The Mercury News Article published April 14, 2017 (Click here to see original article

The Mercury News; Community News

Great Race celebrates 40 years

PUBLISHED: April 14, 2017 at 8:45 am | UPDATED: April 15, 2017 at 3:22 am

When the Great Race gets underway at 9 a.m. on April 30, the expected crowd of 1,400 runners, joggers, walkers and strollers will be celebrating an event 40 years in the making. What was once some out-of-the-box thinking by some local line on Big Basin Way in downtown Saratoga during the 2012 Great Race bankers and educators has since become one of the South Bay Area’s most treasured traditions. Four decades ago, a new running craze was sweeping the U.S., counting among its devotees then-president Jimmy Carter. Here at home, Northern California’s first all-weather track had just been installed at Los Gatos High School, generating major media buzz.

“District superintendent Jim Regan and principal Ted Simonson were really pushing the new track,” said Willie Harmatz, formerly the track and cross country head coach at both Saratoga and Los Gatos high schools, and now owner of Athletic Performance.

So when representatives from Saratoga’s Great Western Federal Savings Bank approached Hamatz and his colleague, SHS coach George Wichtman, with a seemingly crazy idea, they were intrigued. “The bankers wanted to have one race that would start at their bank in Saratoga and end up at the other branch in Los Gatos, and another one that would go in the opposite direction, from the Los Gatos to the Saratoga bank. They came to us because we were both coaching and asked us to put it on for them, and we said yes,” Harmatz said.

Looking back on four decades of a ‘fad’ the Great Race from Los Gatos to Saratoga launched when the entire country was consumed by the running craze. On April 30, the event marks its 40th anniversary.

In the earliest years, the Los Gatos-Saratoga race drew only about 200 runners, Harmatz added, while the more downhill Saratoga-Los Gatos route drew approximately 1,300 participants. Recalled Harmatz, “After a few years of this, the Los Gatos Athletic Association took over the race, and we changed the route to the way it runs today and extended it from 3.8 miles to a full four miles. Dr. Bruce Springbett oversaw the starting line in Saratoga, and the LGAA took care of the finish line.”

For the first two outings, Harmatz convinced his then- roommate Mark Schilling to run the race. An elite sub-four- minute miler, Schilling finished far ahead of the pack. In year three, Harmatz recruited Mike Dyer, his best runner at Saratoga High School; Dyer snatched the crown from Schilling, setting a course record in the process.

By the mid-1980s the race directors were ready to pass the baton to a new team. The Rotary Club of Los Gatos stepped up to the challenge, and has overseen the event ever since, said Rotarian Mike Norcia, the Great Race’s runner-in-chief for nearly the past decade. “We’ve been incredibly lucky to have so many great people and a lot of extra hands helping us out,” Norcia said. “This year we’ll have some wonderful volunteers from Saratoga Federated Church, and tons of youth volunteers. And as always, Boy Scout Troop 2—which was actually the second Boy Scout Troop ever founded in America—will be at the water station at La Hacienda Inn. They do a ton of other stuff as well, including cutting up oranges for the runners, and helping us with teardown after the race; they’re awesome.”

Online registration for the Great Race will be available until midnight on April 28. But Norcia noted that even those who awaken on Sunday morning hankering to do the race can still head over to Big Basin Way and sign up. The registration fee is $45, or $35 for kids under 12. Additionally, members of participating nonprofits will see 20 percent of the registration fee returned to their

organization. “We’ll give you a special promo code, and the nonprofit that signs up the most members will receive an extra $200,” Norcia noted. All proceeds from registration fees will support Rotary’s school, community and international projects, with the biggest percentage allocated to local schools, Norcia said.

Shuttles will transport runners from Los Gatos to the starting line from 7 to 8:15 a.m., leaving from the parking lot on Grays Lane just north of University Ave. Those headed back to Saratoga will find shuttles running continuously after the race until 11 a.m. If there’s a chill in the air, athletes can leave sweats on the truck at the starting line, then retrieve their items at the Fun & Fitness Fair near the finish line n Los Gatos.

“We hope the local community will come out and be a part of our 40th anniversary celebration,” said Norcia. “We’ll have some cool photos from the early years, and everyone will be sharing fun stories. Whether you’re a fast runner or just want to walk the four miles, the Great Race welcomes everyone.”

Great Race sponsors include Sereno Group, El Camino Hospital Los Gatos, Cornerstone Shopping Center, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Integrated Copy Solutions, Athletic Performance, OPTM Physical Therapy, Orangetheory, Inikosoft, the San Jose Earthquakes, Los Gatos Luxury Cars and Soul Cycle.

To register online, visit