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Reilly Johnson Set for 100th Dipsea Honor Saturday

Tam Valley Elementary student, the youngest ever to win the popular running race at the age of 8, will be on hand when her feat is marked with a formal engraving on the third flight of the Dipsea stairs at 11 a.m.

will forever be remembered as the winner of the 100th edition of Marin County’s most famous running race – the Dipsea. A plaque engraved into the Dipsea Steps on Saturday morning will assure it.

But it isn’t the number 100 that makes Johnson’s feat so special. It’s 8.

That’s how old the fifth grader in Miss Wolthausen’s class at was last June when she crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 12 minutes, 31 seconds, seven seconds ahead of her closest rival.

Johnson will be on hand at 11 a.m. Saturday – along with her mother Wendy and father Hal – for a ceremony that will memorialize her accomplishment. An engraved plaque of her win will be unveiled on the third flight of the Dipsea Stairs, which are located on Edgewood Ave. in Mill Valley.

“I’m very excited to have my name on the stairs,” Johnson said on the eve of the event. “It was very exciting because it was the 100th and I was the youngest ever to win.”

If Johnson is to repeat as champion June 12, she figures to have to run a lot faster than she did a year ago. Based on her age, she received a 25-minute head-start over most of the field in 2010. This year, because she’s a year older and the defending champion, that advantage will be just 19 minutes.

Then again, Johnson ran 15 minutes faster last year than she had while finishing 199th in 2009, so it would be unwise to discount her chances.

“This year I’m stronger and older, so I’m probably going to be a little faster,” warned Johnson, who began training after the soccer season in mid-January.

Another thing Johnson would like to repeat this year is beating her father. Dad finished 64th last year.

And mom? She’s also a runner, but she opted to camp out at the finish line last year, hoping her daughter could accomplish her goals of beating dad as well as finishing in the top 35, which earns you a coveted Dipsea black shirt.

Wendy Johnson recalled receiving updates during the race last year, but as the leaders approached the finish line, the last she’d heard was that her daughter had gotten passed by perennial contender Melody-Ann Schultz of Ross.

“When I saw her (Reilly) coming around the corner,” mom said of the end of the race, “I was mightily shocked to see her in the lead.”

And was Reilly nervous to have a three-time champion in hot pursuit? Actually, no.

“I’m a very fast sprinter,” she noted. “So I figured I could probably outsprint her if I had to.”

Wendy Johnson believes she’s probably more excited about the win than the champ.

“I think about it when I’m out running,” she admitted. “I think, ‘Wow, I wish I was that fast.'"

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