The Man Who Started It All
Who can you thank for creating the Manhattan Beach 10k?! Russ Lesser, that's who. He sat down with us to answer questions about this very special race and reveals what the motivation was to bring it to life.
Our Q & A With Russ
You have been running for quite a long time. How did you first get into running?
I got into running when I was about 30 and had gained a bit of weight and was working long hours and found that running was the most time efficient way to get and then stay in shape. I have been lucky as I have run more than 50,000 miles with very few injuries and no knee problems.
What inspired you to create this race?
In 1978 I was running quite a bit including marathons, and I was elected to the Manhattan Beach City Council. Some friends suggested we put on a 10k run in Manhattan Beach but the city didn't have the staff to do it so I got permission from the city to put it on as individuals. The city agreed to provide police and paramedic services at no cost which was the only way it could have happened, and they have been a great partner ever since the beginning.
We are now in our 41st year, how has the race evolved over the years?
The basic philosophy of the race has not changed from the beginning. As runners we knew what we liked in a race so we set the following rules: The race would start on time. There would be no political or other speeches ahead of time that no one wanted to hear. Everyone would get a time and a place. There would be lots of awards. And, most importantly, there would be no advertising on the t-shirt, and as it was a finisher shirt, you had to run the race to get one. We are very proud of the race, as it is put on by volunteers and all profits go back to the city and the schools in the form of building exercise equipment and scholarships. We are also proud that we have been picked as one of the top 100 races in the country, and the only one without a major sponsor.
What have you learned along the way?
I have learned that there are a lot of amazing people in Manhattan Beach who have worked for years to put on this race. This includes the city staff, the committee members, all the volunteers, and the various groups such as the Mira Costa Choir Boosters who help out each year. It is truly a community event. I have also learned that technology is wonderful. In the beginning we had to hand print numbers and pull tags off of runners when they finished, and put them into chutes and now it is all computerized.
You are a member of the P.I.E.R. Group, meaning you have participated in every Manhattan Beach 10k! What has kept you motivated to do this year after year?
There are about 50 of us in the P.I.E R. Group which stands for Participated In Every Race. Why do I keep doing it? Probably because of PEER group pressure, and being one of the founders, I will keep doing it as long as I can finish under two hours and five minutes which is the time limit. Also, every five years we have a great party at the end and so hopefully I can make it to at least 45 years and maybe 50 when I will be 86. I will admit that seems a long time away but where did the last 40 years go?
Any plans to simply enjoy being a participant of the race and step away from being a committee member?
I was the chairman for most of the first 25 years and Rachel Judson took over then and has done a fabulous job. I am not nearly as involved now as I was for years, but will still help out as long as I am able to contribute.
Dive N’ Surf is a sponsor of the MB10k. Tell us how you got involved with them.
I met the Meistrell brothers who started Dive N' Surf and Body Glove when I was at Cal State Long Beach studying to be a CPA. They told me that when I graduated and got out of the army they would hire me to do their accounting. I did the accounting for 25 years and then they hired me to be the president of Body Glove and Dive N' Surf. We sold the majority interest in Body Glove a couple of years ago, but I am still involved with Dive N' Surf.
You and your wife Charlotte have led a life of philanthropy, donating your time and money to many local charities and foundations. Why is it so important for you to give back to the community in this way?
I believe strongly in the free enterprise system we have in the United States. My wife Charlotte and I believe that people who have benefited from the opportunities our system creates have a responsibility to give back our time and resources to our community. We believe that the earlier in life you learn that it is much more satisfying to give back than it is to get the happier you will be.
A Gift For You
Russ was kind enough to offer a Dive N' Surf coupon to our MB10k participants! Hang onto your bib number after the race and head over and shop 'til you drop.