It’s become as venerable a local tradition as Fiesta. Every Wednesday evening from May through September, Santa Barbara’s more fitness-focused set out for their Mecca by the Mesa, Leadbetter Beach. Some make it a pavement-pounding pilgrimage while others commune with the sea in a spirited swim. A growing number of zealots do both. It’s all part of the regionally renowned Nite Moves Summer Sunset Series now entering its twenty-second year⎯an event that increases in popularity and participation with each passing season.
Truly a locals’ favorite, Nite Moves gives athletes a choice between an out-and-back 5-kilometer walk or run that parallels Shoreline Drive, a 1-kilometer open ocean swim sponsored by Xterra Wetsuits, or the Pacific Beverage-sponsored aquathon which combines both. And for children 5-11 years of age, there’s the Kids Mile run. Après race activities include a beer garden, catered food by local restaurants, dessert from McConnell’s Ice Cream, and raffle prizes donated by the likes of XTerra, Outfooters, and Santa Barbara Running. More calories can be burned dancing to the live local band as well. But far from just another avenue for activity, the race series hones a true sense of family, friendship, and camaraderie while giving back to the community. A legacy resulting from the vision and endurance of Nite Moves co-founder Jake Clinton.
Fortunately, endurance is part of Clinton’s DNA. He ran cross-country in high school before going on to compete in approximately 70 marathons, a 70.3 World Championship Half-Ironman, and two full Ironman competitions involving a 2.4 mile Swim and 112-mile bike ride followed immediately by a marathon. In the mid 1980’s, Clinton⎯who owned the town’s legendary State Street Arcade⎯brought his best entrepreneurial foot forward into the local running scene. “I initially got involved with the running community here in 1986 as a sponsor of the Chardonnay 10-Miler,” says Clinton. “Hanging out in the arcade all the time, I was starting to get a little heavy. The director of the race, Chris Holmberg, was also the bartender at the Open Door and a friend of mine. We had formed a little group called The Mission Striders and we would run near the mission every day at 4pm. Chris and his girlfriend were responsible for getting me back into shape.” Their friendship would eventually help do the same for the town, as Clinton became Holmberg’s assistant and right-hand man the next year, helping to organize the Chardonnay race. It was in 1989 that the two, along with friend Ed Sinclair, went on a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and while there brainstormed how to put on something independent of the Santa Barbara Athletic Association (SBAA). They were looking to enhance the event and had been frustrated by the lack of investment in new equipment⎯such as timing systems and signage⎯on the part of SBAA’s board of directors, despite the fact that the race was generating quite a bit of money. “It was just a desire to be independent and fund what we wanted to do,” says Clinton. “And that’s where it took off.” When they returned, Clinton and Holmberg formed a partnership they fittingly named Run Santa Barbara. Within a few weeks, they had created the template for Nite Moves and designed the first brochure and shirt. “We just thought it was going to be a lark and would be lucky to break even,” admits Clinton. The first Nite Moves race on May 29th, 1989 was only a 5-kilometer run but with kayak demonstrations as well for those interested. The now familiar post-race beer garden and food spread however were mainstays from the start. Clinton had approached Pacific Beverage for Sponsorship suggesting the name Bud Light Summer Sunset Series and they jumped on board immediately. And while the beers have changed, the rest of the moniker has stuck. The idea of having all the fun take place midweek was also conceived by Clinton. As it was to be a weekly series, he realized that non-running spouses would possibly take exception to a regular Saturday-night sneaker fest. Wednesday evenings soon became an institution and the perfect weekday complement to longer weekend workouts. And while that first season offered only the run⎯which alternated weekly between 5-kilometer and 8-kilometer courses⎯the swim component made its splash the following year.
Since 1989, the race has had quite a few notable participants including local standouts Jose Iniguez and Mary Ryzner⎯who both won the five races they ran that first year⎯as well as nine-time Ironman Champion in the women’s division, Paula Newby-Fraser. But some of the nite moves1most memorable moments and biggest thrills for Clinton are from everyday people who overcome their own perceived limitations and inspire others. Shares Clinton, “A few years ago, a woman brought her mother Rosemary who didn’t think she could walk a mile. Rosemary walked every Wednesday that year and ended up winning her age group on points because of her attendance. By the next year, she was running the course, and before I knew it she was running marathons while surviving cancer.” Another reward is the fact that in some cases, Nite Moves⎯which has also become a social phenomenon⎯has been responsible for a new generation of athletes. “A couple came up and told me they had met at the race and that they now have children,” says Clinton. A story that has become increasingly common and includes the water coaches of Dos Pueblos and San Marcos high schools who also met at the race and recently had their first child. “That’s when I started doing the beach run for kids since we had little ones running all over the place,” says Clinton. “We have a young man named Shaun who started out getting pushed by his father in the jogger and now he’s become a duathlete and is a member of the Echelon Youth Bike Program. There’s also nine-year-old Francesca who started swimming at Nite Moves and has become the youngest girl to finish the Alcatraz swim.”
Not one to rest, especially on his laurels, Clinton continues to make improvements to the series that will increase attendance and the subsequent ability to fund charitable causes. Nite Moves has worked to support Team in Training, Special Olympics, Santa Barbara Equestrian Rescue, Spirit of ’76, Echelon Bike Club’s Youth Program, Santa Barbara Bike Club, and numerous other non-profits. To help in this regard, Clinton seeks booth sponsors that are connected to the community and encourages the athletes themselves to give back. One way of doing this is through Walk For a Cause. This recent addition to the Wednesday night lineup is a one-mile non-competitive walk with proceeds going to each individual walker’s choice of participating charities. A new season also brings some fun surprises. “There are some changes to the format this summer,” explains Clinton. “The first Wednesday of every month will be points night for the 5k run that will count toward the series standings; the second Wednesday will be a head-to-head competition between triathlon clubs with the swim split into two waves; the third week will be a ‘Ladies First’ night where the first wave is reserved for the women; and we’re still figuring out a theme for the fourth week but there’s going to be variety throughout the month.” And for the fifth Wednesday in June, Clinton is working to locate out-of-town athletes for some “friendly” Southern California-wide competition.
Exploring further into new waters, Clinton has been working with Santa Barbara Travel to organize a Royal Caribbean Cruise for October 3-10, 2010 with fifty-five double-occupancy suites reserved for Nite Moves passengers. While sailing the Mexican Riviera, those with the Nite Moves crew will workout on the boat together as well as experience Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta with possible runs planned at each location. “My hope is that in Puerto Vallarta, Club Nite Moves members go on a run with me to the beach where Eddie, Chris, and I started it all,” says Clinton. “Better than another day of shopping.”
While Nite Moves continues to expand in variety and scope, one thing remains constant. “It’s a locals event,” says Clinton. Sure, tourists are welcome to join in the fun, but at its core, Nite Moves belongs to the community. First-timers can get their baptism into biathlons when it all starts up again on May 5th at 6pm with new friendships, relationships, and personal records waiting to be made. But just know that once you’ve experienced the 18-week Nite Moves Summer Sunset Series, you’ll probably return⎯ religiously.
For more information or to register for Nite Moves online, visit www.runsantabarbara.com