Director’s Report: Bill Flodberg Mt Madonna Challenge

Mt Madonna County Park, photo by Rob Lehman

The 35th Annual Bill Flodberg Mt Madonna Challenge went off pretty well yesterday, and I completed my first stint as a race director.

A huge thank you to all the runners that came out.  It was so nice to talk to you and hear what you thought of the run.  It’s just cool to spend the morning with a bunch of local trail runners.

The race is a 6K, 12K and 18K trail run in the gorgeous trails of Mt Madonna County Park in Gilroy, CA.  It’s steep!  We don’t call it “challenge” for nothing.  The first mile of the 12K is 1000′ up.  And then you go up some more.

The race has an enormous amount of history.  The course, the race directors, the distances, and the runners have all changed over the years.  When I was marking the course the day before, I met three different people who had each run it at some point in their history, and everyone had fond memories.  “Does it still go along the road?” (It does not.) “When I ran it, it was 13 miles.  Is is still that distance?” (No.  It isn’t.) “I love that run.  Best of the luck to everyone tomorrow.” (Thank you!)

We had in the neighborhood of 220 runners this year, exceeding my expectations by quite a bit (I was thinking 180-200).  It was great to see the WolfPak out in force, as well as the Gilroy High School field hockey team. About half our participants ran the 6K, just over 20 ran the 18K, and the remainder were 12K runners.  Some of the runners were wicked fast!  Seems the competition gets tougher each year. We will post the final results on the club website as soon as we can. It should be in the next day or two.

(A shout-out to Ashley, who reads this blog and found me yesterday to let me know.  It was one of the many moments that made me smile.  She then won the 18K!)

About four years ago, my running club, the South Valley Running Club, took the race over as hosts.  Three years ago, I ran it for the first time.  Last year I was assistant race director.  This year I volunteered to coordinate on behalf of the club.  It was a lot of work, but it was fun.  The main thing as race director is you want to make the event fun and rewarding for everyone.  This is an all-volunteer race, put on by runners for runners.

You can’t do it without help, and I had at least a half dozen people from our club actively planning for months.  A special thank you to: Alison Williams, Gar Chan, Ken Oliver, Kim Moyano, Allan Abrams, and Kathy LeBleu. A second thank you to Tobie Cortese, who hung all the fliers around town … twice… and Craig Lore, who wrote the tribute to Bill Flodberg and coordinated with Fortino Winery on overflow parking. Yesterday, we had about 30 people volunteering, primarily from the club, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Second, I would like to thank Greg and Debbie Richards of South Valley Endurance. They managed all the timing, set up the finish line, worked with Kim on all the bibs, and helped Kim and I mark the course. As club member and former race director, Allan Abrams, correctly noted, “Having them here brings the race to a whole new level.”  Greg and Debbie are fixtures in the local running community. Both triathletes and runners, they started SV Endurance a couple years ago to bring trail running and mountain biking to the South Bay.  They have also started the Morgan Hill Marathon, which will take place November 7th.  Their next Dirty Legs Run is Sept. 13th at Henry Coe State Park.

I am happy to report that we planned pretty well.  We didn’t run out of shirts, water, Gatorade, or food.  Phew.  We started basically on time (8:33 to be exact), and managed to get everyone shuttled in and out just fine (thanks, Ramesh).  The timing Greg and Debbie provided was flawless.  They also let us use their super duper walkie talkies, which enabled us to talk to the aid stations for the first time (there is no cell reception at Mt Madonna, so we have had no way to communicate to the aid stations in the past).  This proved invaluable as we had two runners injured and the EMTs needed to communicate to each other.

On that note, the Santa Clara County Fire Department supplied us with three EMTs and a vehicle.  For the first time that I recall, we actually needed them.  Two of our runners had pretty good sprains and I was relieved we had professional help.  In fact, after the race, George (the big chief fireman of the day) told me he wants to support us even better next year. They want to bring bikes, so they can access the single track, and more supplies… just in case.

A few other cool touches this year were the addition of the female-cut shirts (big thumbs up to Kathy on that one) and large scale course maps at the start line (thank you, Charles), which many runners gathered around before and after the run.

We did learn some lessons, as we do each year.  There is a sharp turn on the 12K/18K course that some runners missed.  If you were one of those people who took the wrong turn, we are sorry!  We will definitely fix that next year.  It’s really easy to run right past the turn, even with orange flags and tape.  A bunch of us ran the course after the race, and determined that next year we will have a course monitor stand at that spot to direct people.  We were also thinking we’d have some spray chalk that says “Not this way!”

We also think that I should have been more explicit with the instructions at the start. I quickly said, “Look for the orange tape and flags on the course,” but I should have held the tape and flags up and emphasized to look for flags at the turns. I was a little nervous to be honest.  I also run trails and trail runs all the time, and didn’t really think about all the non-trail runners in the field.  It’s so second nature for me to look for the flags before the turn that I totally didn’t think to mention it.

I also had a bunch of course maps printed for the runners at the start line, which clearly would have been helpful.  However, I don’t think most people realized it.

So we learned for next year, and we will get better.

Oh, and I didn’t take any photos!  I had my camera with me, but was so busy that I totally forgot.  Next year, we should get a photographer, especially since the course is so beautiful.

This year we officially renamed the run, “The Bill Flodberg Mt Madonna Challenge,” in honor of local running legend, Bill Flodberg.  We were fortunate to have Sheila Flodberg, Bill’s wife, join us.  She spoke briefly at the opening of the race about Bill and how pleased he would be, and she helped hand out the winners’ medals.  She was lovely and gracious, and having her there was a highlight for me.  My friend, and our club founder, Craig Lore, wrote a tribute to Bill, which I have at the end of this blog.

The thing I love most about this run is how nice everyone is, and how enjoyable all the runners tend to be.  It’s a low key, runner-friendly atmosphere, and a 35-year tradition.  I think that is what makes it so special.

Thanks again to everyone.


A tribute to Bill Flodberg

Written by Craig Lore, founder of the South Valley Running Club

Bill Flodberg: runner, teacher, coach, outdoor enthusiast, writer, philanthropist, innovator, fund raiser, husband and stepfather, and friend.

In his 75 years, Bill wore many hats, and he wore them with equal passion. Bill was an avid runner; during college, he ran for UC Berkeley; later, he ran and trained on the roads and trails in San Martin and Gilroy, and he raced competitively well into his 70s. In addition to his personal running accomplishments, Bill encouraged runners and running as a Cross Country Coach at Gavilan College, as one of the founders of the Gavilan Joggers and Striders Running Club, through his “Running Man” running column, and as an organizer and director of several local races, including the Mt Madonna Challenge.

Bill was also a longtime supporter of the South Valley Symphony and other arts groups, to which he brought the same passion that he had for running.

Bill was a quiet person, yet he proved that one man can make a tremendous difference for the lives of those in his community. Thanks to Bill, thousands of people were enriched by his efforts to encourage music and the arts. And thanks to Bill, thousands of people in the running community have benefitted from his example, encouragement, and advice.

The South Valley Running Club is proud to continue Bill’s legacy by dedicating this race, in it’s 35th year, in his name. The Bill Flodberg Mt. Madonna Challenge is a fitting tribute to a man who spent his life improving the lives of others.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    I was a little confused on the sharp turn as well and lost a little time there but you guys did an awesome job with the race.

    This was my first trail race since XC in high school and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Even when climbing that nasty first hill!

  2. runrunrunrun says:

    Thank you, Chris. I am glad you had a good time. Hope to see you back next year!


  3. Toshi says:

    Thanks for putting on a great race! I usually get confused and end up on the camp site on Sprig Trail (or make a random right turn and go deeper into the woods), but that didn’t happen because the trail was clearly marked. The technical shirt was nice, but it does not stretch! I couldn’t get my head to come out the other side…

  4. runrunrunrun says:

    Hi Toshi – I am so glad you enjoyed the race! On your shirt, do you want me to send you a replacement? The one I have is great and I hate the thought of you not being able to stretch yours over your head! – Julianne

  5. Cynthia says:

    Hi Julianne- hope you are well.

  6. Ryan says:

    Hi Julianne –

    Need some advice on whether or not to do the MT Madonna Challenge.

    I am a 35yo male, mostly a road runner and recently completed RFSR 10K in Gilroy in 49:40. For trail running, I regularly run your “4-mile introduction” at Anderson Lake but usually run to the top of the first hill beyond the parking lot instead of going down toward the neighborhoods. I consider it a very tough climb but can usually get to the top with minimal stops/walking.

    Need advice on whether you think I’m ready for the 12K at Mt Madonna. I’m sure I can just walk a lot of the first hill if necessary, just curious as to your thoughts.


  7. runrunrunrun says:

    Hi Ryan

    Thanks for the question and I am so glad you find my “4-mile introduction” run helpful!

    Here is my advice. We don’t call it “Challenge” for nothing. It is a hard course. You have two choices. Take the 12K plunge and know you will probably walk the majority of the first climb. After that, I suspect you will be OK. You can take solace in the fact that most people walk that first big ol’ climb. Second choice is to run the 6K. It is also difficult but will give you a taste of the course before you attempt the 12K. As long as you have patience with yourself, you can’t go wrong either way.

    Glad to know you want to come out to the race. It’s always a great time!


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