Benefield: Runners rejoice, the mile is returning to Santa Rosa
Carlos Perez thought he had a bright idea for a new running race in Santa Rosa. But when he pitched a 5K or 10K (to be staged on the first weekend in October) at a meeting with Sonoma County’s largest running club, he was hit with stony silence. Crickets.
Perez, founder of event management company Bike Monkey and the guy behind Levi’s GranFondo and a slew of other cycling events, is a bike guy. So the less-than-enthusiastic reception to this plan for a 5K, perhaps on the Prince Memorial Greenway, in a room full of Empire Runners was a mite bewildering.
“This is the beating heart of the running community,” Perez remembered. “And the room was a little quiet.”
But races at those distances are a dime a dozen. And there are races on the Greenway all year long. No one’s imagination was captured.
And then someone said it.
“I don’t know who it was in the room, but it was, ‘Let’s bring back the mile,’” he said.
And let’s stage it on the streets of downtown Santa Rosa.
Crickets turned to something else entirely.
Val Sell, a longtime member of the 800-member Empire Runners club, said the room went from wary to almost giddy. After all, this group had tried in recent years to bring back to downtown Santa Rosa a mile race. But the logistics — street closures, official course certification, etc. — proved troublesome.
But Perez said he’d handle all that if the runners would handle the race — design it, get the word out, sponsor a prize purse.
“So we said, ‘You think you can get the city to close the roads?’” she said. “You just want to pick our brains?”
Yes and yes. You can almost hear her hands rubbing together in anticipation. The mile is coming back to Santa Rosa.
The Santa Rosa Downtown Mile will be held on Oct, 7, one piece of a larger four-day event headlined by the 10th riding of Levi’s Granfondo, an event that for a decade has drawn thousands of cyclists to Sonoma County’s roads. Newly billed Sonoma Vita, the four-day event will be held Oct. 4-7 primarily on Old Courthouse Square and include the massive bike ride that is the Fondo, the mile footrace, as well as a beer and wine festival, paella festival and live music.
“We are building something new in Santa Rosa,” Perez said. “We are trying to create big pieces to the whole thing.”
And a running race was envisioned as part of that. So the bike guy turned to Empire Runners to steer the ship on the footrace piece.
“They were really fired up for creating something new,” Perez said.
Or, more accurately, bringing back something old.
The mile is a classic distance. The club has tried in years past to lure speedy people to mile races to beat the four-minute barrier. But it’s been awhile. Sell and Perez think that, as a piece of the larger event and with a significant prize purse, the Santa Rosa Downtown Mile could grow into something that elite runners are drawn to.
“We are not under any illusions that it’s just going to be huge because we have a purse out there,” Perez said. “We are trying to build a model, build something that in a year’s time has the potential to be really big. But we also don’t want to half-ass it and not invest in the race’s future. We are looking long term with it.”