Racing Memories

Racing Memories

Racing Memories

Racing isn’t for every runner. I know runners who are out there putting in a hundred or more miles a month, yet only infrequently enter races or don’t race at all. They just prefer not to do so. And that’s fine, for them.

For many runners and many reasons, though, racing is an integral piece of the running puzzle. Much of our training is geared toward preparing us for races, one or more specific races or an entire racing season. Harder and longer runs—you know, the ones that are most painful and least pleasant—are done to get us ready to race. They are hard work, requiring discipline.

Check out the number of running books that have been written to help us prepare to race. Toss in those books that chronicle certain races, such as Bannister’s mile or the Boston and Olympic marathons.

Racing also provides opportunities to compete. We can continue to test our mettle and fitness after high school and college running days. Those of us who played the ball sports have a new avenue on which to compete. Even as we age, masters and seniors racing give us yet other ways to challenge ourselves.

Not to be discounted are the social aspects of racing. We look forward to these events where we can see old running friends again. There are certain races where we know we’ll see certain people and it’s great to be able to say, “Hello! How have you been?” We can run with hundreds or even thousands of kindred souls (soles?) in what were once called “happenings,” three or four decades ago.

Yes, racing is a key component of our running experience. Each of us has had memorable races, the ones that stand out. For runners who race often, that’s not always an easy task, to sort out races from years past. How many of us have run hundreds of races?

Doug Kurtis once told me he kept a “runography.” It is a clever concept. He recorded dates and names of races he ran, including, of course, his times and places—the numbers of racing. I suspect many runners keep some sort of similar record, although perhaps not as detailed and certainly not as impressive as Doug’s.

But what about these “numbers” of racing? Do you know how many races you’ve run? Do you remember the times you ran or maybe the number of age-group awards you won at specific races? Are these important enough for you to record? (The early Romans left few early written records, in large part because they didn’t think they had done much worth recording. What little they did leave was mostly destroyed by barbarians in 390 BC.)

I’ve probably run close to 200 races since my first one in 1986. I say “probably” and “close to” because I stopped keeping track of them about nine or ten years ago. When I did record my races, I wasn’t as meticulous as Kurtis, merely jotting down the race names and my times year by year.

No doubt this was important to me then or I wouldn’t have taken the time or put forth the effort. In fact, it was one of the first things for which I used my computer. I enjoyed comparing times at the same races and at the same distances, even extrapolating times, dreaming “if only I could….”

That I no longer keep such records doesn’t mean others shouldn’t or that they have no importance to me today. Far from it. Races play an important part in many runners’ lives, including mine. They are very memorable.

Times are important to many runners and rightly so—for some. That’s why they put in the miles and train so hard at often uncomfortable paces. Goals are important. Races are often entered with the specific purposes of running specific times or earning specific places. For instance, this year, my 60th, I’ve had a few things I wanted to accomplish or at least try to accomplish in races. It’s been fun training and shooting for these goals.

But I remember few exact times of races and distances that I’ve run over 20-some years. In fact, one of my training partners, Michael Holmes, seems to be able to recall more of my recent times than I do. If others want to focus on their times, that’s terrific. That’s one of the things that make running so great—different strokes for different folks.

Oh, I know my best 5K time, but only because I really focused on hitting it at a certain race. But I can’t tell you my PRs at other distances, let alone times at certain races. For example, I know my best finish in a marathon, but only to the closest minute. And, to tell you the number of marathons I’ve run, I have to stop and count.

But I do remember races and remember them pretty well. Most were memorable for reasons other than mere finish times: family, courses, weather conditions, friends.

My first race was the West Bloomfield Half Marathon. (First race? Yes, what did I know? And it’s one of the few tee shirts I’ve kept.) I don’t remember my time or place, but do recall a post-race talk with some other runners from Detroit who grumbled about “the hills.” Thinking of the hilly area where I then lived and trained, I thought, “Hills? What hills?”

A Clio Homecoming 5K was run within an hour or so after a tornado struck the area. Race director John Gault (who, along with his wife Anne, belongs in some sort of state road racing hall of fame!) remeasured part of the course to avoid downed power lines and off we went. Talk about hot and humid!

Ed Kozloff (another hall-of-famer!) had a terrific idea for a one-time only race: Run a 5K on the Reuther Freeway (I-696) the day before it officially opened. Race start was delayed by nearly an hour because so many runners unexpectedly showed up for race day registration. Memorable? I recall the boxes of Prince elbow macaroni that were given out as goodies, but not my time.

The Howell Melon Runs (5K and 10K) are always hot and humid, in mid-August. I don’t remember my finish times, but I do recall the humor of such hard races on courses that passed a funeral home and ran through a cemetery. The dip in Thompson Lake at the finish made things better in a hurry.

I recently talked with running buddy Gus La Ruffa. It reminded me of a four-mile race I did in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. Coincidentally, it was even at his old high school, in honor of one of his former teachers! I had been in town for a family wedding, causing me to miss my only Roseville Big Bird in 21 years. Most memorable at the Buffalo race were the post-race refreshments: homemade pies, cookies, cakes, etc. from the Hutch Tech athletes’ moms. And I remember my good time—at the wedding that nigh, not on the watch at the race.

Speaking of family, many of my favorite races have centered around my family. Karen’s first race came because I was greedy and wouldn’t share my race tee shirts. (Shame on me!) I told her she had to earn her own. So, she did, at the Cranbrook 5K, which I had suggested because the beautiful school grounds would be a nice backdrop for a first race. What I didn’t take into account was how very hilly those grounds were. Karen remembers and reminds me (and not too pleasantly!) of them to this day.

I remember races with my sons, too. Then 11-year old Michael braved the July heat to complete the Midsummer’s Night 5K in Novi, finishing casually while talking to a senior runner. Afterward, the senior told me that talking with Mike most of the way had helped her to finish when she was struggling. I don’t have any idea of my time, but Mike won an age-group medal.

Matthew and I ran a number of races together. My favorites were the Great Pizza Challenges in Flint. The first couple of these 5Ks we ran to share pizza at the post-race festivities. The one that immediately comes to mind, though, is the evening Matt, then 13, “whupped” the old man, when I was running the fastest 5Ks of my running life. He, too, won an age-group mug—and bragging rights. Later, when he moved to Las Vegas, we met in Seattle, WA for a wedding. While there, we decided to enter a race together, which Karen captured in a memorable photo that graces our living room: Matt and me posing with Ronald McDonald near the finish line! Times? What times?

Similarly, while I can’t tell my exact times in any of my marathons, I can relate stories from each of them: running with 40,000 others at the 100th Boston; finishing the Free Press in Tiger Stadium in the drizzle; another Free Press in gale force winds (I don’t think I’m exaggerating); not eating for four days prior to a Boston; and so on.

It’s not that times and effort or even the numbers of races aren’t important. They are and have been to me. But those are not what have mattered the most to me in the long run.

I suppose I could sit down one day and write my memories of most of these races. I might have to do some research to get them all, but it would be fun. In fact, if my retirement days ever begin to slow down, maybe I’ll do just that. OK, and maybe I’ll include some finish times, if I can find them.