Under the shade of oak trees on a breezy afternoon, 10 elite runners stretched and warmed up outside of Lucas Winery. A long mile of Davis Road stretched out straight ahead of them. Each runner was determined to complete a mile in under four minutes, a feat that hasn't been accomplished in San Joaquin County since 1956.
This was the scene at the Lodi Mile on Saturday, the inaugural road mile race open to amateurs and athletes alike. About 50 runners signed on to race a completely flat track that ended at Bare Ranch by Micheal David Winery.
The event was organized by siblings and Lodi High School graduates Jeff and Lyndsey Merrill, and sponsored by Lodi Physical Therapy and the PUMP Institute. Racers and audience members enjoyed glasses of Michael David wines at a casual picnic after the races.
It is possible to reach slightly faster speeds on a straightaway than a curved track. But the sight of the finish line looming on the horizon and the brisk wind pushing sideways at the runners put a damper on their otherwise fiery heels.
Several onlookers rode bikes up and down the track to follow the races from start to finish.
The women’s division took to the track first. The crowd was enthusiastic watching them sprint their way to the finish line, but none were able to break the four minute mark.
Renisha Robinson was one of four women runners in the elite race. She said hamstring problems held her back slightly, but the course was a good one.
“The weather’s nice. It’s hard to find an entire mile of flat track,” she said.
Geena Gall, a 2012 Olympian from Michigan, took first place in the race. Her main challenge was in staring down the red finishing line arch.
“It’s kind of deceiving. When you can see the finish line arch but it’s still 800 meters away,” she said. This weekend marked her first time in Lodi, but she will return home soon to continue training for the World Championships in Moscow in August.
Of all the day’s racers, Garret Heath was closest with a final time of 4:00.49.
As he crossed the line, an onlooker shouted how close he was.
“Yeah, sorry we couldn’t do it for you today,” he replied.
“I thought we were going to get it early on. We were pushing all the way.”
But the event certainly wasn’t a waste by any means.
“You can’t turn down a place like this,” he said. “In California, it’s easy to compete outdoors all year. But not for everyone else.”
Due to low turnout, several specialty races open to amputees, police and firefighters were lumped together in a 12:30 p.m. race.
“Next year we want to get more participation. More regular runners. This is an event everyone can do, said Monty Merrill. “Now that it happened once, word will get out.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.