Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tough Topanga 10K

Every Memorial Day Saturday for the last 6 or so years, I wake up super early and hike uphill through the morning fog, and volunteer for the Topanga 10K Run.

You can read about The Topanga 10K at the link. It's a challenging run for all ages through the beautiful mountains of Topanga State Park. You can also walk it if you like. I'm not a runner. I volunteer because I can't say no when this person asks me to:

Jill and her husband Sparky have been in charge of the run for more than 10 years, and between the two of them, they organize everything from figuring how to clock runners' time to making the floral arrangements for the closing ceremony.

Jill has recruited athletic Topanga moms to run or walk in the race, but she's also roped at least a score of non-runner Topanga moms into volunteering. I do pretty much anything that's asked of me. This morning, I sat at a damp picnic table under the oaks and registered runners, fumbling a pen in my cold fingers. It was great to see all the runners check in, and the kids. One of the great things Sparky has been doing is recruit kids from all over Los Angeles to participate in the run, and providing subsidies for those who need it.

Here are the runners setting off from the starting line:

They round the corner out of the parking lot, and then they're on the trail. You can see here how quickly the elevation rises:

Once the race starts, we have about 40 minutes to set up for the Runner's Breakfast at the end of the course.

As I said, I'm not a runner, so I don't know what most runs feature for refreshments at the end of a race. Complimentary juice boxes and energy bars? Not here. The Topanga 10K breakfast is legendary.

Set beneath the porch overhang at the Nature Center at Topanga State Park, in one corner there are 3 or 4 women cutting fruit into serving portions, another 3 or 4 slicing bagels; in the kitchen platters are arranged with fresh tomatoes, onion slices, smoked salmon. There are bowls of cream cheese and capers; in the kitchen's oven pans of frittata, roast vegetables, and baked granola warm.

The serving tables are set with real linens and vases of garden flowers. The bagels are served in wicker baskets, the food platters are ceramic and earthenware. Here's the serving line before the runners return:

And here it is 15 minutes later:

My favorite thing to do is serve out the famous warm granola. An assortment of fresh, home-canned, and dried fruit is covered with granola, dotted with butter and baked until it's a hot, sweet, crunchy delight, served with yogurt or cream to pour on top.

I've had people tell me that this is the reason they sign up for the grueling run. And why they come back each year. I've seen people's eyes widen when they taste their first bite of this stuff. Seeing their enjoyment is the best reward for volunteering. It makes it worth enduring the early hour, the damp cold, and the exhaustion at the end of the day.

The other great reward for participating in this each year is the chance to re-connect with friends and neighbors. Now that our kids are grown, and there aren't school activities to bring us together, it's easy to lose touch. We all work in different places, commute by different routes. The annual reunion in the kitchen, the time spent chatting while slicing bagels, the exclamations and hugs when you spot an old friend in the line are a welcome reminder that we are a community.

I almost feel like I earned a medal myself.


Anonymous said...

I agree, the Topanga Tough 10K is the best! Great food indeed and the company of the runners, walkers, and the volunteers are some of the fabulous reasons for participating. Everyone is cheerful, supportive and genuine....refreshing for sure.
Thanks for being there, see you next year, same time same place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jill and company for another great experience with my favorite race. You cant find a nicer group of volunteers, the race is wonderful and the food is amazing! The race t-shirt is a major work of art! I look forward to the race every year! Thank you for all your years of dedication. Andrea Behm

Anonymous said...

When I was still competing as a runner, I was a regular at the Tough Topanga for many years. The course was challenging, but that wondrous post-race granola made it all worthwhile. Thank you for the great memories.