All posts by Paul Berg

Paul is a photographer, runner and farmer based in Sebastopol CA.

REDEMPTION RACE : Ultrarunning adventure with Bert Braden

My foray into the Indiana Trails 100 mile endurance race came as the result of my first DNF at the Kodiak 100 mile endurance race in August of 2019. I had made several strategic mistakes leading into that event seven weeks earlier which resulted in my dropping out at the 25 mile point. I erred in not allowing enough time to adapt to altitude at Kodiak (7-10,000 ft. elevation), in deciding to use the race provided nutrition in lieu of my preferred Osmo + Gu system, and in attempting to go caffeine-less in the days leading up to the race. Massive headache, nausea, and gastronomic rejection of nutrition and hydration commenced about six hours into the race and I DNF’d after arriving at the 25 mile aid station with only ten minutes before the cut-off time.

Kodiak 100 was to be my “A” race for the season and I had selected it because of the six UTMB points that it offered for me to re-qualify for the 2020 UTMB lottery. A finish would give me 11 points out of the required 10 points and lock-in an entry place in either 2020 or 2021. Failure to garner the points basically means back to the end-of-the-line and start over again in the next lottery.

Upon returning home in the midst of that dejected, bewildered state which descends from an incomplete objective, I tried to remember some of the things I’d picked up in my recent 7 year ultra-running career: “If you don’t fail you’re not setting hard enough challenges”, “ Anything can happen on any given race day”, etc.

After a couple days of mucking around, I resolved to at least explore whether there was any possibility of salvaging my UTMB effort. This late in the season the number of race opportunities has dwindled and choices are few. So imagine my amazement when I discovered on Ultra-Signup the Indiana Trail 100: a 100 mile race worth 5 UTMB points in Albion, Indiana, just twenty mile from my mother-in-law’s home on Lake Wawasee. With only 8,000 ft. of vertical gain, five 20-mile loops at near sea level, a 30-hour cutoff, and seven weeks for me to retrain to peak, it looked very achievable. It was as if the stars had aligned: How could I turn down a chance at redemption!

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In a Kodiak 100 debrief later the next day with my Ultra-Coach Bob Shebest we discussed a game plan for putting the DNF behind me. When Bob told me he knew exactly how I felt about dropping out in an ultra, there was absolutely no doubting the sincerity of his condolences; here was a professional level athlete and a senior recreational runner sharing the same experience. We discussed the next easy race, goals for next season, and potential remaining UTMB qualifiers including this 100 mile race in Indiana in early October. As the end of our telephone meeting approached Bob suggested that I really consider the IT100, to which I responded “Bob, I went ahead and signed up earlier this morning so I wouldn’t lose the spot”. Somehow I think he already knew…

About this same time I ran across an article in Trail Runner magazine by David Roche titled “So You Had A Crappy Race…Now What?” David’s article pretty much validated everything that I had been processing over the previous week. Particularly the premise that “Bad races are big opportunities if you let them be” and “You don’t run in spite of the trials. The trials are the whole point”.

So You Had A Crappy Race … Now What?

The 25 miles that I had put in at Kodiak had barely made a dent in my conditioning, and so ramping back up to the 100 mile race distance seemed easy at first. I managed a couple of near 70 mile training weeks and seemed to be on my way to peak performance four weeks out from race day when disaster struck. While out on a five hour peak-week training run at Lake Sonoma, I took a bad step which jammed my right knee, overloading the joint. I finished the remaining three hours of the workout, but the next day it was apparent that I had developed a full-blown case of patellar tendonitis, the dreaded “runner’s knee”. I nursed myself thorough the taper portion of that final training block and even arranged for a cortisone injection one week prior to race day in an attempt to placate my angry knee. The shot in the knee helped enough to turn my attitude back towards “Just finish the race in 30 hours and get the points, no matter what”. I received further instruction from this athlete’s favorite PT practitioner, Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy, on how best to tape my knee for additional support in the event that it started giving me trouble during the race. (I probably looked a bit odd walking around before the race with one knee shaved in prep for a potential tape job).

The 6:00 am morning start saw temperatures of 34 degrees F, cold and breezy, but the rains had stopped and the course was drying out nicely. Huddled in the warm, cozy Main Tent at the Start/Finish I exchanged good luck wishes with my newly found friend from Sebastopol, Janice Bondar and her sister Linda Bondar who had traveled to Indiana for their first 100k attempt. Upon overhearing a remark that there were a bunch of people last year who started late because they were still in the tent, I decided to pry myself away from the flames of doom early in order to await the starting line outside in real conditions. Minutes later we were ushered off on our first 20 mile loop by race director Mike Pfefferkorn into two hours of cold, dark, breezy Midwest morning with the promise of an entire night of the same later that day.

One of the big lessons I’ve learned working with my coach Bob Shebest is the importance of managing my condition during ultra events. Personal race management starts with things that I can control such as equipment & clothing, fuel & hydration, pre-race sleep, etc. For race clothing I went with skin tight bottoms as recommended previously by Skip Brand, HRC; tech shirt with arm-warmers (for later removal, uh right); Patagonia long sleeve ventilated zip top, Patagonia nano puff vest, and a pair of recently commissioned Hoka Speedgoat 3 trail shoes. Two soft bottles filled with Osmo and a handful of Gu in my Salomon Skin12 vest and I was traveling lighter than I had in any previous ultras. This trail austerity was facilitated by the abundance of aid stations and volunteers on the fantastically well-appointed IT100 and the fact that forecast temperatures would be lower than I’m accustomed to in California. This meant that I could carry less fluids, hit up aid stations for additional calories every few miles, and adjust my kit and clothing every twenty miles at the Main Tent aid station.

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At most ultra distance races, I’ve found a pre-race warmup unnecessary, and so I started this one out at a brisk race walking pace, which for me is around 14 min/mile. This fast-walk pace gives me time to warm up thoroughly, establish a sustainable baseline heart rate, and get a feel for the course. An added benefit was that I didn’t have to worry about tripping on obstacles or stressing any body parts early on. The bulk of the field gradually passed me by, but even at this fast-walk pace I could theoretically finish the 100 mile distance within the allotted 30 hour cutoff time. So I resolved to keep walking until daybreak, which in this westernmost portion of the Eastern Time zone would come at 8:00 in the morning, about two hours into the race near an aid station at the seven mile mark. Traveling with both a head-light and waist-light gives me better depth perception and allows my peripheral vision to follow my foot placements in the more diffused light of the waist-light. A dimming head-light called for an unplanned early stop to pull off the trail and replace the batteries, which saw me lose several more positions, but there was still a string of headlights behind me and it was very early in the race. Seven miles in and not a drop of sweat on my body, which is my goal for cold weather travel. In cold conditions like this, I figure that as long as I’m not sweating, and still making forward progress, I can keep up the pace indefinitely and with no risk of hypothermia. The no-sweat indicator has worked well for me in training and it played a key role in my success in this race.

Refilling of hydration supplies has been problematic for me over many races. I have gotten much better at getting-in and getting-out of aid stations, but I still suffer a significant time loss in fumbling with bottles, powder packets, refilling, etc. In this race, a single bottle refill and a couple bites of food at Mile 7 probably cost me five minutes. But I also used this opportunity to adjust my pack and rig from night-running to day-running mode. At about 180th place, this was the farthest back in the pack that I would be for the remainder of the race.

Once I started running at first daylight, the miles and aid stations just seemed to roll by. I only had to deal with one more hydration bottle delay at Mile 12 after which my superb crew (mother-in-law Peggy Walls at the race site and spouse Kim Walls running traffic control back home in Santa Rosa) executed flawless bottle refills and bottle drops for the remainder of the race, including hot tea & Gatorade fill-ups at key intervals during the night. I was prepared to solo the race and hadn’t counted on this level of support, but watching Peggy get into the spirit of the race competition made this a particularly memorable event for me! With her help, I was able to essentially skip three aid stations per loop and reduce my stops to only the Main Tent and the 12/32/52/72/92 mile aid stations. Consuming a 250 calorie + caffeine Spring Energy Speednut every 5-6 hours provided me with a noticeable boost as well. The effect on my progress was dramatic, and I continued to march up the field: 120th place at the 20 mile first loop, 84th at 40 mile second loop, 66th at 60 mile third loop, 41st at 80 mile fourth loop, and finishing 30th at 100 miles. Needless to say I never could have accomplished my best ever 100 mile time and finish without the support of my crew and the excellent volunteer staff at IT100.

https://my4.raceresult.com/137277/#3_0B47D4

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I’ve never been on such a well maintained course: 100 miles of flowing single track, hard-packed wide trail, and off-camber grass (what an apropos description). Did I mention that many sections had gnarly roots painted fluorescent pink & orange? Major intersections were blocked off with yellow caution tape and signage was plentiful so there was never any doubt on route finding (There was that one sign that I missed at Mile 18 leaving the parking lot by Park Administration, but a fellow runner called out to save me). Beautiful autumn colors and falling leaves with a steady, crisp, cool wind, and filtered sunlight through the trees set the tone for the day. “Plan for anything, expect nothing” as coach reminds me before every race. So my in-race drama began with minor stumbles around 15 miles in: “Gosh, I’m shocked to find roots and rocks on this course” my body language projected to the runners around me. At about 25 miles came my first fall; a rock or root tripped me up, however I quickly shoulder-rolled and popped back up to my feet. A little dust, no serious damage, but the message was received: “This course is not inherently dangerous. But it is unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect”. Forewarned is forearmed I supposed; but not enough to save me from another negligent fall at Mile 35. This time I was not so lucky; in the blink of an eye an invisible hand at my feet launched me into the air with no point of contact. Fatigue slowed my reaction time and translated my ad hoc roll into a full shoulder tackle of the glacial esker with a sickening crunch. Thoughts of another humiliating DNF crossed my mind along with intense bargaining to walk or crawl the remaining 65 miles if necessary just to finish the race. Although this could just as easily have been a broken collar-bone incident, my ribs took the brunt of the impact, made worse by the hard tops on the two soft-bottles I was carrying at the front of my vest. I briefly walked back up the trail to see what had tripped me up amongst the leaves and trail detritus, but quickly concluded it was a waste of time as the runner behind me was closing in “Did you lose something, can I help you find it?” she offered with a smile. Just my dignity and sense of trail security I thought to myself. “If the bone ain’t showing then keep on going…” is the running adage that seemed to apply here. I wasn’t spitting up blood, there was no grinding noises from by ribs, and besides I was pissed off now. So nowhere to go but forward, keeping in mind that I’d been put on final notice: I had no more falls to give, a third and I would be out…

The idea of posting a sub-24 hour, 100 mile time was deep in the back of my mind leading up to the race. More of a fantasy than an actual goal, since part of the mental preparation I’ve been working on over the past four years is to let go of race outcomes while sticking to a primary goal of just finishing with an emphasis on running the best race that I can via good race management and strong execution. On paper, the IT100 looked like a potentially fast course compared to the other ultras that I had participated in. It is near sea level, with cool temperatures, and has modest vertical gain of only about 8,000 ft. Certainly a PR was possible, but a sub-24 finish might be a stretch and I could not afford to jeopardize those 5 UTMB points. On race day as I finished Loop 2 at a projected 20-hour 100 mile pace, the idea of a sub-24 hour finish took hold. All I had to do was maintain my current effort, keep eating & drinking, not get lost, not fall again, and not succumb to hypothermia. My legs were still strong and Loop 3 would be a total daylight run. Even so I rigged for night running and switched out of my cushy & grip-fast Hoka Speedgoat 3 shoes into my tried and trusted Saucony Ride 7 trainers (my 20th pair of this model) to take advantage of the additional ground clearance and extra toe-space for my swelling feet. This turned out to be a crucial decision for the better as my mangled toes would testify to at the conclusion of the race.

I had been told by wiser (not older, since hardly any of my running friends are older than me nowadays) that in a five-loop 100 mile race the fourth loop is the one to watch out for. The fifth and final loop pretty much takes care of itself because, well, you’re on the home stretch. But that fourth loop can really mess with your head. So, in this case, forewarned was a good thing and I proceeded to go out and crush Loop 4. I discovered that the roots and rocks were actually easier to see in the dark with my two headlight setup. The fluorescent-pink painted roots were a welcome sight now too. Kind of like running-by-numbers: put your right foot here, left foot there, hop this way, etc. Pre-stashed bottles at Mile 72 aid station and helpful volunteers sped me along. Getting lapped by the race leader at Mile 75 (Mile 95 for him) was really not such a bad thing; he seemingly wasn’t really running that quickly: “Heck I could probably move that fast…” came a fleeting thought. Peggy got me out of Main Tent aid at Mile 80 with hot tea and a fist bump in no time flat.

Shortly before Main Tent aid at Mile 80 the wheels had shown signs of coming off. Fatigue in my left calf turned to cramping, and thence to a total lock-up every time I stopped or slowed; my right Achilles was flaring red hot with friction trauma; and I couldn’t cough or blow my nose lest my ribs explode in pain. Just like Doc. Yinger had predicted, the original right knee patellar tendonitis with which I had come into the race had faded into the background as if to say “Why are you looking at me?” But I placed guilt on that knee anyway because I knew it had started a kinetic chain of events that was going to make my final 20 miles miserable.

Attempting to run after leaving Mile 80 I tried to engage running speed, but there was nothing there! Visualize the Millennium Falcon “Jump-to-Hyperspace” scene in Star Wars; I pushed the run button and there was no response. By now my left calf had cramped to the point that I could barely manage a walk; shots of pickle juice provided at least some psychological comfort. My right Achilles was burning with fire at every step; I hadn’t changed socks when I switched shoes and the accumulated friction had sent it over the edge. I knew from experience that both of these annoyances would heal with time, which I would have plenty of following this season-ender. But it was clear that my slowed pace wasn’t going to reconcile with the goal of a sub-24 hour finish, so a new tactical plan was in order. The words of my coach came back to me: “There’s no excuse for not playing good defense…” So that earlier sub-14 min/mile fast-walk baseline pace that I had refined at the start of the race? Yep, back to defense baby. Taking it to the bitter end, whatever that may be…

Pushing hard toward a sub-24 hour finish, I now resolved to run everything that looked runnable. In other words, any trail sections clearly free of rocks, roots, and obstructions mandated hustle. I focused on keeping my stride compact and my foot placement tight & contained within the worn portions of the single track. In the grazing light of my double-headlight setup, it became easier to avoid the land mines that had tripped me up earlier in the day. My world thus reduced completely to a small ribbon of dirt directly in front of me, I dwelt in flow state for the better portion of the night. No pity, no whining, and no projections: Just assess, manage, and keep moving forward…with certainty towards an uncertain end…

So it was at Mile 93 that I was surprised by an unfamiliar tone from my GPS watch. I glanced down just as the message faded out “Battery Critical Low – Saving Activity”…then nothing but a dark screen…WTF!  I usually carry an extra charge battery with me because I know that my GPS unit can only go about 20 hours on a single charge. In retrospect, I had given it a quick boost at Mile 40 aid and it indicated 70% charge remaining so I had let it go. But I had also slowed down the last 60 miles, eating into my allotted time. Now I was seemingly screwed with no data for time, pace, or remaining distance (or heart-rate for that matter, although HR was irrelevant at this point as I had been nailing it in the zone all day). How was I to challenge a sub-24 finish with no watch? I just laughed at this nonsense because it was so ironic and fitting for the circumstances; in that moment I truly believed that I was right where I was supposed to be. I knew by scratch calculations in my head that I should be able to snag a sub-24 hour on paper, if I kept the pace up and finished strong. At this point, the only card remaining in my hand was the one marked “RUN YOUR ASS OFF” and now seemed like the right time to play it. So it was by pure dead reckoning and visceral feel that I finished the remaining 7 out of 100 miles, leaving everything out on the course, with perhaps my best splits of the entire race.

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Crossing the finish line in 23:26:20 and collecting a sub-24 hour finisher’s buckle from Race Director Mike Pfefferkorn provided a much welcome sense of closure to a long season of growth, challenge, and learning for me. This season hadn’t come together exactly as planned, but as I went down the list of accomplishments: UTMB qualified…check; WSER qualified…check; 100 mile PR…check; sub-24 100 mile …check, I had to acknowledge that it was a very good year.

Become a hero in my own story…check.

2019 Student Grant Fund Recipients

The Empire Runners have a long-standing commitment to providing scholarships to deserving student athletes of Sonoma County making the transition from high school to college. Made possible by dues and contributions from our members, we are giving 6 recipients a total of $6000 in scholarship awards this year. All club members should be proud of the part they play in this most wonderful of traditions through generous donations.

These six student-athletes will be formally introduced and awarded their scholarship checks at the Kenwood Footrace on July 4th. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding young members of our running community.

Our first recipient began her 4-year high school career as a wide-eyed middle schooler showing up at her brother’s practices. Finding the early going a bit daunting, she found that long distance running took patience, determination and a “whole lot of grit”. Over the 4-year experience she not only continually improved to all-league status, she was voted most improved and a team captain.  Yet the journey was not without pitfalls; a myriad of running injuries, anemia and a severe car injury with a prolonged rehabilitation prior to her junior year.  She persevered and continued to improve and fall more in love with running, especially long training runs in Annadel.  She has continued to improve on the track with PRs of 5:34 1600, 12:24 3200 and 2 trips to the Redwood Empire meet. She also has best of 20:03 on the SLC and 3rd team All Empire in 2018.

 

 

This scholar athlete also shines in the classroom with an unweighted GPA of 3.84.  Besides being a great student, her teachers are impressed with her addition to the classroom and a positive impact on her fellow students while also participating as a TA in English and further aiding her fellow students. Somehow she also found time for shadowing at the SRJC sports medicine clinic on Fridays and volunteering in the community, especially with the Coffey Park Restoration Project.

Our first scholarship recipient has truly found the “love” of running and the many ways it positively impacts her life.  She loves the hard work and the joy of running with a group on long runs, at times pushing for just an extra mile or so.  She is planning on continuing her running career at SRJC with Coach Wellman’s strong program and complete her AS in Kinesiology and pre-Nursing requirements for transfer into a BS in Nursing Program.

Please welcome, the former SRHS panther, future Bearcub: Katrina Frandsen

Our second Student Grant Recipient began his running career on the track as a sprinter.  His cross-country experience began with a painful long, hot and arduous 30-minute summer run, and then convinced himself to come back the next day.

His story is one of consistent hard work and steady improvement.  His first race on the SLC was 21:48 and a close loss to his coach.  Fast forward to this year and our SGF winner has improved to 17:01 in his first Varsity season and improving to the #4 runner at State XC in his best run of 17:49 on a full 5K course.  He has continued this improvement in Track with PRs this year of 2:09 800, 4:44 1600, 10:53 3200.

 

 

As important as continued improvement and dedication has been to our recipient’s positive experience, he is equally aware how important his developing great friendships with teammates has been.  The shared experience of long runs, interval training and road trips to Invitationals, NCS and State will be something he cherishes forever.

He has worked hard in the classroom with an unweighted GPA of 3.4 with many AP and JC classes peppering his schedule.  He enjoys physics and math and is planning to continue his education in the engineering or STEM fields.  He also volunteers at many Empire Runner events, the Redwood Food Bank, is an active member of multiple school clubs and is a TA for AP Language and Composition.  He also plans to run with Coach Wellman’s Bearcub XC team and to continue his running improvement while preparing himself to continue his schooling at a 4-year University. Please put your hands together for former Piner Prospector and future SRJC Bearcub: Addison Gaspar

Our third SGF award winner began running with the SR Express with her siblings prior to attending high school. Following her brothers to high school she has run Track and XC for 3 years.  She has PR’s of 5:49 in the 1600 and 12:42 in the 3200 (both school records) and has run under 21 minutes on the SLC while making all league in the CMC in both track and XC this year.  What makes this more remarkable is she is just finishing her junior year.  Due to her school closure she has finished her high school requirements early with an unweighted GPA of 3.97 and will matriculate to SRJC to complete GE requirements and a possible transfer to Masters University in the near future.  Our young scholarship recipient has excelled in the classroom and has had a positive impact on fellow students in athletics, in class and especially as she leads her Speech and Debate team in national competition.  She is also Captain of the XC team, where she leads more by example than words.

 

 

She will redshirt this next year at SRJC which will enable her to continue getting stronger and improving while maintaining her 4 years of eligibility after transfer to a 4-year University. Please welcome our youngest recipient: Former Rincon Valley Eagle and future Bearcub: Allie Methum

Our next recipient also prepped at RVC.  He ran with the Express beginning in the 4th grade and continued in Track and XC for all 4 years in high school.  He has been a leading runner on the Varsity for the last two years, voted MVP of XC in 2017 and Captain in 2018. He has a PR of 16:24 on the SLC and ran 17:06 for a full 5K at the California State XC Meet in 2018.  He was most proud of his whole team qualifying to State this year where they finished 4th overall, the best result from the Redwood Empire.  He also has bests of 4:30.1 in the 1600 and 9:43.2 for the 3200 on the track.

 

 

Our recipient is considered one of the most dedicated runners and leaders in his coach’s long and storied career.  This young runner has embraced every challenge and has encouraged his teammates at every turn.  The story is the same in the classroom where he has maintained an unweighted GPA of 4.00 and has been a great addition in every class.  He has goals to continue running in college and to get his degree in Business and Music Production.  He will attend Masters University in Santa Clarita in the fall and join his brother running for Coach Zach Schroeder. Please put your hands together the former Rincon Valley Christian Eagle, future Mustang and brother to our previous award winner: Isaac Methum

Our penultimate SGF recipient began XC in freshman year and was an immediate point scorer on the Varsity squad.  He ran a PR of 16:21 on the SLC and ran well at NCS and the State XC Meet (17:00 on a full 5K course).  He has had to put his goals on standby many times during his 4 years of Track and XC while dealing with Sever’s disease of the heel.  Not to be deterred he has rehabbed multiple times, retrained and continued to improve throughout his career with PR of 15:58 on the SLC course, 15:53 at Hayward and 16:44 for the full 5K at Woodward Park. He also has bests of 4:29 for the 1600 and 9:38 for the 3200.

While being one of the top runners in the area he has also been Captain of his XC team, leading by the example of hard work and perseverance.  He has also excelled in the classroom with an unweighted GPA of 3.51 with an all AP class load.  While juggling this schedule he finds time to be involved with the Christian Club, volunteer with the Empire Runners and Redwood Gospel Mission. nhayes.jpg

As a result of his injury and rehab history, this SGF recipient has developed an interest in sports medicine.  His goals are to run with Coach Wellman at SRJC and get to the State Meet in XC and improve to sub 4:15 in the mile, 9:00 in the 2 mile.  He wants to complete his pre-requisites in 2 years and complete his studies at a 4-year university and continue running at the collegiate level.  With his skills and work ethic I expect him to attain those goals. Please welcome to the stage former Prospector and future SRJC Bearcub from Piner HS: Nathan Hayes

Our sixth and final recipient is a 4-year Track and Field varsity athlete and a 1-year XC varsity runner.  She is an all-around sprinter/jumper having raced 100, 200, 400, relays and the long and triple jumps. Our recipient’s track accomplishments are of continued improvements culminating in making it to the Redwood Empire meet in the 400 with a PR of 1:03.68 as a junior and in the long and triple jumps as a senior with PRs of 16’6/34”, 33’10” respectively.  Her long jump PR just missed the Top 50 All Time Redwood Empire. In her first year in XC, this SGF recipient not only was an immediate consistent point getter at the varsity level but as a senior was a strong leader for a very young team.  Her PR on the SLC is 21:34 with only a couple of races on the course. She also played 3 years of soccer.

 

 

On a different note, in the classroom, our final recipient has been at the pinnacle of excellence since Day 1. She finished her high school career with an unweighted GPA of 4.0, and a weighted 4.8.  She is ranked #1 in her class and was the Valedictorian. She is a four-time CSF recipient and is the vice president of CSF.  She has found time to be a member of the Key, Asian, Math and PHAST clubs throughout high school and was chosen for the prestigious Sonoma State Internship Program (SHIP) for one on one summer collegiate research with a University professor in Kinesiology.  Her teachers, coaches and fellow students agree that what truly separates her is her kindness and generosity towards others.

Our final recipient is ready to matriculate to the University of her choice: UC Santa Barbara. We are proud to bring to the stage a truly remarkable young lady; the former Piner Prospector and future Gaucho. Please put your hands together for: Lauren Gregorio

Student Grant Fund Recipients 2018

The Empire Runners club has a long-standing commitment to providing scholarships to deserving student athletes of Sonoma County making the transition from high school to college. Made possible by dues and contributions from our members, we are giving our 4 recipients a total of $4250 in scholarship awards this year. All club members should be proud of the part they play in this most wonderful of traditions through generous donations.

These four student-athletes will be formally introduced and awarded their scholarship checks at the Kenwood Footrace on July 4th. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding young members of our running community.

 

Our first recipient began her running career with an 8 minute mile during PE in middle school.  The accolades from her teacher lit a fire under the young runner and led to her running four years of cross country in high school.  Her freshman year her ability led her to run between 2 training groups.   Much of her training then was of a solo variety and the long hours spent chasing the front group led to much improvement but more importantly to develop what she calls, “grit”.  This grit and continued hard work was displayed in moving to the ‘front of the pack’ and becoming one of the top runners in league (CMC) and qualifying for the Division V state championships her next 3 years.  She not only represented her self and her league well, she put her school on the XC map.

This outstanding runner received many local accolades, including: Athlete of the Week (Heart and Sole) twice, All league 3 times, All Empire 3 times including 1st team in 2017, 4-time Scholar Athlete.  She also had many school accolades and is the school record holder on the Spring Lake Course with a 19:31 time.

She saved her best for last by medaling (7th Place overall) at a tough NCS course this year with a huge PR of 18:38.  She followed this with a 19th Place overall at the D5 State Championship on a very tough 5K course with a PR of 19:20.

Our recipient is also an outstanding student with many scholar and scholar athlete awards.  She has maintained a nearly 4.0 unweighted GPA (3.98) and much like her impact on her XC team she has been a great addition in the classroom.  Both her coaches and teachers agree her involvement in any activity brings up the level of those around her and her positive attitude and easy laugh is infectious.

This excellent choice for the ER Student Grant will be continuing her education and running career wearing the Purple and Gold of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.  This future Prairie Fire will be a ‘diamond in the rough’ for Coach Alex Moreno and his strong D3 ladies running program.  While there she will major in Theater with emphasis in stagecraft, technical theater (sets, costumes, etc.) and practical effects (stunts, flight, pyrotechnics) and Acting. Please welcome to the stage, from Tech High School, the gritty and accomplished:

IRIS  BERTO

 

Our second scholar athlete began his running career the summer before freshman year with summer training with his new high school.  When he arrived he was shy and knew nobody.  But after completing summer training the daunting thought of starting at a new school was gone and he began a 4-year sojourn with his XC and Track teams.  This runner started in the back of the pack but with hard work and dedication he developed into a 2-year varsity performer with a multi league championship team.

This scholar athlete has found running and his team to be the most impactful experience of his life.  He has found the bond of running with teammates has strengthened not only his physical skills but plays a major role in his scholastic achievement as well.

While running both XC and Track all 4 years he has found time to be actively involved in multiple school clubs, volunteer with the ER, Food Bank, Math Tutor and Spanish tutor.  He has received many scholastic awards including: Outstanding Scholar (Top 8 students), Gold GPA award and 8-time scholar athlete award winner.  He has maintained an unweighted 3.7 GPA.

Although beginning his running career as a JV runner (most improved) he continued to work and improve and was chosen by his coach and peers as a Captain of the XC team.  His PR on the Spring Lake Course is 18:00 and he travelled with his team to the State XC Championships this past year.  Because he works so hard and has the mindset for continued improvement I don’t feel he has tapped out his running potential.  I also think his leadership skills and running knowledge would translate to being a great coach if he were to choose that path.

Our second recipient will be attending UC Davis in the fall.  This future Aggie will be continuing his education in International Relations and running with the Aggie Running Club. Please give a big hand for this former Piner Prospector:

BEN SOMMA

 

Our 3rd ER Grant recipient began her high school career with some accolades from middle school XC and continued that, achieving Varsity status as a freshman, running a season PR of 20:36 and 3rd team All league.  Sophomore year showed continued improvement with a 19:34 PR and 2nd team All league.  Junior year was more of the same with a 19:44 PR and 1st team All league.  Our recipient also made All Empire sophomore and junior years.  Senior year had her making second team all league with a number of sub 20min Spring Lake Course races.  This scholar athlete also had success on the track with a best 2-mile time of 11:43 during track season and at the HOKA 2-mile madness junior and senior years.  Her best year in track was junior year when she qualified for the Redwood Empire meet in the 800, 1600 and 3200.

With those results you might think everything was easy for our recipient, but that would be far from the truth.  She hardly had a season that wasn’t negatively impacted by a myriad of ailments including bone development problems, severe anemia and pneumonia.  This illness history has kept her from meeting her potential.  Her illnesses would have had a weaker individual possibly quitting the sport but she came back from each setback working harder, very positive and responding with excellent results.

This scholar athlete’s excellent attitude is beyond reproach and has a positive impact on her teammates resulting in multiple Captain awards in both Track and XC.  That being said, her favorite may be her Most Inspirational Award voted by her teammates last XC year (2017).  Her coaches were impressed at her leadership skills including regular motivational speeches prior to races often leading to improved performances.  I truly feel lucky that I was one of those coaches that experienced the “Jazzy effect”.

On the scholarly side our athlete was an NCS scholar athlete 8 times, recipient of the MHS Boosters Scholarship, NCS Foundation Scholarship and a perfect unweighted GPA of 4.0 while taking a mixed IB/AP Honors curriculum.  She was also a finalist for the Redwood Empire Scholar Athlete Award.  This was accomplished with a full slate of volunteer opportunities and a part time job at a local Engineering firm.  It was said best by one of her teachers; “she will crawl inside your heart, make herself comfortable and while there remodel the place making room for more.”

Our scholar athlete will continue her education and running career on a partial scholarship at Division 2, Academy of the Arts University in San Francisco majoring in Fashion Design.  I expect to see her continue to achieve in both her running and scholarship. This Fall she will be running in the black and red colors of the Urban Knights. Please give a warm welcome to the former MHS Viking:

JASMINE ‘JAZZY’ BECKER

 

Our final ER scholarship recipient almost doesn’t need an introduction.  She has spent more time on the sports pages of the Press Democrat than almost any other high school athlete in the last 30 years.  She also happens to be arguably the greatest combi track and field athlete ever in the Redwood Empire and maybe the state; boy or girl.  Our recipient finished her high school career #1 All-Time Redwood Empire in the 100(11.87), 200(24.17), 400(54.07), 300LH(42.68) and the 400LH(62.18).  These are State Meet level times and she medaled at that meet in the 200, 400 qualifying in at least one event all 4 years.  Her 300LH time was run early in the season and was about 0.5 sec behind the eventual state meet winner.  Her 400H time run only once this year at Stanford in early April was #2 in the nation. Per her coach, “she is willing to perform any event except the PV to get points for the team”.  Anything includes both relays where she led her 400R team to #2 AT in 3:55 qualifying for the State Meet, the DT and SP where she not only produced valuable points but finished 25th and 45th AT in the RE.  She also ended up #3 AT in the LJ (18’11”) which she jumped freshman year only.

If that body of work doesn’t impress you she also ran XC Soph/JR and was her school’s top runner both years, finishing 1st team All League and All RE her junior year with a PR of 19:34 on SLC.  Winning races from 100M to 5K is virtually unheard of in California.  If that isn’t impressive her coach noted how inspirational she is as a team leader both in XC and in Track especially tutoring the new runners in baton passing.

One might think that our scholar athlete is just physically gifted but she also had health issues after her freshman year and worked hard to recover and come back stronger and better while finding great solace with her team; training and racing.  While performing at the highest level athletically our student grant recipient also performed admirably in the classroom with an unweighted GPA of 3.6 in an honors level curriculum, including Spanish and Italian all the while a member of the symphonic band in the School of Arts.  She not only succeeds in the classroom she also peer tutors in Sports Medicine class.

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Her high school experience has prepared her for success at the next level both in sports and academically.  She has accepted a scholarship to attend UC Davis in the Fall and plans to major in Political Science with a minor in Spanish.  Picking her events may be difficult and will probably include a relay or two and the 400H but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t follow her fellow alumni, Wendi Simmons and end up a national level heptathlete. Whatever happens she has a clear plan with multiple short-term goals to improve consistently throughout college and minimize the stress.  Our final scholarship winner will be trading the orange and black of SRHS for the blue and white and becoming a lifelong Aggie.  I am proud to present to you:

KIRSTEN CARTER

 

This article written by Brad Zanetti,

co-chair along with Paul Berg of the ER Student Grant Fund.

 

Bubbas Bend Bombast

The 10-year Boston Marathon anniversary was marked by this trip to Central Oregon where the Empire Runners 60-64 contingent stood out in the half-marathon and 10K events in Bend on Sunday. Mild-mannered Bob “The Ginger” Rogers was anything but, turning in a 1:38 half to edge out teammate Frank “The Quiet Storm” Cuneo, aka “Boxcar” Frank, by about a minute to take the division crown. A full 10 minutes would pass before a seriously undertrained Larry “Lazy Legs” Meredith came through in 4th place, narrowly eclipsing his 1:50 pre-race prediction and just seconds ahead of “Demon” Dale Peterson, who waged a courageous and successful battle with a Buffalo Chip over the final mile.IMG_4264

In the 10,000-meter event Paul “Ice” Berg, coming off a victory in the IPA 10K, was running hot in the cool morning air of Bend, breaking 46 minutes to nail down the silver medal in the age group. “Breaking” Brad Zanetti, despite being held up for 30 seconds or more at an inexplicable traffic stop, came home in the bronze position.IMG_1907

“Rowdy” Robin Stovall was set to represent our feminine side in the 5K but a last-minute misfortune kept her from making the start.IMG_2117

Off the course the Thirsty Boys were just as dominant, collecting 11 brewery stamps on our way to a major award presented to us by the local visitors center. Other off-course highlights included hikes along the waterfall-rich Paulina Creek and through the spectacularly craggy Smith Rock State Park. In summary, another memory-filled adventure for this group of running buddies.IMG_1993

Recap by Coach Larry Meredith, mostly true, although some details had to remain in Oregon.

Have Fun while Rebuilding Our Parks with Tahoe Ragnar Relay

“So much was lost in these devastating fires, and yet the sense of community and camaraderie in Sonoma County has never been stronger. We’ve come together to form an alliance, and challenge ourselves to raise money to help rebuild our local parks – the parks that bring our community together and provide respite from this stressful and painful experience. We will be running in Tahoe this summer to raise funds for the parks and hope that other runners coming to Ragnar Trail Tahoe this year will be inspired to help us with our mission to raise at least $40,000 for the parks restoration effort. Join us to help our community remain #SonomaStrong.”  -Justin Borton

It all started with Taylor Mountain Tuesdays. 3 years ago, Justin Borton and his small cohort of die-hard Sonoma County trail runners began meeting at 6:30 sharp every Tuesday morning to tackle the 1300-foot behemoth at the heart of Taylor Mountain Regional Park. Their goal is to make it up to the summit and back down before most Sonoma County residents have had breakfast, rain or shine.

The brutal climb hasn’t grown much over the years, but Borton’s network of Sonoma County trail runners certainly has. Ranging from weekend warriors to elite athletes, this group has formed the base of the #SonomaStrong Parks Restoration Challenge.

Berg04ShilohCreated in the wake of the most devastating wildfires in California history, the goal of the #SonomaStrong Parks Restoration Challenge is to raise at least $40,000 to directly benefit the Sonoma County Parks. Borton hopes to build 10 relay teams, comprised of 75+ runners, to represent Sonoma County at Ragnar Tahoe this year, with proceeds being donated directly to Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation Wildfire Restoration Fund.

Taking place on July 20-21 at Royal Gorge, this event offers a different format than other relays. Instead of waiting your turn to run along the highway in a cramped van, this relay is centered around a base camp area with 3 routes originating and ending in the camp. Each of 8 team members runs the 3 loops consecutively over approximately 24 hours. The comfort and camaraderie of all the teams being in the same location will create a convivial yet competitive atmosphere. Details of the relay are at https://www.runragnar.com/event-detail/trail/tahoe_ca

Empire Runners is teaming up with #SonomaStrong Parks Restoration Challenge to increase awareness of the strength of our running community and raise money for the parks. Ragnar has agreed to turn over a large portion of entry fees to the cause, plus Borton and his crew are raising  donations and schwag from sponsors. We plan to have a large camp area specifically for our Sonoma county group, plus lots of fun during and after the running. Some of the local health clubs and running companies are also fielding teams, so this is shaping up to be the event not to miss.

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Here’s the link to sign up  https://goo.gl/4pBZ3A.       Register here instead of at the Ragnar site, and please make a note that you are registering to be on a #SonomaStrong Empire Runners Team. We need all speeds and abilities, we will assign teams as the date draws near. If you want to participate as a non-runner, as a crew helper or support staff, sign up as well and we’ll have a group meeting later.

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(All photos courtesy of Sonoma County Regional Parks staff)

Student Grant Fund Awardees 2017

The Empire Runners have a long-standing commitment to providing scholarships to deserving student athletes of Sonoma County making the transition from high school to college. Made possible by dues and contributions from our members, we are giving our 4 recipients a total of $5000 in scholarship awards this year. All club members should be proud of the part they play in this most wonderful of traditions through generous donations.

These four student-athletes will be formally introduced and awarded their scholarship checks at the Kenwood Footrace on July 4th. Please join us in congratulating these outstanding young members of our running community.

Our first recipient comes from a large family of Empire Runners. He began his athletic career as a varsity soccer player at Windsor High. With the changing of the boys soccer season to the spring, the Fall 2016 became open to explore cross country, and through determination and hard work he made varsity his very first year. As a first year runner, his coach was very impressed with his positive attitude and hard work.

To just discuss this athlete’s athletic accomplishments would be a disservice to his academic career. This scholarship student is not only a 4.5+ GPA but also graduated #1 in his class and was the Salutatorian at Windsor HS. His teachers speak of him in glowing terms not just because of his GPA but rather the impact he has in the classroom, bringing the level up for his fellow students. Our first recipient will be continuing his studies at UC Irvine and continuing his running in intramurals and we are looking forward to him coming home and running more Empire Runner events.

Please join us in recognizing this future Anteater, from Windsor High School: Dylan Moberly

 

Our next recipient also began his running career later after playing soccer and basketball his first 2 years of high school, finding his way to cross country and track his junior year. In his first year of cross country his impact was evident as he was voted most inspirational and accompanied his teammate who had qualified for the State XC Championships in Fresno. He has been an outstanding track and field athlete for Rincon Valley Christian running the 400, 800, 1600, triple jump and discus. His true passion is the pole vault where in just 2 years he has already cleared 12’9” and qualified for the NCS Meet of Champions. He has a PR of 18:00 on the Spring Lake Course which he then matched on a more difficult course at the NCS XC Championships.

This fine multi talented athlete has also had a strong and varied scholastic career, carrying a 3.75 GPA and excelling in music and piano. What impressed the committee the most was his thought that the influence of cross country has made him a better student. In his own words, “by making running a lifestyle, running 5 miles will not phase the individual. When something difficult becomes familiar, then other concepts become easier. Therefore, after running 5 miles, a test or paper no longer appeared difficult”.

This talented scholarship athlete will be continuing his studies and furthering his athletic career at SRJC. Coach Wellman is looking forward to this XC and multi-talented track and field athlete staying local and perhaps developing his decathlon skills.

We welcome this new Bear Cub, from Rincon Valley Christian HS: Nicholas Dolan

 

Our third scholarship recipient is the classic story of a runner with no experience who joins the XC team mostly for its social aspects, gets comfortable, works hard, sets goals… did we say works hard? Then she finally achieves her goal to run Varsity and has her best 2 races of her life at NBL, then NCS. Through her 4 years with the XC and track families at Santa Rosa High it wasn’t all just a meteoric rise but rather peaks and valleys, failures and achievements. But overall it looks like this classic story is just the first part of a multi-part sojourn with the next sequel being able to run at her chosen university.

From a 9 minute miler in her first XC race to a PR of 20:39 at NBL her senior season, she followed with the same time at NCS on a notoriously harder course. Her best team finish ever fulfilled her goals for XC and with this new found strength led her to success on the track.

Yet metrics alone fail in comparison to her impact on team dynamics, her hard work, toughness and respect she both earns and gives.

An excellent student with a GPA above 4.4 in a dedicated all honors and Art Quest curriculum, this recipient also filled her spare time with volunteering at a variety of events including a 6 year commitment at the Sonoma County Animal Shelter.

With a plan to direct her college career at Scripps University in the area of literature and writing with a goal of becoming an author, our third scholarship recipient can very well write her own sequel to this memorable story.

We’re pleased to recognize this former Panther and new Athena, from Santa Rosa HS: Samantha Baker

 

Our final scholarship recipient ran with the SR Express as a middle schooler but began his high school athletics on the football field. When he was recruited for the track team his running began in earnest. Natural ability led him to perform at an all-league level this first track year and continued well through junior year in XC and had him qualify to NCS. But that was not enough for this talented runner; his habit of setting “strong” goals drove him to improve his summer training regimen with the goal qualifying to State. He was a top area XC runner this last season with a PR of 15:32 (34th AT) on the SLC. A 9th place at NCS qualified him to State and his 11th place finish in his very first time on the difficult 5K Woodward Park course was evidence of his talent and commitment. It was more of the same in track with excellent times of 4:29 and 9:32 in the 1600 and 3200 respectively and a qualification to the NCS Meet of Champions. He was All Empire 1st Team in XC and Track.

Through all of this, our fine student athlete maintained a 3.6 GPA and worked at Fleet Feet as a shoe fitter. His outgoing nature, shoe knowledge and social ease makes him a top seller. His small team at Rincon Valley Christian often worked out with a combined group of Montgomery HS runners, to the benefit for all involved. He also volunteered regularly with Church events.

Commitment, strong goal setting and the determination to achieve those goals make this scholarship recipient attractive to a number of collegiate coaches. Those of us who follow College XC and Track will keep an eye out for him at Master’s University in Santa Clarita.

From Rincon Valley Christian HS we are pleased to present: Wes Methum

Fun in the Sun

Aug16Berg01The second annual Empire Runners Member Appreciation picnic was held on Sunday, August 28 at Morton’s Warm Springs resort. This event is the brain-child of Peter Kirk as a way to get members together in a social environment, including families and friends, to celebrate our friendship and do something other than run. In that vein, there was softball, bocce, cornhole and mystery games organized by Tori Meredith. We were happy to see several families new to the club, brave souls who figured it was a good time to meet fellow runners.

In keeping with the spirit of member appreciation, this is no BYO potluck affair, but fully catered and carefree, with appetizers and salads by the famous Tag’s deli from Novato (long-time club member and race director Al Tagliaferri), and grilled burgers and sausages cooked up by Peter’s team of volunteers.

Since every picture tells a story, here are a few from the festivities….

 

 

‘Tis the Season by Paul Berg

No, don’t worry I’m not going to start celebrating Christmas at Labor Day, or bring out the carols before Thanksgiving, but the date on the calendar that I get most worked up for is upon us: Cross Country season. The transition of summer to fall is on display as we eat some hot dust at our home opener and Garin Park in September, maybe some mud to slosh through by the time we hit China camp at Halloween, to a crisp morning in Golden Gate Park in November. Friendly rivalries emerge anew each year, age-group teams reconfigure as some of us get older, while others manage to stay ageless.

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Your club has once again made a big commitment to subsidizing entry fees and uniforms, making it possible for nearly 100 runners to compete wearing the feared Empire Runner singlet. Carpools at an ungodly weekend hour serve to strengthen our resolve to give it our all and cheer on our teammates. Foggy memories of glory days fade as we toe the starting line, no matter how fast or fit we are today, the adrenaline kicks in as the gun goes off. Even if you’re not running for the Empire Runners team this year, I encourage you to search out a local race, maybe a high school or JC meet at Spring Lake, and come out and cheer the past and future heroes of our sport.

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Back to the Future, by Paul Berg

Imagine the freeway heading east past Farmers Lane, parallel to Hoen Avenue, across that puddle formerly known as Spring Lake, carving a big chunk off Annadel State Park as it zooms past Oakmont on the way to Sonoma. That image sounds like a terrible idea today, but that was the vision of CalTrans engineers in the early 60’s. With that plan for the freeway, the state of California purchased a large swath of empty lots extending from the end of what became Highway 12 at Farmers Lane, past Montgomery high school all the way up past Summerfield Road and beyond. In 1960 Santa Rosa had a population of 31,000 residents, mostly clustered north of College Avenue and downtown. Flash forward to today, Santa Rosa has swelled 5 fold in population, eating up the surrounding ranchland in all directions. An aerial map curiously reveals a 52 acre chunk of empty land neatly nestled in the middle of town.

JUne16Berg3“So what does this have to do with me?” you might ask, and “why is this bit of trivia on the Empire Runners blog?”.

About five years ago a group called the Southeast Greenway Project approached us with the germ of an idea about acquiring this land and turning it into a huge green space including running and cycling trails. Empire Runners was one of the early groups to see the potential of this for the community, and we’ve been donating seed money to do studies, hire consultants and assess the feasibility of the idea. A large open space surrounded by urban development rarely comes available in any city, a blank slate for to imagine what we want to make best use of this resource.

June16Berg4At our May meeting, we were given an update by 2 members of the committee on the progress to date and a few of the hurdles in the near future. As you can imagine, there are many layers of bureaucracy to cut through, from state ownership to overlapping city agencies all wanting to be involved. The dedicated volunteers of the Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway have been working tirelessly to get input from the public on what we would like to include in this project. I urge you to sign up for updates on their website http://www.southeastgreenway.org/ and envision what a game-changer this could be for our area, and feel proud that your club is helping to move this along.

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Training the Brain, by Paul Berg

April16Berg1Maybe you’ve heard the ads targeting our over-stimulated and aging population: “Brain fitness to challenge memory and attention with scientific brain games. Used by over 70 million people”. A quick Google search will reveal dozens of companies claiming to improve memory through brain fitness schemes. Most of these programs approach the problem by devising brainteasers, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles or pattern-recognition games to “exercise” the brain as if it were some ordinary muscle. By analyzing your answers and/or reaction times, the algorithms can make the tests incrementally more challenging, theoretically improving brain fitness.

As I’ve reached the age where I’ve begun to worry about forgetfulness and lack of sharpness, I was intrigued by a study last week in Neurology (“the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology”). The study followed about 900 older people over the course of twenty years. The researchers judged how much exercise the people were getting, and then over the course of more than a decade, they judged their mental capabilities using memory and logic tests and MRIs.

At the end, the study showed people who intensely exercised had brains that looked and performed 10 years younger than their peers. Those people were both quicker at figuring things out and had better memories. The researchers note that it wasn’t just any exercise- the benefit came for the people who got regular moderate to intense exercise, like running or aerobics.

Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.

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How often have you been given the advice “sleep on it” when facing a big decision?  A better idea may be to “run on it”, as there’s nothing like a good run to clear the mind and allow you to focus your thoughts. Whenever I’ve faced a big business decision or creative challenge, if I’m able to take an hour to clear my head on a moderate trail run, the decision is often waiting for me at the end.

If you’ve been reading the Empire Runners blog for long, you know that runners are smart people, and now you have the evidence to prove it! Run happy, run smart.

Source: http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2016/03/23/WNL.0000000000002582.short