ESCONDIDO — On Oct. 12, an estimated 1000 people turned up to the Grape Day 5K race in Escondido. The race helps to benefit the Escondido Sunrise Rotary Club, which raises money for various charitable causes. For the race, the main thoroughfares of Valley Parkway and Grand Avenue were shut down, cordoned off with orange traffic cones and police vehicles, in order to secure the route for the runners.
Racers arrived at 7 a.m. to register, attracting people of all ages from various areas of San Diego. Many were dressed in purple, including a pair of boys dressed up as grapes, who went around tapping people on the shoulders with purple thundersticks.
All racers were given tags made up to look like golden license-plates. Some people raced in costume, including the Sam Raimi version of Spider-Man and a stormtrooper. Cosplayer Joshua Jackson, whose uncle is a member of the Rotary Club, wore colored animal ears and a tail.
“This is a really great event, it’s great for Escondido and the Rotary Club,” Jackson said. “The Rotary Club does all kinds of good things. My mother is a music teacher for the USD district, and the Rotary Club has on many occasion(s) donated funds to get either musical instruments or other needed materials. So, they do a lot of good for Escondido, and I’m proud that my uncle is a part of it, and that I have a chance to publicly support him.”
“I’m just excited to be here, and I’m so thankful for the people who decided to put this on,” said Zoe Carlson. It was Carlson’s first time participating in the Grape Day 5K, and she raced the course in a wheelchair.
Toward the start of the race, an American flag was draped via crane over the starting/finish line (a broad orange archway) that was set up on Broadway Avenue, between the city hall and JJR Auto Repair. At around 7:45 a.m., participants were invited to start stretching and then instructed to head to the arch at around 8 a.m. The 5K-ers were flanked by rows of performing high school band students and cheerleaders.
After the Star-Spangled Banner was sung, hundreds upon hundreds of participants ran off, with a group of small children zooming forward at the forefront. Some parents pushed along strollers containing their children; one unencumbered woman managed to propel four kids along the entire track.
The band and the cheer team performed as the race began, and kept going as more participants trickled in. Along the way, all runners and walkers were cheered on by volunteers in orange vests, who were strategically placed around the perimeter of the course.
The first person to finish the race — after 17 minutes and 52 seconds — was Eastlake High School student Thomas Boldt. “I feel quite accomplished, ‘cause after my school’s race yesterday, I broke my fastest time by one second,” he said. “I prepared by getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and just training throughout the year.”
His advice for anyone who wants to try a 5K in the future was, “Go at your own pace, don’t try to be first the first time you run it, you’ll progress as you keep going.”
The announcer shouted out the names of other racers as they began to trickle back into the park, while volunteers handed out participatory medals to them.
The funds raised from the race will go toward causes that deal with both local and global issues. “We take care of our homeless veterans, our wounded warriors. We work with senior citizens who are below the poverty level and have a hard time making ends meet. We build houses in Mexico. We just go where the need is,” said Grape Day 5K co-founder Jim Ponder, who enjoys seeing the North County community-building the race creates.
“For the 10th anniversary (next year), I think that there’s gonna be a lot more things happening here at Grape Day Park,” he said. “It’s gonna be a full day of events, kicking off with the 5K, there’ll be a very special medal.” He added that those who have run all 10 years will be recognized and special pricing will also be a part of next year’s 10-year celebration.
Alex Wehrung covers Rancho Santa Fe and theatre-related news in North County. He previously reported for The Daily Nexus in Santa Barbara, CA and the Escondido Times-Advocate in Escondido, CA.