Category Archives: MEMBER PROFILES

Profiles of members in the club.

Alec Isabeau—A Man Who Followed His Bliss, by Michael Weddington

(From the author Michael Weddington: The following are some of my reflections on the Alec ‘Doc’ Isabeau I knew. Although I hadn’t spent much time with Alec at all over the last 15 years as I’ve moved from Santa Rosa with my family to first Sacramento, then Maui, Boulder, and now Folsom, the memories I have are vivid.)

It was a blazing hot Tuesday afternoon track workout at SRJC, circa summer of 1992. As I recall, the temperature was about 95 degrees, and well over 100 on the simmering cinder surface. A group of us less-than-intelligent Thirsty Boys were slogging our way through an interminable series of life-sapping mile repeats. It was one of those forever-workouts where just getting to the next lap without keeling over in ignominy was the principal goal.

When our Sisyphean labors were finally completed, I think I collapsed onto the boiling track into a pile of quivering, melting goo, oblivious of passing runners. A moment later, I distinctly remember a voice piercing my state of delirium—against all reason—with the following, utterly irrational sentiment: “Ahhh, isn’t it GREAT to be alive?” It was Alec. Vintage Alec.

Alec ‘Doc’ Isabeau, Lou ‘Postman’ Garcia, John ‘Mojo’ Royston and I standing
proud and wobbly at the conclusion of a grueling trek in the High Sierra.

Like many Empire Runners, I first met ‘Doc’ as a patient. I had recently moved to Santa Rosa from Davis in the Spring of 1986, and I think by that Fall or the following Spring I was dealing with some nagging running injuries. I soon discovered that we shared some interesting similarities; we were nearly exactly the same age, and we both had been told earlier in our twenties by so-called sports doctors that we’d likely never run again. In his typical laugh-in-the-face of adversity manner, Alec used this nay-saying as motivation to first heal himself, then others. I was of a multitude who benefited greatly from his chiropractic expertise.

In his friendly, low-key and folksy manner, Alec tried to recruit me into the Empire Runners then, but I was pre-occupied at the time with earning a teaching credential at Sonoma State and preparing for a teaching stint overseas. However, when I returned to Santa Rosa in 1991, I eventually found myself showing up at a Tuesday Afternoon track workout (during more temperate conditions) to see what this Empire Runner thing was all about. I had a whale of a time. Alec was there, as well as Larry and my good friend Peter Kirk, who made his Empire debut the very same day. I recall a grinning, convivial Doc back-slapping me into the club, before proceeding to rudely grind me into the oval rubber during the workout. I was hooked.

The Empire Runner Thirsties Invade Davis
(Top row) Alec, Scottie Ames, Peter Kirk, unidentified, myself;
(Bottom) Terry McNeill, Bob Rogers, Mike Duggan, Jim Coughlan

During the following decade, I had the privilege and pleasure of serving as club biographer, newsletter editor, president, event director, and unofficial historian. I estimate during that period of meeting up with ‘Doc’ at perhaps 500 or so workouts, races, club events, backpacking excursions, and so forth. And I found that, curiously, the more time I spent with Alec, the more enigmatic he became.

Like any complex individual, Alec was a study in contrasts. He could horse-play with the best of them in relaxed social situations, and his proclivity for rapid-fire repartee was legendary. He loved to exchange quips at settings like the Spring Lake parking lot before the commencement of an hour of lactic acid overload. However—unlike some habitual needlers—he was humble and secure enough to regularly engage in self-deprecation and wasn’t above playing the fool with a goofy expression or outfit.

As much as he keenly enjoyed and occasionally reveled with near-abandon in the company of kindred souls, however, Alec was prone to slipping into silence and contemplation depending on the situation. To my eye, he best recharged his energies in the solitude of his beloved forests and mountains with often nary a word spoken. During our shared backpacking trips, Alec could go hours without commenting on more than the route at hand, his innermost thoughts a mystery.

Unlike many individuals (especially males) of exceptional and well-rounded intellect, Alec was disinclined to show others how smart he was. Even when discussing topics of which he was especially versed (such as conservative healthcare), Doc was generally informative without being argumentative. Even as I discovered after a time that he could actually harbor some strong opinions on various matters, I found he largely kept them to himself and consistently conducted himself—as far as I could see—with geniune respect for others.

Lest one get the idea from my developing portrait that Alec was some kind of gentle, secular saint, he I’m sure would be the first to ridicule the idea. As gentle and welcoming as Alec could be around his patients at the office or in greeting a new member to the club, in his heyday he was one exceedingly tough S.O.B. out on the trail, track or road. Through sheer force of his magnetic presence and strategic cajoling, he often bent Thursday group training runs to his will, choosing contrarian routes and a punishing pace that suited his personal desires. And with a sadistic flourish, he had a knack of ending a brief group bathroom break and rest just as laggards (such as occasionally Peter Kirk and I) finally caught up to him on the slopes of some steep Annadel trail or another, only to taste his clouding dust as he and his fitter cohorts that day mercilessly blasted off once more.

The Greatest Cross-Country Team in Sonoma County History?
Our Empire Runner 1994 Pacific Association squad that nearly
took down a professional Reebok Aggie team: Eric Walker,
Kenny Brown, Todd Trask, Mike Stone, Dan Aldridge, Scott Pierce,
Dave Rodriguez, Alec, Brian Purcell, Martin Jones, Bob Rogers, Eric Bohn

Other than during some of his hosted Monday Night runs on Yolo Court or a Club Jingle Bell Run he might have frequented with me, I rarely saw him run or hike without it seeming like there was no tomorrow. For someone with a French family name who liked to sport his euro cycling cap in his garage at home, he was as quintessentially American as they come in a kind of John Muir meets Gary Cooper way. With his rugged embrace of the outdoors, irreverent humor, a constant drive to test and improve upon his physical and mental limits, his desire to help others, and a cool mustache, one could easily envision ‘Doc’ Isabeau serving as a roving country doctor on the fringes of the 1870’s western frontier.

Away from competitive track and trail, Alec’s leadership style underwent a remarkable transformation. When encountering him at our monthly meetings, races, social gatherings, or other organized settings, I found Alec to be a true servant leader. Humble, a careful and active listener, a deliberative and inclusive decision-maker who strove to blend wide-ranging consensus with a thorough analysis of the situation before proposing, supporting and executing policy decisions. He tended to let others most of the talking before jumping in. He avoided making any particular issue or problem become personal. He led, most of all, through example.

To those who got to know him, Alec could display another aspect of his multi-faceted persona; he could be quite the outdoorsman geek in a boyish way. He loved his trucks (‘rigs’, he liked to call them) and outdoor gear, and would endlessly debate and strategize with Mojo the wisest use of winches and cables, belay and rappel devices, topo maps and ice axes. If around, I’d have to eventually tune out from techno overload. On the other hand, I can understand very well how Doc would fade out himself when, Peter, Larry, myself and other track, football, & baseball nerds might start tossing around mile PRs, state meet performances, passing percentages, batting averages, and playoff records. Organized sports trivia didn’t really light Alec’s fire.

Assessing Alec’s legacy—particularly in relation to the Empire Runners—is daunting task. For over thirty action-packed years, he dedicated a considerable portion of his mind, body, and spirit to creating community through outdoor activity. Like other long-time club stalwarts such as Tori and Larry Meredith, Bob Shor, Tanya Narath, Doug Courtemarche, Pam Horton, Lisa Isabeau, John Royston, Vall Sell, Dale Peterson, Shelly Lydon, Jerry Lyman, Dan Preston, Al Tagliaferri, Cathy Dubay, Mike McGuire, Dan Aldridge, and Peter Kirk (please forgive me for excluding here so many other worthies; my mind momentarily draws a blank), as well as more recent club movers and shakers that I unfortunately lack knowledge of, Alec was essentially responsible for making Sonoma County a healthier, more interesting, and more welcoming place with his unflagging efforts and salutory attitude.

Alec was a superb runner. He came to racing relatively late from competitive cycling, and did not really have the track background that many of his elite competition possessed. Where Alec particularly stood out was on the trail. His top times in our club’s Loop and Loop de Loop events, in addition to the Ilsanjo 10 mile and—most notably—the legendary Dipsea race in Marin County (where Alec earned at least three prized ‘Black Shirts’, I believe), compared favorably to many racers who otherwise boasted 10K track or road times 2 to 3 minutes faster than Alec’s. Doc was simply fearless on the trail, and the more arduous, the happier he was. At his best, he had both the springiness of a deer and the agility of a big cat over hills and dales. But most of all, he possessed a nearly unmatched ability to suffer on the trail in relentless pursuit of his goals. I remember the time when I think he was at his fittest. He was under Danny Aldridge’s tutelege in preparation for I think the 1994 or 95 edition of the Dipsea, and it was a Tuesday at the SRJC track. Danny was tapering Alec for the big day with a Mile-1320-880-440 interval set. I remember Alec being in the zone. His workout times as I recall were an amazing 4:48 – 3:30 – 2:16 – 59 with a short rest in between. Not bad for an avowed trail runner!

Alec was one of the most integrative people I have ever met, across many different walks of life. That is to say, his vocation, avocations, and character were remarkably in harmony with one another across the vicissitudes of time. I did not know him to be one to spend much time on idle amusements that did not directly feed one of his passions: Outdoor activity, spending quality time with Lisa and/or some of his other good friends in the club and beyond, contributing at a club event, or engaging in his professional practice. He practiced what he preached, stayed remarkably true to his passions and goals, and consistently treated others the way I believe he generally wished to be treated. In other words, as Larry and others have so astutely noted, Alec made the most of his time in this life. His lifespan as measured by earthly orbits around our sun may seem tragic in its brevity, and yet he packed the experiences and exuded the infectious joie de vivre of multiple normal lifetimes into his alloted moment.

The late mythologist Joseph Campbell opined (to paraphrase) that it isn’t really that people are searching and grasping for the meaning of life. Rather, it is the experience of being fully alive that we truly seek and crave. In this sense, I think Alec lived more truly than many of us. It seems to me that he continually pushed his mind, body and spirit to the limits not so much for worldly reasons, but rather to brush up to the very razor’s edge of transcendence itself. Although anything but a proponent of organized religion, it seemed to me from afar (Lisa and Mojo, among others, would be much better judges) that Alec shared a spiritual orientation towards the great outdoors embraced and espoused by many of the great American transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Walt Whitman, John Muir, and Louisa May Alcott.

I read this quote by Muir, and I think of Alec:

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail (Our National Parks, 1901, Page 56).

In his ground-breaking studies of the archetypal hero across cultures and ages, Joseph Campbell often exemplified his insights with epic stories of legendary figures of days gone by. However, he also emphasized how every person—no matter how ‘ordinary’—has the potential to become an authentic hero in the mythological sense. The key was not only to courageously deal with the various challenges that arise within one’s evolving circumstances as a way to internally develop, but also to then bring one’s hard-earned insights to one’s home and community in order to serve others. And when one’s accomplishes this when also engaging in pursuits that nourish one’s deepest life passions, one is truly ‘following their bliss’, as Campbell said.

Alec Isabeau followed his bliss. And he will be sorely missed. I can only imagine what his beloved life partner Lisa Isabeau (nee Titus), surviving family members, and closest friends are experiencing in terms of loss. And what an enormous loss to our club and community it has been to also lose such long-time members as John ‘Mojo’ Royston, Bob Shor, Dan Preston, Ernst Bohn, George Urdzik, and now—as I literally just find out—Mike McGuire! as well as other Empire Runner’s Club luminaries who have passed on in recent months and years. As Larry Meredith so eloquently expressed in his recent memorium of Alec’s life, he (and Mojo) tragically left us far too soon, insofar as these things go. However, we can best serve their legacies—and of all those devoted club members who have come and gone before us—by giving back to our respective communities whenever we have the time and energy. Perhaps more than in living memory, our nation needs community-building of the kind that bridges difference and strengthens meaningful connections. Let us meet the challenge and continue this important task in our own, unique ways. R.I.P. Doc.



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

New Member Spotlight: Thursday Night Run with Brian Ambrosini

Many of us had the pleasure of running with Brian on Thursday evening at Howarth Park for his first Empire Runners training run. Sure, he’s done a handful of races, but nothing could prepare him for Larry’s one-liners or Zanetti’s, well…Zanetti. Just kidding, the guys and gals are always extra pleasant around first-timers.

How long have you been a member of the Empire Runners?
I’ve been a member for 5 months now.

Why did you join the club?
I became a member to be part of a running community and motivate me to make time for exercising. Plus you get to run in a bunch of local events for free. What’s not to like?

How did you enjoy your first club training run?
It was great and I’ll definitely feel it in the morning. The group was inclusive and the runs allowed you to participate at your ability. There was beer at the end too!

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I once did a 2,200 mile National Parks road trip with my sister in under 3 days.

Interview with Robin Clark by Dale Peterson

Robin was born and raised in Willits about 90 miles north of Santa Rosa.  She grew up playing just about every sport that involved throwing, catching or shooting a ball.  By her own account she was a bit of a tomboy and loved the competitive nature of team sports. She played softball, volleyball, and basketball in middle and high school and football and baseball in elementary and junior high.
In high school, Robin started to get recruited by colleges to play both basketball and softball.  She decided to accept a scholarship offer to play basketball at the University of San Francisco.
After graduating from USF, Robin stayed another two years to  earn a her masters degree in Sports Administration/Management.  She got a part time job at a K-8 school in the city while working on her masters degree.  She loved working with children and coaching and started to consider teaching as a career.   Upon obtaining her teaching credential, she started teaching and coaching at the high school level but after a few years she decided she would rather coach the younger kids.  She ended up at Comstock Middle School on the west side of Santa Rosa teaching and coaching cross country, track, volleyball and basketball.
Robin lives in Healdsburg with her husband ( a retired PE/Biology teacher/track and field coach) and her Golden Retriever Amigo.
Robin became a runner after her college basketball playing days were done says that she loves the way running makes her feel and that she loves how she can get lost in her thoughts when running.
Robin is also  very competitive with her running and enjoys seeing her personal gains achievements as a runner.
Robin has qualified for the Boston Marathon twice and has a personal best of 3:29.
Robin says that nothing in her previous athletic experience that compares to running across the Boston Marathon finish line.
Robin would like to be able to run Boston in the future with some of the students she once taught and introduced to the sport of running.
You were quite an athlete growing up, competing in softball, basketball and volleyball.  When did you start running for the sake of running as opposed to as part of your training for other sports?
I started running for the sake of running my first year teaching.  My competitive athletic career was complete when I graduated from college and I knew I had to stay active and running became my sport of choice.  As a graduate student in the city , I started running daily in Golden Gate Park and really fell in love with the sport .  Some of my friends were runners and they encouraged me to sign up for the Bay to Breakers and I was hooked. By signing up for races, it has motivated me to really learn more about the sport and training for races.
You taught and coached at the high school level for four years before you realized that you wanted to work with the younger middle school aged kids.  What is it that draws you to the younger kids?

I taught high school for four years before switching to the middle school.  The younger kids are so excited to learn and have so much energy every day.  I absolutely love their willingness to try new things, get sweaty, and their silliness.  At the middle school level, I get to teach the kids everything for the first time.  I get to introduce them to new games, new sports and teach them how important living a healthy and active lifestyle will be throughout their entire lives.

Your background is primarily “ball sports” – how did you make the transition to coaching Cross-Country and Track?
 I started coaching cross country and track when I started teaching middle school.  At this point in my life, I had been running about 6 years and it was a huge part of my life.  The Comstock cross-country program had four students on the team the previous year, and I felt we could do much better than that.  I decided to take over the program and get more kids involved in this amazing sport.  My husband was a PE teacher, track coach and ran in college at Chico State so he helped me out quite a bit with the workouts and taught me pretty much everything I know about teaching/coaching  young kids.  At the middle school level, my goal is to make running fun  for the kids so they will continue to run in high school and beyond.
Working with 180 kids a day must be tremendously challenging – tell us a bit about that.
Teaching 180 kids every day in my PE classes can be challenging at times, but it is also very rewarding to give the gift of health to my students.  I tell them there is nothing more important than their health and without it they have nothing.  The quality of life is so much more rewarding when you are healthy and can enjoy it.  I make it a priority to do everything I ask my students and athletes to do so they see why working out is important. I feel it is my job to be a positive role model and to not only tell them how to be healthy, but to show them how to be healthy.
Having fifty or sixty kids in a middle-school running program is quite an accomplishment – what do you feel is the secret to getting them and keeping them interested?
I believe the reason we are able to keep fifty-plus kids in the Comstock running program is because we focus on making running fun.  Running to me is not about winning at the middle school level. I never talk to the kids about winning races or championships.  We focus on getting better, setting short and long term goals, making new friends and simply enjoying what running gives to us individually.  I talk a lot about the opportunities and benefits running could offer the kids.
Comstock Middle School kids jumping for joy!
Tell our readers a bit more about your running club modeled after the SRLA running program down in Los Angeles – how does it work exactly?  How do kids earn free running shoes etc?

The Comstock running club was modeled after the very successful SRLA program in Los Angeles.  I heard about SRLA from an administrator who taught in an inner city LA school. He was a volunteer coach for his school and trained a group of students to run/complete the LA Marathon.  I was amazed that 12/13 year old kids could accomplish such a challenging run.  This program in LA has major sponsors, lots of corporate support and volunteer coaches who make it a reality.  I wanted to try to create something very similar to the SRLA program, but my biggest challenge became  the funding to get kids registered in local races and providing my needy kids with high quality running shoes.  We still struggle to fund the expensive race entry fees, but every year we find a way to make it happen.


Comstock Middle School runners off another adventure.
The kids earn free running shoes from me by working hard, having good attendance and showing me they are dedicated to the sport.  Each year, I use my track coaching stipend to purchase 30 pairs of shoes. The kids earn a free pair by showing me they are serious about their running.
Do you keep tabs on your former student-athletes?  How many went on to successful high school and college running careers?


I keep in contact with all of my former student-athletes running in college.  I invite them back to run the half marathon in San Francisco during Christmas break and travel to watch many of them run In college.  The kids give me so much joy and bring so much happiness to my life.  Being able to cheer them on and support them is very important to me.  Last year, my husband and I traveled to Virginia, Wisconsin, Oregon, Fresno, Los Angeles and Stanford to watch my former athletes compete.


Robin with Empire standout Luis Luna
Outside of your work at Comstock Middle School, how is your running going these days?  Your 3:29 marathon PR is very impressive!  What are your short term and long term goals?

My running is going pretty well.  I am training to run the Rock n Roll Arizona Marathon in January and two half marathons this year.


Robin Clark – educator, coach and runner.
Long term /bucket list goals for running would be to run Boston again with some of my former athletes, run the New York City Marathon and the Nashville Rock n Roll Marathon.  Running is such a gift and has given me the opportunity to travel, meet new friends and watch my students enroll and graduate from college.
Who has been the greatest influence on you as an educator and coach?
My husband has been the biggest influence on me as an educator and a coach. He has taught me the true meaning of education.  We have been fortunate to be able to help my athletes in a variety of ways, and all I have ever asked in return is for them to pay it forward when they are able to do the same.
Any question you wished I had asked or anything you want to be sure to share with our readers?
Thank you for allowing me to talk about my amazing students and the joy they have given and added to my life!

Interview with Sarah Hallas, by Dale Peterson

Can you tell me a little about yourself Sarah?  Where you came from, went to school, how you got into running and what you are doing now in regard to family and career.
I grew up in Guerneville, one of my most favorite places in the world!  My twin sister & I grew up playing soccer, volleyball, basketball, & tennis.  I also took ballet lessons!  We were both super active, so when I started begging my parents to send me to Ursuline in 4th grade, they started considering it since their sports programs were so good.  Ursuline’s soccer team seemed to be 1st in the league every year and back then, soccer & running is what I hoped to pursue.  Once my parents caved & my twin sister & I were accepted to Ursuline, we both went out for soccer.  After a few days of tryouts, we were both cut for being “too small.”   I went on to run cross country that Fall and am so glad I did.  By my Junior year at Ursuline, I started receiving several scholarship offers from all over the country.  I decided to go with Chico & stay close to home.  Since college, I have been working for Wells Fargo Advisors in Petaluma as a licensed associate.
The Fam Bam: I met Tom (my fiancé ) and his bulldog Bella in 2009.  In August of 2013 Tom proposed and a month after our engagement, we found out we were pregnant!  Our healthy Tommy Jr. was born three weeks early in June of 2014. By this time we had acquired two more dogs, my Doberman (& training partner), “Moose” & Bella’s brother “Jack,” who had become a rescue. Ten months after Tommy Jr was born, we rescued Moose’s sister “Nora,” & that’s how you end up with a baby and four dogs.
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When I am not dragging the family around the country with me for a race, you can find us in Tahoe, or fishing, or spending time with the grandparents.  I am also an ambassador for Mudroom Backpacks and run for Thirty Birds & Gatorade.
Tell us  a little more about your HS career at Ursuline – what were your favorite events?  What were some memorable races?
I mostly ran the 800 and 1600 at Ursuline but I would occasionally run the 3200 and the 4×400 when my coach could talk me into it.  My most memorable races were probably in cross-country where I qualified for state each year.  Looking back, I know running in the Redwood Empire, was truly a gift.  I knew the girls that I was competing with were both going to be a Big Deal, and that was pretty awesome.   Julia Stamps and Sara Bei  are both such amazing athletes and people.  It goes without saying that being able to run in the same races with them, made me a better runner.  It really was a gift.
 I understand that you went to Chico State on a scholarship but that you ran into more than your share of bad luck, injury and illness there.  What kept you going?
The constant injuries at Chico were pretty discouraging.   Any runner knows that being injured is the most annoying part of our sport.  What kept me going is my love of the sport & of course my coach.  Gary Towne is an amazing coach, I absolutely love him!  He definitely got me through the hard times with cross training workouts and the right trainers in the Chico State training facility.  
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Shortly after graduation you ran your first marathon?  This distance is way beyond the longest track races.  What made you want to do it?
I wanted to do a marathon since high school.  I just wanted to be able to say I did it.  Now here I am 26 marathons later and it doesn’t really seem like as big of a deal now ha ha!  My high school coach Heather Rosales was a marathon runner and a talented one!  I was definitely inspired by her.  Gary in Chico is also a very talented marathon runner & had actually run CIM the Sunday before my recruiting trip there.   As he showed me around campus, I kept hearing people congratulate him.  He’s so modest so it took me the whole trip to find out that he had just run a blazing marathon in Sac that weekend.  My coaches have all been pretty inspiring people to have in my life, I’ve been very lucky. 
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I know that you have broken 3 hours – what is your PR, where did you set it and how did that race go?
2:52.11 is my PR.  I ran that in Santa Barbara after they canceled the NYC marathon due to the hurricane.  I felt like I was ready to run NYC that year and when our plane landed in New York and we caught a cab to Manhattan, I found out the mayor decided to cancel the marathon.  My mom, Tom my fiancé and I  had a great time in New York anyway then flew home.  The very next weekend I ran the Santa Barbara Marathon.  I definitely didn’t expect a PR that weekend but of course I’ve come to expect the unexpected with marathons.
You are beyond super-active – how do you balance your training, time with your animals, family time and job responsibilities?  How much rest do you get every night?
I’ve always trained early so getting up at 5am to run 8-10 miles isn’t a big deal.  I take both of our Dobermans with me for part of my run so they get their daily exercise too.  Getting up early was a bit harder when Tommy Jr was younger and I was up nursing 3-5 times a night, but now that he’s two years old, getting up at 5am is much easier again.  I start work at 7:30 so getting my workout in before my workday starts makes life so much easier.  I cross-train or lift weights on my lunch break so once I get home from work, I have the rest of my day open with my family.  I still take Jr running in the stroller with me as well, but usually only on a double day or to give dad a short break.  Tom is an amazing help too; I couldn’t leave for three hours on a Sunday or any other day to run and workout without his constant help.  I wish I could say I get more than six to seven hours of sleep a night but honestly, that’s about it.  Some weekends I can sneak in a nap when Jr is down but that’s about the only time I can catch up.
I know that in addition to running you lift, swim and bike.  Do you stick to a pretty rigid schedule or do you adjust based on your racing goals, the way you feel etc?
I am always adjusting based on my future races and goals.  Some mornings I’ll roll out of bed and won’t be feeling as recovered as needed.  On those days, I’ll do an easy run and do a workout the following day instead.  I mix in both swimming and cycling a couple times a week for extra recovery as well.  The cycling these days is usually with Jr on the back of my mountain bike though, nothing too intense.
I just happened to be at the Montgomery HS track a month or so back and you showed up at the end of a 20 mile run as I understand it and jumped right in to some 200M repeats with Kate Papadopolous. How can you do that without getting injured?
I always try to do a few up-tempo repeats at the end of a long run just to wake up the legs after so many miles at the same pace.  My college coach always encouraged this and I’ve just stuck to it.  It was totally random seeing Kate there, so I just asked if it were okay to join her for a few.  I do a lot of my long runs with Empire Runner, Vojta Ripa but that particular day, I was doing a 20-miler solo so Kate letting me join her was awesome and much appreciated.
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What are your short term goals as a runner?  Got any big races coming up?  What are your long-term goals, say in the next five to ten years?

I’d like to run sub 2:50 in a marathon eventually.  I’ve done so many marathons and only 3-4 that were completely flat.  I feel like I could run sub 2:50 on a flat course on the right day.

 My next race is actually a non-running race (swim).  “Escape from the Rock,” on August 26th.  It’s one of those bucket-list items that I’ve always planned to do and finally signed up for. I’m not sure what my next running event is yet since I just ran a marathon a few weeks ago.  I’m giving myself some extra recovery since its been awhile since I’ve taken any decent amount of time off.
Who do you look up to as a runner?  Who do you look up to in life?


As a runner, that would be Sara Hall  and Julia Stamps-Mallon.  Both are very inspiring and local legends!  Verity Breen is another athlete that I am very inspired by.  She is an amazing athlete and creator/owner of Thirty Birds, the racing clothes I wear.  She will be 50 this year and still runs sub 6:30 pace in some of her races!  She is simply amazing!!

 August2016 Peterson 006
Who I look up to in life would definitely be my parents and fiancé Tom.  All have provided so much to my life and would do anything for me if needed.  I am so blessed to be surrounded by them everyday. 

Interview with ER Treasurer Tanya Narath, by Dale Peterson

Tanya was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She wasn’t involved in any organized sports growing up but took lessons in ballet, tap, acrobatics and played tennis. For a short period in her teens she took ice skating lessons and dreamed of being the next Dorothy Hamill – seriously! But never being able to spin more than 3/4 of a turn in the air made that dream seem a little out of reach. In high school she played the xylophone in the marching band, and clarinet in high school band and the youth symphony. Tanya was never sure what she wanted to be when she grew up, but enjoyed math so parents and high school counsellors alike suggested engineering.  She graduated from the University of New
Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering during one of the tech downturns. Unable to find a job,  she decided to go on and get her MBA at the University of Texas at Austin which had a new concentration in information systems.  She was thrilled to secure her first “real” job working for Hewlett-Packard in Rohnert Park in 1988 as a systems analyst. She worked her way up through the management ranks at HP and Agilent.


Outside of work and for all her life Tanya has had a love for being out in the wilderness, and a trip to the Brooks range in Alaska with  husband and fellow empire runner Tim Stewart in 1994 caused her to start thinking about a career change. It took her a long time but in 2005 she left Agilent to work for a nonprofit called the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy. She became fascinated with how the design  of our cities and transportation systems could be changed to improve our quality of life, health and that of the environment. She decided to go back to school to learn more and enrolled in a distance learning masters program in urban and regional planning through the University of Florida in late 2014. She felt ready to take on a new challenge and left the Institute in May of 2015. Tanya recently started working for the county of Sonoma as the IT manager for the Department of Health Services.  She feels that it’s a fun job because she is learning a lot about the many important services the health department provides for county residents.  Tanya says that she does not know where her path is leading, but as long as she is learning and feeling challenged she will be happy!

 When did you join the Empire Runners?

I think it was some time in 1990, around the time when Tim and I got married.

 You have been a member of the board and ER Treasurer now for how many years?  Being Treasurer is labor intensive – What has kept you so involved for so long?

I love this club and its members. From my very first Sunday run, which by the way I was super intimidated to attend because I knew how slow I was and how fast everyone else was, I’ve felt supported and encouraged to be the best runner I can be. It’s never mattered that my per mile pace is slower than others. So I stay involved because I am so grateful for the club, for all it’s given to me and the running community at large. I also see how a small number of volunteers do so much to organize the races we all enjoy, and I’m thankful to everyone who shows up early to set up the course, check in runners, and basically do all the work so that the rest of us can enjoy the race.

I’ve really enjoyed being a member of the ER cross-country team over the last few years. The races are tough, but it’s all worth it to be
part of the ER team and cheer each other on.

June 16 Tanya 03

On top of being so active in the Empire Runners – you have been one  of the people behind the Southeast Greenway initiative.  Tell us a little about how you got involved and the work you have done to assist with that effort over the past several years.

I originally got involved through my role at the Leadership Institute.
Several of our students were involved in the early stages of the
project. The community is really fortunate that many years ago a group of passionate residents came together to stop the bridge over Spring Lake, and then more recently the greenway volunteers who have held the vision of a greenway to Spring Lake when so many others might have settled for a road on the Highway-12 right of way. As a volunteer, I’ve helped with tabling at events, attending public meetings, and most recently set up the tech equipment for the greenway’s annual community event last February.

The Southeast Greenway will be a great resource especially for
runners who live on that side of town.  Living on the other side of
town, where do you do the bulk of your running?

I do a lot of my running on the smaller creek trails that are near my
neighborhood. The main Santa Rosa creek trail is about a mile and a
half from my house, so I have a range of options depending on how far I want to run. When I was training for my last marathon I did quite a few miles up and down the various creek trails. I also run in “the park” (Annadel) at least once a week, usually on Sundays, and try to get to the Thursday night run as well.


You have run a lot of marathons over the years.  How many are you
up to?  What are some of your favorites?  Got any others planned?

I’ve run 16 marathons, starting with my first one at the Valley of the
Flowers. My two favorites were running the Victoria Marathon with Pam Horton (and George Urdzik as our amazing support crew and post race dinner host) and the California International Marathon where I qualified for Boston. I would like to run more marathons, but finding the time to train is a little challenging right now.  I recently
learned about a website dedicated to “run commuting” and am intrigued by the idea of running to/from work to get a few more miles in during the week.

Do you do any cross-training?  If so, what?

I’ve been participating in club member Shelli Main’s boot camp once a week and am really enjoying it. I also dabble in yoga, but struggle to maintain a consistent practice. I need more hours in the day! I used to commute by bike when I worked downtown, and would like to start riding to work again.

You just seem like a healthy person with a lot of energy.  Do you
follow any particular diet or nutritional program?  What are some of your go-to meals?

I try to eat healthfully but I do have a sweet tooth, and I love
chocolate! Tim and I get a box of locally grown veggies every week
from a CSA (community supported agriculture) called Singing Frogs
Farm. It’s a great way to try new vegetables that I wouldn’t otherwise buy. I like making green smoothies to use up the abundance of greens in our box. Basically I aim for moderation and figure that if I don’t eat too much of any one thing (other than fruits and veggies, of course :)) then I’m doing ok.

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What are your short-term goals as a runner?  What are your
long-term goals, say in the next five to ten years?

I’d like to qualify to run Boston again, and try some longer trail
races. I’ve heard there’s a fantastic trail run in Portland that I’d
love to try one day. I’m also for some bizarre reason drawn to run the Tioga pass race that goes from Lee Vining at Mono Lake up 12.8 miles to Tioga pass. I’ve had trouble with altitude sickness so the idea of running from 7,000 to 10,000 feet is daunting but every time Tim and I do a trip to Mono Lake I think about doing the race some day.

Who do you look up to as a runner?  Who do you look up to in life?

As a runner I look up to Shirley Fee who runs crazy long trail races (30+ miles) and has a contagious drive to see what new adventure she can tackle.

In life I look up to my uncle Edgar who recently turned 80 and still runs and bikes with great enthusiasm for life.  I look up to anyone who pushes their own edge and does something that at first may not seem possible.

Member Interview: Vojta Ripa, by Dale Peterson

Vojta was born in the Czech Republic right after the fall of communism July 30th, 1989. When he was young he was always very active alongside his only brother and sibling Honza. They hiked almost every weekend, went bike riding with their dad, cross-country and downhill skiing etc. starting at the age of three. Vojta enrolled in gymnastics from first thru fourth grades until they moved to the U.S. with their mom. This was a fresh start for all of them.  Everything was new – language, culture, sports, environment, friends, food you name it. It was at this point that Vojta and his brother became really close.  Since they only had each other, they had to have each others back and help each other through everything. They didn’t know much English at all when Vojta came to America at the age of ten and his brother Honza was eight. Since Czech was the only language they knew it was tough to communicate with others.



Vojta didn’t do much actual running per se’ until he came to the U.S. where his first encounter was a timed run in fourth grade PE class while living in Lake Tahoe. Vojta was surprised to find himself in first place as he had never ran much before but he came to like it. It was a great way to fit in at school. Seventh grade was the first time Vojta ran as a member of an actual track team for Healdsburg Junior High. He started out as a sprinter, but the next year he wanted to challenge himself with longer distances and decided to run the 800 and 1600. Distance was tougher for Vojta given he had asthma ever since he was small child, but he found that the more he ran, the stronger his lungs became until it got to the point where he “lost” his asthma completely. Vojta was always a member of his various school’s track and cross-country programs until he graduated from Stanislaus State.  He got more and more into it every year. Even now he keeps it up because it was something he grew up with and it is still something he enjoys.  Vojta says there are a million more reasons why he likes to run.

You are involved in a lot of activities besides running –  mountain biking, kayaking, obstacle courses just to name a few.  How do you fit it all in?

Vojta: I like sports in general. I feel activities are a key part in life, whether its competitiveness, bonding/teamwork, or just getting and staying in shape and maintaining good health. Beside the previous activities I’ve mentioned, I like to try anything; but repeatedly I like mountain and roadbiking for cross training, I’ve done a few short tri’s, which are tougher for me since my swimming isn’t great, weighing me down heavily. I have even tried the Battle Frog race at Lake Sonoma which was a combination of obstacles, muddy trails and a long run over seven miles long. It was surprisingly challenging due to the emphasis on upper body strength which most of us runners lack but it was still a lot of fun!

Were you always a runner or did you experiment with other sports?

Vojta: Between fifth grade and high school I experimented with other sports, until I found running. Sports I participated in include: football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, karate, and wrestling.


You ran some impressive times in the 800 and 1500 when at Stanislaus, consistently below two minutes in the former and in the low fours in the latter.  Do you feel that you are natural middle-distance runner?  Why or why not?

Vojta: I started running very well my second year at the JC under coach Whitney and Pat Ryan. My marks got down to 1:55 in the 800m and 4:02 which is my current PR in the 1500m. I was in very great shape to run much faster in both events at CSU Stanislaus but come to racing I only bettered my 800m by 1 second. I feel like at the time those events were the right ones for me. I tried experimenting with the 4×4 and ran a few 49 splits, and I tried the 5k and ran in the low 16 minute range, but neither compare to my performaces in the 800m and 1500m events; Based on that I feel like I BECAME and maybe still am a natural middle distance runner. I feel that my body type shows and mimics a middle distance runners. Being a little bit more stocky than long distance runners but not to the point of most sprinters.

If you could have one race back – to run it again – what would you do differently and why?

Vojta: There are two important races that I’ve constantly looked back on. Both were in the 800m. The first was at the JC level in the NOR CAL finals. There were 8 of us in the race but only 4 made it to the state meet. I was running the race of my life and was up there with the leaders. We only had 200m to go which is usually my strongest part of the race. Unfortunately I got boxed in and then one guy cut a bunch of people off which made a few of us slowdown and lose our momentum. I tried fighting back, but finished in 5th place, missing the state meet by 1 second. If I had known and had a chance to do it all over again I would swing to the outside earlier which would have gave me a clearer path to strike with 200m left, make it to the state meet and probably PR.

The other race was the NCAA division 2 conference trials in the 800m where they postponed our race 15 minutes or so. Instead of staying warm and loose I decided to just sit there conserving energy. This may have been the cause which resulted in a total breakdown race for me where I had no energy in the most critical race of the season, fell apart and felt completely out of it most of the race. I should have stayed warm and sharp instead.

What are some of you short term goals?  What are you working on now and how have you adjusted your workouts to achieve them?

Vojta: Trying to run post-collegiately is definitely not easy. Finding motivation is sometimes tough to start, but after getting going it’s also hard to stop. Short term goals are staying injury free and getting in shape for the Boston Marathon and running a good race at Annadel Half Marathon. (which may be over by the time this is published).

Right now I’m just working on building up my millage and getting used to maintaining a fast pace for a longer period of time. To achieve this I do longer runs at a faster pace or longer interval training instead of short sprints. Endurance runs are something you can keep increasing so I’m finding myself pushing boundaries and testing myself on long runs in terms of increasing my distance, lately hitting 100 miles per week.

What are some of your long term goals?  What do you hope to achieve over the next decade and how do you hope to do so?

Vojta: I haven’t really planned my long term goals too much. I don’t plan ahead too much which may be a bad thing, but I like to plan maybe a few months in advance if something comes along. Running Boston was my big goal since last spring and I’m making that happen in just a few weeks. PRing in various events is always on my mind and trying out new races at various locations is fun for me. I would like to keep running as long as I can because its so good for you healthwise, and a great way to release stress and unwind. Competitive running makes this easier to do in my opinion.


Most distance runners revere the great Czech Olympian Emil Zatopek – who inspires you and why?

Vojta: Specifically, Galen Rupp has been very impressive to watch, but its anyone who keeps pushing the boundaries and working hard day in, day out. One example is Sarah Hallas who is my roommate who never seems to stop, at age 35. With a 2 year old, full time job and a fiancé, she runs as much as I do and works out 2 to 3 times a day during the week, and wins marathons on the weekends.

On the lighter side – how do you relax and unwind after a hard run, race or workout?

Vojta: Beer, food and sleep are always nice. I like going out and playing golf, going to the beach and just being outside is relaxing to me. I also like watching sporting events on TV, hang out with friends or doing numerous things on my computer, like looking at new races to run.

What is your favorite track workout?  Road workout?  Cross-Training activity?

Vojta: Being a middle distance runner I always fall back on track workouts. I start with what I know and try to switch it up in different ways. I usually fall back on 400m repeats, various rest times, speeds and quantities.

I haven’t done very many road workouts, increasing my pace every mile is what I usually find myself doing on the roads.

As for cross training I would say road biking or mountain biking.

Sports nutrition advocates run the gamut from Vegan to Paleo and everything in between.  What is your stance / advice?

Vojta: Eating healthy is definitely important but I don’t always find myself doing that. I usually try to get my protein in after workouts and get my carbs in before and during long runs. To get my fruits and veggies in I usually make salads and protein smoothies which are great. Different things work for different people. I’m sure my diet could use improvements but I don’t find myself super strict with it. I believe getting in a good amount of food to recover your body is important and starving yourself to lose weight is very unhealthy and I against that. If your exercise especially a lot such as myself you need to refuel, and yes you can afford to eat whatever you want. If I was running Pro or close to it I think I would pay more attention to my nutrition, but I’m happy were I’m at.

Lastly – is there some question you wished I had asked, or something more you would like to share?

Vojta: Maybe a good question most runners get asked is: why do you run?

There is a long list of why I run but one big reason for the last six or so years has been my brother Honza.

As mentioned in my bio, Honza and I have been very close being the only siblings, and we competed against each other in everything.  Even though he wasn’t as dedicated to running as I was, he could kill me on the golf course any day of the wee.  Just after he graduated from High School, he got into a terrible and life-changing river diving accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.  This affected not only him but everyone around him, especially me.  Now we go golfing together on the weekends because that’s what he loved to do before the accident.  I feel his accident brought me closer to running for a number of reasons.  It gives me and out/release for my emotions, but also I feel I have to have fun for the both of us.  It made me realize that in the blink of an eye life can change and so I need to keep enjoying what I like to do while I can, and make it count.

Interview with Meredith Rennie, by Dale Peterson

This month we interview Meredith Rennie,  a Sonoma County  native who graduated from Casa Grande High School, attended Sonoma State, and now calls Windsor home.

MR 2014 MS walk

How did you get into running?  What was the initial appeal and what keeps you interested?

Meredith: I started getting into running as an adult doing charity run/walks.  The Avon Walk for breast cancer was my first big event. 39.3 miles in two days.  Then MS Walk, Heart Walk, Autism Speaks etc. etc. Then I tried running an actual race. My first timed 5k I ever did was in May 2010, Windsor Green Half-10K-5K.  I had not recently even run more than a mile and I thought I’d give it a try.  I wasn’t even sure I could finish.  I ran the route the week before solo… run/walked it in 40 mins.  My goal was to finish in 30 mins.  I got 30:51, close but didn’t get it, but excited for finishing my first race.  Then it was a challenge for me to beat my time… I got under 30 mins a few months later.  PR is now 24:56 (2015 Windsor Green Half-10K-5K) and I am working on getting under 24 mins.

The appeal to me is the challenge for self-improvement.  I do look to see what times I need to hit the podium, but for me it’s about beating my time from the last race or the same race from the year before.  I set a personal goal for every race and try pretty darn hard to get it!

What is better than beating mom? Winning the $5 bet!
What is better than beating mom? Winning the $5 bet!

I see you have signed up for Run the Year 2016 – –  Tell us what that is all about.

Meredith: Run the Year 2016 is an international virtual run group, with a goal of run/walking 2,106 miles in 2016.  This is my second year, I joined as a team in the 2,015 challenge with family members.  This time I am going solo.  I find it to be a very inspiring group of people, it’s really all about getting out there. Great support and really fun!

MR 2015 Vineman Monte Rio

Assuming you started on your journey to run 2,016 miles on January 1st you will have to average over 38 miles a week all year.  While not a huge number for most serious runners it is not insignificant by any means, and leaves little margin for injury or other unforeseen disruptions.  How are you planning to approach hitting your goal?  What is your contingency plan in case of injury?

Meredith: All I can do is my best every day.  I have a desk job, so just staying consistent with low miles in winter is my goal until I ramp up in the spring and summer months.  I have hit injuries from time to time, and I will tackle them as they come. I have a number of cheerleaders following me and encouraging me and that really helps a lot.

After following you on Facebook for a few weeks I can see that you are a savvy user of social media and applications.  Just this morning I saw a Map My Run post from you that included a goal time and your chip time (you beat your goal!) – I assume these tools help with your motivation and training.  Tell us how.

Meredith: I’m an accountant… so the data is appealing.  I track everything!  I use mapmyrun, myfitnesspal and my Fitbit to track my daily activities.  I also use the 2,016 challenge run tracker to log my miles for the challenge. Runs To Go is another app that tracks a countdown to my goal.  It is fun to watch it get closer.

MR 2015 water to wine volunteering

Sonoma County has a nice network of running specialty stores now ranging from Athletic Soles in Petaluma to Fleet Feet Sports and Heart and Sole in Santa Rosa and now the Healdsburg Running Company  serving the north county.  Tell our readers what kind of support and weekly runs are available from the Healdsburg Running Company. 

Meredith: I really love being a part of the running community throughout Sonoma County.  Healdsburg Running Company is just one of the many groups I enjoy. HRC hosts regular group runs, often times it includes some sort of education piece… whether I am trying out a new show on a demo run, learning yoga stretches for runners or even how to select the best sports bra, it is always a great time with great people!  Like HRC and ERC I love the regular activities to get out there.  We even started a run group at my office (Moss Adams) twice a week. I especially like that it is something I can do with my kids and share with other youth.  I’ve been a GOTR  (Girls on the Run) running buddy several times, inspiring young girls through their first 5k.  Last spring I got to chair my son’s school 3k color run Spartan Stampede, inspiring the whole school to get moving!  The local running community inspires me every day!

MR 2015 ERC summer track series

What is your favorite hard work out?

Meredith: I like to double up my workouts to really turn on the burn.  5k or 10k followed by a soccer game.  Running and soccer are quite complimentary.  The regular runs help with my endurance on the field.  On the field I am constantly moving, sprinting hard, jogging it out… excellent interval training and helps with improving speed on my runs.

What is your favorite easy run?

Meredith: I LOVE our community parks, anything through Foothills, Shiloh, Riverside or Annadel is awesome!  I feel so lucky to have such a great park system close by!

You seem like such a positive person.  Given all of the negativity in both the traditional and web-based media, where do you continue to find good things to share?  Does your running factor into this positive outlook?  If so, how?

Meredith: I really do surround myself with awesome people.  A positive attitude is quite infectious.    Some of my dearest friends I have met through running and for that I am quite grateful.

At some point runners and all athletes of every level must deal with setbacks and disappointments.  Tell us about a time when you were not able to achieve some running goal for whatever reason and how you dealt with it from both a short-term and long-term perspective.

Meredith: I have had two torn ACL’s reconstructed. I’ve broken toes, sprained ankles etc etc…  I am not as fast as I used to be, but I feel very fortunate to still be able to get out there.  I have friends with MS and severe asthma who can’t run at all.  If you ask me why I run, it’s simply because I CAN.  Whether I meet my goals or not, I am going to keep on running!

MR 2015 spartan stampede

Is there some question you wish we had asked you here that you would like to answer?  Or something you would like to share with the rest of the Empire Runners, the greater running community or people in general?

Meredith: I like to mix in a few other things with my running.  In 2011, while volunteering for the Vineman Triathlon, another athlete asked me why I wasn’t out there competing. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t know how to swim.  They had suggested I try out a sprint triathlon.  I went home and signed up for one!  I had just about 6 weeks to learn how to swim ½ mile.   I did it!  The message of course, is it is not too late to try something new. You can start from zero miles, and with a little determination and a lot of effort you can really accomplish anything!

Interview with Justin Borton, by Dale Peterson

This month’s interview is with Justin Borton of Taylor Mountain Tuesday fame.  To anyone unfamiliar, there is a small but dedicated group of runners who show up every Tuesday morning to run up the short but steep trail to the top of Taylor Mountain.

Justin was raised in NYC by his father, an actor and marathoner.  Justin spent summers with his mother at Maharishi International University in Iowa where he later enrolled in the University of Iowa.  Justin has been living in west Sonoma Co. for the past twelve years.  He has four amazing daughters and a loving supportive wife.  Justin has been running for two and one-half years and has logged approximately 2,500 miles in that time.

How did you become a runner and what motivated you to get into running?

Justin:  I spent most of my life as a sitter… not a baby sitter or dog sitter but just a sitter. I was good at sitting. Maybe great. I could sit just about anywhere, on anything. I did it at work. I mean I got paid to sit! Even on my vacations I was sitting. Once I sat in Leadville CO at over 10k elevation. I just sat there like a champ! So, yea, I knew I could sit. But could I move? Could I run? If I took the same passion for sitting and morphed that excellence into movement… well I could maybe be the greatest of all time (GOAT).


By all accounts you are the driving force behind “Taylor Mountain Tuesdays”.  When did you start doing those runs on a regular basis and how did the group form?

Justin:  Shawn Sullivan and I started TMT about a year ago. It’s a funny story how it started. I was on Taylor giving a cow a long soul hug when unbeknownst to me some crazy trail runner came up from the other side of the cow and tipped it right on top of me. Ouch and what fun! It turned out to be Shawn! We all collapsed in a pile of cow, mud and friendship. We had so much fun and we knew there might be others out there just like us! So special! So we started TMT to recruit runners into our cow cuddle mud puddle.

What would you tell people who might be a little daunted by doing such a super steep hill-climb early in the morning on a work day?

Justin: Oh well I’d say to them you should be a little daunted. Summiting that mountain as the sunrises to greet you is pure pleasure. But you know pleasure is a double-edged sword right? And at the other edge of pleasure is pure suffering. But it’s organic, ethical and and local suffering so it’s good for you!


You seem like you have a lot of fun with your running based on all of the photos I have seen.  What do you attribute that to?

Justin: I made the decision long ago around when I was born to try and have fun with everything I do. But some things are inherently not fun; like work, family, cleaning, loved ones, sad movies, and museums. So when I run I try to have a good time. Running down the street is fun but sometimes it isn’t fun. Like when you’re late for the bus. But running a trail is always fun. Nature’s never late and doesn’t make scheduled stops.

What are some of your favorite things related to running?  Why?

Justin: I really loved the movie Chariots of Fire and also I am a huge fan of the band NWA’s song 100 miles and running. That song is about my TMT co-founder Shawn. I’ll tell you one event I did not like and will never run… the trail of tears. Just awful. RIP.

What does a typical week of training look like for you?  Do you keep to a regular schedule?

Justin: I start my week on a Wednesday with a flat fun run with my favorite friends. I then move backwards a day to Tuesday with TMT followed by PowerYoga. I take Monday off or cross train at the gym. Sunday and Saturday are long trail runs. Friday is an off day or gym, Thursday I do some cardio and again hit the PowerYoga. By moving through my week backward I dont allow myself to get too complacent with my workouts.


Outside of running, what are some of your other passions?

Justin: I love to hug people. Mostly kids. But also baby goats (Greatest Of All Time). And I’m a family man so I don’t care for responsibility much but I am passionate about getting out of the house. I’m also passionate about aliens and Bigfoot (the mythical beast not the monster truck).

Any advice or lessons you’d like to pass on to your fellow Empire Runners?

Justin: Yes. Stay in school, don’t be no fool. Don’t eat tempeh and keep your cool. Always keep your heart open and try toe-socks. Don’t free your Willy and also I know a guy who will botox your buttucks.

Pro Photographer Chris Chung: Member Interview

Question: As a professional photographer for the Press Democrat shooting sports, do you “see things” or observe things while taking photographs that the normal spectators may not appreciate?

San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence grabs a fly ball by Washington Nationals batter Jayson Werth in the sixth inning, during Game 4 of the National League Division Series in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence grabs a fly ball by Washington Nationals batter Jayson Werth in the sixth inning, during Game 4 of the National League Division Series in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 7, 2014.
(Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Answer: I don’t think it’s so much that I see or observe things that normal spectators may not appreciate. Everyone interprets the world differently based on the whole of their life experience. The difference in seeing within any group of professional shooters can vary a great deal. But I do think that shooters as a whole are more inclined to look for different angles and moments, and are motivated to challenge themselves visually a little more. You might be looking for interesting light, graphic elements, or good interaction/reaction, in addition to peak action.

What’s your favorite sports photo of 2015 and why?

If I had to pick a favorite image of the year, I suppose this is it. It's of Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson celebrating their win over the Houston Rockets during Game 2 of the NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena, in Oakland on Thursday, May 21, 2015. While shooting sports, I have to keep reminding myself to keep shooting after the action ends. A lot of photographers are much better than I am at doing that. I shoot a lot of sports, but I don't consider myself a sports shooter. I think I got it right here. It shows the jubilation of a one-point win, and the cheering crowd in the background. It's a storytelling image. It's what I strive for in this work. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
If I had to pick a favorite image of the year, I suppose this is it. It’s of Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson celebrating their win over the Houston Rockets during Game 2 of the NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena, in Oakland on Thursday, May 21, 2015. While shooting sports, I have to keep reminding myself to keep shooting after the action ends. A lot of photographers are much better than I am at doing that. I shoot a lot of sports, but I don’t consider myself a sports shooter. I think I got it right here. It shows the jubilation of a one-point win, and the cheering crowd in the background. It’s a storytelling image. It’s what I strive for in this work.
(Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

My favorite sports photo of 2015 has to be Steph Curry hugging Klay Thompson during the Warriors playoff run to the championships. The shot came during a 1-point win against the Houston Rockets. It captures the joy and passion of the moment between the players, and the jubilant crowd in the background. Concentrating on shooting game action is easy. Remembering to keep looking after the whistle blows is hard. And during the playoffs (in any sport) it’s those moments that set things apart from the regular season games.

When you shoot running events, do you have any observations that other people might not have since you’re looking through a lens?


Shooting cross country races presents a certain set of challenges. You have to scope out the course ahead of time, and think about the best environments to capture the runners as they pass. And you have to come up with a plan on the fly to get you into positions where you can see the runners on multiple occasions. I look for areas with nice light, something graphic (like an S-curve), or a nice hill to show the strain of the runners. Then I also pull out tricks, like panning with a slow shutter speed, to show the motion and speed of the sport. I’ll try low wide angles , and framing through trees or other landmarks to mix things up. Every course presents its own opportunities and challenges. The tricky thing about shooting running is that your best shot may not be of the winner. Photographing track is an entirely different beast. You’re limited in your shooting positions and access. In high school, that’s not too much of an issue, but when shooting USATF events, things get really difficult. You have to stake out positions at the finish line, and get on waiting lists to shoot from the infield. A really good accommodating media coordinator that understands your specific needs is really key at those events.

Were you a runner in high school, and if so, what are your favorite memories? Did you learn anything that has helped you as an adult?


I ran four years of cross country at Dana Hills High School. I was a decent runner on a team of extremely talented runners. The program was so deep that our JV team would beat most of the Varsity teams in our area. But really, it was all about the camaraderie. We had so much fun at practices. On long runs, we’d bring a tennis ball and play catch. Or we’d all run with our eyes closed and have one person calling out turns. Just silly stuff, but it kept things really fun. Don’t get me wrong, we trained hard. We just found a way to not notice that we were working hard. At least I thought I knew what hard work was.

When I got to college at UCSB, I wanted to do something really collegiate looking. I know, it was weird. So I joined crew. I was 145 pounds when I graduated high school, so I went into crew thinking I would drop some weight and be a coxswain. The coach saw me at 5’10” and said he’d make a rower out of me. Three months later, I was topped out at 170 pounds, then dropped 10 pounds to make the lightweight boat. Rowing made me realize that I hadn’t worked nearly close to my potential as a high school athlete. That’s when everything really came together for me both physically and mentally as an athlete. My coach was the US Olympic lightweight rowing coach at the time, and he really trained the mental aspect of endurance well. I think that to excel at endurance sports, athletes need a level of mental maturity that I didn’t have in high school, but later achieved in college.

Now that your son Lucas is in High School, and your daughter is running as well, has it renewed your interest in running? Are you running to stay in shape on a regular basis?


I’ve never stopped being a fan of running as a sport. Covering the great local athletes, and especially the phenomenal elite female runners that Sonoma County has produced, has always kept me interested. That said, watching my kids grow and flourish as runners has definitely rekindled my interest in running for myself again. After college and before kids, it was easy to get out there and stay in shape. But after having kids, I didn’t make exercise a priority. It wasn’t until I had a bout of insomnia that I returned to running on a consistent basis. I was just lying in bed staring at the ceiling at 4 a.m., so I figured I’d might as well pull on some shoes and hit the road. Then about five years ago, I had pretty severe lower back pain that took me out for a while. When I tried to start running again, I kept getting sidelined by knee and ankle injuries that I’d never encountered before. It was all a bit frustrating. I decided to return to what put me in the best shape of my life during college, and got myself a rowing machine. I row on a daily basis. But now that my daughter has taken up running, I’ve been pulling on the running shoes again to run with her. We have such a nice time running together. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the sensation of running. So now I’ll be splitting my time between rowing and running.

When you watch your kids race, do you get an adrenaline rush? What do you experience as a parent?


Watching my kids race is hard to describe. Lilja is still in middle school and just started running, so it’s really not that serious and I simply want her to have fun. Lucas just finished his freshman year of cross country, and watching him race is fun…., but stressful. I’m definitely more nervous watching his races than I ever was when I was toeing the line myself. My wife, Leena, and I get serious butterflies in our stomaches before every meet. He’s still learning how to race, and he’s on the cusp of really being a standout. I just try to pass on the mental tools that my rowing coach taught me. I don’t want to be one of those overzealous parents. I really want my kids to have fun out there and enjoy running for the rest of their lives. I’m ecstatic that they’ve both gravitated to running on their own. I think it’s one of the most positive and encouraging sports communities out there. In some other team sports, you’re cheering for your team and against the other team. In running, you’re pretty much cheering for everybody to achieve their best. It bothers me when I’m at a race and I hear someone yell, “C’mon, you can beat this guy!”. I know they’re trying to encourage their own runner, or give them a target. But the other person is going to hear that yelling too, and how do you think that’s going to make them feel? To me, it’s not about beating some opponent. It’s about self-improvement.

The University of Missouri is famous for it’s journalism program – what’s the most important thing about photography that you learned there?

San Francisco Giants Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner embrace after winning Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, in Kansas City on Wednesday, October 29, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
San Francisco Giants Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner embrace after winning Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, in Kansas City on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
(Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The program’s motto is a quote by it’s founder, Cliff Edom: “Show truth with a camera.” That’s what I strive for in my photography. People always think they have to pretend to do something. No. I just need to know when I can catch things happening naturally. I recently had an assignment shooting hospital volunteers. The PR person kept on trying to stage photos of the volunteers pretending to do things. I finally got through to her that all I wanted to do was hang around and photograph them doing whatever they normally would be doing if I weren’t present. After the photos ran in the paper, I received a phone call from her saying how great the photos turned out and how much she appreciated the true moments that I was able to capture. She also stated how much better the photos looked than the staged photos that commercial photographers shoot for their promotional materials. Nothing beats real life. You just have to let it happen and be ready for it.

How long did you work at The Idaho Stateman newspaper in Boise, and how did you land in Santa Rosa? How long have you been with the Press Democrat?

I worked for The Idaho Statesman for two years. It was my first staff position. I went their for a summer internship, and they offered me a position when it ended. It was a beautiful place to live and work, and my boss was the nicest person. I really loved Boise (and Idaho), but it’s a little… not close to anything else. I left because I wanted to return to California, and to be closer to the ocean. I freelanced for a year in Southern California for a year before a mentor recommended for me to take a look at The Press-Democrat. The photo editor at the time was John Metzger, who was a bit of a legend in the newspaper photo world. I cold called him and sent him my portfolio. He flew me up the next week and we hit it off right away. There wasn’t an opening, so he actually created a position for me. That was back in 1998, so I’ve been here for 17.5 years. Unfortunately, John died of a heart attack in 2005.

What’s your favorite sport to photograph, and why?

I don’t know if I have a favorite sport to photograph. I guess I like to shoot any sport with nice action and drama. I’ve been on the Raiders, Warriors and A’s beat since I got here, and also fill in on 49ers and Giants. I really just enjoy shooting alongside the other photographers in the Bay Area. It’s a lot of fun when we get together. I like the ability to pick my own spot to shoot at football. Baseball is tough, because you’re assigned a specific shooting position. And I find it to be a bit of a slow game. But shooting it when it counts, like during the playoffs and World Series is a really fun challenge. I really enjoy shooting basketball, but the NBA is becoming one of the most restrictive leagues where photography is concerned. They’ve eliminated so many floor shooting positions that smaller outlets like my paper rarely can get a floor spot anymore.

I do love photographing high school sports, as well. Access is generally not an issue. You usually don’t get athletes that have developed self-important attitudes. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with some really sweet kids (It broke my heart when I heard of Sarah Sumpter’s passing recently).  In high school sports, you get athletes who are competing because of the love of the sport.

Kim Conley throws her arms up in celebration as she wins the 10,000 meter race at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Kim Conley throws her arms up in celebration as she wins the 10,000 meter race at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento on Thursday, June 26, 2014.
(Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)