Provided by Ron Marinucci
Roseville (11/13)—It was hard to believe it was the second Sunday in November, already. It had sort of sneaked up on us this year. But the clocks had been set back an hour the weekend before. A new President was elected. The leaves had been raked and the grass mowed, with luck for the last time! And now it was time for the Big Bird road races.
For this, the 38th annual Big Bird, the weather was ideal—almost. The morning sky was filled with bright sunshine and the whitest of puffy clouds. Temperatures hovered in the upper 40s and lower 50s. But there was a nagging little breeze, not real strong but noticeable, that seemed to be in runners’ faces no matter which way they turned.
The courses have remained largely the same for the life of the Big Bird. They are mostly flat as pancakes, the only exception being out-and-back crossings of I-696 on a pedestrian overpass in the 10K. The inclines bring a bit of a burn to the quadriceps and, on this day, the wind could be felt. Last year and this, some of the longer course included a bit more of running in a couple of Roseville city parks, getting runners off the roads for a half mile or more.
The marquee 10K (although participation numbers in the 4K are closing in on it) was won by Matt Fecht in 33:53, more than two minutes ahead of runner-up John Worthington (36:12) and masters winner Jamie LaBrosse (age 44, 36:35). Fecht has run “four or five” Big Birds and is a multiple winner. After the race he said, “I ran solo after the first mile. It was almost a perfect day,” as he cited, “the sneaky wind. In the park, every way I turned there’s a wind in my face.” He did admit, “It was slower than I planned.” But then he added, “I did a 2 X 6 [miles] workout before the race. I had a 15-minute recovery” until the start of the 10K. “But I was happy with the win.”
Fecht was also “happy” to be hauling around the turkey (Big Bird) he won for finishing first. He planned to cook it for a turkey dinner for his alternative high school students. No doubt they’ll be “happy with the win,” too.
The women’s champion was Jen Rock (36:42, 4th overall). She recalled that “The Big Bird was my first 10K, when I was in high school.” This time, she said, “I ran by myself, pretty much on my own the entire race. It’s a good course and a fun race. It was a good workout.” Rock, too, will give her turkey away, to her excited parents.
The female masters winner was also a Big Bird veteran. Heather Lewandowski finished in 41:54, good for 12th overall.
The one mile male winners were Nolan Cruci (14 and under, 6:22) and Alex Williams (15 and over, 5:30). The females were paced by Leah Borkowski (14 and under, 9:58) and Cassie Williams (15 and over, 6:32).
Evan Tonn won the 4K (13:15), while Ella Willis, a multi-time winner at both the 4K and 10K here, was the leading female (17:09).
What would a Big Bird be without Darrell McKee? This was his 37th Big Bird, missing last year only due to complications from surgery. He’s had a few “setbacks,” as he called them, in ’16, but still made it to the 4K, running 39:25. And the 82-year old added with a big smile, “I won a turkey!” He also noted that Ella Willis, who won the 4K, “must have 35 or 36 Big Birds, too.”
This was Tim Cardy’s “sixth or seventh” Big Bird 10K. From neighboring St. Clair Shores, he enthused about the “great community race. I like the local [flavor],” noting the annual performance of the Roseville High School band. “And I see people I know.” Being a veteran Big Birder, he knows that despite the bit of wind, “There could have been worse weather,” recalling rain and snow and...in previous years. “I do different races,” he closed, “but his is my favorite. It’s a great race.”
Nancy Folks and Clare Zink ran the 4K race. Folks has been running the Big Bird “since 2007” she noted without thinking about it. She likes “the good course” and today “the bright sunny sky. It was a
bit breezy, but it was fun.” Zink finished her first Big Bird and with a grin admitted, “It wasn’t too bad.” Still grinning, she added, “I won a prize,” hold up a runner’s bag from the raffle.
Folks and Zink were at the finish line of the 10K waiting for Carmen Folk. She appreciated “the nice weather;” again as a veteran of “nine [Big Bird] 10Ks, she’s seen rain and snow. Folk has run three half marathons this year, saying, “I had a good time (54:06, good for first in her age-group). It was not my best,” but joked after her 2016 half marathons, “This was a recovery run.”
This year’s Big Bird attracted almost 400 runners and walkers—10K: 186, 4K: 153, 1 Mile: 43. As usual, the shorter events included a lot local family runners. But attendance continued its downward spiral, which began a few years ago. In the ‘90s, the Big Bird consistently drew more than 1000 participants. Race director Tony Lipinski was at a loss to explain the decline. “The weather was great for the event. I wish our participation numbers were better. I’m not sure why our numbers dropped so much, which is disappointing.”
It is puzzling. Years ago, a sizable contingent came annually from the London, Ontario Road Runners club. Cadillac Motors employees came to walk, too. They don’t come like they once did. Yet, their loss doesn’t explain the drastic decrease.
The Big Bird is a festive holiday event. It includes local color, the Roseville High School band, a “great community race.” It is well-organized by Lipinski (and, before him, by Larry Snelling and Kevin Wasilewski), with well-marshalled, safe courses. The Roseville recreation building provides a nice facility. The awards are good and plentiful and the raffle of frozen turkeys, a few dozen, and running gear is great. The entry fee, especially compared to many other area events, is very reasonable.
Lipinski added, “All those who attended enjoyed themselves. Our main sponsors, Petitpren, Inc., Hanson’s Running Shops, Christian Financial Credit Union, Sam’s Club, and Randazzo’s Fruit Market, made sure everyone was well fed and had nice raffle items to choose.”
I don’t know if the Big Bird is becoming a well-kept secret, but if it is, word should get out that it’s a great racing event that more runners should put on their race calendar.
Full race results can be found online at www.runmichigan.com.
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