Richard and John Garritson (below, left to right), running with two sisters and a niece on a trail near San
Diego, encountered a pack of pit bulls at the point marked with an “X” on the photo, left. Two girls escaped on
the main trail indicated by the black arrow; one via the trail with the white arrow. John and Richard eventually fled via the main route, but only after being attacked by the dogs and suffering extreme bite wounds.
that family runs,” says Jose Flores, a Val-
ley Center resident. “The father yells at
those kids as if he were a Marine drill
instructor. I don’t understand it.”
Richard has learned to live with the
uncomprehending stares from non-fam-
ily members. He knows these people—
people who don’t understand the sport—
see the Garritson kids running and think
that all they do is suffer. The outsiders
don’t recognize the sharp pleasures of
training and racing. They don’t know
what it’s like to be out running at dawn,
watching the sun lift over the mountains.
They don’t hear the deep, happy conversa-
tions during long weekend runs.
And they don’t understand how running has taught the Garritsons an essential human skill, one whose mastery can
mean the difference between life and
death. In fact, Richard himself didn’t understand all that running had taught
him—until that day last November when
an ordinary family workout shifted, in a
second, to every runner’s primal nightmare and a desperate struggle for survival.
They turn right out of the middle
school, run a couple hundred yards, then
hang another right onto North Lake
Wohlford Road. They climb a steep
paved road past a church-run preschool,
where the pavement gives way to a dirt
road twisting through overgrown orange
groves. This part of San Diego County is
considered hybrid country, where the
suburbs slam up against the high desert.
Palomar Mountain, 5,500-feet high and
topped by its famous observatory and
telescope, fills the eastern horizon. Rat-
THE SUNDAY AF TERNOON after Thanksgiving starts in unexceptional fashion,
with the Garritsons gathering for their
daily run under a warm sun. Four of the
kids are running today: Richard; John, 20;
Maegan, 18; and Shelby, 15. They’re joined
by Catherine Garritson, their 10-year-old
niece. As always, Mike Garritson, 61, who
makes his living as a registered nurse,
will supervise. After some warmups, the
group moves to the middle-school athletic field across the highway from the
family home. Often a hub of after-school
soccer practice, the field today is used
exclusively by the Garritsons.
They begin with a series of 200-meter
repeats. Mike pays particular attention to
Shelby, a high-school sophomore, who
has qualified for the upcoming Foot
Locker Regional Cross-Country Championships. After the intervals, Mike sends
the group out on a five-mile tempo run
through the surrounding hills, arranging
to meet them 40 minutes later at the
parking lot of a local produce stand. The
runners take off, eager for the trails.
tlesnakes, jack rabbits, and coyotes routinely roam the dry hills.
The runners form a single file as the
road narrows to an unmarked trail bordering the San Pasqual Indian reservation. The tribe’s thriving casino gleams
on a hill just a few hundred yards away.
Deep ruts score the trail hard as iron in
these last weeks before the winter rains.
Richard runs shirtless. He’s been running
here since he was a child and has never
felt threatened, either by the wildlife or
the tribal members whose isolated dwellings dot the hills. There have been occasional minor conflicts between the reservation and the neighboring communities,
but relations with the San Pasqual have
been generally friendly.