ll beat next year.

Steve Souza is a local runner with loftier goals. He trained on his own for five years and consistently ran about 1:45 in the race. Earlier this year he joined the local Wednesday Night Laundry Runner’s club and has gotten considerably faster, clocking a sub 1:33 on Sunday.

Our favorite Yes We Can story concerns a strong young woman we first met in 2003. Celise Rogers was 28 and hadn’t run competitively since her college track days six years earlier. She trained for the Big Sur Marathon with us that year and completed her first marathon in 3:12 - she was the 4th overall woman, first Monterey County woman, and won her age group. Besides being a great runner, her energy and smile and enthusiasm are infectious.

Shortly thereafter, Celise and her husband moved to Sonora, and she put her running on hold to have a child. Her son Egan was born in 2004, very premature and weighed only 2 pounds at birth. Celise kept watch on her son who required hospitalization and home medical monitoring for a year.

Shortly thereafter, Celise was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had chemotherapy, surgeries, and treatment until February of this year, and is still taking medications in the aftermath. Today she is grateful simply for the opportunity to return to Monterey and run in another race.

We’re happy to report that Celise is now cancer-free, and her son is a happy and healthy 4-year-old. She ran yesterday’s race in an outstanding 1:44. It’s great to have her back, and she’s a perfect example of the power in saying “Yes we can” – in a footrace, or in any of life’s challenges.


Racing the Big Sur Half Marathon

Some folks enter races just to finish; others are gunning for their fastest times. If you fall in the latter category at this Sunday’s Big Sur Half-Marathon, here are some tips for RACING the 13.1 miles:

Have the eye of the tiger: Racing isn’t easy! The race itself should be a battle. The satisfaction comes after. Be mentally ready and don’t feel intimidated.

Warm up: If you are going fast from the gun a thorough warm up is important. Run an easy mile, do three or four short sprints, then jump in the starting chute about 5 minutes before race time. And remember the starting chute is a bit further down Del Monte Avenue than last year’s race.

Hitch a ride: in the slipstream of your competitors. Drafting off fellow runners is perfectly legal and saves significant energy, especially if running into a headwind on Ocean View Boulevard in Pacific Grove.

Anytime you get passed by a slightly faster runner make sure to tuck in behind them. If running with similarly paced runners, talk them into taking turns leading and blocking the wind.

Be uncomfortable: If you are truly racing, it should hurt! If you feel comfortable, you probably aren’t pushing hard enough. Races are for going beyond your comfort zone and giving your best effort. On the other hand …

Don’t bonk: Keep your engine at the absolute fastest speed you can maintain, but not so fast that you flame out in the final miles. You want to push the envelope, but be sure to save something for the last 5K. Proper pacing is the hardest part of racing, requiring experience learned from trial and error, and usually a lot of discomfort.

Halfway done isn’t halfway out: The course is roughly out and back, but the first few miles around El Estero Lake and downtown Monterey make it asymmetrical. If you start looking for the turnaround point at mile 6.5, you’ll have a long time to wait, since it’s actually near mile 8. But once you get there, remember to…

Lower the hammer: After the turnaround, the course is almost entirely downhill or flat, and you’re more than halfway done. This is the time to crank your speed up another notch, and gut it out for as long as possible (have we already said that racing hurts?).

Have no friends: Think of everyone around you as a competitor. Get mean. Be aggressive. Breathe fire. Even if you are racing with training partners, during the race you should be enemies. After all, they’re trying to beat you!

Fight for your place: Once you reach the rec trail before Fisherman’s Wharf, the game is on. Try to improve your position as much as possible and don’t let anyone pass you – or keep up with runners who try.

Don’t get complacent to run behind people. Reel in as many people as possible. The last person you pass might be the place that earns you an age group medal. Some people let up a bit just before the finish line, so a well-timed kick can sometimes gain you an additional place or two.

Obviously, racing requires a different mindset than running just to complete the distance. It’s definitely not for everybody. Whether you are going for an age group award, a personal record, or just trying to make it to the finish, we hope everyone has a satisfying race on Sunday.


Tailwind Awards

The award show season doesn’t start for a few months, but these are slow times around Running Life headquarters, so we decided to start our own brand of accolades and jeers. Oscars and Razzies. Roses and thorns. You get the idea.

Since we’re runners, we’ll give “Tailwinds” to local groups or individuals who make positive contributions to our running community, and “Headwinds” for the opposite.

Please note that these designations are determined by a committee of exactly two people – the ones pictured above. When we disagree, we flip a coin. It’s a very scientific process.

So without further ado, we present the first annual Running Life Tailwind awards! (Drumroll please …)

1. Big Sur International Marathon: No doubt about this one. The Big Sur Marathon organization puts on several world-class races, gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities, and supports the outstanding Just Run program to prevent childhood obesity.

2. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital: A tie here. Both support local races with financial and volunteer support. They also put on valuable health related clinics and provide their facilities to host information programs about running. Both are generous supporters of the Just Run program as well.

3. City Council of Monterey: For sponsoring and hosting two new Just Run races for families over the past year.

4. Rio Grill and The Monterey Rape Crisis Center: For organizing and maintaining popular races for over 20 years. The Rio Resolution Run on New Year’s Day and the Together with Love Run near Valentine’s Day are long established races and have inspired many locals to start and maintain running programs.

5. Mahir Agha and Karen Nardozza: Both are behind the scenes establishing groups to create more races on the Central Coast. Mahir is trying to bring back the Carmel Valley Fiesta races. Karen is working to create a Salinas Valley Half Marathon and resurrect the Salinas Main Street Mile. Good luck and Tailwinds to both of them.

We’re putting a stone in our slingshot and taking aim at a local Goliath for our first Headwind awards. (Kazoo noises please …)

1. Pebble Beach Corporation: For posting signs – and even hiring a guard - to keep runners, joggers, and walkers off the Pebble Beach golf course cart paths. For 30 years, the most popular local Saturday morning group run starts on Ocean Avenue in Carmel at 7:15 AM, enters the Carmel Gate and crosses the golf course cart paths near the 11th hole, long before any golfers are playing those holes. Now instead of enjoying the ocean view and beauty of the course, runners must use the dangerous (and shoulderless) 17-Mile Drive, watching for traffic and dangerous blind curves - just so we don’t leave footprints in the morning dew.

2. Pebble Beach Corporation: A two-time winner, for “advising” Robert Louis Stevenson School not to have a youth race in association with the school’s annual Run in the Forest. The school implemented a youth race in 2007 to promote youth health but was then advised to discontinue it. It was not held this year.

We called the Pebble Beach Company and were told that both of these issues were “insurance and safety” related. They’re also worthy of our fiercest Headwinds.

Feel free to contact us with nominees for future Tailwind or Headwind awards.


15 Extra Years

We would love to give you 15 extra healthy years of life, make you more intelligent, and improve your emotional mood. Hopefully these gifts will keep even our non-running readers interested and those of you that are not runners will finally decide to start.

It is a constant mystery to us that we don’t see more of you out on the roads and trails. We never have any trouble finding room to run. We rarely see anyone on the back roads of Garland Park or the former Fort Ord. The Monterey Rec trail should be completely full of runners and walkers but we typically recognize virtually everyone we see. We want to see new runners.

Many recent publications and studies again confirm the numerous health benefits of running. A continuing study from the Stanford School of Medicine tracked over 500 runners for more than 20 years. The research concluded that running slows the effects of aging; runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging nonrunners to die early deaths. Dr. James Fries, the study’s senior author said, “If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise. Runners’ initial disability as they aged was 16 years later than nonrunners.”

The effect of running on delaying death is more dramatic than the scientists expected. Running not only slowed cardiovascular deaths, but the runners had fewer early deaths from cancer, neurological disease, infections and other causes. Running was also NOT associated with greater rates of osteoarthritis.

A University of Cambridge study from the United Kingdom reported that people that do aerobic exercise regularly, don’t smoke, limit their alcohol intake, and eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day, on average live 15 years longer than people who didn’t have similar lifestyle habits.

A recent study at Columbia University Medical Center revealed that aerobic exercise results in tremendous benefits in brain function. If you want some technical terms, aerobic exercise generates a chemical called brain-derived neorotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps the processes involved in learning. The research found FIFTEEN to TWENTY PERCENT IMPROVEMENT in various areas of cognition. Want to improve your memory as you age or do better in school? Just run!

Earlier in the year a survey of existing research published by the Cochrane Library concluded that aerobic exercise is good for your heart and improves cognitive function—specifically, motor function, auditory attention, and memory. Psychiatrist John Ratey says that, “Even people who are overweight who start exercising see improvements in mood and cognition in as little as 12 weeks." One study found that exercise improved depression symptoms better than medication.

We know you are now eager to get out and run. You want to get your entire family out walking and running and being active. Your next question is probably “how much activity do I need?
The answer is “the more the better”, but evidence indicates that even 10 minutes of physical activity can significantly boost attention and problem-solving skills in kids and adults. A study published online earlier this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that mental health benefits were observed after 20 minutes of physical activity, though the more exercise and higher intensity, the better the effects.

If you do 30 minutes a day of running you will be giving a significant gift to your heart and your brain, as well as possibly adding those 15 important years of healthy living.


The Running-While-Injured Life

We typically utilize this space describing all of the benefits of running – however, sometimes it might be possible to have too much of a good thing.

Many avid runners become so hooked on the sport that it often consumes their thoughts. Sure, a hardcore runner may appear alert and attentive on the surface - but it’s a good bet that internally, that otherwise normal-appearing person is completely preoccupied with all manner of details pertaining to his or her running.

They’ll spend countless waking hours thinking about how many miles they logged today, what their average time for the run was, when and where their next run will be, how many miles they’ve run this week, how much longer it will be until they need a new pair of shoes, which running clothes they need to buy once the weather changes, how much fluid they should be consuming during the day, when their next race is going to be, and whether or not one of those nagging sore areas is going to turn into an injury.

That last point is a critical one – because when a runner develops physical problems, all other concerns get pushed to the back burner. Runners are notorious for having tunnel vision when it comes to focusing on (and worrying about) anything that prevents them from doing the activity they love. Unfortunately, injuries are an all too common occurrence among this crowd.

For example, here’s a typical conversation that might take place between any of our group of friends who cross paths in their everyday (non-running) lives. Let’s say they meet unexpectedly on Alvarado Street this week. They certainly have a wide variety of discussion topics to mull over: the economy, the presidential election, the war, career changes, or family developments. Despite all of that, it’s a virtual certainty that the conversation would unfold something like this:

Joe: “Hi Susie, haven’t seen you for awhile. How are you doing?”

Susie: “Good to see you Joe. I’m OK but I’ve hardly been running at all. My piriformis problem just isn’t going away. I’ve been stretching, doing ice massage, and taking Advil. I’m even going to Bikram yoga a few times a week, which helps for a few hours, but by the next morning it’s bothering me again.”

Joe: “That’s too bad. I haven’t been running much either. My left shin is really painful when I run, and hurts all day long afterward. I had an x-ray and MRI last week and there’s no stress fracture right now but the doc says it looks imminent if I keep running. I don’t think its shin splints. It could be compartment syndrome. I’m seeing my physical therapist but the progress seems really slow. Occasionally I’ll try the elliptical machine but it’s just too boring.”

Susie: “Yeah. It’s really frustrating…. Oh, look, there’s Ted.”

Ted: “What a coincidence. How are you guys? I’ve been decreasing my mileage because of some Achilles tendonitis. Luckily, it’s not a complete tear, but when I run it’s extremely painful. I’m also doing some pool running, but I don’t get the same endorphin high in the water. And I feel like everyone’s laughing at me when I’m wearing my swimsuit.

Joe: “Yeah, I hate it when that happens. My wife just had a knee operation for patellofemoral syndrome and did some pool running during her rehab. She’s favoring her right side a bit now, so her left plantar fascia is becoming a problem. She does ice massage and flexion exercises using toe curls and a towel. It takes about an hour a day - really a hassle.”

Ted: “Hey Susie … how is Dave doing?”

Susie: “He hasn’t been running a lot either. His right hip hurts and he aggravated his left illiotibial band because he was running funny to protect his hip. He’s going to both the physical therapist and chiropractor but he still has problems. He’s also trying myofascial release therapy and it seems to be helping a little.

Ted: “Wow, good luck to him for sure. Did you hear about Rod? He ran a race last month and right near the end he pulled a calf muscle. He had to beat someone in his age group so he gutted it out, but now he’s injured again. He’s doing intermittent heat and ice treatments. He also sees a massage therapist twice a week for really deep muscle work. Hope he gets better soon.”

Joe: “So … are we all running at the regular place tomorrow morning? 12 miles on the Wharf starting at 5AM?

Susie: “Sounds great to me. See you then.”

Ted: “Someone should call Rod and tell him – he’ll probably show up.”

Joe: “Yeah. It will be great to talk with everyone again!”


Race Shirt Blues

If you’re a runner who enters a lot of races, sooner or later you’ll get a case of the race shirt blues.

It’s standard practice for every race to provide entrants with shirts for doing nothing more than paying the entry fee. Once you accumulate enough shirts to overflow your dresser drawers, some kind of selection hierarchy is implemented, where the oldest or least attractive shirts are cleared out and given to relatives or to Goodwill. Only the best and most memorable shirts are saved.

While we don’t hesitate to unload such unwanted clothing, the shirts from our favorite races often foster an emotional attachment for us. For many runners, they may provide an identity or sense of pride. Wearing a race shirt is often a statement declaring that we enjoy healthy activities and participating in challenging events.

The more difficult the event, the greater “prestige” factor of the shirt - for example, among locals, wearing a Big Sur Marathon shirt is something like a badge of courage and accomplishment. That’s why we sometimes feel a bit protective about who should rightfully wear shirts from certain races.

In previous articles we’ve mentioned a few rules of etiquette about wearing race shirts. You should never wear a shirt from a race you haven’t run. It’s bad juju to wear a shirt prior to the race (for instance, if you pick it up at the expo the day before), and even worse juju to wear the shirt in the actual race. These rules have all been scientifically proven to bring disaster upon the na├»ve runner (OK, not really – but just trust us on these).

This cardinal rule for runners - that you have to participate in an event before you wear the shirt - is why we’re somewhat discouraged and mystified by people who wear event shirts from other sports which merely advertise their attendance as spectators. This peculiarity seems especially prevalent among the golf community.

Someday, if you want to stir up some trouble, try this: the next time you’re in an elevator with someone wearing a U.S. Open golf shirt, ask them how they played. When they look at you like an idiot and answer, “Oh, I didn’t play, I watched the Open at Pebble Beach”, you can say, “Wow … that must have been a lot of work. You should be proud of yourself.” (On second thought, maybe you should wait until you’re out of the elevator to say this – then you can run away. Don’t worry – there’s no way that duffer will be able to catch you.)

Here’s another game you can play sometime: go to Del Monte Center or Costco, and start looking around for race shirts. On an average day you’ll probably see several people wearing the shirt of one race or another. Your task is to guess whether the person wearing the shirt is actually the one who ran the race, or a relative of a runner, or just somebody who shops at thrift stores. This game is harder than you think; many fit-looking people may in fact be imposters, and many with “non-athletic” appearances might be the real deal. Of course, since you’ll never actually ask them (we hope), there’s no way of keeping an accurate score - but it’s a fun diversion nevertheless.

In larger cities, the misuse of race shirts has reached epidemic proportions – as we’ve each discovered while running in San Francisco during and after the city’s marathon.

The San Francisco Marathon starts at the Ferry Building and heads out the Embarcadero toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Typically, runners wear their least favorite old race shirt at the start line to keep warm in the early morning chill. They then jettison the extra top somewhere along the Embarcadero as their bodies get warmed up.

It only takes a matter of minutes before the discarded shirts are claimed by spectators – the majority of whom are the homeless population. It’s a bonanza morning for people who sleep on the streets, as shirts rain down like manna from heaven. The week after the marathon, it’s common to see vagabonds pushing shopping carts and wearing layers of Napa Marathon and Bay to Breakers shirts to keep warm.

This chain of events causes potentially confusing sights for untrained tourists walking along the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf. Someone might look around the sidewalks and storefronts and conclude that a lot of local runners have somehow fallen on very hard times. A worse scenario would be if an actual runner collapses on the ground, and no one stops to help because he seemingly fits right in with the other nearby derelicts all wearing race shirts.

Incidentally, the same wardrobe tossing ritual happens along beautiful Highway 1 during the Big Sur Marathon - but to their credit, the race organization makes sure that all the clothing is picked up by volunteers immediately afterwards. Each year, about 15 to 20 large trash bags filled with discarded shirts are brought to a warehouse, and shortly thereafter given to local charities.

As we consider this, maybe the misuse of old race shirts isn’t such a bad thing after all. Our discarded clothing provides benefit to other people, whether for basic comforts like warmth, or for bargain hunters who might feel some sense of participation by wearing someone else’s marathon shirt.

In an ideal world, some of those folks would then be motivated to start a running or exercise program of their own. Later on, they’ll enter races and receive their own shirts – and once they’ve done a lot of races and have to weed out the old ones, they’ll pay it forward by tossing those old shirts onto some new owners. While such a scenario might be unlikely, just knowing that it’s possible helps to relieve the race shirt blues a little bit.


Olympic Depression

Runners are used to being misfits – so it will be no surprise to us if we’re in the minority with the opinion we’re about to offer: namely, that we didn’t enjoy watching the Beijing Olympic Games very much. Instead of being impressed by all of that “faster, higher, stronger” stuff, we found ourselves depressed about the competitions that interested us the most.

See, here’s the thing about being a distance runner: no matter how old you are, or how fast you are, you get extremely little recognition for your accomplishments. Even when you’re among the best in the world, you’re doomed to an anonymous, impoverished career. You can even be overshadowed under the bright glare of the Olympic flame.

This wasn’t always the case. There was a time not too many Olympiads ago where the 1500m run was the premiere event of the Games, with the 10K and marathon a close second and third. While we understand the interest in the seemingly huge variety of sports that have attained Olympic status recently, we hate seeing our beloved events kicked to the curb. (In a related story, we’re puzzled over NBC’s determination to make every person in America a platform diving fan.)

We’ve always known it was tough to be a competitor in distance running events – what we didn’t realize was how difficult it would be just to watch these races at home. Most nights, we waited patiently through synchronized diving and trampoline gymnastics and preliminary BMX heats (called “motos” – see? We were actually paying attention) without any idea when our coveted events might appear.

Unfortunately, TV listings weren’t much help to us, either – they’d only list “track and field” without mentioning whether it was the 5K final or the prelims of the women’s shot put. Our options were to record and wade through 20 hours of coverage each day, or take our chances that some of the high-profile distance races would be shown in prime time. You already know how that one panned out.

Even when we found our races, the coverage was sadly limited. For example, the women’s 10K was televised at 2AM - and even at that late hour, NBC only aired the first 4 minutes and last 4 minutes of the race. Consequently, most U.S. viewers missed an incredible performance from Shalane Flanagan, who won a bronze medal in an American record time of 30:22.

It’s almost certain that nobody at NBC suspected Flanagan was going to medal, which explains how the coverage got buried in the middle of the night. It also illustrates another sad truth of distance running: if there aren’t any Americans competing for medals, you have NO chance of seeing the event on TV. During the women’s marathon, American cameras didn’t even show the finish of Blake Russell, the only U.S. woman to complete the race, who came in less than one minute behind world-record holder Paula Radcliffe.

However, fans of distance running enjoy these races even if U.S. athletes are not involved. It’s like being an American soccer fan who enjoys watching David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo. We always cheer for American favorites like Blake Russell, Ryan Hall, and Dathan Ritzenhein, but we also enjoy the brilliance of Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, Aussie Craig Mottram, Kenyan Catherine Ndereba, and other foreign distance running heroes.

Unfortunately, we realize that these folks will always play second banana to marquee names like Phelps, Nastia, or Walsh & May (all very attractive to look at, by the way – which is no small factor in TV exposure) – so it’s clear that distance running needs a bit of an image makeover. At the same time, maybe we could infuse a bit of running’s old-fashioned sensibility into some of the higher profile sports.

For example, it seems like there’s always a controversy about gymnastics scoring. This year, Nastia Liukin lost a gold medal to a competitor with the exact same score. If runners were in charge, we’d alter the events to eliminate any scoring issues. Take the balance beam; instead of 90-second routines that are different for each competitor, we’d set up a row of several parallel beams that are about 50 meters in length, then have the gymnasts race on the beams simultaneously. They’d still be required to do 4 back flips and 2 pirouettes and other tricks before they dismount at the other end – but in this case, the fastest gymnast who gets across without falling wins. Controversy solved!

There’s no question that swimming is one of the most popular events at the Games, even when Phelps isn’t in the pool. Some runners might find it strange that swimming has several races over the same distance using four different strokes. For runners, the object of races is to reward the person who gets from point A to point B the fastest, regardless of what type of stride they use - but maybe this is an area we could tweak to our advantage for next time.

We’re thinking that the runners could have competitions at all the standard distances, but include hopping, skipping, and backward running categories in addition to the usual “running forward” technique. They could also have medley events for those who excel in all four disciplines. Throw in a couple of relays (forward-style and medley), and a talented guy like Usain Bolt could definitely win 8 or more gold medals.

It’s sad that we may someday need to resort to carnival-style stunts in order to attract viewers to what were once the most prestigious events in the Olympics. What we really need is a stunningly beautiful, overwhelmingly dominant, American-born runner who can enter 10 different events as the odds-on favorite – but sadly, that wish may go ungranted for quite a while.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to hunt around the TV dial in the dead of night, resigned to our pitiful fate as frustrated fans of long distance running.


Vacation Running

This is a popular time of year for vacations. We both find that vacation running can be an enormous pleasure. New paths. New scenery. New adventures. New places to explore.

Often, the best way to get a feeling for a new city or area is to run through its streets or trails. If you’re headed out on vacation soon, here are some tips that have come in handy for us over the years:

Do advance planning: Check an online weather forecast for your destination, so you know what to pack. Obviously, our central coast climate is quite unique, and other parts of the country (or beyond) probably have dramatically different conditions than you’re accustomed to. In humid climates, you’ll feel much warmer than you do at the same temperature here at home.

Expand your web search to include running routes or clubs you can find on the road. For example has running routes all over the world, and Googling “running in (your destination)” usually yields contact information for clubs and group runs. Runner’s World magazine has information on its website ( about many national and international destinations.

You can also do advance reconnaissance on your lodging. Check if your hotel has a fitness room or treadmill for those days where you just can’t get outside. Call the concierge to ask about the area surrounding the hotel. How close is it to parks, running trails, bike paths? However, take this advice with a grain of salt, as we’ll explain later.

Pack sparingly: Honestly, it is much easier to run while on vacation than to play golf or tennis or ski. All you need are your shoes, socks, shirts, and shorts, as well as a watch and maybe a cap. You don’t even need new clothes for every day of running – it’s easy to alternate two pairs of shorts or shirts if you set them out to dry after each run. Sure, they’ll smell a bit, but don’t worry about it – these people don’t know you, and they’ll probably just think you’re European.

Find a resource: When you get to town, call or visit the local running store in the area. Ask about interesting places to run, as well as upcoming group runs or special events. A local store can also advise you about areas in town to avoid in the interest of safety.

Go out drinking: Not in a bar, but throughout your trip, so that you stay hydrated while. Traveling often causes dehydration, and in areas of high humidity, your body loses more fluids and overheats much more easily. It’s important to keep drinking water and other fluids to counteract these stresses.

Look for an oval: Sometimes a great workout is as close as the nearest high school or college track. If you don’t have time for your regular 2-hour run, you can maintain your fitness level by doing short-duration speed work on the track. Tracks are great places to find other runners as well; it’s a runner’s version of the neighborhood watering hole, only without all the drunks.

Beware the concierge: We know, we just recommended using the concierge. However, we’ve also run into some difficulty after taking advice from desk clerks or other hotel staff. Just because a local point of interest is a short distance away doesn’t mean it’s safe to run there. We’ve both had encounters with the fringe element of society after being steered towards certain parts of various cities by well-intentioned concierges.

In some cities, local running stores provide hotels maps of popular routes, so ask the concierge if they have anything like that. Better yet, ask if he or she is a runner – you can trust the advice a lot better if they are.

Be flexible: Vacations almost always create daily schedules that vary from your regular routine - especially if you are travelling with kids or other friends. You’ll probably have to switch up your regular running times in order to fit in a run. Don’t worry about the change – just take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves to fit in a short workout.

Sightsee on the run: In many cities, you can check out local attractions or visit historic districts or tour scenic parks wearing nothing more than your running shoes. Sometimes a quick early morning run will help you decide what to visit with family or friends later. You’ll know the best route, where the restaurants are, or where the best views are. And let’s face it – sometimes, there’s not much to those local attractions other than what’s visible on the surface anyway. So even if you don’t spend an hour gazing at the world’s largest ball of mud, you can still come home and tell people that you saw it.

Join a race: Occasionally it’s fun to see how you match up against the local competition – so if you were able to find a race in your pre-vacation research, we’d definitely recommend signing up. Racing against strangers is far less predictable than running in your hometown races, where you know before the race even starts how high you’ll place in your age group based on whose cars are in the parking lot. You might enjoy some nice post-race food or make some new acquaintances as well.

The next time you travel out of town, instead of bailing on your training plans, use them to enhance the overall experience instead. It’s relatively easy to plan for, and the results can be very rewarding.


Let's Put On a Race

A few columns ago we lamented the passing of several local races - 28 to be exact. So why is it so hard to maintain a road race, anyway?

For the answer, let’s eavesdrop on the town council of Pancake Flats, as they discuss putting on a local 5K. Maybe we’ll learn a bit about race economics and politics. The Mayor is presiding.

Ms. Mayor: “Let’s schedule the 5K for the first Sunday in May in order to show off our city, bring in tourists, and get our families fit and healthy. Let’s try to get 300 people.”

Minister Brown: “But Ms. Mayor, Sunday is the Lord’s day. We don’t want people staying away from Church.”

Ms. Mayor: “Can we do Saturday then, Rabbi Ginsburg?”

Rabbi: “Vell, I von’t run … but it vill be ok, ve’ll suffer through it.”

Ms. Mayor: “I thought we’d start at the town square and run south on 2nd street and turn around and come back.”

Mrs. Smith: “Then no one will see our businesses on the north side of town! Let’s start at Northside Mall and run to the Town Square instead.”

Ms. Mayor: “If we do that, we’ll need buses to take people back to the start area when the race is over. I’m sure the school district or the transit company will donate them for such a fine cause.”

Mrs. Williams (Head of the School Board) and Mr. Richards (President of the transit company) both speak at the same time: “Hey - times are tough, budgets are restricted, gas is prohibitive, insurance is expensive, we have to pay overtime on Saturday, and you’ll need 8 buses and drivers and the minimum rental is 4 hours. The best we can do is - and this is a bargain - $6,500.”

Mr. Randazzo (head of the Town Council): “While we’re talking about money, even though this is a city event, you need to pay the City’s event fee of $500 and the use fee for the Town Square of $500.”

Mr. Badge (Chief of Police): “For all those road closures, we’ll need a dozen officers for overtime on Saturday to handle traffic control. That will be $2,000. And don’t forget you’ve got to close the freeway offramps at 2nd street, so you’ll need State Dept. of Transportation permits for $500.”

Mr. Clean (Chief of Sanitation): “Make sure we have enough porta potties. They’re $50 each and $100 for the disabled ones. You can never have too many potties. I’ll provide 10 of each at the start and finish areas, and 3 at each aid station. There’s also a cleanup fee at the end. Total cost will be about $2,000.”

Ms. Mayor: “Why do we need disabled porta potties at a race?”

Mr. Clean: “State law, for spectators, and you might have some wheelchair participants. And I almost forgot - we want a Green race don’t we? That costs another $750.”

Ms. Mayor: “Green race?! What makes our race Green?”

Mr. Clean: “We leave no environmental footprint. Just let me worry about that. That’s what you pay me for.”

Mr. Fabrizzi (union representative): “I’ll make you a deal - we’ll charge you rock bottom for setting up the tables and awards stands and everything you need at the finish line. I can get my guys for $3,000. Set up, take down. No worries.”

Ms. Mayor: “This is getting out of hand. Why can’t we just have some volunteers set up the tables?”

Mr. Fabrizzi: “It’s a Union town. That’s how you got elected, Ms. Mayor. No one sets up an event without Union workers.”

Ms. Mayor: “How about you Mrs. Smith - you’re the Pancake Flats running club President. What do the runners want?”

Mrs. Smith: “We expect the Pancake Flats 5K to have all the usual amenities of other races. The course needs to be USATF certified ($1,800) and sanctioned ($300). We want long sleeve technical-fabric shirts for all participants ($4,500), and finishers medals for everyone ($1100). Awards 5 deep in each 5 year age group for both men and women from under 15 to 85 and over ($3,000) are standard. We need large, highly visible mile markers ($1,000). Rock bands at each mile and at the finish area ($2,500) would be great. We also need chip timing and timing mats at each mile so we can see our splits on the Internet the next day. ($10,000). That’s about it.”

Ms. Mayor: “Is that ALL?”

Mrs. Smith: “Well, that’s not counting food - coffee at the start, and a buffet at the finish. Not just the usual bananas, gatorade, and power bars – but maybe free beer, bratwurst, pancakes, or sandwiches. Great food gets you a lot more runners for sure. ($3,000)

Ms Mayor: “And I’d like to ask the City Attorney, Mr. Litigation, what do you think?”

Mr. Litigation: “We need race liability. I’d say about $1,000 for race day insurance. Don’t forget medical support and two ambulances and doctors on duty just in case anything happens ($3,000). And we need communication systems to make sure this all works ($2,500).

Ms. Mayor: “Wow. Is there anything I’ve forgotten?”

Mrs. Smith: “We haven’t mentioned basic race expenses: advertising ($1,000), race bibs ($200), printing of race brochures and entry blanks ($1,500), creating and managing a race website ($1,500), start and finish banners and traffic control signage ($3,000). Most races collect money for charity as well, maybe $10,000 donated to some local causes.”

Ms. Mayor: “I’d like to ask Mr. Balance, our City Treasurer, based on our discussion today to compute what our race entry fee would be to break even.”

Mr. Balance: “Well, we have around $70,000 in expenses and I’m sure we’ve forgotten some so let’s round it to $75,000. We’re expecting 300 runners, so we’ll have to charge $250 for our 5K in order to break even.”

Mrs. Smith: “That’s CRAZY. No runners will show up at that price. The city of Rolling Hills has a 5K that’s only $25.”

Ms. Mayor: “Yes, but our Pancake Flats will be the BEST 5K EVER!”


Listen to Your Doctor

Most of us, at one time or other, have been given the advice “listen to your doctor.” We agree completely, but not the way you think.

It is amazing how many medical doctors and PhD’s in our community are runners. We know running makes you smarter, but in this case it’s the running that comes AFTER the education. These educated individuals know that running is healthy and improves quality of life so they become runners.

So when we “listen to our doctor”, we are usually running beside them, rather than being treated for an illness in their office. Some of our best running advice comes from their experience as a runner.

It’s not the usual advice you would see in any running magazine. They may not even remember dispensing this advice and they certainly didn’t charge us for it, but it has certainly made a difference in our running lifes.

Doctor of Chiropractic, Jay Cook, suggests that as you get older you should always put on and take off your socks standing up. This promotes balance and strength as you are forced to stand on one leg or the other.

He also recommends a subtle technique that we use while running. When you are tired during a run or race, mentally think of relaxing each leg when you lift it between ground strikes. Try this; it really works to give you extra energy during a tough run.

Dr. Jay is the first person that recommended cold water immersion after a long run to speed recovery. After the Saturday morning Carmel run, Jay always wanders in the ocean at Carmel Beach to promote healing his legs. Make sure you take your shoes off before doing this and don’t go too deep.

Dr. Marc Lieberman, when asked how to run a fast race, always says “go out as fast as you can for the first half and then come back faster the second half.” We learned that total effort is required to run a fast race. You have to commit early and pay the consequences by feeling some pain in order to do your best.

Dr. Lieberman, during training runs, is known for grumbling about how tired he is, but always seems to have enough energy to run as fast as he can in the last mile. He says it’s “the horse smells the barn” technique and it definitely makes you a tougher and better runner to try to run hard when you are tired near the end of any run.

Dr. Les Waddel, also a Doctor of Chiropractic, suggests self massage for preventing injuries. We both have tight muscles and Dr. Waddel, many years ago, suggested that after a run it’s great to massage your own muscles that chronically get tight, like the calfs and hamstrings. This promotes blood flow to the area, breaks up scar tissue, and loosens up tight tissue after a run. Don’t care about what people think when they see you doing this. This self-love definitely keeps you injury free.

PhD Jon Geller, is a true student of the sport and is always up to date on the most current and scientific training methods. His source? The internet – . Yes – take a look at Flocast for videos of elite runners and how they train. You can incorporate it into your own training. There are workouts, drills, exercises, nutrition, and a lot of other tips. You can’t run as fast as these elites but you can certainly watch them and learn.

Dr. John Ellison is a medical doctor you want to run with but you definitely don’t want to see him anywhere else. He’s in the emergency room at CHOMP and is the Big Sur Marathon’s chief doctor in the medical tent. The most frequent running problem he sees is dehydration. According to Dr. Ellison make sure you hydrate correctly; not too little and not too much.

Dr. Don King, and PhD Jim Eagle, are the yin and yang of local runners. Dr. King is Mr. Downhill and Dr. Eagle is Mr. Uphill. Dr. King is known for speeding up to warp speed on every downhill while yelling, “no more lolligagging”. Dr. Eagle is known as Mr. Hill Surge and makes a point of running hard on every uphill. He leaves everyone else behind him yelling four letter words. These surging techniques, both up and down hill, really help prepare your legs for marathons and other races.

PhD Doug Colton was the first to recognize that when a runner talked about something that made them angry or agitated they started running faster. We’re sure that you have all noticed that when a running friend starts talking about politics or work or a bad date they naturally speed up; sometimes when particularly agitated your running partner can even exhibit Olympic speed. Dr. Colton realized that he could use this to his advantage in races so he consciously thought of things that made him angry. Try this in your next race and we guarantee a P.R.

Dr. Catherine Hambley is a clinical psychologist and a “super” mom. With four active kids she still manages to balance being a wife, mom, having a career, and running. How does she do it? Dr. Hambley says that Running provides the outlet, health, and energy to make her better at all her other activities. She gets much needed alone and reflective time as well. She prescribes running to her patients and to everyone else as well.

PhD Glynn Wood has been running for 60 years. When you receive an e-mail or letter from Dr. Wood the complimentary closing he uses is “run run run”. So instead of “sincerely”, Glynn Wood, it says “run run run”, Glynn Wood. This closing has all sorts of meaning. It is Dr. Wood’s way of saying keep running, stay healthy, be your best, enjoy your life, do good things for your body, I share your passion, and love. What better way to end a letter and a Running Life column.

Run, Run, Run.


Where Have All the Races Gone?

“Where have all the races gone? Long time passing.”

If you are a local runner who loves to race (and don’t most of us fit in that category?), it’s not too difficult to find a race within short driving distance during most months of the year.

January has the Rio Resolution Run in Carmel. February is the Together with Love Run in Pacific Grove. March has the Mud Run at Fort Ord. April features the Big Sur Marathon events. May sees the Artichoke Festival Run in Castroville and the Heart and Sole races in Salinas. In July we hit Spreckels for the 4th of July Run. September has the Stevenson Run in the Forest in Pebble Beach. October hosts the Big Sur River Run and the Carmel Valley Trail Races at Garland Park. November has the Big Sur Half Marathon weekend with several events in Monterey.

Sure, that seems like a lot – but for runners, there are never enough. In fact, instead of celebrating the number of area races, many long-time locals have been witness to a very disturbing trend over the past several years, and often find themselves asking, Where have all the races gone?

It got us to thinking about all of the great local races that have passed away. We also asked some local running vets, and together came up with our best recollection of races that have faded into memory:

January used to have the YMCA Dennis the Menace run with the best t-shirts ever, designed by Hank Ketchum. We also enjoyed 25 years of craziness at the Bebermeyer Intergalactic Fun Run/Biathlon Gourmet Extravaganza. February usually featured the Popsicle Run around the Corral De Tierra loop.

March had the incredible Gonzales Grape Stampede with wine and a barbeque steak brunch after the race. We also had the DLI Run for the Dream in honor of Martin Luther King on a very tough course through the Defense Language Institute.

April was busy with the CSUMB Half-Marathon and the Marina 5-Miler, which was always the day before Easter. And we haven’t forgotten the Run for the Fun in Carmel that rocketed down Ocean Avenue and ran along Scenic Drive. May usually found us at the Creekside 10K in East Salinas.

June was busting out with the Run in the Sun hosted by Chamisal tennis club and the horrific Devil’s Hill Run up and down Jack’s Peak. July had Les Waddel’s Seaside Mile right on Del Rey Oaks Blvd and Maria Keilman’s Madonna Manor run in Salinas. Maria, the race director, always acquired 300 or 400 raffle items and everyone left very happy.

August - going way back on your calendar now - actually had a Salinas Marathon that started at Alisal High School and headed out Old Stage road and back. Even that wasn’t the first Monterey County Marathon – that honor goes to the Greenfield Marathon organized by the old Fleet Feet store in Salinas, although we really can’t remember the month. The YMCA Run for Shelter 5K/10K were held at Lover’s Point on the same course as the Together with Love Run. The Carmel Valley Fiesta runs often conflicted with the Lover’s Point runs. Prunedale had some Manzanita Park races where the winners used to get to ride in a convertible in the festival parade right after the race.

September had yet another Lover’s Point event called The Run for the Beacon which often had 1,000 runners or more. We even had the opportunity to run on Laguna Seca raceway at the Cherries Jubilee runs. East Salinas had the El Grito Festival races. Many years ago there was a Don Lucas Ford 10K that started at Custom House plaza.

October was full every weekend with the wonderful (and greatly missed) Fine Arts 5K in Carmel that finished with an incredible champagne brunch near the bottom of Ocean Avenue. The Salinas Skyclimb was on every tough runner’s calendar as it forced you to climb and then descend Ollason Peak in Toro Park. Jim Scattini organized a Salinas Main Street Mile that ran straight down Main Street in Salinas and ended near Alisal street. The Pastures of Heaven Half-Marathon circled the great Corral De Tierra/San Benancio Loop.

November had us all running to win turkeys at the CSUMB Turkey Trot. Finally, December ended the year with the Fort Ord 5K around Christmas time, and further back there was an East Garrison Half Marathon.

If you happen to own a t-shirt from any of these events, hold onto it like a treasured artifact – because chances are overwhelming that these races aren’t ever coming back. So the obvious question is: Where did they all go?

The simple answer is that good old fashioned economics caused their extinction. Most races are created as fundraisers, and race committees often find that the time and effort needed to put on a race doesn’t justify the meager revenue that is generated. Even the simplest races are surprisingly costly to stage – as we’ll describe further in an upcoming column.

We would love to see many of these races come back and see new races started in our area; not just in the name of raising money, but to promote health and fun in our community. If only we could go back to the time when we just drew a chalk line on the road, and had someone yell GO before a huge crowd took off down a road or trail running as fast as they can.

That’s the essence of racing. That’s the Running Life.


Local Runners to Watch

Runners on the Central Coast are fortunate to share their home turf with some great distance runners. From our local high schools to the national stage, there are plenty of stars in our midst for us to admire.

High School Stars

The Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners club has provided college scholarship funding to local high school distance runners since 2000. This year the club, along with a large donation from the Big Sur International Marathon, is providing $9,000 in scholarship money to nine athletes.

The scholarship recipients are nominated by coaches. They must be high school seniors who participate in both cross-country (XC) and distance track events. They must be talented and successful enough in their running to compete in college, as well as demonstrating academic success and leadership skills.

Here are this years winners:

Diego Estrada from Alisal High set a county record in the 3200 and is ranked in the top 5 in the state in this event. He will be going to Northern Arizona University on a partial track scholarship. Diego has a 3.5 GPA and was team captain in both XC and track. He is without question the best high school distance runner in our area. Diego was given the largest WNLR scholarship at $2,000.

Kirsten White from Salinas High competes in the 800, 1600, and 3200 as well as cross-country. She is an honor student with a 3.89 GPA and was team captain in both XC and track. Her specialty is the 800, with a best time of 2:20. She will be going to Lewis and Clark University on a partial scholarship. Kirsten was given $1,500.

Michael Mercado from North Monterey County High is a talented runner and has a 4.13 GPA in honors and advanced placement classes. He was also captain of both his XC and track teams. He has run 4:30 in the 1600 and 9:31 in the 3200 to finish in the top 3 in his league. He will be attending Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Michael also received $1,500.

Other seniors recognized with scholarships were Andre LaMothe from Stevenson, Arturo Corres and Cameron Cruse from Seaside, Oscar Pena and Filberto Zendejas from King City, and Tyler Larsen from Carmel.

If you want to make a tax deductible donation to help with these scholarships mail your donation to WNLR Scholarship Fund c/o 24630 Avenida Principal, Salinas, CA. 93908.

Olympic Hopefuls

The U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials will be held from June 27th to July 6th in Eugene, Oregon. This year’s trials feature several runners with Central Coast connections.

Blake Russell from Pacific Grove has already made the Olympic team by finishing 3rd in the women’s marathon trials in Boston in April. Blake also owns the 9th fastest qualifying time in the 10,000 meter run, and could be in the mix for another Olympic slot in this event on June 27th. Blake excels in road racing, cross-country, and track racing, and has been ranked as the number 1 female runner in the United States.

Lyle Weese, who lives in Marina and works in Salinas is currently the 13th fastest qualifier in the 3000 meter steeplechase on July 5th. Lyle is one of the few elite American runners to also have a full time job. He also helps coach Hartnell College distance runners, and he and his wife Sierra generously give their time to help the Just Run youth program as well. Lyle ran the same event in the 2004 Olympic Trials and is a former Big Sur Distance Project athlete.

James Carney, formerly of the Big Sur Distance Project and Marina, is one of the favorites in the 10,000 meters on July 4th, with the 3rd fastest qualifying time at 27:43. He is 19th on the all time U.S. list in this event, tied with the legendary Steve Prefontaine. James now splits his time living in both Boulder, Colorado and Eugene.

Fasil Bizuneh, also formerly of the Big Sur Distance Project, is now living in Flagstaff, Arizona. Fasil, born in Indiana of Ethiopian parents, moved himself into Olympic team contention by running the 2nd fastest 10,000 meter time of the year a few weeks ago – 27:50. He is currently 5th best of the qualifiers.

Ryan Bak, another former Big Sur Distance Project athlete, is a provisional qualifier in the 5,000 meters (to be held June 30th) at 13:39. He is attempting to improve his qualifying time in the next few weeks to ensure that he makes the starting field. Ryan currently lives in Eugene as well.

Ali Williams, who along with Blake Russell was one of two women associated with the Big Sur Distance Project, is now living in Colorado Springs and is attempting to qualify in the 1500 meters.

Anthony Famiglietti, who now trains in the streets of New York City, is one of the favorites in the 3000 Steeplechase. “Fam” was an original member of Team USA Monterey Bay – the predecessor of the Big Sur Distance Project.

We’re thankful to be surrounded by such talented runners on the Central Coast. Be sure to cheer for our local favorites at the Olympic Trials, and also help us congratulate our high school stars on their accomplishments. Who knows - maybe some of those scholarship runners will be on our Olympic Trials list in 2016.


Full Disclosure

The excitement of a marathon isn’t merely about who crosses the finish line first. There’s a whole set of “races within the race” - competitions between people fighting for awards in various subcategories – that are at the heart of the event.

For example, at last month’s Big Sur Marathon, awards were given to the fastest runner in each five-year age group. Awards are also given for top masters (over 40) runner, Clydesdales (men over 195 lbs), Athenas (women over 150), active duty military runners, Monterey County residents, as well as denizens of cold weather climates (who theoretically have a harder time training for an April event.)

Strangely, most runners never really know who they’re competing against – which leads to some odd conversations during the final miles. A seemingly innocent question of “So, where are you from?” is actually a disguised query as to whether the person is in the Monterey County category. And while it’s seemingly more awkward to ask someone’s age or (God forbid) weight in the middle of a race, we wouldn’t put it past some hyper-competitive runners.

That’s why we’re proposing that running events adopt a policy that triathlons have used for years: writing each competitor’s age on his or her calf. That way, each runner would know the age of everybody in the field around them, and know when they were passing (or getting passed by) someone in the same category.

It’s a simple detail that could have an enormous impact on the competitive dynamic of a race. Sometimes there’s no better motivation to get through the tough final miles than to know you’re locked in a close race for an age group spot. Even if they’re not competing for awards, everyone likes to know where they stand among their chronological peers.

The same thing could be done for the other categories: for instance, “MC” for Monterey County, or a big horseshoe for Clydesdales and Athenas. Sure, the writing on the calf could get pretty crowded, but this information is too valuable to neglect.

Furthermore, when it comes to race performance, age is usually only part of the story. So why stop there? Why can’t we write other pertinent information on our legs, so everyone understands exactly who they’re going up against?

Here some examples of markings we’d like to see on the calves of runners near us in our next race, and what they might indicate about each person’s ability:

37: Age. For obvious reasons.

M or S: Married or single. Does being married make someone a better runner? On one hand, marriage usually implies a time commitment (at least that’s what we’re told). On the other, it helps to have a support person during strenuous training periods. So this detail is a bit of a wash. But what if we could have…

HM or TM: For “Happy Marriage” or “Troubled Marriage.” Wouldn’t a happy runner train more effectively than a stressed-out one? Or does the person in a bad marriage spend extra time out on the roads to avoid conflict?

(You know what? Let’s just leave marriage out of it – there are way too many variables. But there’s no question about…)

3: Number of kids. Put it this way – which woman are you more impressed by: a 38-minute 10K runner with “0” on her calf, or a 41-minute runner with a “4” there? And we haven’t even mentioned the women with an “S” (single) as well as a “2” (kids) – they deserve some sort of prize just for showing up with two matching socks on.

FT: Full-time job. This is the eternal working man’s (or woman’s) complaint: that if he didn’t have to work so many hours per week, he’d have more time for training, and would perform better in races. We could further break this down into ML (manual labor) or CDJ (cushy desk job), but that might resemble classism, and we’re afraid that somebody might get sued.

Anyway, we’d bet that most of those FT guys probably wouldn’t feel nearly as bad about being passed by someone with PT (part time) or U (unemployed) on his calf.

SLWP: Still Lives With Parents. Honestly, we don’t know how this affects performance, but at least it would give us a chuckle while we’re getting passed by that mama’s boy, particularly if they had a high age number.

Clearly, there are all sorts of benefits to knowing this information in running events. In fact – it’s such a refreshing idea, why don’t we consider a similar system with our everyday lives?

Take your workplace, for instance. Wouldn’t it be great if your coworkers wore labels with this type of personal information? (This is where the idea stumbles a bit, because except for strippers and lifeguards, most people’s calves aren’t visible at work. But we could come up with some alternative – name tags, patches, lapel pins, hats, something. There's got to be a way.)

You would know how many years away your boss is from retirement age, and exactly how young his hood ornament receptionist is. HM-3 guys wouldn’t feel as much pressure to keep up with the S guy who starts putting in 60-hour work weeks. And that SLWP thing would be just as funny.

Now imagine if all businesses did this. When you go out for coffee, you would know the relationship status of that cute barista you make up reasons to buy lattes from four days per week. You’d know the real age of your hairdresser who perennially claims she’s 39. And you might be more tolerant if you're on the receiving end of rude customer service from the TM woman at the bagel shop.

The possibilities are endless, and generally beneficial. Over a period of time, we’d all come to experience heightened awareness and mutual understanding of those around us.

And all it would take is a little bit of temporary body marking.


Scenes From a Marathon - 2008

To everything, there is a season. To the two of us, this was the season to miss racing the Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM) in favor of other pursuits. It’s the first time since 1990 that neither of us ran this race – but that didn’t mean we completely skipped Sunday’s party, as Donald ran on a relay team and Mike ran the 5K.

Children shall lead them: Actually, the festivities started early this year, with the childrens’ races moving to Saturday for the first time ever. The Just Run 3K in Monterey welcomed almost 1,200 kids and 800 parents – which one Peninsula old-timer described as, “the greatest thing to happen in downtown Monterey since Al’s Good Eats closed”. We’re pretty sure that was meant as a compliment.

Strangest pre-race jitters: Hugo Ferlito, BSIM Chairman of the Board was answering phones on Friday when a nervous caller asked, “Will you have buses to pick me up if I don’t finish?” Hugo explained that the caller should have confidence, but of course, there would be buses to pick up runners if needed at mile 10, 15 or wherever. The caller then panicked and yelled, “10 or 15? I’m only doing the 9 mile walk!”

The acorn doesn’t fall far: Hugo, a Grizzled Vet who has finished all 23 BSIMs, had more reason to be proud on Sunday, as his son Mark ran an astounding 20-minute personal record marathon time of 2 hours and 48 minutes. Fittingly, his dad was the first to greet him at the finish line.

The burden of expectation: During Donald’s relay leg, he ran with his friend and eventual masters winner Brian Rowlett for several miles. In Brian’s first BSIM in 2006, he ran 3:18. The following year, he ran 11 minutes faster to finish in 3:07. The pattern continued this year as he cut another 11 minutes to record a personal best of 2:56. Sure it’s a great result – but next year, anything slower than a 2:45 will be a major disappointment.

The strawberry king: After completing his relay leg, Donald doubled back and forth a few times in the Carmel Highlands area, running alongside friends of various speeds to accompany them towards the finish – and each time, in both directions, he made sure to stop at the strawberry aid station. If they kept records for most strawberries consumed during a race, his Sunday effort would have been a Bob Beamon-like performance for the ages.

Duel of the ages, Part 1: 74-year-old Glynn Wood of Pebble Beach raced the 5K, and was agitated to be passed near the end by Ken Napier, age 77. The two of them have been racing each other at various distances since 1956. Forever the competitor, Glynn still gets upset by any loss, even after 52 years.

Massage champion: The septuagenarian 5K battle wasn’t the most heated competition of the day – that took place in the massage tent. 60 massage therapists donate their time to work on runners’ tired muscles, but only one gets the honor of rubbing the winner. Therapist Emil Guzman was thrilled to nab the top finisher this year, and proudly announced that he had the winner in 2004 also. OK – maybe this isn’t the most heated competition, but it’s certainly the most unexpected.

No slackers allowed: Apparently the massage folks are pretty choosy about whose legs they rub, as Donald learned when he tried to sign up. He was told that only marathon runners could receive massages, which, to a tired relay runner, comes out sounding like “we don’t serve your kind here.” (Even claiming a Herald credential didn’t help – so much for power of the press.)

Duel of the ages, Part 2: 23-year-old Carmel High grad Brooke Wells ran in the women’s Olympic Trials marathon in Boston last Saturday, but somehow found time to race the Big Sur 5K yesterday. A tired Brooke came in 2nd overall, barely beating 45-year-old Ceci St. Geme. Brooke’s motivation was simple: “I couldn’t let a woman twice my age with 6 kids beat me.” St. Geme is no ordinary housewife, though – she’s a world-class masters runner who has graced the cover of Runner’s World magazine more often than any other woman. She and Brooke are both great advertisements for women’s running.

The heroes behind the curtain: BSIM volunteers never fail to amaze us. For example, Kevin Smith of Pacific Grove is known as the “Mayor of Marathon Flats”, and is responsible for setting up the tent city at Rio Road and Hwy 1. Kevin does more work than seems humanly possible in the two weeks leading up to the marathon – and remains nearly anonymous in doing so.

So on behalf of the event participants, we want to say thanks to him, and all the other marathon board members and volunteers. All of us owe all of you a huge debt of gratitude.

If you run out of things to say, use statistics: Some final numbers to fill up our column space: 12,000 participants in the various events. 2,800 volunteers helped them. 365 Porta Potties were used. 350 gallons of coffee consumed. 85,000 cups of Gatorade dropped on highway one and then picked up by volunteers. 25 kegs of beer chugged (mostly after the race, we hope). 2400 bagels eaten. 72 gallons of soup served. 100 cases of bananas distributed.

And finally … 2 columnists who can’t wait to rejoin all the fun next year.


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