Lodi Mile brings blazing times, community feel to Hutchins

Runners in the Elite Men's race turn the first corner during the sixth-annual Lodi Mile on Sunday, Aug. 12 at Hutchins Street Square.

The weather should be a balmy 93 degrees on Sunday. The speed, though, could be blistering.

A slew of talented runners will descend on Hutchins Street Square on Sunday for the Lodi Mile, with the hopes of breaking the 4-minute barrier for the first time in San Joaquin County since the 1960s.

The men’s elite race has several competitors that could take that mark down, while the women’s elite race has some of its fiercest competitors yet looking to take down the 4:28 mark.

“The women’s course record is 4:38, set two years ago by Leah O’Connor,” said Jeff Merrill, the race director. “That record is definitely in danger this year. People are putting some friendly bets down at the beer garden, and I would bet on it going down.”

There’s Rachel Schneider, who became the fifth-fastest American women of all time in the mile with a 4:20.91 at the Herculis Diamond League Meeting in Monaco on July 12, and will represent the U.S. in the 5,000-meter race at the IAAF World Championships on Doha, Qatar in late September.

“She’s probably the highest-caliber athlete we’ve had in the Lodi Mile,” Merrill said.

The women’s field also includes Jess Tonn and Eleanor Fulton. Tonn is the daughter of Lodi High graduate Scott Tonn, and was eighth in the 10,000-meter at the USA Outdoor Championships in July. Fulton was a finalist in the 1,500 at the same event, and has a personal best of 4:30 in the mile.

On the men’s side, Garrett Heath of the Brooks Beats Track Club returns after winning the Lodi Mile twice, and has a personal best of 3:53 in the mile. His competitors will include Pat Joseph with the Tinman Elite Track Club in Colorado (3:57 personal best recently at the Sir Walter Miler race in Raleigh, N.C.) and Nick Harris, who was third in this year’s U.S. Road Mile Championships in De Moines, Iowa, with a 3:58 person best.

Merrill said a number of factors keep elite runners coming back to the event.

“I think it’s a unique community feel we put into this race,” he said. “We spend a lot of time trying to make it a cultural event that people can rally around. It’s our big mission to keep the city adopted as their own.”

But this two-lap sprint around the city block that houses Hutchins Street Square isn’t just for the elite runners — there’s a kids and family jog, which Merrill said is open to dogs as well, there’s an open race, a men’s and women’s masters race, and a boys and girls high school team championship, which uses a cross country points-based scoring system.

“The elite runners, they get really into the high school races,” Merrill said. “That’s probably what we talk about after the race the most, is how the high school races turned out. They grew up doing that, and they love to see the high school kids getting into it.”

The event will include more than just the races — the square will be filled with a vendor village, with tents from Fleet Feet Stockton, Inspire Coffee and the Pump Institute, to name just a few of the local businesses. La Bamba food truck will also be on the scene.

There will also be a beer and wine garden, situated right at the finish line with a perfect view.

“Something we’ve been trying to drive home is people are afraid to come out and run,” Merrill said, “but you can go out and walk it with a coffee if you want, then grab a chair and watch the show.”

All proceeds from the event go to the Lodi Sports Foundation, which was originally created to raise money to refurbish the Lodi High track. Since that was completed a few years back, the foundation now has a broader mission of revitalizing and building athletic facilities in Lodi.

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