Running in the 'Meda: A blast from the past

Running in the 'Meda: A blast from the past

Marty Beene

Since the title of this blog hints that I'll write about running here in Alameda, I thought I would take a step back into the past to see what the scene was like here and elsewhere in the East Bay and Bay Area. I recently learned that a series of running club newsletters - the NorCal Running Review - published from 1969 into the 1970s have been scanned and posted online. These club newsletters were the only publication covering the California running scene at the time, so they provide a fascinating look at what it was like back then.

One interesting find was from 40 years ago. In April of 1974 up in Napa, there was an 8.1-mile race, won by a fellow named Joe Taxiera, competing as part of the "Alameda Track Club." "Alameda Track Club?" Who knew? Other club members listed in the results included Chuck Harris (4th), Mark Proteau (7th), and Tim Swezey (14th). There was also a report of a track meet hosted by this club down at California State University, East Bay.

What about the rest of the Bay Area back then? A major difference from today is that there were fewer people running at that time. The report on the 1969 Bay to Breakers race noted a record-setting 1,233 finishers! (The race now typically attracts about 40,000 runners.) While the vibe of those races was less formal, the competition level was very strong. In that '69 B to B race (with no prize money to attract the national and international field it now draws), the 11th place finisher would have finished 8th place last year.

I happened to open up an issue from 1977, and found a report on an Oakland 10k race held that October. I immediately noticed the name of a guy I ran with back in the 1980s. He ran a few seconds under 31 minutes, which is blazing fast - under 5 minutes per mile. But he didn't win - some random guy I never heard of beat him. By 40 seconds! Ouch. Today, a man running, say, 35 minutes for 10k in a "local" race would definitely be near the front, and possibly even win. Back then? 38th place. I also saw a name familiar to many Alameda runners: "Thoughts on the Run" columnist Joe King, who finished as the 6th runner over age 40 in a brisk 37:23. That pencils out to just over 6 minutes per mile and about a half minute faster than my fastest 10k ever. Oh, and 81 guys beat Joe that day.

Today, there are a few races held in Alameda (although not the Run for the Parks 10k any longer - last run in 2008), and the number of participants is usually fairly high. The all-women's See Jane Run half marathon and 5k, held each June, had nearly 1,600 finishers last year in the half marathon and more than that in the 5k! We also have the Mayor's Race on the Fourth of July, as well as the Midway Shelter 5k fundraiser in December, along with a few other races. Our races here on the Island have a similar profile to others around the Bay Area, California, and the U.S. - an increasing number of participants and a somewhat slower top end of the competition.

Here's one thing that I love about running: there's something for everyone. For people who aren't interested in joining a formal event like a race, you don't have to. Here in Alameda, you can run along lovely flat paths with views of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Within the races, though, you can participate any way you want.

I love to compete, but sometimes I'm fit and sometimes I'm not. No problem - there's always someone nearby to sprint toward the finish line with me. Some people enjoy races because they've never run that far before - indeed, half-marathons are becoming wildly popular. It turns out that almost anyone can complete 13.1 miles, but it requires a substantial amount of training, so finishers can feel a (well-deserved) sense of accomplishment.

How do you enjoy Alameda's running scene?