Fastest course in the west.

Sacramento Running Association aims high with plans to energize local running scene

09/13/2011, 9:09am PDT
By CIM

The SRA seeks to develop training groups, stage marquee races

A bold vision could transform Sacramento into one of the nation’s most dynamic running communities.

The Sacramento Running Association, the non-profit group that nurtured the California International Marathon into a world-class event, hopes to enhance the capital area running scene by thinking big.

Local runners know Sacramento’s weather and an abundance of trails and parks provide a terrific training environment. The success of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2000 and 2004 and the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 proved the capital region has an appetite for big events, too.

The SRA seeks to deliver on both fronts.

SRA officials believe Sacramento can eventually develop an elite training group similar to successful groups in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which fueled Meb Keflezighi (silver) and Deena Kastor (bronze) to 2004 Olympic marathon medals; the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester, Mich., which produced 2008 Olympic marathoner Brian Sell; and Boulder, Colo., where Alan and Shayne Culpepper trained en route to 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials victories in the marathon and 5,000 meters, respectively.

The SRA’s elite team currently includes Lea Wallace, a former Sacramento State 800-meter ace; Lauren Weaver, a former Belmont University distance standout and current Sac State assistant coach; and Kim Conley, and ex-UC Davis standout and current Aggies assistant coach.

Things are happening on the events side, too. SRA officials have signed a deal with the Credit Union Association, which puts on the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D.C., to beef up the Credit Union SacTown 10-mile Run. The second annual race, set for April 1, is expected to include a purse of at least $10,000.

“The idea is to make this into a vibrant running area,” said SRA executive director John Mansoor, the long-time CIM race director and an accomplished Masters runner.

“It’s a great place to train and a great place to have events.”

Mansoor, a standout runner at Mira Loma High School in the early 1970s, envisions a training group that gives local runners a chance to flourish. He’d like Sacramento to showcase the kind of local running depth that flourished a generation ago.

“We used to have such depth in this town of top-level road runners,” Mansoor said. “The idea is to try to form a group that will bring some of that back and it feeds upon itself.”

The top tier of SRA’s elite team — Wallace, Weaver and Conley — all have Olympic potential. Wallace finished ninth in the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships 800-meter final. Weaver set Belmont school records in the mile (4:56:92) and 1,500 (4:29:35) and has run 15:47 in the 5,000 meters. Conley has enjoyed a successful 2011 season, finishing fifth in the seven-mile Falmouth Road Race (37:47) and 10th in the USA Outdoor 5,000 meters (15:38:13).

Others who aren’t yet as well known might also burst into national prominence. Mansoor wonders who might be the next Linda Somers Smith, a solid but unspectacular runner coming out of UC Davis in 1983 who went on to win the Chicago Marathon in 1992 and Grandma’s Marathon in 1994 before earning a spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic marathon team. Smith, who owns a 2:30:06 marathon best, remains a standout runner, setting a 45-49 age group record in the 2008 Boston Marathon (2:38:49).

“It takes a long time to reach that (peak),” Mansoor said. “A lot of times, you don’t know who that athlete is.

“It’s one of those things, you look at people coming out, ‘OK, you could be good; you could be good.’ But you never know.”

While the elite runners work out under their own coaches, the SRA’s training plans include local running veterans Mary Coordt and Rich Hanna coaching small groups of runners in preparation for the 29th annual CIM, set for Dec. 4. A second training program is set to launch after the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women’s Marathon Trials in January, when Coordt plans to take a fourth crack at making the team.

Mansoor hopes staging big events raises Sacramento’s running profile, too.

The SacTown 10-Mile Run, which drew more than 1,000 runners for its inaugural race last April, should see a bump in entrants and talent with the Credit Union Association’s involvement. The Cherry Blossom race, set for the same day in the nation’s capital, drew more than 16,000 finishers last year. Both races will raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network.

“They’ve had great success with the Cherry Blossom race,” Mansoor said.

Mansoor envisions Sacramento eventually staging a series of top races similar to what the New York Road Runners do in New York City, with events ranging from The New York City Marathon to the Fifth Avenue Mile.

“Our goal is to try to incorporate all the big elements,” Mansoor said. “Do it for the whole spectrum of road racing. That’s what I see missing in this town.”

The SRA founded the CIM in 1983 and has grown it into a major event featuring more than 8,000 runners. The 26.2-mile trek from Folsom to the state Capitol is considered one of the fastest courses in the United States and has developed a reputation as a great place to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Other races the SRA puts on include the Credit Union SacTown 10-Mile  Run, the Super Bowl Sunday Run and the Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon. The SRA also conducts spring and fall youth fitness programs and helps fund improvements to the American River Parkway and other local running venues.

SRA memberships are expected to be available in the near future.