By Karen Lozano
Talk to Allen Miller for any length of time and you’ll probably find yourself shaking your head and thinking over and over, “Who knew?”
Miller, a fascinating 66-year-old Beyer High School special education teacher, is a mainstay at ShadowChase Running Club events. You can usually find him at the finish line helping with race timing, although like most volunteers he jumps in and helps wherever needed, from set up and tear down, to marking courses. He’s even been a race director, for example, putting on the fund-raising Freedom Run in the mid-1980s, and bringing his childhood idol Jim Ryun to town to promote the event. Ryun won a silver medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the 1500 and was the first high school athlete to break 4 minutes in the mile.
If you ask Miller how long he’s been a club member, he’ll tell you “since it began.” Who knew?
Originally from Chicago, he moved to Modesto in 1977 from Southern California where he attended graduate school. Miller said he was “running pretty strong” at the time. He said he enjoyed the runs put on at the SOS Club and then got involved with others to establish ShadowChase and put on more competitive races in town. He was able to run a 36:12 10K and a 3:02 marathon in the early ‘80s. Who knew?
Some of the original SC members “set great examples of hard work to make it possible for people to enjoy running in the community,” said Miller, discussing the volunteer work ethic he developed.
Long-time club members fondly remember Charles Johnson, who served as treasurer for SC and handled many of the club’s business affairs for decades. But many may not know the close bond Miller shared with “Charlie.” The two met in 1978 when they worked together at Joaquin Construction. Miller recalls they were working a job in Danville. Charlie had just started running and was having problems with his shoes.
“So I took him over to the Big 5 and put him in a pair of $30 Brooks. I invited him out for a run that night. We kept it very low key, just running and talking. We ended up getting lost and putting in probably 5 miles, which was quite a lot since Charlie had never run more than 3 miles before.”
From there it was a friendship to last a lifetime. “We had a lot in common,” said Miller. Charlie served as best man in Miller’s wedding to wife Jan Marie. Miller ran numerous races with Charlie, traveling all over the country including a marathon in Hawaii and some multi-day relay races.
Who knew? The unassuming Miller has done more than 120 marathons and ultra marathons, including the coveted Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run five times!
“I just love running the Western States trails,” said Miller. “I love the solitude of training and the beauty of being out there. I used to go up all the time and run on my own. Of course, these days we don’t recommend it. Sometimes I’d go to Pinecrest and run places no one else was going … Yosemite Valley. … I just love being out in the wilderness. It’s always a highlight.”
Western States has changed quite a bit over the years, he said. First, the cost was only about $90 or $95 compared to today’s $400. And Miller said he had a fairly easy time getting in, unlike now where runners can wait many years to get in. He completed the race once – in the mid-‘80s not long after orthoscopic knee surgery! “I guess I learned to slow down and pace myself,” he laughed. He also completed the Vermont 100 miler, and once ran a 24-hour race around a track in Santa Rosa, logging an impressive 112 miles! In those days, Miller said, you had to bring your own personal lap counter, and “Charlie was there counting for me.”
One of his most distinct memories of WS is the time he was having a “slow day” and was leaving the aid station at Red Star Ridge. He came across a baby bear in the middle of the trail. “One of the hazards of being at the back of the pack,” he joked. Fortunately, both were able to scurry away safely.
Who knew? Miller’s first ultra was an unofficial 50-mile fund-raiser for the March of Dimes that he concocted with Charlie. They jumped in a car at the local Pep Boys, drove 50 miles away to Sonora, and ran back while Charlie’s wife Dee drove the car and crewed for the adventurous pair. “All I remember is it was dark when we finished. … The worst part was dealing with the traffic.”
Who knew? Miller and Johnson, who passed away a few years ago, were awarded the prestigious Western States Friends of the Trail award in 2010 for their selfless example of tireless dedication to WS. Since 1985, Miller said he has “either been running or pacing or working at the aid station. It’s an annual tradition.” One year he even marked the course from Squaw Valley at the start to Robinson Flat, nearly 30 miles.
Who knew? Miller put together the first slide show for the ShadowChase awards banquet in 1987, and continued for 13 more years. “I just thought it would be fun to commemorate the year with a slide show of everyone with music.”
The show, although definitely more high tech now than using the two projectors and a separate sound system that Miller used, continues to be a highlight and has become a SC tradition.
Who knew? Miller graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois, but attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena for a Master’s degree in Youth Ministries. “I came to California for school, but stayed for the weather,” he laughed. Miller moved north to work at Modesto Covenant Church, which he and his family still attend.
Who knew? Miller spends a lot of time volunteering with the Central Valley Roadrunners youth track organization where his son Theo competes. It’s not unusual for Miller to begin a weekend morning at a SC event and then rush to a Roadrunner event for volunteer duty. At the time of writing, the Millers were busy helping Theo prepare for a hopeful appearance in the Junior Olympics in Sacramento while also preparing to help at the WS Highway 49 aid station.
Who knew? Miller carries a torch for … SOCCER! In addition to running, he played soccer in college, and “the bug stuck with me.” He has played, coached and served as an official. He spends much of his free time as a soccer referee now, officiating easily hundreds of games a year. He does high school boys and girls teams as well as Modesto Youth Soccer Association games, sometimes as many as six to 10 games in two days if there’s a tournament. And he’s been doing that for 45 years! “The hardest time was when I was training for ultras,” he said. “But it helps keep me in shape.”
Miller says he enjoys flying under the radar and keeping a low profile.
“There’s so much going on these days and we’ve got a lot of people working hard and volunteering, people stepping up. The hard thing to do is keeping everything positive and just doing what you can. There are other things in life too, so it’s important to keep a balance.” Who knew? This old school running guy, for sure.
Miller added that he’s especially grateful to his wife Jan Marie, and son Theo, for letting him spend all the time he has assisting ShadowChase in his various volunteer roles through the years.
If you’d like to see a ShadowChase Running Club member profiled in the Volunteer Spotlight, please email Karen Lozano at firstname.lastname@example.org.