Gaye LeBaron: When running in Sonoma County was for its own sake
In recent years, when I see runners on the road, crossing the bow of my Honda Civic, it probably means I have taken a wrong turn.
The Ironman Santa Rosa triathletes took to the roads Saturday. And if you had any silly notions about taking a drive to the north or west, you probably get my drift.
The week of preparations, the warnings about road closures, the huge tent in Old Courthouse Square were sure signs that Sonoma County is not only “Wine Country;” it is also one big 1,550-square-mile runners’ paradise.
We will see it all again in August when the Santa Rosa Marathon goes out and comes back to the same town center.
Running, for all intents and purposes, seems to have become a local industry.
But there was a time (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) when running was just for fun and fitness, that’s all. That was when your panting, perspiring friends — your doctors and teachers, your husbands and wives, were as common a sight on our back roads and trails as the ever-present farmer on his tractor, heading home to the barn.
Russ Dieter reminded me that I miss those days when he sent along his remembrance called “Fun to Run” about the glory days of the 1970s when grown men and women discovered the rewards — sometimes known as “endorphins” — for hitting the road in skimpy shorts.
Dieter, a retired radiologist, was paying tribute to a unique bunch of runners who called themselves the Werewolves — and still do.
Forty years ago they were part of a local rush to run for fun and health that had captured the national imagination.
Most of them were original Empire Runners when that group was formed in 1975, and theirs were familiar faces on the trails at Spring Lake and Annadel and Howarth.
Once, on a whim, they ran around Spring Lake on the full moon. They liked it so much they ran the next time the moon was full and had a potluck dinner after. Now these men and women are into their ninth decade and still celebrating full moons, but just by eating, no more circling the lake in the dark.
This happy memory, however, set me thinking about that time of the “running boom,” when middle-aged men took up the sport and were soon joined by wives who were determined not to be left waiting at the finish line.
There were races for every occasion: Every festival and fair added a race to the event’s schedule.
The Fishermen’s Festival, The Harvest Fair, Santa Rosa Super Mile, Caledonian Run (from the years when the Scottish Games were at our county fairgrounds on Labor Day weekend), Apple Juice Run, Annadel Cross Country, The Great Calistoga Footrace at the Napa County Fair, The Sonoma Valley Road Race, the Lake Ilsanjo 10-Miler, the Annadel Loop.
There are a couple survivors that still draw runners of all size and age: the Human Race, raising thousands for charities, and Kenwood’s Fourth of July footrace.
One that came and went quickly but left its mark was the Ass-to-Ass Run, a short-lived but notable 13-mile run on Petaluma Hill Road between two taverns bearing the name Brass Ass — one in Santa Rosa, the other in Cotati. The Ass-to-Ass drew hundreds of runners and walkers — the fast guys at the front, the mothers pulling kids in wagons bringing up the rear, all joining in the after-party at the Cotati Plaza.