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Run for the Money

Schools in San Ramon Valley are wild for the Primo's Run for Education.


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Run for the Money

Photographer: Martin Sundberg 

Primo’s may have good pizza and pasta, but good enough to draw out 5,000 people at 8 a.m. on a Sunday?

Not quite. Those people aren’t warming up to eat pizza; they are about to participate in the Primo’s Run for Education, an annual race put on to benefit the San Ramon Valley Education Foundation.

The Primo’s Run has been a Tri-Valley tradition for 24 years, ever since Jack Rhodes, an avid runner and the owner of Primo’s Pizza, decided he wanted to give back to the community. He called the Education Foundation, and shortly thereafter the race—which is actually two races, a 5K and a half-marathon—was born. Both races are certified by USA Track & Field, and cash prizes of as much as $300 are awarded to the top three finishers in each age bracket (from “under 8” to “80+”). The race is run on the streets of Danville and San Ramon, creating the atmosphere of a giant block party.

“The most amazing thing is to watch everyone taking off,” says Kathy Gailey, who has volunteered with the run for eight years. “There are streams and streams of people. It takes 15 to 20 minutes for everyone to get started.”

As popular as the race itself is, the highlight of the event for many participants may be the centipede contest. Centipedes are groups of at least eight costumed contestants who form a sort of float. The contest is judged by a panel that includes the mayors of Danville and San Ramon, and prizes are awarded to the best centipede created by an elementary, middle, and high school, as well as the best by an organization (such as the Boy Scouts). Many large races have centipede contests, but at the Primo’s Run—as opposed to, say, the Bay to Breakers—the participants are a lot more likely to be kids, and a lot less likely to be naked. Not that the costumes at the Primo’s Run aren’t creative.

Run for the Money

Photographer: Martin Sundberg 

“The first year we were in the district, we were a pizza,” says Ann Katzburg, a kindergarten teacher at Coyote Creek Elementary in San Ramon. “Each of [the teachers] was a topping—the idea was ‘take a bite out of education.’ And we did a patriotic one—red, white, and blue—for 9/11 [in 2001].”

The centipedes are indicative of what makes the Primo’s Run great: community spirit. People from across the valley chip in to make the event a success. It takes more than 500 volunteers to help organize the race, and for the first 22 years of its existence, the Primo’s Run did not have a single paid employee. Even now, the payroll consists of just one line, Vanessa Chan, the executive director of the San Ramon Valley Education Foundation, and she only works part-time.

“The community’s really come out to support us,” Chan says. “When I say it’s a community event, I truly mean it.”

To date, the race has raised nearly $2 million. Last year, it brought in more than $100,000, which was distributed to the San Ramon Valley school district’s 31 schools.

“It’s an incredible amount of money that allows us to buy materials we wouldn’t get otherwise,” Katzburg says. “This is one way we are able to support our children.”

Now that’s a cause worth running for.

Primo’s Run for Education, October 14. Half-marathon starts at 7:30 a.m.; 5K run at 8:30 a.m. (925) 820-9181, www.primosrun.com.

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