When it came to the lowest numbers on the clock, the Ethiopians and Kenyans ruled the day at the Carlsbad 5000. But there were stars of a different kind at the 30th annual race last week. Call them the “Legacy” runners, the eight men and women who continued their streak of having lined up for every Carlsbad 5000 since the race’s inception in 1986.
Paying homage to March Madness, here’s the Carlsbad 5000’s Elite 8.
Mark Gleason, 56, Carlsbad: We list Gleason first because at 24 minutes flat (7:43 per mile), he posted the fastest time of the Elite 8.
For years, the Carlsbad 5000 has fallen on the same weekend as the California Half Ironman. More than once Gleason has pulled the weekend double, swimming 1.2 miles, cycling 56 miles, running 13.1 on Saturday, then running a taxing 5K on Sunday.
“After about six or seven (Carlsbad) races, I thought, ‘Well, why stop now?’” Gleason told KPBS.
Gleason is a man with some speed in his genes. His personal best at Carlsbad is sub-20 minutes.
Michelle Wilson, 57, Carlsbad: The second fastest of the Elite 8, Wilson crossed the finish line in 24:44 Sunday.
Running, though, isn’t Wilson’s first athletic passion. That’s reserved for soccer. Running keeps her fit for sprinting up and down the soccer pitch.
She once ran Carlsbad despite a broken toe suffered playing soccer. She keeps her collection of medals draped over a hanger on her bedroom door handle.
“To me,” Wilson said, “the Carlsbad 5000 signifies that spring has arrived.”
Lora Smith, 45, Carlsbad: You make sacrifices when your race streak stretches to 30 years and counting. About 10 years ago, Smith took a European vacation to Ireland, France and Italy. She cut the return close, landing at LAX about 3 a.m. on race day of the Carlsbad 5000, hustling south in time for the 5K.
“I know that no matter what, I’ll do the race,” she said.
Smith set the Carlsbad High record in the 400 and 800 meters, marks that took more than 20 years to break. She ran the 800 meters at San Diego State, plus participated in the heptathlon. Smith finished in 27:20 Sunday.
Her slowest time at Carlsbad probably came in 1992, the year she ran with her sister, Jessie, who was 3 at the time. They were easy to spot, both adorned in SDSU red and black.
Howard Duncan, 54, Oceanside: Duncan is the running pianist. He teaches piano lessons to 40 students, ranging in age from 7 to 70. He also performs at the Chinese restaurant The Peking Wok in Bonsall.
While Smith cut it close one year, barely returning from Europe in time to keep her Carlsbad streak alive, Duncan ran Carlsbad one year, drove to L.A. and kicked off a vacation to Tahiti.
He finished in 33:20 Sunday.
Highlights across three decades include meeting Steve Scott and making friends with the other legacy runners. “It’s been a good camaraderie,” Duncan said.
Kerry Tabler, 65, San Diego: Tabler became a part of the 1970s, Frank Shorter-led running boom for the simplest of reasons. Running kept her in shape and it was cheap.
She ran four marathons, including Boston in 1981. That was her last 26.2-miler. Then she turned practical and kept to the short stuff.
Of the Carlsbad 5000, she said, “Now you have to do it. You want to see if you can be one of the last ones (to run every Carlsbad 5000), if you can hang on.”
She finished in 34:19 Sunday.
Paul Russell, 71, Carlsbad: Somewhere, there’s probably someone more interesting than Russell. Good luck finding them. After covering the 5K Sunday in 41:01, Russell was spotted post-race in the VIP tent, talking to an attractive, considerably younger female. He could have passed for the “most interesting man in the world” Dos Equis actor.
He once smoked 2½ packs of cigarettes a day. He quit, gained 60-70 pounds and now is a health nut. He takes six Zumba dance classes per week, plus three yoga classes.
Said Russell, “I’d like to add another yoga class.”
He has suffered some bumps and bruises, counting three rotator cuff surgeries, a dozen eye surgeries, plus sporting some serious metal in his knees.
Joked Russell, “I’d rather be an ouch potato than a couch potato.”
Skip De Young, 68, Woodland Hills: DeYoung deserves some sort of Carlsbad gold medal. Of Carlsbad’s Elite 8, he’s the only one who has never lived in San Diego County. He lived in Encino before moving Woodland Hills.
A former marathoner, De Young was told about the 5000 by his in-laws, who lived in Carlsbad. He finished Sunday’s race in 42:55 and yet making the starting line for 30 straight Carlsbad 5000s isn’t the man’s most impressive running feat.
He owns a running streak of 18½ years, running at least one mile every day. He has been chased by dogs during the streak, escaped wayward drivers, even run in Anchorage, Alaska.
“If you’re sick or injured,” he said, “you just run slow.”
Peggy Ridley, 57, Boonville: Of the Elite 8, no one traveled farther for the race Sunday than Ridley, who lives in Boonville, 150 miles north of San Francisco. She and her husband moved there from San Diego County about 10 years ago. But each year, come late March or early April, she’s a Carlsbad regular.
“I don’t want to break my streak,” Ridley said. “It’s very important.”
So important that one year Ridley exited a family wedding in New Mexico almost immediately after the “I dos” to make a flight for the Carlsbad 5000.
She finished Sunday’s race in 48:27.
Interesting factoid: Ridley and her husband own four acres and grow grapes to produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine.