Sunday, January 01, 2012

Thank You, Robert and Linda

2012 seems off to a rough start. It’s early afternoon, and the list of chores I’d tasked for the day has been all but ignored. I’ve taken the box of Christmas decorations upstairs – one step closer to the storage closet. Otherwise: nothing.

As the sun’s glow filters lower through the trees, my enthusiasm wanes for the afternoon’s planned track workout (5X800). I downgrade it to a seven-miler around Donner Lake and think about cleaning out my closet (#1 on my shunned chore list). I settle for cleaning out the microwave (not on my list) and roam restlessly through the house until I realize the dogs need a walk.

It’s a typical procrastination pattern for me, except the thing I’m trying to shove aside isn’t something I should be doing, it’s something I don’t want to think about. It’s this feeling in my heart, the knowledge that two friends, Robert and Linda Mathis, were killed last night by a motorist while crossing the street in Incline Village.

I head out the back door and off into the woods with the dogs, their deaths heavy on my mind. Robert and Linda were the RD’s for the race series, and I try to reach back into my memories and recall the first race of theirs that I ran. I’m pretty sure it was Lake of the Sky, which was probably also my favorite of their races. I find myself wondering if I will ever get to run it again and think how nice it would be to run a memorial race on that course in their honor. I smile because I know I am no RD. Still, with the winter we’re having, we could run that race next weekend. Not a race, but a community run perhaps.  It’s a nice thought because it feels like doing something. Something! In a situation for which nothing can be done.

The dogs run far ahead and I am alone on the pine needle path. As the sun slides closer to Donner Peak, I realize if I’m to get my run in, I’ll have to do it by headlamp. I shrug. I let go of the workout altogether and choose trails that extend the dog walk. I blame it on PMS and laziness. I don’t feel like running.

I feel the dirt and sticks and pine needles through my thin-soled shoes and take comfort in feeling a part of the landscape. The dogs return to check on me before quickly catching a scent and bolting for another romp. I allow myself to be alone with my memories.

I had just been talking with Jamie the day before about how when you’re new to ultra running, you seek out mentors – people who can help you learn the trails, find gear, and meet other runners. Robert and Linda did much of that for me through the races they put on. Their events were typically low-key affairs, but done with care and professionalism. There were always well-marked courses, plenty of aid, and smiling folks there to help. I learned many of the trails in the Sierra Foothills through running their races, and I also met many friends there for the first time. People like Peter, Catherine, Scott, Lainie, and Dave, just to name a few. Twice I competed in their race series, taking third place in 2007 and second in 2009. It was not a highly competitive series, but they always had great prizes, and the pile of Inov-8 shoes I won got me through many wonderful miles of trail.

In addition to their own races, Robert and Linda could often be found volunteering at other people’s events. Their smiling faces (and Linda’s homemade chili and grilled burgers!) were everpresent. Last spring, I ran their Auburn Trails race for the third time. It rained all day, and if you think that’s tough to run in, you should try standing around at the finishline trying to keep the timing software dry and grill burgers for a bunch of muddy, stinky runners. They were a beautiful sight to see when crossing the line.

The sun finally drops and the temperature swiftly follows. I don’t mind the cold hands, but I reluctantly turn for home to avoid getting caught out in the dark. I never feel like I deal well with death, but then, I suppose no one does. It’s so … strange. So damn permanent.

The running community lost some very special people yesterday. We can only be glad that we knew them, and appreciate how much better off we all are for what they gave us. I guess my way of dealing with the sadness is to share these memories here, with you. If you knew Robert and Linda, or have fond memories from their races, please share in the comments. I’d love to hear about them.

Robert and Linda taking care of things behind the scenes at the 2008 Rucky Chucky Roundabout.

[Update: A memorial group run has been planned for Saturday, February 25. Meet at the Auburn Overlook Park in Auburn at 9:00 A.M. Details can be found at the event page: For additional info, contact Jen Dicus -]


  1. Runwild11@live.com1/01/2012 10:48 PM

    Robert and Linda were wonderful people, and my favorite race of theirs was Lake of the Sky. I have read, and reread the article in the Incline paper about their accident, and every time I do, I cry. Just as I cried as I read your story Gretchen. The running community has suffered a great loss. I still have a feeling of shock about this. I remember one year I got second or 3rd male in their running series, and I couldn't believe the prizes I got. They always tried to be good to their runners and their hearts were always in their work as RD's.
    Linda and Robert, you will be missed. God Speed.
    Jack and Abby dog.

  2. This is so sad. Gretchen, you composed a great tribute to them.

  3. Heartfelt and beautifully written, Gretchen.

  4. A sad day for all in your running community and those of Incline Village. It sounds like Robert and Linda knew the true meaning of community and caring. Bless them and all those affected by such a tragic and stupid act.

  5. Meeting you was one of the first things that came to mind when I heard these tragic news. Robert and Linda will live on through the memories they created.

  6. My goodness, this is so sad...thanks for sharing it with all of us, and may they run many miles up above the skies.

  7. I first met Robert and Linda feb '09 at the Pony Express 50 Mile run. They were so nice and supportive to the runners. I am truly shocked by the event last Friday night. My heart goes out to the Mathis' family.

  8. What a nice tribute to Robert and Linda. Thoughts of them have been intense these past two days. Thank you Gretchen.

  9. What a terribly sad thing to happen; this certainly helps us appreciate every race and every mile we're granted.

    I only have one race memory: that day in the rain at ALT. Robert was still there after my extra miles because there were still two runners on the course. He congratulated me and wished me well, just as he did with everyone else. Looking back, it was all too brief - I'm sorry I didn't know him better.

  10. I was shocked and saddened to read about Robert and Linda's deaths. What a senseless tragedy. I loved seeing the picture you used in your wonderful tribute. I always wanted to run Rucky Chucky but it seemed I was always injured so it was in 2008 I spent many hours in that kitchen under Linda's close watch preparing food for runners post-race. I will miss them both.

  11. Beautiful writing, Gretchen. What a loss for all of us.

  12. I am so sad to hear this. Robert and Linda were such nice people. My first ultra was with them, along with my first 50 miler. And then my first solo 50 miler at Mokelume River last year. My first night run was at their race in Cool. All of my ultras have been with them, except for my first 100. Even my first DFL was with Robert and Linda.

  13. Gretchen, you did well by them in putting your thoughts into words. I never met Robert or Linda in person, but from the way you describe them I am sure that I would have loved to hang out with them.

    I wish the best for you and their families as you deal with the loss.

  14. While I only met Robert and Linda once in person, they left a lasting impression that was substantiated by other friends in the running commmunity. I volunteered at an aid station at the Auburn Dam Overlook several years ago, and they demonstrated so much passion for the outdoors and each other through their personal and race directing stories across OR, NV, and CA. The other passion was Mickey and Disney.

    I was shocked and saddened learning about the accident as we just recently talked about Robert when looking for events in 2012 and preparing for a trip to Orlando. We are going to Disney World this weekend for Karen to complete her "Goofy Challenge" which was one of the events Robert discussed at length when I met him.

    Out thoughts are with Robert, Linda and the family.

    Love, Olivia, Karen & Kjell

  15. Linda was so good to me , before I hurt my foot, I ran in a lot of there races. She would always try to have Veggie Burger for me, she was so thoughtful. They will be dearly missed. Robert had a great sense of humor!

  16. I signed up for the WDW marathon and then started running with 9 months to go. Robert and Disney Running supported me through that training. I then signed up for Goofy but shortly after that I left the forum because of 'forum politics' and felt that some of the decisions Robert made in the last two years or so were not wise ones.

    All that aside I was still shocked and saddened by their deaths.There is some small comfort in the fact that they died together as I am sure neither would have wanted to live without the other.

    RIP Robert and Linda Mathis.