Runners gather for the start of last year's Tilden Tough Ten

By Kate Stewart

On Sunday, May 15, 15,000 runners will brave a storm of tortillas and set off on a 7.6 mile “race” from San Francisco’s Financial District to the ocean. Meanwhile, across the Bay, up in the Berkeley hills, 300 runners will toe the line for a very different kind of race.

This year marks the 23rd running of the Tilden Tough Ten Miler, an “alternative” race, rich with its own history and traditions. Sponsored by the Lake Merritt Striders & Joggers, the East Bay’s oldest running club, the TTT grew out of a half marathon (more or less) called the Berkeley to Moraga Run, which began at the Claremont Hotel and wound its way to St. Mary’s College in Moraga. Following the free spirited Berkeley manner, in the early days the race was conducted without permits, insurance or traffic controls, including simply putting down a phalanx of traffic cones on Ashby Avenue (without police sanction) so that the runners could make their way up to Highway 13.

Eventually, the race was deemed too dangerous for this free-wheeling approach and was discontinued. However, longtime club member Ernie Isaacs felt strongly runners wanted a local race that was both challenging and fun and which celebrated the East Bay. One of his favorite training runs was the Nimitz Way, and it thus became a natural choice for the “next generation” run. The choice to run it on the same day as the Bay to Breakers was deliberate, offering runners an alternative to the “madness” of the Bay to Breakers.

The original Berkeley to Moraga race featured a lung-bursting climb of 1,200 feet in 4.5 miles, and Ernie wanted the “new” race to appeal to the same breed of runners. The current course is an “out and back”, beginning and ending at the parking lot at Inspiration Point and is run on both road and trail, with a “killer hill” on the trail portion at miles 4.5/5.5 which descends/climbs 125 feet in just a tenth of a mile. Combined with the unpredictable effects of erosion and free range cattle, it isn’t uncommon to see runners virtually crawling up and down this slope. If the year has been a rainy one, like the current year, runners should expect some muddy fun!

The rest of the course varies from gently rolling to long, slow climbs. Flat is hard to find, and “tough” is more than alliteration. The weather offers its own brand of “tough” each year, with temperatures that can vary widely, from the blazing 70s in 2009 to the can’t-see-your-feet-foggy 40s last year, as well as occasional “perfect” days. What can’t be beat is the scenery, with San Francisco and the Bay on one side and the hills on the other. Runners are treated to the full array of wildflowers and the wildlife of Tilden Park. Wild turkeys, rabbits, hawks and other birds are frequent sights along the way. The Tilden cows provide a unique cheering squad. For those not concerned about finishing times, it is a 10-mile photo op.

Dubbed “The Best Run in the East Bay” in 2008 by the East Bay Express, the race is limited to 300 runners, with many runners making it an annual must. In 2001, the race became part of the East Bay Triple Crown Trail Championship series, and is the leadoff race in this grueling test of endurance. (The other two races in the series are the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge Half Marathon and the Dick Houston Memorial Woodminster X-C Race. Winners are determined by totaling times in all three races. Finishers of all three receive a survivor award.)

Numerous local running legends are featured in the club record books. The female course record is held by Magdalena Lewy-Boulet (2008 Olympics), who ran the course in 64:37 in 2002, the same year her husband Richie Boulet ran in 58:10. Last year, ultra-running specialist and Oakland resident Caitlin Smith took home the fastest-female honors with a time of 65:45. The men’s course record of 54:51, held by Kalid Abdalah, stands unbroken since 2003. For the goal-oriented, there are coveted “sub” shirts, for those able to complete the course in less than 80, 70 and 60 minutes. For everyone else, there is the beauty of our own backyard, celebrated in the best way possible — on foot and up close.

For those who want to test their legs and endurance, more details and easy, low-cost registration can be found at the LMJS website. Go, Ducks!

Kate Stewart is the race director of the Tilden Tough Ten. She ran it in 84:03 in 2007.

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