Jeff Merrill likes to put on a show at the Lodi Mile.
Sunday’s 2019 edition did not disappoint, with close finishes in both the men’s and women’s elite races as well as the high school boys race.
“Oh my gosh, this is amazing. I’ve heard such great things about this race,” said Eleanor Fulton, who won the women’s elite race at 4 minutes, 36.6 seconds — a course record. “Everyone I know who’s ever done it is like, ‘Lodi is my favorite event.’ I can see why, it’s really nice.”
Fulton spent most of the race haunting leader Rachel Schneider, whose personal best of 4:20.91 represents the fifth-best mile run in U.S. history. Then Fulton overtook Schneider on the final turn to win by several strides.
“It’s always kind of hard with road miles, they tend to get tactical, so it’s kind of hard to compare those,” Fulton said. “Usually I just kind of try to compete with people, and if it’s fast or it’s slow, some courses are downhill, some are net up. This is a pretty fair time, a good average time.”
In the men’s elite race, Pat Joseph pulled away late for the win at 4:07, two seconds ahead of two-time Lodi Mile winner Garrett Heath.
“It was a lively atmosphere out here today, some really good races, some really fast races,” said Merrill, the race director who also keeps the event lively as the master of ceremonies. “The elites put on a show. And that high school boys race was pretty fun to watch. I think it’ll just continue to grow every year as people get the word out, and we hope to do that. We want to make it a Lodi staple event, that this is something special in the Lodi community, and the professional runners look forward to it every year.”
The high school races run as team events, with each runner scoring points equal to their place, and the lowest team score winning. In the boys race, Lincoln XC, from Lincoln High, won with 31 points, with runners Noah Pagarin (4:47), Josh Quinzon (4:47), Dane Koesterer (4:57) and Patrick Revives (5:07).
Long Distance Relay-tionship, made up of Lodi High runners, placed second at 32 points. The individual winner was St. Mary’s runner Daniel Winter, who ran a 4:38.
Other notable team names from the boys race included Harty’s Hooligans (a Tokay team referencing Tokay coach Karey Harty), Legs Miserables and The Sorta Fast Guys.
The high school girls race was made up of all teams of Lodi High runners, with the team of Sisters with Blisters taking the team victory at 12 points. That team’s Paris Heiser was the overall winner at 5:45, with Pamela Decko second at 5:54, Yasmin Melendrez fourth at 6:05 and Frida Rodriguez fifth at 6:07.
Among all the racing were the festivities — vendor booths set up in the square, and a beer and wine garden with a view of the finish line. At the finish of each race, spectators crowded along the finish chute to cheer on the runners.
“You don’t get too many with fans being able to crowd around it that closely,” Merrill said. “There are a few places in the country or in the world where you can get that close to a race. It’s something exciting to them go all out right at the end, especially when there’s a battle.”
Other race winners included Kirt Iverson in the men’s masters at 5:29, Bonita Camacho in the women’s masters at 8:30, Kevin Colon in the men’s open at 4:38, Lindsey Drake in the women’s open at 5:26, and Will Hunsucker in the kids and family race at 7:13.
A couple of notable runners in the men’s masters race included Tony Vice, owner of Fleet Feet Stockton, and Dave Phillips of Michael David Winery.
“I grew up running at Lodi High, we had a great coach back then, and running changed my life to a healthy lifestyle,” Phillips said. “And I love promoting sports in Lodi, especially youth sports, and trying to encourage kids to live a healthy lifestyle.”
The Lodi Mile wasn’t the only athletic event Phillips is involved in — the S.H.E. 365 Women’s 5K Run was Aug. 3 at Michael David Winery, and the business will also host the Giro de Vino bike ride, a 60-mile organized ride that hits up many of the wineries in Lodi.
“Having events like this is just great for the community,” Phillips said. “It gets people to be active and healthy, gets more kids into running, to get more scholarships for athletes out of the high schools here. We’ve been pretty successful at that, and want to continue it.”
Videos from the high school and elite races will be posted to the event’s website, www.thelodimile.com.