Back in runnings dark ages, when they timed participants with Popsicle sticks at the finish line rather than zap your fancy electronic chip, you circled your calendar for the precious few local races that didnt involve a trip to the Bay Area.
Now, of course, nary a weekend goes by without a race of some sort being held in the greater Sacramento region.
From 5Ks to 100 milers, its a veritable buffet of options. You can go gimmicky and get pelted with cornstarch paint, slog through mud and barbed wire, dress up in 1970s disco garb for a theme jog, run from Zombies and run for doughnuts. There are women-only races, age-graded races where a 70-year-old can beat a 30-year-old, and races held on every imaginable holiday, save Arbor Day.
All these races certainly can lighten the wallet of those light on their feet.
To lessen the burden of too many choices, we have selected the 10 must-do races in Sacramento and environs. Criteria for selection included popularity, longevity, diversity of distance and terrain, and perhaps the most important factor how well the race is organized.
One note: We have disqualified the venerable Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run from consideration because, with its stringent qualifying standards and competitive selection lottery, its nearly impossible for merely mortal runners to gain entrance.
1. Run to Feed the Hungry 10K and 5K Thanksgiving Day, East Sacramento www.runtofeedthehungry.com
This one is mandatory. If youre a runner in the Sacramento area, you are obliged to join the hordes racing through the Sacramento State area. The 2014 running will be the 21st and, despite other Turkey Day runs sprouting in Elk Grove, Roseville and elsewhere, the Run to Feed the Hungry has the cache. If youre speedy, it gives prize money; if youre slow, you dont even need to be timed.
2. California International Marathon (26.2 miles) Dec. 7, Folsom to the Capitol www.runcim.org
This is another heritage race, starting humbly in 1983 and quickly growing to a popular marathon for those wanting a fast, relatively flat course to either qualify for the Boston Marathon or ease their way into the distance. Though the CIM doesnt have the budget to attract the sports elite, it yearly boasts impressive sub-elite fields from Kenya and North America. Back-of-the-packers rave about the crowd support along the course.
3. Urban Cow Half Marathon (13.1 miles) and 5K Oct. 5, Land Park, Downtown, Old Sac urbancowhalfmarathon.com
This race has become a first-Sunday-in-October tradition for road runners, especially those training for the CIM. But its a competitive, challenging race on its own, complete with bands along the course and the ubiquitous cow bells, which also are the medals given the finishers. The race, which has minimal hills, originally was known as Cowtown, but a similar race in Texas forced a name change.
4. Way Too Cool 50K March 8, Cool fire station www.wtc50k.com
Its too late to put your name in the lottery for the 2014 running. Which is good, because youll need a full year to properly train for the areas largest trail ultra, which starts in Cool, includes parts of the Western States course, has the infamous Goat Hill to ascend at Mile 27 and finishes back at Cool with a barbecue. Yes, there is a lottery, but because the field has expanded in recent years with a wave start, your chances of gaining entry are good.
5. Buzz Oates No Excuses 5K May 26 (Memorial Day), Land Park www.noexcuses5k.com
Scores of fast, flat 5Ks are held in Sacramento, but race director Rich Hannas fun gimmick of having the winners determined by age-graded mathematics levels the playing field for oldsters. The system, according to Hanna, compares each runner's performance to the theoretical best by age. We convert that time into equivalent time if that runner were in the open class (men ages 23-27; women 21-29) so that finish times can be compared on equal terms.
6. Shamrockn Half Marathon March 16, West Sacramento (Raley Field) www.shamrocknhalf.com
The highlights of this half marathon include the finish on the diamond at Raley Field and two trips across the Tower Bridge. Race organizers ditched most of the West Sacramento part of the course several years ago in favor of racing through downtown Sacramento, part of the American River Parkway and part of the Sacramento River walk. So, if you like water, this is your race.
7. Blood Sweat & Beers (10.5 miles; 5.9 miles) July 27, Auburn Overlook, American River Canyon www.bloodsweatbeers.com
Though a relatively new race itll be the sixth running this summer Blood Sweat & Beers quickly gained a foothold as a must-run event. And thats not just because theres a free beer for runners afterward. This is a part-asphalt, part-trail course that favors runners who like to climb.
8. Paul Reese Memorial Clarksburg Country Run (20 Miles, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K) Nov. 9, Clarksburg www.clarksburgcountryrun.com
The late Paul Reese, a Sacramento running legend, began this even 49 years ago, back when prizes for winners was whatever they could snag from a giveaway table. The 20-miler has a traditional final long run for CIM aspirants, and the Half Marathon in recent years has brought out blazing fields because it serves as the Pacific Association of USA Track and Field championship.
9. Buffalo Stampede (10 Miles) Sept. 14, Rio Americano High School, Campus Commons area www.buffalochips.com/stampede
The Buffalo Chips is Sacramentos oldest and largest running club, and this is one of its biggest races. For a long time, it was the only 10-mile race in the area, but now others have followed. Though its an out-and-back course and almost completely flat, it is hardly a boring run.
10. The American River Parkway Half Marathon April 26, William Pond Park www.parkwayhalf.com
We give the nod to this half marathon because it gives the fullest view of Sacramentos jewel, the American River Parkway. In fact, you wont step foot on a city street in this race, and youll be sent off to the sound of bagpipes.
American River 50 Mile Endurance Run (April 5; www.ar50mile.com/); SacTown 10 Mile Run (April 6; http://sactown10.org/); Zoo Zoom 5K and 10K (April 13; www.sacramentozoozoom.com); Race for the Arts (August; www.raceforthearts.com/); Apple Hill Harvest Run 8.5-mile/3.5-mile, November; www.applehillrun.org/).
Call The Bees Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis.