After a strange start to the day, runner Jay Strange, 46, obliterated the competition at the San Quentin 1000 Mile Club’s first three-mile race since the COVID-19 shutdown.
With smooth, easy strides and the long lean body of an ultra-runner Strange took off like a light, crossing the finish line in an impressive time of 18 minutes and 31 seconds.
“I got out fast and I ultimately ran a good race like I wanted,” said Strange, who battled COVID-19 for a month and initially experienced some heart trouble.
After a delay in the opening of the main exercise yard, the sun looked happy and there was a comfortingly cool breeze dancing against the skin. The lines on the running track were freshly painted. The black 1000 Mile Club banner hung on the chain link fence of the ARC trailer and waves of wind caressed it.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, none of the volunteer coaches were allowed into the prison. Tommy Wickerd hung up the picture of the club’s head coach, Frank Ruona, from the iron bars of the baseball scoreboard. The club’s president then stood by with ink pen and clipboard in hand, signing up participants the same way he saw his “prison dad” Coach Ruona do on numerous occasions.
Twenty-five men signed up and began warming up their legs and lungs and meditatively preparing themselves to break the red caution finish line tape. Four others were handed lime green stopwatches to keep track of lap counts, courtesy of athletic Coach K. Bhatt.
Among the lap counters was Mark Jarosik, the team’s fastest runner since 2019, who was noticeably absent from the race. He is still nursing an ankle injury and was advised by doctors to sit this one out. All of the men gathered before the race to take a team photo and a photo of themselves standing next to Coach Ruona.
Without Jarosik, no one was in shouting distance of Strange for the entire race. Strange ran his first lap in a blistering time of 1:17 and his first mile in a time of 5:53.
Steve Reitz, a 1000 Mile Club veteran, turned in a smooth and calculated race, running just under seven minutes a mile to finish in second place in a time of 20:50. “It feels good to be back out here again,” Reese said. “It feels like we’re finally getting past COVID and I am just grateful
to be running again.”
Mike Ybarra, who has been with the club for the past two years, snuggled in behind Reese for the entire race and managed to take third with a time of 21:04, which he said is 17 seconds faster than his time in 2020. “I felt great today; it’s great to be back running,” said Ybarra. “It’s an anxiety relief.” Ybarra and Reese had their own battles with COVID-19 but said they were able to recover quickly without any complications.
Since the outbreak, the 1000 Mile Club has also signed up a lot of newcomers; among them Steve Warren and Richard Acosta. Acosta ran a personal best of 22:12. Coming in behind Acosta were John Levin (22:43) and Wickerd (23:22). Warren ran a modest and respectable time of 24:04.
“I’m excited to be a part of this club,” said Warren. “I didn’t know if they were going to have the race or not. I ran down here just in time. I look forward to running with this club.”
The race was originally scheduled to take place on Sept. 4 but was cancelled due to the Delta variant trying to run a race of its own through the prison. It almost didn’t happen again on the anniversary of 9/11. But the yard opened at 10 a.m.
The start time for the race was set for 10:45 a.m. Ten strides into the start of the race, a security alarm sounded and the men had to sit on the ground. Ten minutes later the alarm cleared and the race began again and went off without a hitch.
“We have a very excited group of guys out here ready to run,” said Wickerd. “This was a fun and very successful day. I look forward to our next race.”