Ron Marinucci - December Column

Ron Marinucci - December Column

Provided by RMDC

It was the second Sunday of November and time for the Roseville Big Bird. This was the 39th rendition of this popular race. It was no surprise that Darrell McKee was there. He has run all of them! Some health issues have caused him to run the 4K the past two years, but here he was again. “I ran the first mile in fifteen minutes,” he said afterward. Then he quipped, a big grin on his face, to a group of nearby senior runners, “Wait ‘til you guys turn 80!” Indeed, McKee is 81.

But he was not the only octogenarian at this year’s Big Bird. Also running were Stan Curtiss (81) and Marvin Stevenson (82). Attracting notice, too, was 78-year old John Wehrly, who cracked the 10-minute pace in the 10K.

Me? I ran my first Big Bird in 1988, missing only in 1990 for a family wedding in Upstate New York. And, like all BB veterans, I have witnessed a gamut of running conditions.

Over the years we’ve faced gale-force winds, seriously! More than once I was thankful the pedestrian overpass across I-696 was fenced in, fearing being blown off into the freeway traffic. Temperatures have ranged from the teens to the 70s, with sunny skies to deep overcast. There have been rain showers, even downpours, and heavy snows.

This year, though, was one of the best—for runners. Temperatures hovered near the freezing mark, with a sky full of clouds. The predicted rain held off until later in the day, with only an occasional fine drizzle, more of mist, with a stray snowflake. As a long-time BB runner, “about twelve or so,” David Rau said before the race, “At least there’s no wind. That’s good.” Rau, 71-years old, won his age-group with an impressive time, 51:50, an 8:22 pace. That was twenty minutes ahead of that age-group’s runner-up.

The Big Bird has three races, a one-mile, a 4K, and the featured 10K. The courses have remained pretty much the same for years. They are flat, traversing the tidy residential streets of Roseville. The only hill is that pedestrian overpass, run twice, out-and-back, across I-696.

This year there was a slight, but welcome change in the 10K course. Runners ran an extra loop around part of an adjacent park, eliminating a stretch down Frazho Road, a busy thoroughfare.

Tyler Brege, a hometown runner, won the one mile in 5:45. That was six seconds faster than runner-up Kevin Sherwood, who quickly caught his breath and headed back out to win the 4K masters race (18:01). Bill Brege, age 52, was fourth, a mere nineteen seconds behind the winner—his son.

The first female finisher in the mile was Megan Godin (8:13).

The brothers Monroe, Mariano (age 12), Marcel (11), and Michael (8) snatched places five through seven. Sibling Miles (10) wasn’t far behind in 14th place.

In the 4K (2.5 miles), Timmy Martin was the first across the finish line in 13:34, almost two and a half minutes ahead of runner-up Chad Barnett. A familiar face, Ella Willis, won the women’s race and was 4th overall (17:21). Willis is a past multiple winner at the Big Bird, in both the 4K and the 10K.

The overall winner of the 10K was yet another familiar name, Matt Fecht. His 32:30 was almost a minute and a half faster than the runner-up, Roseville resident Scott Smith (34:52). Last year, Fecht ran 33:53 to capture first place while his winning time in 2010 was 32:57. Apparently it’s not just fine wine that improves with age.

Fecht is a teacher of special needs students. Holding the turkey (Big Bird!) that was part of his awards for winning, he joked, “Maybe I’ll get invited to Thanksgiving dinner this year.”

Finishing third overall was the first female, Melanie Brender. Her winning time, 35:46, was the fastest women’s finish since 2009.

Jonathan Sieber (36:28) was the first master finisher and fourth overall.

Heather Lewandowski (42:34) is making a habit of winning the female masters crown. She’s now won four Big Birds in a row.

Joe Burns, who calls himself “Slow Joe,” wasn’t so “slow” this day. He was thrilled, more so than usual, at this year’s BB. He’s relatively healthy after suffering through some injuries and aches the past couple of years. After having run a dozen BBs or more, Burns finally took home an award, a third-place trophy in the 4K. He beamed, “First time I won anything here. No turkey. No anything.”

Inexplicably, numbers continued to dwindle at the Big Bird. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was not uncommon to see well over 1,000 runners here. Race director Tony Lipinski was disappointed at the turnout. “Only 300 pre-registered” this year, he said. “We usually have 400 to 500” preregistered runners. He further lamented, “I advertised, used social media……”

Indeed, Big Bird veteran Jerry Mittman noted it looked very odd to see so few cars in the parking lots. From inside the gym, he motioned at the large adjacent grassy athletic field, usually packed with autos, now completely empty. It wasn’t needed at all.

A reason for the declining participation at BB is hard to pinpoint. Michigan Runner editor Jennie McCafferty suggested that race numbers “are down all over.” Burns cited the increased number of races that day which may have attracted some potential BB runners. McKee mentioned rising entry fees, although at $25 early registration and especially with all its amenities, the Big Bird remains a great bargain for runners.

Quite a few years ago, when participants numbered well over 1,000, the London, Ontario Road Runners came over as a large contingent. UAW workers at Cadillac, as a culminating activity of their fitness program, brought in runners and walkers. Neither add to the current BB numbers.

Still, the fall has been dramatic and perplexing. The Big Bird is a wonderful race! It’s well-organized, with fast courses. The prizes for winners, overall and age-group, are attractive—nice plaques, Big Birds (turkeys), and/or racing pullovers. Two dozen other Big Birds are raffled for runners. The Roseville city gym is cozy, with showers and locker rooms available. Proceeds benefit a number of worthy community groups.

Next year marks the 40th year for the Big Bird races. Perhaps that will attract more runners and walkers on the second Sunday of November.