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A Jog Down Memory Lane

1978 was the year I got my teaching credential from Sonoma State University, bought a little house in Willits for $15,000, and was hired that Fall by the Willits Unified School District to teach at the newly formed San Hedrin Continuation High School.

Yvonne and I were happy to finally live in town after having lived up in the hills north of Willits almost since we met in 1971. It was especially nice having a flush toilet and electricity, aka being “on the grid.” 

And that is the year I really got into running. I had run back in high school and college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but ten years went by before I started running again.

It was 1977 while getting my teaching credential at Sonoma State. I had time between classes, so I started running on a path that meandered west along a creek that flowed through the campus west toward Highway 101.

My first race was in May of 1978 at the First Annual Willits Hospital Run, a five-miler around the South end of town and back to the Howard Hospital grounds. Local high school track star Teddy Smith took the lead and held it all the way to the finish. 

I started somewhere in the middle of the pack with my running buddy and co-Roots of Motive Power co-founder, Chris Baldo, and his dog Arvid. They both beat me.

So, then I started running every day and by July when the First Annual Frontier Days' Family Footrace 2-miler started, I was on the starting line in a little better shape.

The newly crowned Willits High School League Champ Teddy Smith again took off and left all of us in the dust and horse manure ... but as Howie Hawkes and I crossed the Skunk Train tracks about a half-mile from the Main Street finish line we noticed Teddy's head bob side to side, a sure sign he was tiring. So, Howie said, “Go get him Gibbons!” and I took off and passed him on Main Street to win my first footrace. 

I amped up my training that Summer and by Fall when school began, I met a crazed runner, Roy Swett, a Bechtel Grove Middle School teacher who lived in Ukiah. 

We would meet at my house after school and run the ten-mile loop around Little Lake Valley, or the back way to Brooktrails (it has since been fenced off), or out Muir Mill Road, just south of the Evergreen Shopping Center.

Roy claimed he got up at five every morning and ran ten miles around Ukiah, meaning the days he ran with me after school were 20-mile days! Then with his long runs on the weekend he was covering 100 miles a week. Roy won the first annual Boonville Run, a 3.5 miler in September, but burned out by the end of the year. 

According to my records, I was second to Swett in that first Boonville run, but didn't run Boonville again until five years later (1983), finishing second to Jerry Drew in what was considered then to be the 1st Annual Boontling Classic.

This race was an 8K put on by Reed Colfax, a 13-year-old local who was home schooled, along with his two older brothers, all eventually becoming Harvard grads.

I got to know Reed when I took him and my son Eli to the Regional Cross Country Championships up in Reno that fall, after they qualified at the Redwood Empire Junior Olympic Cross Country trials held in Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Park.

Reed told me the best part of the trip was just being away from chores for two days. His chores included feeding and milking the goats, part of the family routine on their Boonville farm. I sympathized by telling him we had goats for a couple years, plus chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, and a donkey. Makes it tough to take a vacation. 

Reed ran well the next day, improving his time, but his competition was tough, being mostly junior high school teams and club runners with coaches and teammates to train with.

Eli qualified in the 10/under division, but I had already spent my Christmas savings on weekend trips to Santa Rosa, Sacramento, and Reno, not sure I could afford flying to Nebraska. But a funny thing happened. The Willits News ran a story about us, and the Willits townspeople offered money to send us to Nebraska.

By the end of 1983 I had run eighty-three races and was not slowing down, as I was about to turn 40 and win prize money for the first time. 

Now, as I write this introduction, I have 525 races under my belt, and yes, at 72-years-old I am slowing down. I used to be insulted when people called me a jogger, but now I must admit I am one.

Postscript: I have not raced since the Fall of 2016, just three races after I wrote the previous paragraph. The combination of my right knee and my chronic asthma finally forced me to retire.

One Comment

  1. Fred W Hornbruch III August 7, 2020

    New e-book by same title now available on A fast and fascinating personal history of running. Buy it on Kindle or read free on Kindle Unlimited. Print version to come.

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