Ready, Set, Go!

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

One of the factors that has kept the Palisades Will Rogers 5/10K Run going strong for more than four decades now is that race director Brian Shea and his committee are constantly adding new elements. This year is no exception.

Next Thursday morning the 42nd edition of the local Fourth of July race takes place at the entrance to the Palisades Recreation Center and 2,500 to 3,000 runners—many of them Palisadians—are expected to participate.

One of them is reigning 10K champion Tonny Okello, who won the 6.2-mile race through Will Rogers State Historic Park for a record fifth straight time last summer and will try to make it six in a row this year, which would tie Katie Dunsmuir and Kara Barnard for most 10K victories.

Tonny Okello waves to the crowd upon winning the 10K for the fifth straight time last year. He will try to make it six in a row on July 4.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

“Yes, I’ll be running it again but I’m taking time off racing so I’m not very competitive this year,” he admitted. “My time goal is under 36 [minutes].”

The 35-year-old Santa Monica Track Club member from Mar Vista won in 32:51 last year to become the first five-time men’s champion and the only runner, male or female, to win the 10K five consecutive times.

Originally from Lira, Uganda, Okello came to the United States on a track scholarship in 2004 and majored in Communications at the University of South Alabama. He moved to Santa Monica in 2009 and first visited the Palisades in November 2013 when he was invited to run at Will Rogers during the filming of the 2015 movie “McFarland.” His best time of 31:21 in 2014 is the 12th fastest to date.

The women’s 10K winner last year was 28-year-old Kaitlyn Peale from Portland. Her time of 36:19 was the ninth-fastest overall and fastest by a female in 12 years. The former University of Michigan distance runner merely wanted to beat her boyfriend, former Brentwood School runner Peter Birney—and she did.

It felt like old times for 2018 women’s 5K champion Natalie Marsh, who won in 18:57 fresh off her junior track season at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. She was on the cross country and track teams at Pali High, captaining the Dolphins to the City Section cross country title her senior year.

The 5K overall winner was Ethan Stauber, who had just completed his junior year at Loyola High. Stauber, from Manhattan Beach, broke the tape in 16:05 after taking eighth the year before. Pushing him all the way through the streets of the Huntington were  Cubs teammates Vinnie Giachini and Roberto Ruelas, who finished second and third. Stauber was the third straight Loyola runner to win the 5K, succeeding Riviera resident Charlie Sherman in 2016 and Shane Bissell of Hancock Park in 2017.

Kara Barnard has 11 victories (six 10K, five 5K) while fellow Pali High alum Peter Gilmore has won the 5K eight times.

Loyola figures to be a strong contender in the inaugural “High School Challenge,” a team competition new to the race this year.   

Similar to a high school meet, the top three runners’ places from each participating school in the 5K will contribute to the team total, with the winner being awarded the Dick Lemen Memorial Trophy in honor of the late Dick Lemen, a former coach at Palisades High who was a member of the Ridge Runners—a local running group that staged the first Fourth of July Will Rogers Race in 1978.

Schools entered in this year’s  “Challenge” include Pali High, Loyola, Santa Monica, Venice, Brentwood, Crossroads, University, St. Monica and Wildwood.

Race day registration begins bright and early at 6:30 and ends at 8 a.m., 15 minutes before start time. The half-mile Kids’ Fun Run follows at: 9:30, also starting and ending at the Rec Center entrance.

One of the most popular and challenging 10K courses in California, the route begins at the intersection of Alma Real and Toyopa, winds through the Huntington neighborhood, down Sunset Boulevard and up the switchbacks at Will Rogers before returning up Sunset to the finish at the intersection of Alma Real and Toyopa.

The Borland family will officially start this year’s race in honor of longtime Palisadian and former Ridge Runner Lynn Borland, who passed away in October.

    Borland volunteered at the race for many years and ran over 50 marathons, including the Boston Marathon in 2017 for his 75th birthday. On October 21—just 10 days before he died—he ran in the L.A. Cancer Challenge 5K, placing first in his age group. He never tired of his early morning runs with friends to Will Rogers Inspiration Point. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Vicki; daughters, Laurie Garcia (Terry), Christine Borland and Angie Quigley (Rob); granddaughters, Devin Borland, Jenna Lesnet, Quinn Quigley and Caroline Quigley; great-grandson Aidan; great-granddaughter Alexia; and brother, Wayne (Kim).

Saint John’s Health Center will once again be the title sponsor for the race.

Pali High alum Natalie Marsh, last year’s 5K female winner.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Other sponsors are the Cynthia L. & William E. Simon, Jr. Foundation; The Agency; Farmers Insurance; Amalfi Estates; Caruso Affiliated; Kennedy Wilson; The Jordan Kaplan Family; American Legion; 283 Sons of American Legion; Will Rogers Ranch Foundation and the Santa Monica Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Group. Net proceeds of the race go to the Palisades Will Rogers 5 & 10K Run Foundation, which donates to youth charities/activities with generous help from the Palisades Optimist Club. This year, donations will be made to Movies in the Park—Pacific Palisades Inc; Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles; Palisades Americanism Parade Association; Palisades Village Green; Young Angels of America; Camp Country Jamboree; La Senora Research Institute; CLARE Foundation; Corpus Christi School; Palisades Enrichment Programs, Inc; Paul Revere Charter Middle School And Magnet;  Palisades Charter High School Band;  Palisades- Malibu YMCA; Lutheran Church Youth Program; Chamber Of Commerce Teen Scholarship; Palisades Optimist Foundation, Inc; and Optimist Youth Home.

Last year’s 5K champion Ethan Stauber (center) with teammates Vinnie Giachini and Roberto Ruelas.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

There will be parking along both sides of Temescal Canyon Road the morning of the race, with shuttles running to/from the

Drew Mearns, a 25-year-old law student from Virginia who was in town to visit his sister, won the inaugural race and since then Shea has watched his brainchild grow in prestige and popularity. In 1986, the 5K course became part of the race and the Kids’ Fun Run was added 10 years later.

Last year’s 10K female winner Kaitlyn Peale of Portland.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Runners eager to test themselves on a certified 5K course now have that opportunity after the race committee lengthened the route several years ago. The change increased the distance 427 feet, making it a full 3.1 miles. The split of 5K and 10K runners occurs on northbound Toyopa (5K runners keep left, 10K runners keep right), just prior to turning right onto Drummond.

In 1983, Russell Edmonds of New Zealand set the still-standing men’s 10K race record of 29:46. That same year Dunsmuir, who had just graduated from Palisades High, set the women’s record of 35:09. A cross country and track star for the Dolphins, she had won the previous year and would go on to win four straight times from  1992-95.

Peter Gilmore, who grew up on Via De La Paz, set the men’s 5K record of 14:10 in 2003 and the closest anyone has come to breaking it was Gilmore himself, who clocked 14:12 the next year. The future marathoner won the 5K eight times, the  last in 2006.

Pali High senior Hunter Barnett will sing the national anthem.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shea

Annetta Luevano established the women’s 5K record of 16:29 in 1995.

No one has crossed the finish line first more times than local girl Kara Barnard, a former Pali High and UCLA distance runner, who grew up off Bienveneda. She won the 5K five times and the 10K six times for a total of 11 victories from 1997-2012.