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.

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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.

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