The Manhattan Beach 10k’s storybook ending
by Mark McDermott
Matthew Arruda had run this route hundreds of times. As he came flying down Rosecrans towards the ocean and wrapped a hard left onto the Strand, the Manhattan Beach Pier came into view. He was on the home stretch.
What was different is that hundreds of people lined the Strand, cheering him on. And what was very different from all those runs he’d done along this route, going back to when he was a kid, was that another runner had been running neck and neck with him for the last five and a half miles. And that runner was Stewart Harwell, who had won this race, the Manhattan Beach 10k, the last two years.
“I knew he was a good runner,” Arruda said.
The two were among 3,700 runners who competed in this year’s MB 10k, but even before the race had begun, Arruda, 20, figured it would be a two-man race for first place. Runners know runners. The local running community, which is informally headquartered at the Village Runner store, we’re keeping tabs on which elite competitors were training for this race.
“The guys at the Village Runner were telling me, ‘It’s you and him,” Arruda recalled.
Sure enough, Arruda and Harwell broke away from the pack almost from the outset of the race, which begins at 3rd and Ardmore/Valley, winds north and east up Ardmore, heads back down Valley to Blanche and Bell and by Sand Dune Park before dumping out at Rosecrans. The two runners ran together, with Harwell setting the pace at first, then Arruda running just ahead.
“We kind of played off each other,” Arruda said.
But by the time Arruda hit the Strand, he’d opened up a slight lead. He knew there was a mile left and it was his race to lose. But then, about halfway to the pier, Harwell made a push. Arruda admits he was a little surprised when Harwell drew even with him.
“This is getting real,” he remembers thinking.
Harwell continued to push. When he opened up a small lead, Arruda momentarily felt the race slipping away from him.
“He was trying to drop me. It definitely played with my mind a little, but I knew I had more in me,” Arruda said. “I was like, I can’t lose. I heard the crowd, and just said, ‘No, I’m not. No way. I can’t lose the lead and lose the race…We are going for it now. This is it.”
In the crowd were dozens of familiar faces — parents of friends from the American Martyrs, where Arruda went to grade school, friends from his years at Mira Costa High School, where he graduated with the Class of 2016, and even friends from El Camino College, where he now goes to school. They all cheered Arruda on, and he gave everything he had left for a finishing kick. Only a few hundred yards from the finish line at the foot of the pier, he caught and passed Harwell. When he crossed the finish line, he was convinced Harwell was right behind him, even though official race results show he finished four seconds ahead, 32:05 to 32:09.
“It didn’t feel like I had any lead,” Arruda said. “I had to give everything I had to outrun him…All the training, that’s why you need everything — you’ve got to give it your all every practice, because that last moment, that last push when you are most tired, that is when you are going to need it.”
As he stood on the other side of the finish line catching his breath and taking in the whole scene, Arruda could hardly believe what had just happened. At Costa, he’d been a good runner, but not a great one. He’d run this race before, but it had always been more of a training exercise, keeping himself in rhythm for race days in high school and then at El Camino. This was the first time he’d trained to run the MB 10k to win, and it paid off.
“I’ve been running down these streets, down the Strand, for years now,” said Arruda, who is from Hawthorne. “Four years at Costa, two years at El Camino — this is my territory. This was like second nature. And it was really cool to see everyone, and for a proud Mira Costa boy to show up and win a big race like that. It was really cool. So many people know you. I came across the finish line, and you see so many parents from American Martyrs going, ‘Wait, I know that boy.’
Arruda is the son of runners, Ken and Cathy Arruda. He’s been running his whole life, but only recently has he begun to truly hit his stride.
“I’m getting my base now as I’m getting older,” Arruda said. “I’m starting to feel like I am a really good runner. I can keep up with guys, and I’ve got more confidence going into a race. I’m not scared anymore. I’m ready for everything I need to do.”
“I don’t take a single day off,” Arruda said. “I am always out there running — Palos Verdes, Hermosa, Redondo — I never miss a day. I’ve just got to do that, because I’m not the most talented guy out there, so I just know I’ve got to work to get where I’m at. To see it show up and get first place, that is awesome for me. I’m really happy, and my family is really happy.”
Two days later he was still floating.
“These past few days I’ve just been proud of myself,” Arruda said. “I never thought in a hundred years I’d ever be the top guy in a race, let alone the Manhattan Beach 10k. Because I’m not the quickest guy out there. But I know I can tough it out.”
Arruda’s storybook ending was in keeping with the nature of the whole event. The top woman finisher, Sarah Peterson, who finished at 38:50, is also a Manhattan Beach resident. Forty-two years after its first running, the MB 10k is still very much a hometown race. Russ Lesser, the former mayor who was one of the race’s founders, said he is proud of how the MB 10k has stayed true to its roots.
“It’s worked out very well,” Lesser said. “One of the goals we set was to never put advertising on our t-shirt. We are the only race that doesn’t have sponsors. We do it with all volunteers, and the city makes it possible because they don’t charge us for paramedic and police support. So we kept it pure, instead of it being the Amazon Manhattan Beach 10k.”
Lesser said 2,300 people ran the first year. In subsequent years, as the race grew, organizers did a study that found the MB 10k had the highest percentage of local runners of any race of such size and stature; in those early years, more than 50 percent of MB 10k runners were from Manhattan Beach. This year, 1,450 of 3,754 runners, or 38.63 percent, were from Manhattan Beach.
Lesser is also proud to be a part of a group called PIER, or Participated In Every Race. Going into this year’s race, the group had 38 people. After five dropped out, a few mid-race, the PIER group now has 33 members.
“Three guys in the PIER group finished in less than an hour, after frigging running in it for 42 years,” said Lesser, who is 78. “I was a little slower than that…We are down to 33, but it’s fun.”
People run for a lot of different reasons. In recent years, organizers have encouraged people to post their own stories on Instagram under the tag #MB10k. The responses they saw covered the gamut, from multiple generations of families running together to people posting their “PR,” or Personal Record.
Rachel Judson, who has served as race director for 18 years, said the Instagram posts give a snapshot into what the race means to people.
“I love how it continues to appeal equally to serious runners in search of a PR, and to those who want a relaxed, fun experience to enjoy with family and friends,” Judson said. “‘Community’ and ‘tradition’ remain the same words commonly used to describe the race.”
One Instagram post this year made organizers come to tears.
“Exactly one year ago today my doctor told me I had breast cancer,” wrote runner Sage Asteak. “It’s been a long year filled with lots of emotions. But one thing cancer never took from me was my strength. #onetoughbitch Even at my weakest moments, I knew my strength would get me through it. Today, one year after my diagnosis, I did a 10k. Just to prove to myself that I still have my strength that cancer tried to take away. I finished the race with some great friends at my side and my family cheering me on.”
Michael Weisberg, an MB 10k Race Committee member, said that ultimately the MB 10k is about bringing people together.
“You realize how this race touches people,” Weisberg said. “You see families, three or four generations, posing for photos at the finish line. There aren’t many races that bring families and an entire community together like this one. There are fast runners, but that is not what this race is about.”
Weisberg also noted that the day was almost perfect for running — 58 degrees at the start, 63 degrees by the end.
A two-year-old boy, Everett Johnston, was the youngest finisher, in two hours and two minutes. The oldest finisher was Herb Harger, who is 92. He finished in an hour and 53 minutes, and won his age group — 90 to 99 — although he was the only one in it. His main goal going in was just to beat the two and a half hour cut off, though he was not without pride for obliterating that goal.
“I’ve run 35 times,” Harger said. “I’ve got 23 awards for being in the first ten of every age group I’ve run in.”
Harger’s reason for running is because it’s simply something he’s always done.
“All my life, I get up in the early morning and run a mile,” Harger said. “It’s just a daily habit. I also have a daily exercise routine.”
These days, early morning is often very early in the morning.
“A lot of times, I’m tired and go to bed early, then I wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, put my jogging outfit on, and go out and run for a mile or two. Although any more when you say run it’s a fast walk for me.”
His son, Bob Harger, ran with him this year. He said, even at 68, he learned a few things from his father in the course of this year’s race. The first was about pace: Herb took his time, talking to everyone, and occasionally someone would enter the race course just to give him a hug.
“Enjoy the ride,” he told his son at one point. “I’m not setting any records.”
The second was learning a little bit about what kept his father young, and it wasn’t just running. Bob and Herb go to every home Mira Costa football game, and when they turned up Rosecrans and the race’s final hill — “Rosecrans Mountain,” Bob called it — Bob pointed out to Herb that the Mira Costa cheerleaders were on the sidewalk. Herb made a quick course correction, so he could run by the girls and say hello.
“So he might be 92, age-wise, but he’s still a 20-year-old inside,” Bob said.
Just after finishing, two 20-year-old girls came up and asked to pose for a photo with Herb.
“Here’s a perk,” he told his son. “I get all this attention. That’s what I get for being old.”
Even so, Harger said that finishing the MB 10k isn’t his claim to fame.
“I have three things that are my claim to fame,” Harger said. “I have yet to find anybody who can beat them. Number one, I’ve been retired more years than I’ve worked. Do you know anybody else who can say that?”
Harger, an engineer, worked for 33.5 years and has been retired 35 years. He came to California in 1951 to work for North American Aviation, then he worked for the state building the bridges for the Hollywood freeway, and finally took a position at a rock processing company called Con-Rock, where he would retire as executive vice president.
“So I had the means to retire early,” he said. “That’s my one claim to fame. Number two, I played trumpet in the high school band — for ten years. People say, ‘Gee whiz, how can that be? High School is only four years.’”
It turns out that the high school in tiny Evans City, Pennsylvania wanted a marching band but didn’t have enough kids, so they opened up the ranks to 7th and 8th graders. Herb was only 6 but his sister was old enough to get in and his mother made a play.
“My mother was a very pushy woman, so I was only 6 but I got in,” he said. “I played trumpet and my sister played snare drum…Every parade I’d hear somebody on a sidewalk say, ‘Hey, look at that little kid!’ God, I hated that. But we were a good band. Class C, of course, but we were state champions three times.”
Herb’s third claim to fame involved another parade, this time as a spectator.
“Number three, I have with my own eyes actually seen a veteran of the Civil War,” he said. “I tell people and you can see the numbers running in their minds, but when I was a young boy we had an Armistice Parade and the last thing in the parade was a Model T Ford, a four-seater with a canvas roof, and a guy sat in the back with an Army uniform on and lots of gray hair…He was a veteran of the Civil War. I can still distinctly remember seeing him.”
Now Herb is older than that Civil War veteran he saw at 6 years old and a marvel in his own right, still running the MB 10k and maybe making it on Instagram with two pretty young women. That hasn’t cracked his top three just yet, but he’s not done running.
“I’m so busy now I don’t know how I ever had time to work,” he said. “I lead a good life. I really do. I have a lot of fun.”
Top 3 Overall – Male
- Matthew Arruda, age 20, Hawthorne (32:05)
- Stewart Harwell, 35, Redondo Beach (32:09)
- Jacob Bradosky, 32, Hawthorne (32:49)
Top 3 Overall – Female
- Sarah Peterson, 36, Manhattan Beach (38:50)
- Ali Bark, 32, Redondo Beach (39:28)
- Jessica Reyes, 34, Long Beach, (39:33)
Age Group Winners – Male
Bennett Matso, Larkspur, CA, 1-8, 1:00:46
Henry King, Manhattan Beach, 9-11, 40:14
Drew Martin, Manhattan Beach, 12-14, 38:16
Colin Jacobs, Manhattan Beach, 15-17, 38:03
Matthew Arruda, Hawthorne, 18-23, 32:05
Austin Van Biezen, El Segundo, 24-29, 34:37
Jacob Bradosky, Hawthorne, 30-34, 32:49
Stewart Harwell, Redondo Beach 35-39, 32:09
Shinsuke Adachi, Redondo Beach, 40-44, 35:18
Eric Seltenrich, Manhattan Beach, 45-49, 37:51
Glen Weissman, Belleuve, WA, 50-54, 36:05
Rick Dodson, Manhattan Beach, 55-59, 39:00
Rich Gust, Hermosa Beach, 60-64, 41:03
Ed Avol, Manhattan Beach, 65-69, 46:15
Jack Mcdowell, Rancho Palos Verdes, 70-74, 52:01
Bruce Timmer, Manhattan Beach, 75-79, 52:42
Paul Dorr, Manhattan Beach, 80-84, 57:32
Eugene Cook, Redondo Beach, 85-89, 1:29:07
Herbert Harger, Manhattan Beach, 90-99, 1:53:36
Age Group Winners – Female
Chloe Weekley, Carlsbad, CA, 1-8, 1:15:49
Lily Paquin, Manhattan Beach, 8-11, 56:03
Heather Jensen, Manhattan Beach, 12-14, 45:11
Sophia Chittle, Poway, CA, 15-17, 42:19
Skylar Caputo, Manhattan Beach, 18-23, 39:54
Stefanie Corgel, Manhattan Beach, 24-29, 40:23
Ali Bark, Redondo Beach, 30-34, 39:28
Sarah Peterson, Manhattan Beach, 35-39, 38:50
Cambria Wu, Torrance, 40-44, 40:39
Nathalie Sonnichsen, Redondo Beach, 45-49, 40:06
Alison Atkinson, Manhattan Beach, 50-54, 42:26
Renee Williams-Smith, Manhattan Beach, 55-59, 44:40
Mary Lively, Manhattan Beach, 60-64, 45:22
Madson Buchbinder, Long Beach, 65-69, 44:56
Monyean Acuna, Hermosa Beach, 70-74, 1:02:42
Carolyn Slayback, Newport Beach, 75-79, 1:02:27
Brenda Haky, Manhattan Beach, 80-84, 1:52:01