With every stride the pace seemed more dull for jogger Dan Ashimine, who likes his running that way.
It was almost noon. Along with 15 members of his Gardena Valley Runners club, Ashimine exited Crenshaw Boulevard at El Camino College, part of a 10-mile circle that begins and ends at Ashimine's auto repair shop in Gardena.
Founder, coach and sometimes surrogate father to about 60 members of the club, Ashimine insists on a slow pace for all his runners. On this run there were no mad dashes, no wind sprints. The joggers, some in the street, others on the sidewalk, even stopped at red signal lights, talking among themselves as they went.
Ashimine's approach to distance running, which he calls "discipline training," is unorthodox. But as the Gardena Valley Runners post more victories in amateur street races, his ideas are drawing attention.
Ironically, Ashimine has no formal training in track or road running, but most of his runners say his ideas have helped them post personal-best times. Said Deke Houlgate, a veteran distance runner who does public relations for the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 5-K and 10-K Run: "The club is just one man's personality. He took what he's learned in running and applied it to others."
Ashimine took up distance running a decade ago as a release for the tension of running a small business. He has a simple philosophy: "We start off easy, and I peak (the runners) at the right time."
Years of pounding the streets around the South Bay on his own convinced Ashimine that conventional training did not work for the average runner, so in 1982 he founded the Gardena Valley club. Each member pays a one-time fee of $15. Ashimine encourages average Joes to join.
"I'll take just about anybody," he said, "but they have to be nice."
Ashimine believes in daily street workouts of 10 to 20 miles. Each weekday at 11 a.m., members gather at his auto shop, behind an old house on 168th Street near Normandie Avenue. The club headquarters is a small wooden shed paneled with snapshots of the runners in action.
From here they leave on a two-hour jaunt along 190th Street to the Redondo Beach Pier, or through the industrial section of Gardena into Torrance and around El Camino College and Alondra Park.
Each runner is thinly clad in running shorts, lightweight shoes without socks, and distinctive yellow T-shirts and tank tops bearing the Gardena Valley Runners logo. On a recent run, the yellow shirts seemed almost as brilliant as the plentiful December sunshine.
Along the street-racing circuit, those yellow shirts are becoming increasingly familiar. The no-name Gardena Valley Runners have made a name for themselves by dominating local 5-K and 10-K runs and marathons in the past few years. At the annual Torrance Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, the first six finishers wore yellow shirts.
"It's a real strong club, very visible, but they have no big-name runners," said Don Franken, a professional track promoter who handles some of the world's elite runners.
The club's successes have made Ashimine something of a track guru.
"If he started out with a famous miler and got him a world record, than he would have received the recognition he deserves," said Houlgate. "But he's starting with guys that aren't even known."
Yet as word of Ashimine's unusual training philosophy spreads, top-flight runners have begun to seek him out.
"You don't attract those kind of guys unless you are doing something right," Houlgate said.
Road-racing experts such as Houlgate and Franken see the Gardena Valley Runners at a crossroads. Already, Ashimine has trained distance runners from Europe, Africa and Mexico. Several top performers in this year's CIF Southern Section high school finals are members of the club. And recently Ashimine acquired two road racers from Kenya, Sam Obwocha and William Musyoki. Both rank among the world's 10 best, according to Houlgate.
"If I keep pluggin' with this system, I think that I might be able to change a few things," Ashimine said.
The auto repair shop, down a driveway under a neon sign, is hidden behind the old house and its chain-link fence. On a recent morning, the pungent odor of axle grease filled the air. Mercedes-Benzes, Mazdas and Chevrolets were lined up three deep waiting for service. Ashimine, clad in faded jeans, tennis shoes and one of those yellow T-shirts, wiped his hands clean.
"Have trouble finding the place?" he asked. "Most people do the first time."
Soon runners began arriving to warm up for their daily jog.
Ashimine took a seat in the runners' office, next to the service bay. The only hint of the pressure he says he feels as a businessman was that telltale sign of the auto mechanic: black grime under his fingernails. All he wanted to talk about was running.
"I'm mad," Ashimine said. "We have the best runners in the world in the United States, but we have no world-class results. I attribute that to our training techniques.