“I’ll be there. We’ll run between the raindrops,”
— Roy Lambertson
I am at a loss to express the void we all feel over the sudden and unexpected passing of Roy Lambertson (obit). Roy left an everlasting impression on me; I took Roy for granted. He was a man of few words yet strong actions who was never looking to be in the limelight.
Roy seemed to be the perfect mix of quiet humility with a wit and humor that just plain made you want to be around him. Whenever I pulled into the parking lot to meet for a run and spotted Roy’s Subaru wagon, I knew it was going to be a good one.
Running in our 7-by-7 community (a Los Altos running club) will never be the same without Roy. In his memory, I want to celebrate some of the things I will miss most about him.
- Deadpan jokes and pranks.
Everyone surely would agree that this was Roy’s sweet spot. He was relentless with his humor yet seemed to catch you when you least expected it in a way you could not have anticipated. I learned when an email from Roy appeared, I should immediately read it. Here’s a good one:
“Subject: Displaced Ursus Americanus Mandible
You guys are pranksters, so you might appreciate this:
On my last trip to Yosemite, I found a bear jawbone, complete with large teeth. This morning I placed it just off a trail in Hidden Villa. The idea is to get someone to find it and identify it and cause a sensation. Black bears in Los Altos Hills! In a Summer Camp!
Of course, this is wishful thinking. We shall see,“
There are many examples of this! Roy stayed in the background and did not draw attention to his accomplishments (like climbing all of the 14,000+ foot peaks in California). His consistently outstanding performances year after year at the Nisene Marks Half Marathon are but one example. Roy almost always placed in the top 2 in his age group and blitzed a course that included 3,100 feet of climbing over a very challenging single-track trail with roots and rocks galore. Here’s just one result I found:
– 2013 at 52 years old he placed 2nd in his age group and 9th overall (156 runners) averaging 7:53 per mile. Huh?!
- Quiet [but effective] approach to challenges.
I was witness to this year after year in Roy’s role as Course Director for the Spartan Turkey Trot. Whether he was lacing the light poles with colored ribbon the night before, lecturing me about a speed bump on the course, or showing up at 4:30 am on race day to subvert attempted sabotage on our course, Roy was constantly “covering my butt” on details I hadn’t even thought about.
- Wit and humor.
When Roy spoke, I learned to listen carefully. This email response to Dino’s proposed “22 miles on the track” (Subject: monotony run) strikes that cord perfectly:
“Monotony is not always bad; my wife and I have been practicing it for years. Wait, that’s monogamy. Close, but not the same thing.“
There were also the many aliases’ Roy might choose for the next upcoming race to make sure we could not find him:
“OK, Dag Xarph is also signed up. Wait, or is it Lowe N. Durrance? Who am I this time?”
And of course, he often had a political barb or conspiracy theory on COVID:
“Bill, Dr. Sarah Cody is gunning for you; among the restrictions in the new health orders is a prohibition on running the Old Barn Loop in Los Altos Hills. I plan to be there; we’ll be careful.”
To say Roy was brief and to the point would be an understatement. He was truly a “just the facts mam” kind of guy. Here’s a typical race report on the historic Dipsea Race to the 7-by-7 club. Mind you, most of us only dream of running this race, which is open only to an elite few. I could have written a book on that day, but Roy boiled it down to the important details.
“Unfortunately, in Sunday’s Dipsea Race, Dino rolled his left foot at mile 5 and broke a bone. I got the impression that it was a metatarsal. No surgery but he’ll be in an immobilizing boot for at least 6 weeks.”
Sometimes you didn’t even have to read his email. The subject line told it all:
“Sat am: 14 miles flat, fast, boring”
Unlike me, Roy was not going to offer an excuse if he could not run:
“Thanks Bill; next time,”
- Curriculum vitae.
Roy was the last person to talk about or document his running accomplishments. We likely will never know all he did on the racing circuit due to his many aliases’. Here’s how I found out he was running Dipsea one year:
“Can’t do it; thanks Bill. I’ll be up in Marin, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach with 1400 of my closest friends.”
Roy might be the only human being on planet earth to have run from San Francisco to Oakland inside the BART tunnel. He did let out a few snippets about the authorities who were waiting for him as he came out of the tunnel. He outran them, but I never was sure about his mention of the bullets flying by as he turned the corner.
- Writing skill.
Roy was a wonderfully talented writer. His “April Fools” story from the New York Times about me winning the Mavericks Big Wave contest (62-year old surfer wins Mavericks Surf Contest) is of course my personal favorite. God bless him, it felt as if I had really done it! I even received a few inquiries about the authenticity, despite him whipping it up a bit at the end:
“As the wave curled and, despite its monstrous size, became tubular, the crowd feared that all was lost as Mulkey disappeared behind the leading edge [of a 50′ wave…]. But a cheer erupted ten seconds later as they caught sight of him emerging from the collapsing tube in fine form, hanging ten and giving a “hang loose” hand signal. As the wave ran out into turbulent white foam, he offered up a headstand on the board. “
- Knowledge of the outdoors.
This one goes without saying. Roy was the ultimate outdoorsman. When he heard I was planning a bike packing trip he immediately brought me an engineering diagram of how to hang a food sack [Roy would correct me, “its Ursack Mike”] from a tree (for the bears) and offered to schedule time at his house to demonstrate… Upon reviewing my bike “packing list”, Roy did not hesitate to cut me down to size:
“Delete (to save weight): Camp seat, bear spray, ground sheets, some of the bike tools, maybe the second spare bike tube, towel (just have a wash cloth), extra clothes (but not the extra socks), etc.“
- Deep wisdom of running injuries.
A lotta shit is happening with the 7-by-7 runners these days, and Roy was always quick to offer his expert medical advice:
“Brian, if I were an M.D. I would refrain from engaging in armchair diagnosis of your injury. I would want to do a physical examination, to rule out bursitis, sciatica, etc. But I’m not an M.D, so the sky’s the limit! …”
And God forbid if you were not very precise in your description of the injury:
“Doug, the answer is stretching. What was the question?…”
- Attention to detail.
Roy was always uber prepared. His recent 7-by-7 backpacking trip with Bill Gough and the gang underscored this in many ways. Bill lost the soles to his boots on the very first hike (not kidding!). Roy simply pulled out a backup pair of boots from his Subaru that were the exact size Bill needed. They covered Bill for the entire backpacking trip. You are killing me Roy!
Roy was a kind and gentle soul with a big heart. When a 7-by-7 member had her first baby Roy thought ahead to buy a baby jogger and organize a day at the track to give it to her. And of course, we all took credit.
Thanks Roy. We will carry your baton forward proudly. You have made us all better people.
Upon hearing the news of the sudden and unexpected death of our 3-year-old Labrador Retriever earlier this year, Roy acknowledged,
“That’s not fair.”
Nothing more needs to be said.
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