By Chris Bateman

For The Union Democrat

Curtis Creek School seventh-grader Broen Holman celebrated the Old Mill Run’s 40th edition Saturday morning by winning the 6.2-mile race with more than two minutes to spare.

Holman did so in perfect running conditions — partly cloudy and cool — and in the company of more than 170 runners and walkers who came to Columbia State Historic Park for the race’s landmark birthday.

The 13-year-old crossed the Columbia State Park finish line in 35 minutes, 16 seconds — the fastest Old Mill 10K time in several years. In the process, Broen became part of the first father-son team to win the race.

His dad, Darren Holman, won the 2016 Old Mill with a time of 36:16. Broen, then 10, finished that race about four minutes later.

The senior Holman, a star track athlete at Sonora High and at Cal Poly in the 1990s, also happens to be Broen’s coach with the Foothill Gold Track and Running Club, which has spawned many talented young runners since it was founded more than five years ago. Darren Holman is also cross country coach at Stanislaus State.

None of this, of course, helped Columbia marathoner Brian Forbes, who for the second consecutive year was the Old Mill’s runner-up, with a 37:21 time Saturday. And, also for the second time, the 44-year-old lost to a grade-schooler.

Last year Forbes was beaten by Foothill Gold runner Adin Dibble, then a Curtis Creek eighth-grader. Dibble is now a freshman on the Sonora High School track team and did not compete Saturday.

“I keep getting older, and those kids will keep getting better,” laughed Forbes, a nurse-educator who recorded a spectacular sub-2:40 time in last year’s California International Marathon in Sacramento. “But I can lose weight to get faster, and they don’t have much of that to lose.”

In any case, both Forbes and Broen Holman promised to come back to Columbia next year.

Thirty-nine-year-old Melissa Foiada, of Twain Harte, who took the 2019 Old Mill women’s crown in 48:07, said she’ll also return. Supported Saturday by more than a dozen fellow members of Soulsbyville’s Sierra Flow Fitness, Foiada crossed the line nearly two minutes ahead of runner-up Justine Morrison and third-place finisher Meri Lopez.

Foiada ran her first Old Mill with a torn meniscus, and sees better things in her running future once her knee heals.

“I know I can get into the low sevens per mile,” said Foiada, who each September participates in the Tioga Pass Run, a 12.4-mile climb from Lee Vining to the Yosemite National Park boundary featuring 3,200 feet of climbing.

As for Broen Holman? “My focus is shorter races,” he said. “The 5K and 1,500 meters. This is the first 10K I’ve done in awhile, but it felt good out there.”

Good, but for most of the time lonely. Holman started the race with Will Johnson, but his Curtis Creek classmate turned around at the mile marker and raced back to Columbia to win the two-mile crown in 11:56. Serena Barth of Sonora won the women’s two-miler in 17:01.

Holman left North Airport Road with a lead of at least 200 meters and only increased it from there. His only company was the race’s pace bike, which he briefly overtook after its rider bogged down in heavy gravel while exiting Columbia Airport.

The enthusiastic Old Mill crowd, which lined Columbia’s Main Street up to the finish line at Nelson’s Candy Kitchen, greeted the young winner with wild applause.

He and women’s winner Foiada were also greeted by $250 each, the first cash prizes offered by the Old Mill. “I think I’ll put it in savings,” said Broen Holman, whose decision just might make his dad happy.

The fate of Foiada’s prize is slightly less certain.

“Dinner!” volunteered Melissa’s husband, Jacob. “Not so fast,” laughed the winner. “I want a new pair of running shoes.”

Don Moses, who set the Old Mill’s still-unchallenged men’s record of 32:12 in 1984, presented the winners with gold-pan trophies (and cash in them) Saturday.

“It’s really been fun coming back to Columbia,” said Moses, who 35 years ago edged three-time Old Mill champ Bradley Brown on his way to the still-unchallenged record. “The attention I’ve gotten here today has been wonderful and humbling.”

Now a 60-year-old retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, Moses hasn’t ruled out running in the Old Mill next year.

Likewise, Laurie Crisp’s 1986 women’s mark (35:16) remains intact. The record holder – now San Diego-area chemistry instructor and lecturer Laurie Clare – couldn’t make it to Columbia this year. But she has a standing invitation to be an Old Mill guest of honor.

Anyone who beats either record will win a bonus prize of $250, yielding a total take of $500. “I think once the word about these prizes gets out, you’ll see a lot of runners coming up here to take a crack at them,” said race veteran and former winner Forbes.

But as enticing as cash might be to some, what draws most to the Old Mill is its blend of competition, celebration, camaraderie and community.

“There’s something magic about it,” agreed Race Director Dave Urquhart. “Groups of friends come to Columbia and do it together, and it’s something runners of all ages enjoy.”

The revival of the two-mile run after a year’s absence was particularly popular. “We had nearly 50 runners in the two-miler Saturday,” said Urquhart. “That was a big deal.”

So is honoring the race’s long history: Chuck Waldman, the Old Mill’s 1980 winner and a participant for many years, again designed the event T-shirt and fired the starting gun for all races.

Jim Frazier, who named the race in a contest held before its premiere running in 1978, was also introduced to the 2019 runners and walkers.

These traditions will continue next year.

“Our turnout was up, our times were down, everyone had a good time and, thanks to many businesses in the county, we raised money for our causes (the WINGS Fund and Tuolumne County’s Free Christmas Eve Dinner),” saidUrquhart. “Of course we’ll do it again.”

So, on Saturday, April 18, 2020, the Old Mill will enter its sixth decade.