Lake Merritt, in the heart of downtown Oakland, California, is a scenic body of water surrounded by neighborhoods containing fine examples of buildings in styles ranging from the Beaux-Arts of the turn of the last century “City Beautiful” movement, to 1920s Art Deco, to brand new glass-walled skyscrapers. This oasis, in the center of the city, has been a popular spot for runners since before the first running boom began in the 1970’s.
It is a wonderful place to run and is home to the Eastbay’s oldest running club, the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders (LMJS). In 1976, some of the more dedicated Lake Merritt runners began to coordinate their workouts and post-run activities. By March 1977, a core group of club founders were sufficiently motivated and organized to formally establish the club as a viable entity.
From that small beginning, 36+ years ago, the club has grown and prospered, and has without fail, since its start, put on the monthly Fourth Sunday Run. Since its start, almost 40,000 runners cumulatively (about 1200 each year), have run in the signature event of the club, its Fourth Sunday races. Membership today stands at about 250 members.
Activities emblematic of LMJS’ commitment to the local running community to provide low-key, modest cost, but serious runs has been the Fourth Sunday runs at Lake Merritt. These popular 5, 10, and 15K races around the Lake, over a measured and certified course have personified the club’s role. These races which began in 1977, remain popular and basically the same to this day. All runners receive a finisher’s ribbon; place ribbons are given three deep in 10-year age groups; results are published on the club’s website. In addition, LMJS also sponsors several other special races during the year.
The “Tilden Tough Ten” is the Club’s most popular event, hosting 300 runners each year. This 10 mile trail run in Tilden Park, high in the Berkeley hills, is a challenging out and back course, over rolling and sometimes steep terrain. It offers unparalleled views of San Francisco and the hills. Established in 1988 as an alternative to the Bay to Breakers race, the 300 runners vie for coveted finishing time T-shirts (sub-60, sub-70, and sub-80 minutes) emblazoned with our club logo of the famous running ducks. In 2001, this race became part of the East Bay Triple Crown Trail Championship series, and is the leadoff race in this grueling test of endurance.
Another special run sponsored each year is called “Time Is on Your Side.” In this 5K or 10K race, the prize goes to the most accurate, not to the swiftest. Runners who are most skillful at predicting their times win the prizes; no one is allowed to wear a watch. Most people usually finish within five percent of their predicted times; however, we have found that age does not generally give us wisdom. Runners around the ages of 60 don’t do much better predicting their times than those under 40. The club’s oldest race, dating back to its very beginning is the “Couples Relay.” In this race, one man and one woman each runs one lap (5K) around the lake; the team with the fastest time in each combined age group wins.
Every year since 1977, the club has sent seven-person teams to the Tahoe Relays at Lake Tahoe. The race consists of seven person teams running the approximately 72 mile circumference of the Lake. Each leg is about 10 miles and each one is different; some are very hilly, one mostly downhill, but a tad longer, most a mixture of both. Lake Tahoe, at an altitude of 6,000 feet, is a marvelous place to run: snow-capped mountains surround the runners where ever they are. Over the years, many of our teams have garnered first place in their respective divisions and each team member receives a handsome plaque symbolic of their achievement.
Another of our regular activities at Lake Merritt is called “Total Time Competition”; it awards a certificate every spring to club members who have run all three distances (5K, 1OK, 15K) during the year’s 12 races. The winners are the men and women who get the best total times in their age group.
Over the years, the club has been active in the community at large, partnering with different organizations. Currently, LMJS is working with "Girls on the Run Bay Area" and our August race is a benefit for them with race proceeds helping to support their programs in Oakland.
In keeping with the club philosophy of encouraging runners, especially new ones, to meet and have fun, the club sponsors several potluck get-togethers annually. LMJS has been fortunate to have Ruth Anderson (who is also a charter member of the club), Ann Trason, Brad Hawthorne, Linda Sommers, Tom Craig, Shirley Matson, Sal Vasquez, Dean Karnazes, and the late Walt Stack, among others as guest speakers at these potlucks. In addition, a new club activity was recently started, a weekly, Saturday morning training run. This run features trail runs in local parks of moderate distance and difficulty followed by coffee and the exchange of running related stories.
All of these activities are made possible by the volunteer efforts of our members. We are proud that our membership includes first time walkers and finishers of the Western States 100 Mile Trail Run. As we enter the 36th year since our founding, LMJS is looking forward to the future and hopes to continue to provide an umbrella of running camaraderie, so that those men and women, of all ability levels, can join the running community to further their running skills, advance their interest in running, and have fun doing it.