Fastest course in the west.

California International Marathon: How It All Began

Story #1 in a series of 25. Written to celebrate the CIM’s 25th Anniversary on December 2, 2007. By Cynci Calvin.

The running scene, circa 1980:
John Mansoor, a 2:18 marathoner who attended Mira Loma HS (Carmichael, Calif.) and then Ohio State on a distance running scholarship, had settled in the area after college graduation. Due to his interest in competitive running, he became involved in the sport’s national governing body, USA Track and Field (at the time titled The Athletics Congress).

Entrepreneur, distance runner, world class triathlete and Fleet Feet founder Sally Edwards was selling running shoes—first out of the back of a minivan and then at her first Fleet Feet store which opened in midtown Sacramento in 1976.

Developers and philanthropists William Cummings and Angelo Tsakopoulos envisioned the potential of the sleepy little town of Folsom to become a major business and residential community. They also held a firm belief in the need to give back to the community in ways that would benefit health, education and culture. They deeded the land for the construction of the Mercy Hospital of Folsom, and Angelo, a runner himself, had provided the funds for the construction of the Sacramento area’s first all-weather track at American River College. (It continues to be an important venue for American River College’s competitive track and field program and is open to the public as well.)

Ted Sheedy, business consultant and Chairman, Sacramento County of Board of Supervisors, started running and discovered the health benefits gained from the sport.

Al Baeta, the track/cross country coach at American River College was head of the Sacramento International Track & Field Association (SITFA) that helped to bring the 1982 US Outdoor Track Championships and the1984 pre-Olympic Track Meet to Sacramento.

The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games (Moscow). The Association of Road Racing Athletes was formed to legitimize direct payment of prize money to top finishers.
The Olympics were coming to Los Angeles in 1984, and the first ever Olympic Women’s Marathon would be held there.

The Sacramento area was a community highly supportive of running, as evidenced by the popularity of the Golden West Invitational Track & Field Meet, the Pepsi 20-Miler, the Sacramento Marathon, and by the increasing membership of local running clubs like the Buffalo Chips, the Capital City Flyers and Fleet Feet Racing.

In late 1982, John Mansoor and Sally Edwards, drawn together by their mutual interest in road racing, discussed the possibility of establishing a local world-class marathon. They believed that the key components to achieve this goal included: a logistically workable course, professional management, prize money, elite athlete participation, and good media coverage.

That December, the new marathon goal was enthusiastically embraced at a meeting with community and local running club leaders, and the Sacramento Long Distance Running Association (SLDRA) was born. By early 1983 the basic plan for the event was in place.

The name of the event was the easiest part: it needed to reflect its international status and its base in California, hence “California International Marathon.” Selecting the date was not too difficult either. They chose the second weekend after Thanksgiving for many reasons most of which ring true today. Specific for 1983, the team knew that they needed a year to plan, and they wanted the event to fall within the time window to be an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. Still true today: key training months are in the late fall rather than in the heat of the summer; this is an excellent time for hotels to fill rooms; with the 80% chance of no rain, 100% chance of no snow, and highs in the mid 50s, Sacramento can be the perfect destination for runners coming from snowbound regions around the world.

Key Components
Now SLDRA was ready to forge ahead to achieve the key components mentioned above.

The Course: John regularly trained on a route from Fair Oaks to the Folsom Dam, and he always enjoyed the view of the Sacramento skyline from the top of the dam. This was the inspiration for the course route: Folsom Dam to the State Capitol. There was discussion about a course from Auburn, through Roseville, to Sacramento, but the distance was too great to have the finish at the Capitol. Picking the exact route through the suburbs and into downtown was not difficult, but when John and engineer Steve Fagundes first measured it, they found it to be about a mile too long. To correct this, the CIM start was established at the base of the Folsom Dam instead of on top. This turned out to be a good thing, since today access to the Dam remains closed as a post-9/11 security regulation.

Professional Management: Key people were hired to be responsible for the technical aspects of the event. To acquire the funds to pay personnel and event expenses, a sponsor committee was organized by Sally Edwards, elite masters runner Joan Reiss, and local 2:38 marathoner Kevin Pedrotti. The Folsom Chamber of Commerce came on board as a principal sponsor, along with numerous local businesses and organizations.

Prize Money: Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ted Sheedy believed that a successful CIM would benefit the entire region by promoting running as a fitness activity. He also understood William Cummings’ and Angelo Tsakopoulos’ interest in funding projects that would benefit the community’s health and generate positive publicity. Ted brought William and Angelo together, who subsequently donated the prize money for the event’s first three years. William’s soon-to-be wife, Claudia, loved running, and with a few friends she ran regularly around Folsom (they trained for and finished the 1983 and 1984 CIMs). In a recent interview with Angelo about the beginnings of the CIM, he said “I knew about the Boston Marathon—its history and tradition—I believe that the California International Marathon can become the ‘Boston of the Pacific Rim!’” Angelo’s daughter Eleni became a marathon runner, and her finishes include two CIMs.

Sally Edwards, always a pioneer for women’s equal treatment in sports, initiated the CIM policy of equal prize money for men and women. At the time the usual ratio of men to women in running events was 80%-20%, and many events gave men a higher amount of prize money. Separate finish lines for men and women are another unique tradition established at the inaugural CIM, and it remains today.

Elite Athlete Participation: Offer prize money and they will come… when prize money was publicized in the event’s early press releases, inquiries came from elite runners around the world. In addition, John Mansoor’s and Sally Edwards’ involvement gave credibility to the event quality expected by elite athletes. Al Baeta’s connections with SITFA, along with his position as the head manager of the U.S. elite runners touring Europe in 1983, also helped draw top athletes. Finally, John Mansoor worked with The Athletics Congress (now USATF) to be sure the first annual CIM was sanctioned as an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying event.

Media: The Sacramento Bee and KFBK radio were the primary media sponsors. KXTL Channel 40 filmed the event and presented a delayed broadcast.

Thanks to the vision, dedication and contributions of the individuals mentioned here — and hundreds of others — 1,600 runners gathered at the start line of the First Annual California International Marathon at 7 a.m. on December 4, 1983.