Long-time race director, four others set for Feb. 27 induction
(Fifth in a series highlighting the five members of the Sacramento Running Association’s 2016 Hall of Fame class. Today: Greg Soderlund)
Western States legend Tim Twietmeyer described Greg Soderlund as being like a duck on a pond, he looks really calm on the top but underneath the water you know he is paddling like heck.
The cool, calm and consistent leader led the world’s oldest and best-known 100-mile trail run, the Western States Endurance Run, through an unprecedented era of increasing popularity, prestige and worldwide renown from 2000 to 2012.
"I consider Western States the pinnacle of all ultra marathon events," said Soderlund, one of five inductees in the Sacramento Running Association’s 2016 Hall of Fame class. "So it was an honor for me to have the opportunity to direct it."
An event that was originally an endurance equestrian ride known as the Tevis Cup transformed into an ultra marathon when, in 1974, Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses to see if he could complete the 100-mile course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes after he left Tahoe City, Ainsleigh arrived in Auburn, proving that a runner could indeed traverse the rugged 100 miles in one day and under 24 hours.
What stared as an inauspicious personal challenge for Ainsleigh transitioned into an event that reached its full entrance quota of runners and started drawing athletes from across the nation and across the world.
Enter Greg Soderlund. Soderlund literally and figuratively brought the event into the 21st century.
During his tenure, the event became more international, the competitive field for both and women grew deeper and the number of applicants exploded. The race saw nearly a four hundred percent increase in the 13 years Soderlund was at the helm.
"The race had flattened out demand-wise but it was still the premier ultra run in the U.S. or even the world," said Twietmeyer.
"He took the race to another whole level."
Soderlund also brought a more sophisticated approach to race directing. He instituted a new management system that was more structured, annually approved medical research projects on endurance athletes and made trail preservation a priority for the team.
"Greg always had everything figured out and it was great because if something really got going he would bring that calm leadership," added Twietmeyer.
"He just made bad things go away."
"Being at the finish line to greet runners was extremely rewarding," said Soderlund.
"I met countless extraordinary individuals, including runners, volunteers, sponsors, crew members and community officials."
Soderlund, 68, joins CIF champion Clifton West, long-time Mira Loma and Del Campo High School coach Bob King, national high school record-holder Alex Kosinski and talented ultramarathoner Jim Howard in the 2016 Hall of Fame class, which will be honored at the SRA’s Hall of Fame and Annual Achievement Awards dinner on Feb. 27 at the Holiday Inn Capitol Plaza in Sacramento.
Tickets for the 6 p.m. event are $50. For more information, visit RunSRA.org.
The growth and refinement Soderlund injected into Western States was instrumental in the advancement and popularity of the sport of ultrarunning as a whole. Three thousand participants competed in ultra events in 1980 and today, upwards of 70,000 people compete in events around the globe.
"Greg grew the trail and ultra community in Auburn and Sacramento to what it is today," said Twietmeyer.
The sport is now recognized by the IAAF and has world championships for various distances including the 50k and 100k.
The momentum Soderlund brought to the Western States 100 helped usher in this new era for the sport.
"I feel incredibly honored to be part of a select group of individuals that have changed the sport of running in Sacramento," added Soderlund.
In addition to the Western States 100, Soderlund directed Way Too Cool 50k, the Helen Klein 50, the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run, American River 50, Four Bridges Half Marathon, Dam 50k and Greg and Delmar’s Great Adventure.
Attention to detail, unwavering leadership, composed confidence. The man had a formula and it just worked, but you know underneath it all he was paddling like heck.
Soderlund, who lives in Sacramento with his wife, Mary, has two adult children and six grandchildren.
Soderlund and the other four inductees join the 22 members already in the SRA Hall of Fame. The inaugural class of 2013 featured Billy Mills, Rae Clark, Eileen Claugus, Chris Iwahashi, Helen Klein, Paul Reese, Dennis Rinde and Linda Somers Smith. The 2014 class included Michael Stember, Al Baeta, Patti Gray Bellan, Lindsay Hyatt Barr, Harold Kuphaldt, John Mansoor, Heike Skaden Mansoor and Tim Twietmeyer. The 2015 class featured Sally Edwards, Walt Lange, Eric and Mark Mastalir, Jim O’Neil and Bill Finkbeiner.
The Sacramento Running Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding new ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.