The best l'i'l' road race west of the Rockies

I train on trails. I race on trails. Recognizing that I love the smell of the trees, the taste of the crisp air, and the feel of dirt paths beneath my feet, I left pavement-running behind years ago. So why is it that yesterday morning found me lining up on a paved roadway with a bunch of runners whose spotless shoes showed no sign of ever having plodded through mud, or kicked up any dirt? Because this is not your usual road race.

The South Pasadena Tiger Run is a small community race put on by South Pasadena High School students and volunteers to benefit the school's athletic programs. It's a small race -- this year they welcomed just over 500 runners in the 5k and the 10k combined -- and the Tiger Run experience is all about the small-town feel of the SPHS community. As you approach the registration tables, some students are blowing up balloons to get the start line ready, while other volunteers are preparing the results posters by hand, and still other students are hoisting big bags of paper cups to haul out to the water stations along the course.

The race brings runners through lovely tree-lined streets in beautiful South Pasadena. The 5k is fairly flat and fast, and includes the first half of the 10k race. SPHS students stand on practically every corner you pass, decked out in their school's colors of orange and black, cheering as you run by. After the 5k runners branch away from the course to finish, the 10k runners are routed up a couple of big hills for miles 4 and 5, and finish with a fast downhill mile into the SPHS stadium and around the track.

The enthusiasm of the students and other volunteers from the community is what keeps me coming back to this road race year after year, even after swearing off most other races run on pavement. Though my time for the 10k this year was hardly speedy, it was good enough for 3rd place in my age group, and the volunteers made me feel like a sports celebrity, congratulating me over and over on finishing well, and thanking me repeatedly for supporting their school's sports programs.

I'm a trail runner, no doubt about it. But December just wouldn't be the same without running the best l'i'l' road race west of the Rockies: the South Pasadena Tiger Run.

See you on the trail!