All posts by Paul Berg

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

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 and envision what a game-changer this could be for our area, and feel proud that your club is helping to move this along.


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.


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.


Running S.M.A.R.T.

It must be January. I just logged on to reserve an evening slot at my TRX gym for tomorrow night, and the dreaded “wait list” message popped up. Most of the year there’s enough space for everyone to get into their preferred class, but January brings out the New Years Resolution folks with good intentions. I won’t be petty enough to say aloud “they won’t last long”, but resolutions are hard, and easily broken.

My favorite article on the ER blog this month is Mike Wortman’s article on running S.M.A.R.T., where he breaks down those letters to lead us on the path to successful running goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. It’s a great formula for sticking to your resolutions, especially when added to the ER secret weapon: training partners. When you’ve articulated your goals to the runners that you normally train with, motivation and commitment become that much easier. So make your SMART resolutions, wear them on your sleeve, and get out there and soar!


So I’ve done it again. Depending on your perspective, I’ve been elected, drafted or sentenced to being club president for another year. Fortunately, we have continuity and enthusiasm on the Board of Directors, with Tanya Narath and Luis Rosales joining Karen Frindell-Tuescher, Nuvit Salz and Chris Mason, with Peter Kirk replacing long-serving Bill Browne. Thanks to some stalwart and dedicated volunteers we all have a great club to support and enjoy. Run Happy!

Jingle Your Bells…..Run, Dinner, and Meeting – Dec 17th

Everyone gets very busy this time of year, so we’ve decided to combine two December events into one, a mash-up of sorts, with the Jingle Bell run potluck combined with the annual membership meeting and Board election.

Located in the cozy dining room in the “Who-ville” complex across from Whole Foods on Yulupa, we will be hosted by Andrea Guzman and her chef extraordinaire husband Arturo.

This is a family-friendly event, a great opportunity to bring your non-runner partner and/or kids to show them how much fun we can have.

Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015
Location: Yulupa Co-Housing Common House
1350A Yulupa Avenue, Santa Rosa CA 95405

5:30 Jingle Bell Run (45 min) Bring your bells!

6:30 Socialize

6:45 Dinner

7:30 Club meeting and election of Board of Directors

8:00 Dessert

9:00 Bedtime

Chef Arturo Guzman, currently with St. Francis Winery, will prepare the main course.

If staying for dinner, please email an RSVP to Andrea ( and tell her who is coming. RSVP no later than Monday, December 14. Bring food and beverages to share.


Going out with a Bang, by Paul Berg

With the time change after summer, the kids back in school and the holidays fast approaching, life seems to reach peak velocity. And so it goes with the last two months of 2015 for the Empire Runners.

The XC season is coming to a head, with record participation and several close division races. With one more regular race on Nov 15 at Carmichael, November 22 brings us the PA championships in Golden Gate Park. Always a very competitive field, the excitement continues, as we’re fortunate to have the USATF Team Nationals in San Francisco this year on December 12. Even if you’re not racing, it’s worth coming out for the day to cheer your teammates and see some of the best adult runners in the country.

Not to be outdone, the Empire Runners club hosts several races in the next few months. My favorite antidote to Thanksgiving is the McGuire’s Breakfast run on November 29, a low-key (but hilly 10k) members-only event to help you re-enter the real world after the holiday. In mid-December we’ll be having our annual Jingle Bell run and potluck dinner. This is a great event to include your kids and/or non-running partner, as we walk and jog a few miles trying to sing on key, and then celebrate with a great meal. Back-to-back are two of our most popular races, the Last 10k on Dec 19, and the Resolution Run on January 1.


Not to be forgotten, we have some very important club member business, with elections for the new Board of Directors on December 17. You can vote online or by proxy ballot, or in person at the club meeting. This is direct democracy; help choose your representatives to assure that your club continues to prosper.

Last but not least, just as you’re thinking, “how can I get involved?” we ‘re looking for a party person to lead the organization of the annual Member Appreciation dinner on February 6. This is a fun event to organize, as it can be broken down into manageable chunks to delegate to eager volunteers. We need to find someone in the next two weeks to get rolling, so contact me at for details. Get involved; it’s YOUR club!


Community, by Paul Berg

If you’ve been around this club for very long, you’ve probably realized that some of the most memorable moments aren’t when we’re actually running. Chatting in the drizzle on a wintry Sunday morning, joking in the carpool as you head off to a XC race, sipping a cold one on a warm Thursday evening, cooling down after a track workout, catching up over coffee at Aromas on a leisurely Saturday, these are the times when we get to know each other in a lasting way.


A few weeks ago about 120 of our members and families enjoyed a perfect Sonoma Saturday at Morton’s Hot Springs resort. The brainchild of long-time running aficionado Peter Kirk, the idea was to get together and eat some food, play some games and celebrate our supportive community. The inimitable Tag’s deli provided tasty snacks, salads and burgers; several people noted that they appreciated the rare occasion when they could just show up and not have to bring a potluck item.


Tori Meredith, fresh back from her weeklong stint at PE teachers’ camp, coaxed volunteers to perform various odd games of skill  (or games of various odd skills?). All sorts of objects were hurled through the air as we exhibited our rusty talents at softball, Frisbee, volleyball and bocce. Families with kids were free to come and go to the warm spring-fed pools, and several newbie members were introduced around the picnic tables.


I got talking to a nice woman and her kids from Petaluma who’d joined the club at the Resolution Run but didn’t get much chance to run in Santa Rosa, and was wondering if there anyone there who could show her the Annadel Loop course. I moseyed us on over to a chatting group that included Shirley Fee, and soon a running date was arranged for early the next morning.


Your club funded the expenses, volunteers made it happen, and members new and old had a day to remember. That’s how we run. Supportive and competitive. Hard-working and fun. In it together. This is our tribe.


Got Hills? It’s XC Season, by Paul Berg

At the July 23 club meeting, the Board of Directors voted to increase financial support for the upcoming Cross-Country season to the tune of $6,000, an increase of over $2,000 from last year. The Empire Runners will now pay race entry fees for any member to participate in up to seven races in the upcoming fall season, regardless of whether the race is designated as a team race by your age-group team. There is no minimum number of races you must run in the season, and the club will provide the new stylish singlet to any member who participates. Adding extra excitement to this 2015 season is the fact that the National Championships will be held on our home turf, Golden Gate Park, on December 12. The club will also pay entry fees for approx. 60 ER members to participate in this national event.

USATF PA XC Finals at Golden Gate Park, Nov 16 2014. To see all the photos, go to the Empire Shutterfly page,
USATF PA XC Finals at Golden Gate Park, Nov 16 2014. To see all the photos, go to the Empire Shutterfly page,

Regardless of you age and ability, racing XC is all about participation. The camaraderie of meeting up for the carpool on race day, warming up with your teammates, strategizing the race and supporting each other is what it’s all about. Seeing a sea of ER singlets powering up a hill in a blur of runners is a sight to behold.


If you’ve never run XC or have dropped out the past few years, I encourage you to go to and check out the definitive and thorough guide that John Harmon has prepared. You won’t regret it.


It’s Track Time, by Paul Berg

I hope you caught the fantastic piece in the Press Democrat a few weeks ago about the Summer Track Series. The article captures the spirit of this popular meet, which is hosted each year by the Empire Runners at a different high school and regularly draws 250 competitors on each of five alternating Tuesdays. Berg15July1

The longer days and warm evenings have also inspired a lot of energy and friendly track competition among Empire Runners. On the Tuesdays when there is not a scheduled meet at Santa Rosa HS, about 25 runners regularly toe the line at Montgomery HS track. Coach Larry Meredith has designed a set of workouts with a variety of paces and distances, often in the 200m to 800m range, to simulate race effort but at a shorter distance. I personally prefer racing on trails and roads, but these track sessions help develop pacing and turnover without the threat of crashing on boulders. Published monthly on the website as the Training Calendar, runners of various abilities are able gauge their efforts in a fun supportive environment. I’m excited to see that the end of this month (July 28) brings one of my favorite annual events, Lawn Relays in front of SRJC. Larry usually devises a clever handicapping formula to get us all finishing in a humid mass at the final oak tree, guaranteed to get you ready for XC season.


Canyonlands Half-Marathon, Moab Utah, by Paul Berg

I hadn’t intended this to be a running destination vacation, but it was a nice reward at the end of a 2-week road trip. Hilda and I had been planning to do a driving and hiking trip to southern Utah for a while, so we blocked out our route and I began looking for interesting places to stay. I called the Desert Hills B&B in Moab after some favorable reviews on TripAdvisor to inquire about availability, and the owner asked, “are you coming for the half marathon that weekend?” I told her no, but my curiosity was piqued, so I checked out the website, found a lovely video of the start of the race down the Colorado River canyon, and I signed up. We flew to Las Vegas, rented an SUV and meandered our way 2000 miles in 15 days. We made good use of our vehicle, exploring back roads to visit slot canyons and petroglyphs, ending every day with the feeling that today had been a real adventure. As anyone who has a non-running partner knows, hiking, no matter how strenuous, is not the same as running. Although we hiked 7-10 miles a day at over 5000ft altitude, I felt that 2 weeks of that and no running was not a good idea for half marathon training. I managed to get in two 45-minute runs at Zion NP the first week, but our robust time schedule was not allowing much more. On Tuesday before the Saturday race, I had a major crisis when I struggled through an 8-mile workout in 1:22, over 10 mins per mile, which was a lot slower than my goal. After I calmed down, I realized that we were at 7500 ft. elevation, and later in the car I clocked the distance at 10 miles, which made it closer to 8:15/mile. Celebrating its 40th year, the Canyonlands Half Marathon at the end of March is the informal beginning of tourist season in Utah, coinciding with spring break. Moab was buzzing, every vehicle in town seemed to have a roof rack and/or to be towing an assortment of ATVs, Jeeps and mountain bikes. At the expo I got into a long conversation with the town’s tourism director, who moved to Moab from Benicia 35 years ago as the last uranium mines were closing. The remaining 6 families didn’t want to leave, and someone came up with the idea to promote mountain biking, and the rest, as they say, is history. Three other guests from the B&B were also running the half, and our hosts were very accommodating in having food available for us at 5:30 AM. The others were extra cautious about arrival time to the bus, over my objection, so we arrived very early to the park where we were to assemble, then boarded the first bus for the 13-mile drive up the canyon on Highway 128 to the start. The advantage of arriving so early was I had the pick of the best rock to camp out on, made more comfortable by the last minute addition of my REI inflatable camp pillow. I soon found myself in a lively discussion about Utah and its quirks, since it seemed like most people running were originally not from Utah, but many were recent non-Mormon transplants to Salt Lake City.


I had been told that this March race can often be very windy, but that was not the case today. It was still in the 40’s when we had to abandon our gear and head to the starting line, so we had a cold half hour anticipating the start and the predicted warmer morning ahead. My goal was to try to run 7:30 mile pace, so I found a 1:40 pace group and off we went. The scenery was as spectacular as advertised, red sandstone canyon following the meandering Colorado River, comfortable rolling hills, starting at 4200 ft elevation with a net drop of only 200 feet. The highway was closed to all traffic for the morning, so my 3000 friends and I had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the stunning views. Within 2 miles we were in sunshine and it warmed up quickly, so I was happy to have chosen my ER singlet, and later welcomed the road back into canyon shade. I somehow got a bit ahead of my pace group and dropped in with another pack, and was pleased to hit the 8 mile mark at exactly one hour. The only real hill on the course was at mile 9, but I handled it well, dropping off pace about 20 seconds, but still OK. After 11 miles of dramatic red canyons, the course headed south to the outskirts of Moab, and finished at the city park where we’d boarded buses hours earlier. Of course there was the usual pain, doubt, determination, pity, loathing, euphoria and self-analysis that accompanies the last stretch of a hard effort, but I was pleased with my 1:38:57 finish. I took it as a milestone finally marking the end of my one year of injury, my hip didn’t bother me and, even if it was only the 4% Utah variety, there was cold beer at the end.


Big-Time Club Changes Coming Soon to You by Paul Berg

That’s the lead story of the Empire Runners newsletter for May 2005 (no typo), so I thought I could just recycle the headline exactly 10 years later. The big news of 2005 was the newsletter going online, emailed in PDF format, with a $5 discount for those members who chose to not receive a printed, mailed copy. For the first time, we were able to join the club online, instead of using a paper form and snail mail, although electronic race registration was still a few years off. Other tidbits include: our bank balance was $5500, a proposal for chip timing at Kenwood, and the first Empire run at Lake Sonoma by yours truly and my middle school daughter. (For the full May 2005 newsletter, click the “Back in the day” tab on the left.)

While that issue of the newsletter provides a perspective of how far we’ve come as a successful, vibrant organization, this month marks another momentous leap forward. In an effort to improve communication and participation, we’re entering the 21st century by launching the new Empire Runners blog. A talented gang of four, Doug Murdoch, Dale Petersen, Chris Mason and Dave Abbott, have been working tirelessly since January on the look and feel of the user experience, and the results are impressive. I encourage you to just wander around the site, clicking on what interests you, and I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it quickly. The logical links, bold photos and interesting content is sure to make us look back in 2025 and say “what took so long?”.