By Chris Bateman

For The Union Democrat

OMR 40. 4/20/19@9, CSP. $20RF. $4,400 CCED, WF. 2KRs, 2MR, 2MW, 10K (54Ms). + <32:12, <35:15=$250X4!!!

Numeric gibberish? Not a chance: The 40 th Old Mill Run is all about the numbers.

And here’s how that “$250X4!!!” at the end translates:

For the first time, the April 20 Old Mill is offering prize money, $250 each, to the first male and female 10K finishers. And if either winner breaks the longstanding records set in the mid-1980s by Don Moses (32:12) and Laurie Crisp (35:16), the prize will be doubled to a cool $500.

Not bad for a little more than 30 minutes of very hard work.

And a guy who knows a lot about that hard work, record holder Moses, says he will run the 40 th Old Mill in the 60-69 division. It will be Don’s first appearance at the race since he won 34 years ago.

“It’s time,” said Moses, who lives in northern LA County. “I have a lot of family up there and visit often. It will be great to return to the Old Mill.”

Also, by popular demand, race organizers are reinstating the 2MR (two-mile run), which will be an out-and-back affair following Parrotts Ferry Road to North Airport, on which runners will turn around and head back toward Columbia and the finish line.

The popular 2MW (two-mile walk) will continue, as will two kids’ races (2KRs) on Columbia’s Main Street.

The $20 RF, registration fee ($25 on race day), includes a classic 40 th T-shirt designed by noted artist Chuck Waldman, who was also winner of the 1980 Old Mill and will again fire the starting gun for the 10K. Also included in the price of admission will be post-run refreshments and a shot at 54 first-, second- and third-place age-group medals in the main event

That’s nearly as many runners as the total 10K turnout, so there’s plenty of glory to go around.

Then there’s the race’s most important number: The $4,400 raised by sponsors and runners who participated in last year’s Old Mill. Of this, $3,300 went to the annual Community Christmas Eve Dinner at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds and $1,100 to the WINGS Foundation, which offers financial support to families of children hospitalized out of the county.

So the Old Mill is Christmas in April for these worthy causes.

“Join us and bring a few friends along,” encouraged Dave Urquhart, a longtime Tuolumne County school administrator who has taken on the Old Mill as a retirement project. “We had a great race last year, and hope even more will come out to Columbia this year.”

The Old Mill will be held rain or shine, and signing up is easy: Just go online to itsyourrace.com. And for procrastinators, there will be race-day registration beginning at 7:15 a.m. in downtown Columbia.

By this time, more than a few readers may still be wondering about that “$250X4!!!” addressed at the top of this story.

“Prize money? Really?” a few may ask. “Do we really need that?”

No, Old Mill organizers agree, they don’t need it. But they believe a little cash will spur interest in the race and bring out more and better runners to the Old Mill.

And bigger turnouts will translate into more cash for the Old Mill’s causes.

It’s not like the Columbia race is breaking ground. Laurie Crisp, the Old Mill’s ’86 winner and an elite marathoner in the late 1980s, was even then winning thousands in race purses. And, even though the new prize money may jeopardize her Old Mill record, she’s all in favor of it. As is Don Moses.

“Running has never been a big revenue sport,” said the ’84 record setter. “But I think prize money is definitely a way to get some attention.”

Today top marathons like London, Boston and New York offer purses totaling more than $1 million. And a few 10Ks offer thousands in prizes. So the Old Mill is dipping its toe into a pool that already has a lot of swimmers.

Last year’s turnout, more than 150 for 10K, kids races and two-mile walk, was best in nearly a decade, and Urquhart hopes to build on the 2018 success.

Although fast-times and competitive races will make for an interesting day in Columbia, the heart and soul of the Old Mill Run for its more than 40 years has been the camaraderie.

Not only among runners, but including friends, organizers and volunteers, such as the TCARES amateur radio enthusiasts, members of the Sheriff’s Community Services Unit, the timing crew from the Sonora Sunrise Rotary Club and many others.

“The Old Mill Run was more social occasion than athletic event, yet really not heavily either,” wrote Union Democrat publisher Harvey McGee after the very first race in 1978, then sponsored by the paper. “The last finishers seemed to enjoy the day as much as the first, and, to a runner, they were ready to do it again next year.”

So now the latest of next years spanning five decades is approaching. And we’re all looking forward to that April 20 family reunion.

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