The Pear Blossom Run — a highlight of the annual Pear Blossom Festival — is more than just a road race. It's a community happening that draws friends and families together and pulls many former residents back for a visit.
Last year almost 1,000 people completed the 10-mile race and another 100 people walked the course. Up to 1,200 people are expected to run this year.
How do all these people get themselves in shape to run a 10-mile race?
Some train in solitude, of course, working alone through the winter and early spring months to attain a goal. But a lot of people do it together, forming groups and using the energy of the herd for motivation.
"I committed to the 10-miler in January. I started by running two to three miles. Now I'm running three to four times a week, mixing in strength training," says Lisa Parks.
The 30-year-old Medford woman became interested after running in the 3.1-mile — 5-kilometer — Mayor's Cup race last year held in conjunction with the longer 10-miler.
Parks has also joined the Prepare for the Pear training program at Superior Athletic Club in Medford, where she is a member. Every Saturday morning, Parks joins others from the club for a group run. Each week, the run gets longer and faster, according to Steve Gillen, group fitness instructor at Superior.
"In the first class, we run three to four miles. Over eight weeks, we increase mileage and add speed intervals and hills. We end up doing the (actual) course. We run the hills so people are mentally ready as well as physically able," Gillen says.
Designing the training runs for runners at a variety of fitness and skill levels has proven to be easier than it sounds.
"At the first class, I ask them about their goals — going for time or just finishing. Two-thirds of the class have never done it (a 10-mile run) before. The faster group will run longer, so that everyone will finish at the same time," Gillen explains. This technique also gives the faster group practice in trying to pass others near the end of their run, when they are the most tired.
"I also encourage them to work out twice a week, in addition to the Saturday long runs. This is doable for most people. These two other workouts can be a treadmill or a spin class," Gillen adds.
Parks has embraced this cross-training philosophy.
"I'll do weight training on my own, and a ball class or a core class at the gym. And the treadmill if the weather is terrible," Parks adds.
More seasoned runners may want to join the 8 a.m. Saturday runs organized by the Southern Oregon Runners club.
Each week this group meets in a different location for a run on trails and roads that will range from six to 10 miles. Many of these runners will even stretch their training runs to 13 miles so the Pear Blossom run will seem easier by comparison, according to group co-leader Mike Barrett.
Known as "Irish Mike" in the running community, Barrett has earned the title of seasoned runner. The 70-year-old Medford man is one of only nine people to have run in all 32 annual Pear Blossom runs. Age, weather and a heart pacemaker have not been able to keep Barrett on the sidelines.
"It's mostly veteran runners at our group runs, both women and men. We also have track workouts on Wednesday nights (at 6:30 p.m.) at North Medford High School," Barrett adds.
One participant in these group runs is Jerry Swartsley. He and his wife, Zellah, are the founders of the Pear Blossom Run and have been the race directors for its entire history. The 69-year-old Swartsley is another of the nine runners who have finished all 32 annual runs.
Over the years, Swartsley has developed several training tips for beginning runners who want to complete their first Pear Blossom 10-miler.
"First, have a good pair of shoes. Don't try to do too much too quickly. Increase your time running or mileage no more than 10 to 12 percent per week to prevent injury. Rather than running every day, run four days a week. Vary your route to prevent boredom. Run facing traffic for safety," Swartsley says.
For Irish Mike, training for road races is part of his secret formula for longevity.
"I'm a bargain hunter, I love to shop. I've always felt the need to have an assortment of running shoes that no one else has. My garage is full of them — 175 pairs. It's my life insurance policy: If I still have running shoes, I can't die."