The Russian River Run (June 1990)

The night before the Russian River Run, Sally Miklose calls me from her motel room in Ukiah because her 16-year-old son Jesse wants to find out how fast I’m planning to run the next day’s 8K. He wants to run with me as long as possible. Like his older brother Gabriel, he wants to beat me. Neither he nor his 19-year-old bro have finished in front of me in a footrace so far, but they are determined to do so. I will be 46 in a few weeks, so we all know it’s just a matter of time. A case of impetuous youth verses age and experience.

I tell her about the same as last year, a sub-27, but I don’t tell her I’m a little tired because this is my third race in three weeks, which includes the Pacific Sun 10K six days ago and the 7.5-mile Bay to Breakers the week before that. Instead I just say, “Jesse will have to run the race of his life to beat me.” She laughs and relays the message to Jesse, who’s sitting on the bed watching TV. He admits he can’t run that fast ... yet.

Although there are plenty of local footraces to compete against each other, it seems that we miss opportunities because either Gabe’s hurt or Jesse just ran a tough track meet or I opt for the longer race to avoid them when I have that option, knowing my years of conditioning outnumber theirs put together. 

I hang up knowing once again I’ve put the pressure on myself. My goal suddenly changes from having a pleasant jog through the vineyards to beating those pesky teenagers. That includes my son Eli, also 16, who just came off an impressive track season, almost breaking 10 minutes for two miles, something I can no longer do.

Jesse became the first Sophomore to ever win both the mile and 2-mile in the Coastal Conference League, running a 4:41 mile and a 9:58 2-mile.

Eli finished off the season by beating Jesse in the North Coast Sections with a Willits High School record of 10:05 in the 8 lapper, and maybe more impressive for tomorrow’s showdown, set a school record earlier in the season at the Stanford Invitational with a 16:51 for 5,000 meters.

Yes, both of their mile and two-mile times are better than anything I have done in recent years but add another mile or two and they’re history. My big advantage is the 50-mile weeks I’ve been averaging for the past 12 years. 

When they were in pre-school, I was running marathons. So, what if Eli beat me for the first time in a 2-miler in April, they both know they can’t stay with me for 5 miles. Or I should say, they don’t think they can stay with me, because regardless of the mileage, when runners are relatively fit it comes down to a mental game.

Race Day Arrives

The next day there’s Jesse at the start. We hit the first mile in 5:21 and Jesse speeds up, figuring we are going too slow, which I find amusing and let him go, confident I’ll reel him in when the course flattens out around 2 miles. My group includes Mike Tuffly of Mendocino, Tim Wallen, a 1981 Ukiah High School grad who now lives near the Panhandle in Golden Gate Park and runs for the Greater San Francisco Track Club, and Dave Stancliffe, the eventual winner.

I invited Stancliffe up, figuring he would win, but I was glad Wallen showed so he’d have someone to run with. I did not want to get sucked into Stancliffe’s race. I knew the workouts he had been doing and the fact that he just ran a 15:02 5K at Carlsbad in April. Dave and I had no choice but become friends a few years ago because we kept finishing in front of or behind each other at the finish line. We would have a few beers afterward and plan to see each other at the next big race.

But that was a few years ago, before he started doing two killer track workouts each week, preparing for kicking butt when he turns 40 next year. He has already surpassed the fitness level he had 22 years earlier when he set the Drake High School mile record at 4:28.

Then two weeks ago at Bay-to-Breakers he got off his sick bed to run a 40-flat -- at 5:22 mile pace! It was after Eli’s Class 1A Sections meet at the Santa Rosa JC track. James Wright, the one-man track team from Laytonville, was with us. We drove down to spend the night at Dave and Sue’s house in San Rafael, but when we walked in Dave was on the couch, surrounded by medicinal drugs, and coughing up dark-colored phlegm. Not a pretty sight. I sent the boys to the movies, figuring whatever Dave had must be contagious, and didn’t want the boys to get it. I was feeling bad that Dave wouldn’t be able to run, because I know how much he loves this race. I was choosing just the right words to console him, when Sue says, “He’s going to run.”

“What?” I was really concerned. “Dave,” I pleaded with him, “That’s insane! Do not run man, you may have pneumonia right now! You won’t even finish.”

Besides him running sick, he’d be running in the rain. If he didn’t have pneumonia before the race, he gets it for sure afterward. It was as if Winter was suddenly reborn. 1990 became the first rainy Bay-to-Breakers since 1938, back when it was held in March.

“I’ll just take it easy,” he says. And in what for him is a comforting gesture, tells me how he already has resigned himself to running much slower than he originally planned, and says with a straight face, “I’ll run with you. How fast are you planning to run?”

“Fast enough to make you cough up loogies all the way up Hays Street Hill,” I tell him, realizing nothing I could say would make him change his mind, or as Sue puts it, “You can’t tell him anything.”

The next day I see Dave up ahead of me for about the first half mile before he disappears. I figure I’ll see him on his hands and knees coughing up blood alongside the road somewhere, but no, he eventually places 61st, is upset he didn’t break 40 minutes, and to top it off, he’s one of the first runners to the beer wagon at the Polo Field. After twelve or so beers, he and Sue borrowed Eli to drive them home, while I followed with Riley riding shotgun.

Back to Russian River

But getting back to the Russian River 8K, Dave dropped Tim Wallen at about two miles, and that’s also where Jesse finally fell off his 5:20 pace and joined me and Mike Tuffly in a more relaxed gait.

Tuffly is a forester from Mendocino who led the recent Boontling 5K to just past the turnaround, where I caught him to win it in 16:28, while he finished second with the excuse that he went out too fast. He doesn’t want that to happen here, so we stay together, drop Jesse, and with the last uphill mile staring us in the face, he slows his pace and I decide to kick and finish third behind Wallen in 27:20.

Stancliffe got his PR (personal record) with a 25:43, while Wallen just slipped under 26. Jesse finished fifth behind Tuffly, and after I got my pulse back down under 100, I jogged back to see where Eli and Riley were. Eli was content to run with James Wright, finishing just ahead of him for ninth and second in the high school division. Then Riley came chugging up the steepest hill and I teased him for running too slow, but he won his division for the second straight year, only this year he didn’t get anything for his efforts. Last year he got a free pair of running shoes, but this year not even a ribbon.

At the awards ceremony, I gave race director Dennis Huey an entry form for the Willits Fourth of July Footrace, inviting him to the “real oldest footrace in the county.” Being the race director, I was tired of reading in the press and hearing on the radio that the Russian River Run was the “oldest footrace in the county” when it wasn’t. The Willits race was started in 1978 a year before the Russian River Run.

We finally got to Mill Creek Park where the free beer was flowing. Ed Reinhart was playing his keyboard, Lura Damiano of Fort Bragg, who won the half-marathon in 1:21, was passing out entry forms for the Mendocino Classic 8K to be held at the end of July, and Susan Park was handing out entries to the Real Oldest Footrace in the County on July 4.

The kids went off swimming while we parents carbo-loaded and discussed our Summer racing schedules. Plenty of beer, plenty of running buddies, and plenty of chances to run those pesky high school kids in the ground.

(From ‘A Jog Down Memory Lane,’ former Mendo distance runner Jim Gibbons’ fast paced, fascinating personal history of running in 56 stand-alone stories. Available on Amazon.com. Please download onto Kindle Tablet, Phone or Ereader. Available in print sometime this fall.)

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