Dozens brave rain for first Old Mill Run since 2019

Chris Bateman Apr 20, 2022 (FROM UNION DEMOCRAT)

Call it the Cold Mill Run. Or the cold, wet and rainy Old Mill Run. 

Conditions for the 41st edition of Tuolumne County’s oldest 10K race could not have been more dreary, with morning temperatures at Columbia State Historic Park in the 40s and with persistent rain that ranged from drizzle to torrent. 

But 38 hardy runners and two brave dogs nevertheless turned out for Saturday’s event, which also included a 2-mile run, a kids’ race and a walk to Columbia’s old school house and back. What’s more, all of them — from grade-school kids to septuagenarians — were grinning throughout the sodden proceedings. 

That the Old Mill was the first actual footrace held in Tuolumne County in well over three years might have something to do with it. And that Saturday’s proceedings were far more real than virtual was also a refreshing change.

Times were not posted by smart phone after sun-splashed runs on Maui, in Tucson or along the Florida Keys. Instead, they were recorded after wet-and-muddy, all-too-real slogs along the Old Mill’s traditional course, which includes a loop around Columbia Airport’s grass runway. 

And runners loved it.

“It was just an excellent event,” said Dave Urquhart, Old Mill director. “Think about it: Thirty-eight people came out here to run in the rain, and they had a ball. And of course we had at least that many volunteers helping put on the run.”

Collectively, these folks demolished nearly all of the six-dozen doughnuts put out by run organizers.

Until about 30 minutes before the starting gun was to sound, members of the OMR set-up crew were not sure anyone would show. After all, there were no pre-paid registration fees this year, so would-be runners would not be out a cent if they heard the rain, silenced their Saturday-morning alarm clocks and went back to sleep. 

But, by 8:30 the Old Mill faithful began to drift into Columbia: Dr. Chuck Waldman, the race’s 1980 winner, arrived to fire the starting gun. Longtime runners Ron Ferrell and Tim Wyman were there.   

Marathoner and Old Mill vet Brian Forbes joined fellow runners Ben Grunewald and Darrick Shaw at the front of the 10K pack from early on.

But as all the OMR events this year were untimed fun runs, the three leaders were not bearing down. Instead, these training partners had an ongoing conversation on topics climatological and otherwise as the run continued. 

Only as they closed in on the finish line, did the three split apart, with Grunewald, 51, crossing the line first (45:44), followed by Forbes, 47, and Shaw, 41. 

Meri Lopez, 52, of Columbia, was the first woman to cross the line. 

Skippy Belarmino, 7, of Columbia, was the first dog to finish the 10K, followed immediately by his companion, 69-year-old Dan Belarmino. They crossed the line at 62:40. 

And Skippy wasn’t the only dog to finish: Scout completed the 2-mile with his companion, Erica Waelty. 

Lifelong runner Dick Chimente, 79, without a dog, crossed the 10K line in a brisk 54:25. And said he is looking forward to the 2023 Old Mill, scheduled on April 15, 2023. 

Why? By that time, Chimente will have turned 80 and will compete in the 80-89 age division — which he could dominate for years. 

A sense of survivor camaraderie pervaded the rainy Columbia scene Saturday. For years to come, when a drop or two falls on future Old Mills, 2022 will come up. 

“Think this is bad?” Saturday’s survivors might say. “You should have been here back in ’22!” 

Participant enthusiasm also benefited the Old Mill’s longtime causes, Sonora’s annual free Christmas Eve Dinner and Race Director Dave and wife Teree Urquhart’s own Wings Fund, which assists families caring for ill or injured children. 

“We got more than $1,000 in contributions,” said Dave, adding that anyone else willing to contribute can do so through the Sonora Area Foundation. 

Make your check out to the foundation, add a memo designating Wings or Christmas Eve Dinner and mail it to the SAF, 362 S. Stewart Street, Sonora, CA 95370. 

Also, the Old Mill Run would like to thank cooperating organizations and agencies that make the race possible, including Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia Airport, the California Highway Patrol, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office’s Community Services Unit and the Tuolumne County Amateur Radio Emergency Services. 

Meanwhile, back to running: With COVID remaining in the rear-view mirror, a full Old Mill, with T-shirts, age divisions and formal timing, is planned for April 15, 2023.