Benefield: Your chance to run straight into the new year

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IF YOU GO

What: Phaby-Gray Resolution Run

When: 10 a.m. Jan. 1

Where: A Place To Play, 2375 West Third St., Santa Rosa

Info: The race is free for Empire Runners Club members but registration is required; $10 for non-members when registering online. Online registration deadline is Saturday. Race day registration begins at 9 a.m. and is $20 for all runners.

More: www.empirerunners.org

In the beginning, it was coffee cake and Popsicle sticks. And running.

Organizers of the Empire Runners Club Resolution Run on New Year’s Day would use Popsicle sticks to note where runners finished in the pack and then serve coffee cake and potluck fixings for the brave souls who showed up the morning of Jan. 1 to run around Bennett Valley in the cold.

The course has changed (two times, in fact) and it’s been shortened from a 10K course to a 5K. The prizes are more substantial than homemade bread, and there hasn’t been a slice of coffee cake seen post-race in some time, but much of what made the New Year’s Day Resolution Run a hit with area runners remains the same after all these years.

Which is probably why the race is still popular some four decades after the first one was staged.

“If you can get out there, on New Year’s Day, and run … you are going to live forever,” said Chris Gray, a longtime Empire Runners Club member who for years joined forces with her husband Mort and Linda and Joe Phaby to organize the Resolution Run.

And it turns out that it’s not just die-hard runners who want to live forever, or at least start their year off with a little sweat — it’s little kids, moms and dads, super-fit people and people on the other end of the fitness spectrum.

“It’s more of a fun run” than a race, said Joe Phaby. “It was really fun — on New Year’s Day, you are all bundled up and you know what? We are going for a run.”

It’s ingenious in a way. As we move from making gift lists focused on consuming to lists of New Year’s resolutions, so many of us are focused on shedding — pounds, bad habits — that the run is kind of a can’t-miss. If you are serious about making 2019 your year, grab your shoes.

Sure there are speedsters in the mix. P.J. Lynch, the Petaluma High grad who went to the state cross country meet last month with the Santa Rosa Junior College Bear Cubs? He came in third last year. Luca Mazzanti, the 2017 Santa Rosa High grad who now runs at West Point? He finished in fifth.

I mean no offense to the whippet-fast people who run this course every year, but it seems the heart of the event is mid-packers, or those who might need to slow to a walk but who still show up and get it done.

“People look to get the new year off to a fresh start,” said Larry Meredith, longtime Empire Runners Club member and a past president.

Run it Tuesday and you will notice the official race bibs read “Phaby-Gray Resolution Run.” Last year, 241 people finished the run — a far cry from the three dozen that would show up in the early years.

“It’s been an incredible evolution,” Linda Phaby said.

Phaby said the switch from a 10K to a 5K back in 2000 was a stroke of genius.

“It makes all the difference in the world,” she said. “That is so much more attainable. There are so many kids who are in these races now, whole families. It’s pretty amazing.”

IF YOU GO

What: Phaby-Gray Resolution Run

When: 10 a.m. Jan. 1

Where: A Place To Play, 2375 West Third St., Santa Rosa

Info: The race is free for Empire Runners Club members but registration is required; $10 for non-members when registering online. Online registration deadline is Saturday. Race day registration begins at 9 a.m. and is $20 for all runners.

More: www.empirerunners.org

Not fit? No worries. Consider this your starting point, Phaby said.

“Just participate,” she said. “That can be your benchmark.”

For years I worked the New Year’s Day holiday shift at The Press Democrat. I volunteered for it in part because I knew I could cover the Resolution Run. I remember seeing Reesey Byers, a Santa Rosa High grad who was then running for Sac State, fly along the course when it was staged at Montgomery High School. Or seeing Julie Nacouzi, a Montgomery High grad and superstar, forget something just as the race was starting, sprint away and sprint back to the starting line. She still won.

But the real story was usually about something else entirely. A man who lost 130 pounds and celebrated it by running in front of friends and family. Or a woman who ran her very first 5K in 2013 because she wanted to turn over a new leaf.

Like so much in life, it’s about showing up.

Many moons ago, I was in a running club in Shreveport, Louisiana. Every year they hosted a New Year’s Day run that was always popular — and a little wacky. Before the race started, participants had to guess their finishing time. The runner who came closest to their target won a trinket. The catch? Everyone had to drop their watches in a basket at the start line.

The goal wasn’t necessarily to go fast, it was simply to go. When it was over, everyone would tuck into bowls of black-eyed peas for good luck and start their year Southern style. I have zero memory of my best time at those races, but I have very fond memories of the runs —and the black-eyed peas.

They say that how you spend your time — what you prioritize — on New Year’s Day sets the tone for the year ahead.

With that in mind, Ready, Set, Go.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671.

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