Participants will be off and running again on April 15 when the Great Race returns to Los Gatos and Saratoga for its 30th year. Runners will break from the starting line in downtown Saratoga and race down Big Basin Way and up Highway 9 before finishing on N. Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Los Gatos.
Traditionally, pearls are the gift for a 30th anniversary. While it’s a safe bet that few of the participants in the upcoming 30th running of The Great Race will be so bejeweled, all will be celebrating this local rite of spring in style.
On April 15, nearly 3,000 residents of the West Valley will put aside their thoughts of the looming tax deadline and focus on the finish line. Starting near Big Basin Way in Saratoga, the runners, joggers, walkers and strollers will make their way over Highway 9, completing a 4-mile course that ends on N. Santa Cruz in Los Gatos.
This being the edition that marks three continuous decades of the Great Race, event organizers are going all out to make it a run to remember. "The Great Race is such a wonderful event that involves so much of the community," says race chairman Mike Norcia of the Los Gatos Rotary, which took over the staging of the race in 1983. "The Rotary is always honored to put it on."
As long-timers well know, the Great Race was launched in 1978 by Saratoga Mayor Bill Glennon, when he challenged residents of his city and the town of Los Gatos to take part in a "friendly" competition. Glennon had just formed a running club and was encouraging members to train for and complete a marathon. To facilitate that training and get the communities involved, he suggested the race.
Back then, a starting gun went off simultaneously in both towns, and runners headed directly toward each other along Highway 9. When both groups met on the 3.8-mile course, there was plenty of good-natured cheering and heckling. Over time, as the popularity of the race increased, the resulting pile-up on Highway 9 proved treacherous. Wisely, local officials decided to change the race to a one-way, Saratoga-to-Los Gatos course, and it remains so to this day. Also, the length of the race has been stretched out a bit, to a full 4 miles.
Many other changes have taken place during the event’s 30 years. Originally, major funding came from Great Western Savings and Loan Association, then continued under Downey Savings and Loan Association after its purchase of Great Western. In the mid-’80s Saratoga Savings and Loan stepped in, ponying up $10,000 to become the major underwriter. The Rotary Club of Los Gatos has since been the guiding light of the event, supported by the generosity of real estate institutions such as Cornish & Carey, Contempo and Coldwell Banker Silicon Valley.
"The real estate community has always been excited about being involved," says Saratoga native and Rotary member Chris Trapani. Formerly president of Coldwell Banker SV, and the founder of the Sereno Group, Trapani says, "The Great Race is fun, it brings together all segments of the community, and it’s for a really terrific cause. This year the Sereno Group will have close to 30 employees competing, plus we’ll have another 30 or so handing out T-shirts to finishers. We believe in having our people actively involved in the event, instead of just sending in a check." Trapani’s company has contributed $15,000 to the Rotary to help stage the 2007 race, and an additional $2,000 to the Los Gatos Rotary Charity Foundation to support its projects.
In honor of the 30th annual Great Race, Norcia and his fellow Rotarians promise some exciting new additions. For example, the Rotary is partnering with Ultimate Body Potential to ease runners’ aching muscles. UBP, a Los Gatos-based firm that offers whole-body conditioning and fitness programs, will supply a massage team that will give free "therapeutic reposturing" postrace rubdowns. "I’m so excited to be sponsoring the 30th annual Great Race!" says Michelle Van Otten, owner of UBP.
Norcia is sure there will more than a few "masters" athletes queuing up for body work after the race. "This is a unique area, in that we have an extremely talented pool of runners of all ages," says Norcia. "Last year’s race was won by Jeff Longo, a 40-year-old who basically kicked the rear of a guy who was 24. With races of this length, usually you have a lot of people in their 20s posting the best times. That’s not always true with the Great Race; we all kind of pull up the level of competition for each other."
Longo and Norcia are just two of the "oldtimers" who’ve competed in the race since its first running. Norcia says the Rotary plans to honor all of the veterans of the race who will be lacing up their running shoes this year.
In addition to the massages, finishers and their families will be entertained by the classic rock sounds of the Raging Weasels, fronted by Rotary member Russ Klein, and can enjoy food provided by Inner Wheel, the Rotary’s women’s auxiliary. Also, the crowd can check out green energy solutions from Akeena Solar, new sponsors of the 2007 Great Race.
Norcia gives a special nod to the Los Gatos and Saratoga business and service communities for making the Great Race such an enduring part of the area’s history.
"The local running stores have really stepped up to the plate to make this a success," he notes. "Athletic Performance, Runner’s Factory and now Running Revolution in Campbell have all been awesome. As soon as we get the registration forms printed, they’re out there signing people up, and distributing the T-shirts. Even though the trend nowadays is for online registration, more than half of our runners sign up at one of the local stores.
"And the Boy Scouts are fantastic; they’re out there rain or shine at the water station at La Hacienda. Without the support of the community, the Great Race would never be possible."
Space is still available for two-legged competitors wishing to enter the 30th annual Great Race (sorry, no pets or bikes, although smaller athletes in baby strollers are allowed). The cost is $24 and the proceeds go to Rotary charities. For information and entry forms, stop by any of the area’s running stores, or visit www.losgatosrotary.org.
And happy 30th, Great Race!