Jan. 17, 2014
For immediate release

Gray Bellan survived 1987 soaker claimed NCAA titles at UC Davis

(Fifth in a series highlighting the eight members of the Sacramento Running Association’s 2014 Hall of Fame class. Today: Patti Gray Bellan)

Patti Gray Bellan helped put running on the map at UC Davis by winning three NCAA individual titles, two of them in Sacramento, setting several school records and earning numerous All-America honors.

But she might have made her biggest impression a few years later on the most miserable day in California International Marathon history, overcoming 50-mph winds and driving rain to win the women’s race in 1987.

Her accomplishments earned Gray Bellan a spot in the Sacramento Running Association’s Hall of Fame. She and the rest of the class of 2014 — Al Baeta, Lindsay Hyatt Barr, Harold Kuphaldt, Heike Skaden Mansoor, John Mansoor, Michael Stember and Tim Twietmeyer – are scheduled to be inducted on Jan. 25 during a dinner at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento.

That group joins the inaugural SRA Hall of Fame class inducted last year: Rae Clark, Eileen Claugus, Chris Iwahashi, Helen Klein, Billy Mills, Paul Reese, Dennis Rinde and Linda Somers Smith.

The SRA will also present its Annual Achievement Awards, including Athlete of the Year to Shadrack Biwott.

Tickets for the 6 p.m. dinner are $50 and can be obtained at www.runsra.org.

“It made me feel good people would remember me,” Gray Bellan said. “I loved running at Davis and I ran a lot in Sacramento.

“That time was really a special time. I had great teammates. I had a great coach. I loved running there so much.”

She was brilliant at UC Davis. And she was unforgettable in the 1987 CIM, widely regarded as the worst storm year in the race’s 31-year history.

Gray Bellan came prepared. She’d encountered snow flurries in the 1986 Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis/St. Paul, dropping out for the only time in her running career.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared for the weather,” she said. “I told myself I’d never make that mistake again.

“I said I need to be prepared for all conditions. If it was raining or storming, I would go out for a run.

“It had been good weather for the last five years. Northern California weather, I know it’s not always perfect in December. I thought, ‘You can’t bank on it being a blue sky day.’

It wasn’t. But this time, Gray Bellan didn’t flinch, surviving the elements to win in 2 hours, 40 minutes and 29 seconds.

She recalls tucking in behind a muscular male runner for awhile to protect herself. She also remembers the Aggies’ men’s team coming out to support her.

But what really stands out is the woman she saw on a corner along the course.

“The wind was blowing really hard and it was raining really hard. I was just thinking, ‘What are we doing?’” she said. “I looked up ahead to the corner. A woman had come out to cheer. She was an average-looking person, standing on the corner in the rain.

“I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. I thought, ‘Gee, if she can come out here and cheer us on, I can surely do this. This is what I do.’ That really kind of picked me up.”

She also won the Honolulu Marathon in 1984 with a 2:42:50 effort, ran a personal best 2:36:19 in the same race two years later and finished second in the women’s marathon at the World University Games in 1985.

Gray Bellan made a huge impact while running for coach Sue Williams at UC Davis. She won NCAA Division II titles at 3,000 meters (9:37.09) and 5,000 meters (16:36.20) in 1982 in Sacramento and came back in 1983 to win the NCAA championship in the 10,000 (35:02.21). She also set school records in the 1,500 (4:30.74), 3,000 (9:28.24), 5,000 (16:34.87) and 10,000 (33:42.33).

“I was a pretty mediocre high school runner,” said Gray Bellan, who ran at Foothill High School in Pleasanton. “I improved beyond what anybody, even myself, probably thought I could.

“Sue was just a perfect coach for me. She was a great mentor. I can’t even tell you how much she means to me in my life. She’s helped me in every aspect.”

Gray Bellan worked as an assistant coach at UC Davis and Diablo Valley College before taking the head coaching job in cross country at Mills College in Oakland, where she met her husband Phil.

They moved to Boise 20 years ago, with Gray Bellan teaching health at a local junior high school. They have two children: Eric, 18, and Emma, 16.

The Sacramento Running Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.