The Will Rogers 45th Annual Race returns this year, after a two-year absence because of the Covid pandemic.
The 5/10K is run on one of the most beautiful courses in the country, with the 10K winding through Will Rogers Historic State Park. Runners are urged to register early (palisades4th.com) and pick up packets on July 2 and 3 at the Palisades Recreation Center.
Residents Brian Shea and Chris Carlson had just finished running the Brentwood 10K in 1977 and thought it would be great if Pacific Palisades could have a 10K run. A group of men, who ran together as the Ridge Runners, organized the first Will Rogers 10K Run in 1978, augmenting the town’s other Fourth of July activities.
That first year, Drew Mearns won the men’s race in 31:35 and Pam Firestone was the women’s champion in 39:35. Between 1978 and 2011, Russell Edmonds had the fastest course record of 29:46 (1983) and Katie Dunsmuir Younger had the fastest women’s time of 35:09 (also in 1983).
However, the race times were never official, because the course had not been officially measured. Before the 2012 race, the course was recalibrated and found to be 475 feet short, so the extra distance was added. Tonny Okello, who won the race in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, now holds the course record of 31:21 (2014) and Kaitlyn Peale has the women’s record of 36.19 (2018).
A 5K run was added in 1986, and current race director Brian Shea later explained why. “The 5K started the year after the 10K race sent 20 ambulances to local hospitals because of the heat, and it was on every news channel that evening.”
“It was very hot that year and runners had only one choice, the 10K,” Shea said. “The 5K was born the next year to give runners a choice of either distance.”
David Greifinger won the inaugural race in 15:22 and Kiki Laborteaux finished first in the women’s division in 17:34.
Palisades High runner Peter Gilmore, who eventually became one of the country’s leading marathon runners, won the 5K eight times: 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006. Kara Bernard holds the most wins for women with five: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2004.
The 5K course was recalibrated in 2015, bring it to national standard. With the now accurately measured route, Andrew Bland now holds the record at 15:48 (2014). Drake Johnston, who won in 2015 and 2016, has the second fastest time of 15:56. Regina Lopez holds the women’s record with 17:54 set in 2017.
LEMEN HIGH SCHOOL TROPHY
The Lemen High School Run coincides with the 5K race. Student runners from local high schools run under their school’s name and compete for the team trophy. The fastest three individual times are added to determine the winner.
The first year of the competition in 2019, Palisades High edged out Loyola by just 53 total seconds. Pali’s Brett Bailey ran 17.35, Alec Schmitt 18:27 and David Tobin 18:54, giving the team a time of 54.16.
Loyola’s Nathan Mars ran 18:28, and Tyler Ratkovich and Mark Valencuela had identical times of 18:39, giving the team a 55.07.
This team competition is dedicated to the late Dick Lemen, a longtime Palisadian and a track coach at Palisades High for many years. He was also a member of the Ridge Runners, the band of about 20 local runners who originated the Will Rogers Run in 1978.
In a 1990s feature article by Matt Purdue (“They’re Running the Show”), Lemen explained why the group organized the 5/10K races. “It’s a good opportunity for us to put something back into running. Also, it’s good for the community and we enjoy doing it.”
Lemen died in 2017 and is survived by his wife, Karen, and two adult children, Carly and Jeff.