Crim launched pro running career of Lisa (Weidenbach) Rainsberger, last U.S. Boston Marathon winner
That epiphany came at the 1982 Crim 10-mile road race in Flint.
Rainsberger, then Lisa Larsen, drove herself to the race and paid an entry fee, just like everyone else. She entered the race as a test of her fitness before her senior season of cross country at the University of Michigan. The Battle Creek native came away with a third-place finish and a time of 55:38.2 in a race won in 53:17.9 by 1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit.
"It was the race that, in my mind, made me world-class," Rainsberger said. "I came in here, finished third in 55 minutes and change. To me it was like, 'OK, I can do this. This is my career. This is what I'm going to do.' Joan Benoit Samuelson won that year and I could see her. For me, it was a real eye-opening experience to come to Flint and be part of this magnificent crowd of world-class athletes."
When Rainsberger ran her next Crim in 1985, she was four months removed from winning the Boston Marathon. She took second in the 1985 Crim, then became the first woman to win three consecutive Crims from 1986-88.
Her fastest Crim, however, came in 1989 when she hit the line in 52:32, winning a spirited duel with New Zealand's Anne Audain — for second place. She was a distant second, at that, as the race was won that year in an American-record 51:47 by Cathy O'Brien.
"She was probably taking a shower by the time we finished," Rainsberger said.
Rainsberger and O'Brien are two former Crim champions who have been brought in to help promote Saturday's 35th annual race. The others are Greg Meyer and three-time men's champion Herb Lindsay.
Meyer, also a Michigan native, also carries the label "last American to win Boston" on the men's side, winning in 1983.
As proud as Rainsberger is of her Boston victory, she wanted so dearly to place the winner's laurel on the head of Michigan-trained Desiree Davila at this year's Boston Marathon. Davila led down the stretch on Boylston Street before being overtaken by Kenya's Caroline Kilel and losing by two seconds.
"It's time to glorify other Americans so the next generation has someone to go, 'I want to do that,'" Rainsberger said.
Rainsberger, who was known as Lisa Weidenbach during her three Crim victories, ran in Flint eight times. Her final appearance was in 1994. She plans to run the eight-kilometer race Saturday at a casual pace.
Being from Michigan, the Crim has always been special to her.
"Just because it's in Flint doesn't mean it's not the best," she said. "We all have the hometown feeling that something's always better somewhere else. It's not better anywhere else in the nation or world for a 10-mile race. It came at a great time of the year. August is great for prepping for a fall marathon. It came with great competition and it had money."
Weidenbach retired as a professional runner in the late 1990s, but remains physically active. She coaches athletes in running and triathlon, helping one athlete achieve an Olympic bronze medal in triathlon.
She doesn't compete at a high level in road races, but still seeks challenges.
"Every year I pick something that makes me feel alive," she said. "This year, it was a 40-mile mountain bike race uphill. Last year, I climbed my bike on the Pike's Peak Assault; from the bottom to the top it's 14,000 feet. The year before I did a half Ironman triathlon. The year before that I ran Boston. Every year I pick a fun event that makes me feel a little nervous, a little focused and happy to be alive."
Like other major road races, the Crim is going through a long dryspell without American winners. The last men's winner was Ken Martin in 1990, the year before prize money replaced appearance fees as a means of compensating athletes. Anne Marie Letko was the last American women's winner in 1994.
The Crim served as the women's national 10-mile championship two years ago and the men's championship last year. While that attracted a stronger American field than usual, foreigners still won the men's and women's races.
Without a national championship, it's unlikely that an American will break the drought this year.
The men's field is led by defending-champion Julius Kogo. He will be the first defending men's champion since Linus Maiyo in 2005 to return the following year.
Defending women's champion Mare Dibaba Hurssa is not entered. Six-time Crim champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya is entered and hoping to improve on her fifth-place finish from last year.
Among Rainsberger's theories for foreign dominance is a sticky subject — performance-enhancing drugs.
"Americans are clean," she said. "Distance runners here aren't taking performance-enhancing drugs, because we're tested as a nation. You'll see a lot of foreigners come to the United States and train and race because, frankly, they can avoid drug testing. Unfortunately, that's not talked about enough."