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County Runners Haven't Stopped


I remember the day I quit the really hard running, the gut-wrenching, foot-frying running. I had set out to run 16 miles, from my parents' home in Rossmoor to Long Beach City College and back, a run I had made many, many times without incident.

The Nike-Oregon Track Club Marathon in Eugene, Ore., was coming up in a few months. My college eligibility was finished and there would be no excuses for failing to set a personal best. At least that's what I told myself as I walked out the door that early summer morning in 1984.

I had hoped the day would be cool and overcast. It was hot, clear and windless. I quit a mile from home, sitting on a curb in the shade to ponder my future.

I vowed to run only to stay in shape. I would ditch the marathon and go get a job. Hell, I wasn't going to win the thing anyway. There was one proviso: I would race again when I reached 35.

I turned 34 in March. If I am to rejoin the Orange County running scene I left behind years ago, I decided I better check it out to see what it's like now.

Rumors abounded that running died in the county quite a few years ago. I heard no one ran anymore. They all rode bicycles. Or joined a gym. Or simply moved to Portland or Seattle. All the running stores were closed, replaced by computer outlets.

I heard the few races that survived weren't competitive and were organized by folks more interested in turning a quick buck.

But I needed to get to the bottom of all this, so I phoned my old friend and teammate Jim Reish to learn what life on the roads was like these days. If anyone would know the skinny, he would.

"It's not dead. There are fewer races, but the races that have survived are larger and stronger," said Reish, 33, from Rancho Santa Margarita. "There's the Dana Point Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day--nobody misses that one. There's the Fourth of July races. There's the Race for the Cure in October that brings out 4,000 to 6,000 women at Fashion Island. That's a huge county race."

Neither he nor his most frequent training partners seems to be troubled by the lack of a marathon in Orange County. His last three have been at Olympia, Wash., Seattle and the 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon in April.

"I know of only one person in our club of 300 who ran in L.A.," he said. "Most people I know make their marathons into vacations. You seem to be able to focus on the race better. You spend the money and it's like a business trip."

Reish runs up to six days a week, often reaching 60 miles per week while working 40 hours a week. He does track workouts once a week at UC Irvine with teammates on the California Coast Track Club and is coached by Bill Sumner. Reish tries to do the rest of his running after work on trails near his home. He is less concerned by the overflow of mountain bikers on the trails than by drivers of expensive German imports on neighborhood streets.

"We've talked about this before, but I think the first page of the owner's manual says, 'Congratulations, you now own the road,' " Reish said. "Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar drivers all seem to be on the phone and don't have any time to avoid you. Working-class neighborhoods are more sensitive to runners and cyclists. Sports-utility vehicle drivers usually have ski racks or are mountain bikers, so they're not a problem."

If Reish and many of his teammates have a gripe, it's that all the running shops did in fact close. A Snail's Pace in Fountain Valley is one exception, however. Reish buys his shoes, shorts, sweats and socks through mail-order companies.

I didn't tell Reish I planned to show my face again at the Bach Bay 8K, a quirky race in Upper Newport Bay that features classical musicians at various points along the course.

But I got the flu and couldn't get out of bed for five days.

This comeback stuff might be harder than I thought.

Nobody in their right mind likes to run alone. It's neither easy nor safe (this being the '90s and all). Forget the loneliness of the long-distance runner. We are social animals. We do better with friends along for company.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the thriving running club scene.

Reish stumbled into his club while running a workout at UCI. He says it's been a big help in keeping him running competitively.

"It's a large group of people with varying experience and abilities," he said. "You can always find somebody to run with."

Reish joined the club two years after his final track season at Long Beach State in 1986 and has run faster than he did in college. His bests of 15 minutes 19 seconds for 5 kilometers and 31:52 for 10K were recorded in '88. He ran 2:37 for the marathon last year.

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