Run Thru Hell

Run Thru Hell

Run Thru Hell

“They are a gift to the running community.” So said Randy Step of Dolores and Harrison Hensley. And this Sunday morning, Halloween, the running community will make a small return payment.

Married for more than 50 years, the Hensleys were a common sight at countless Michigan road races. In fact, it would be a rare state runner who hasn’t seen them helping out in one capacity or another for more than three decades.

Both Dolores and Harrison have been recognized by Michigan Runner as Contributors-of-the-Year, she in 1994, he in 2008. He has run more than 2000 races, yes 2000!, and “Dolores always went with me.” More often than not, they were among the first to arrive and the last to leave.

“I enter the races and get there two hours early,” Harrison said a while ago. “If they need help, I’m there. I’ll set up tables, carry the tee shirts, and whatever needs to be carried.” That includes race flyers, from place to place and week to week. “Dolores will work late registration, the finish line, wherever they need her.”

There probably aren’t many Michigan runners who haven’t received a finish line medal or ribbon from Dolores. And don’t forget the hugs and kisses she gives to finishers—sweat and all!

But that all came to an unexpected halt in November 2008. Dolores suffered a stroke that left her unable to attend races. Harrison was also throttled, taking care of her.

Back in early August, Chuck Block, whose Michigan Running Foundation is a great asset to youth running in the state, had a conversation with several other runners. “We missed Dolores and Harrison at races.” The more he thought about it in the next few weeks, Block decided to try to do something to help. “I looked through the race calendars and thought, ‘Hey, there’s not one race on Halloween.’” That set the ball in motion.

Coming to mind was a “Run Thru Hell” on Halloween morning, a race that would benefit the Hensleys. “The main thing,” he stressed, “is to get them to go to races again.” Race proceeds will go to purchase a wheel-chair accessible van for transportation.

Of course, the “Run Thru Hell” is the Hensley’s race. On the second Saturday of each August, for more than 20 years, hot and humid, on dusty roads, more than a thousand runners showed up to run through Hell, the small burg through which the race passes. Their considerable efforts earn them the classic “I Ran Thru Hell” tee shirts. There were 10-mile (for “runners” the tee shirts read) and 4.8 mile races (for “weenies), both grueling. If every Michigan runner didn’t have one of those shirts, he or she coveted one.

But Block recognized that the Run Thru Hell “was theirs,” the Hensleys’. So, he organized different distances, 10K and 5K races. “I called Harrison,” he remembered. “I was worried [about his reaction]. But I told him we really wanted to see them at races. He said, ‘Go ahead, whatever you want to do.’”

As expected, Harrison jumped in. “He helped get permits from Putnam Township.” And, just last weekend, when Block was “concerned about parking,” Harrison went out and helped find a neighbor just up the road who will open up an additional two acres for cars.

While thinking, Block asked himself, “Why not have the running community support it [the race]? This is one race where people wouldn’t say no.” They didn’t. In fact, the reaction in many ways has been stunning.

Block called Mark Bauman at Bauman’s Running Shop. Bauman quickly offered to provide awards and screen the tee shirts for free. “If Bauman’s would help, maybe others…?” Yes, they would. “The running community has come through big time! Most of the expenses have been covered.”

Gault Race Management will time the races, with help from Everal Race Management. The specialty running stores have stepped up, too. Playmakers will help with tee shirts and race-day support. Running Fit is providing the Port-a-Johns. Refreshments, fruit and cookies, are courtesy of Hansons Running Shop. Total Runner is bringing the bottled water. Both and Michigan Runner have provided free publicity. And consider the number of participants.

Michigan runners responded, too, not surprisingly. As of last weekend, more than 2500 had already registered, prompting Block’s temporary concern with parking. Step added, a couple days later, “We’re looking at 3000 [runners]. To get these numbers is really a testament to the Hensleys. To get this cooperation shows what the running community thinks of them. There really wasn’t much advance notice.”

As Block confirmed, “It was about the end of August when I put it on my Web page and sent it to and Michigan Runner.”

Amid all this Dolores was heard to say, “I can’t believe so many people cared!” But Block reminded her, “How many runners did you cheer for, hug them—all those years?!”

“They were so active all those years. The main thing is to get them to go to races again,” he emphasized. They need it. The running community needs it, too, and, thanks to Block and the many other volunteers and contributors is taking steps to see that happen.

Last-minute and race-day registration are still available (online at Donations toward the van can be made, too, at that Web site.

Block also urged runners to “get there early!” With the numbers what they are, there will be lots of friends to see.