Ron Marinucci: Bygone Races

Ron Marinucci:  Bygone Races

by Ron Marinucci

I try to live in the present, while keeping a close eye on the future. While I don’t live in or dwell on the past, it is important, especially to a history jock like me. It can be instructive and bring enjoyment, sparking fond memories and lively discussions.

Whatever brought it up has slipped my increasingly forgetful mind, but I started thinking about bygone races, those that enjoyed their moments and have since disappeared.

There are more than one would think. I had an initial list of more than 20 just in Southeast Michigan alone. How many races do you remember that are no more?

The first race I ever ran no longer exists. It was the old West Bloomfield Half Marathon. Wait a minute! “First race?” “Half marathon?” Yep, what did I know? If I recall correctly, it was actually a full marathon in its early years. Then it evolved into the half.

Long-time runners Jerry Mittman and Doug Goodhue remember it, too. “I loved the West Bloomfield half that started from the high school every spring,” Goodhue reminisced. Mittman added, “While temperatures at some of this late April race were in the 70s, I remember one year it was snowed out!” I think I remember that one, too.

Its course was serpentine and pretty hilly—I guess. At least that’s what some Detroit runners thought. In the locker room after one of the WB races, they remarked about “how many hills” there were. I remember hills, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. I guess Detroit is flatter than where I was training at the time.

That was 1986 and I ran my second race a few weeks later—an 18-miler at the Chai Run, also in West Bloomfield, at the Jewish Community Center. I know, I know…second race, 18-miler? It was there I met Bob Littky, a great guy and good ambassador for the sport and health in general. Bob was later featured in a book, Death Defiers. It recounted the story of Bob’s miraculous returns from the dead, not once, but twice, while on operating tables, to return to complete more marathons and other races. I ran the Chai again a few times, but, alas, it didn’t last much longer.

Come to think of it, the third race I ever ran, Back to Birmingham, doesn’t exist any more either. Looking back, I wonder why race directors back then let me enter their events! It was a nice race, one I talked Karen and some good friends into running, too. Race officials even made sure our kids were watched while we ran.

The recent spate of warm weather, specifically the 100-degree day, reminded me of the Huron Valley Hospital Run. It last ten years and I ran all of them. It was one of my favorites because my whole family, Karen, Mike and Matt, and even my father, often participated. There were always unique awards; instead of medals or plaques, age-group winners received hats, towels, key chains, and even casserole trivets. The first of these runs were held in the spring, until 1995, when race day temperatures sent the thermometer to 105 degrees! Then, the last races were held in October and renamed The Fall Fitness Frenzy. One of those years, I beat Doug Kurtis in the 10K. Well, candor requires an explanation. Doug was running at the request of a cousin who helped with the race. At the finish, he pulled off of the course and I zipped past him.

Run the Reuther was a one-time 5K, a stroke of genius from Ed Kozloff in 1989, I believe. The course was a section of the soon-to-be-opened Walter Reuther Expressway (I-696) in Oakland/Macomb counties. So many race-day registrants caused the start to be delayed 40 minutes or so. Boxes of Prince elbow macaroni were distributed! And, I still have that tee shirt.

Two races in Novi bring fond memories. The first, A Midsummer Night’s Run, coincided with the city’s ‘50s festival. My son Mike ran his first 5K there. At the finish, a woman came to me about how Mike helped her finish the race with his encouragement! The Run for the Health of It was a nice 8K in late spring. It was son Matt’s first serious race with me—and he almost beat the old man! But I could only hold off the then 12-year old a couple more weeks, though, as he whupped me pretty good at the Great Pizza Challenge in Flint.

Other defunct races I recall are the Harvest Run in Dearborn, near my old stomping grounds as a kid; the Mad Anthony Wayne 10K (great name, historical and everything!) on the campus of Wayne State University; Run the Rouge in Redford, a 5K and 5 mile started so runners could run both races; the High Five in Highland, where Dave Armstrong cleverly had separate races for men, women, and masters; Waterford’s Rainbow Run; the Mill Valley 10K in Milford; and many more.

I queried some long-time runners about their memories of defunct races and it sparked lively responses, mostly with fond memories. Mike “Flagman” Bowen recalls some long races. Still running with his black-and-white POW/MIA banner, Bowen cites “the Goat Farm Ultra—42 miles. It started in Monroe on a trail in a rest area and ended in Novi near Hines Park. I was leading a group when someone on a bike rode by and said, ‘You missed a turn!’” He also remembers the old “Breckinridge Marathon, on M-46 west of Saginaw. [One was] a very hot, humid summer day. They wanted to cancel, but didn’t. [It was] my first experience with heat exhaustion…a good lesson—drink, drink, drink!”

Short, for “Flagman” at least, was the Williamston Half Marathon. “BRRRRR,” he recalls. “The half was cold and windy, but [there was] great soup at the finish!”

Riley McLincha also singled out a 26.2 miler, “the Saginaw Bay Marathon at Delta College. For him, there are “not a lot of good memories” of that one. “Think Volkslaufe,” with its long, hot stretches, “but 26-miles worth.” But, there is some fondness there, “This was my first marathon.”

Before Super Bowl XL, Detroit hosted a Super Bowl in 1982. Blowing, heavy snow and temperatures that dipped into the single digits caused havoc with the Super Bowl Run held near the Silverdome. Bob Drapal frequently recalls that there “were two starts, one for those there on time and one for those who couldn’t get there until later.”

“My buddy Rich and I have been saying for a couple of years somebody should bring back ‘The Rocket Dog,’” responded Joe Burns. Also known as the Ankle Biter, “it was a fun trail race [with] a laid back atmosphere. [They had] great Dog Bone prizes and lots of munchies…and cold beer!!!!! The gang that ran that race did it right!”

Flint-area runner Bill Khan laments the recent cancellation of the Tuuri Road Race in Flint. “It lasted 31 years and was discontinued this year…. It was a great Crim tune-up, with lots of hills, particularly in the second mile.” He also noted, “A past [Tuuri] winner and record holder is Greg Meyer. Even up until the end, the Tuuri still had nearly 1000 participants and was among the top three races in the Flint area, including the Crim.” He finds a bit of a silver lining in that “The race lives on in a different form as the Atwood Stadium 10K/5K…. It contains 3.8 miles of the old Tuuri 10K course.”

Jerry Mittman remembers a long list of other bygone races. “I first ran [the Trenton Teadmill 8K] in 1993. It was my first year of running since high school—31 years earlier! I still have the shirt, a classic.” There were also the Royal Oak Toys for Tots, Troy’s Somerset 5K/10K (timed so both races could be run), the Grand Prix Run on Belle Isle, and the seasonal Domino Farms Festival of Lights. He also remembers “the Big Boy Series in Huntington Woods, [the three weekly races] are now down to one, the three mile.” The Terry Fox Run “started in Detroit, went across the Ambassador Bridge, and finished in Windsor.” He also brought up one of my all-time favorite races, the Briarwood Runs in Ann Arbor, with 5K, 10K, and 20K distances.

Former Michigan Runner Masters Runner of the Year Andy Muchow cited “one race that came back from the ashes. I only ran it once, the Heart of the Hills races in Bloomfield Hills. The 10K course was very challenging, but [was] a really nice route through the neighborhoods.” Held in late July, the weather was almost always very hot and very humid. One year, clouds literally formed under the canopies of trees on the course. And, Muchow asks, “I ran the Zanglin run once. Didn’t it go by the wayside?”

Tracey Cohen offered the Pictured Rocks Run in the Upper Peninsula. “The original 11-mile race [was] in Munising. It was a great small town race with lots of character and support.” She cited “Stink Hill” as part of “a tough, challenging course!” The Pictured Rocks has been reborn, but this incarnation is “a half marathon and 5K.”

Maggy Zidar has run more than a thousand races and she remembers some bygone events. “I’ve often bemoaned the demise of favorite races,” she lamented. “In Grand Blanc, the Run for the Roots, I mistakenly showed up for my first one dressed in my Irish apparel, assuming the ethnicity meaning for ‘roots.’ [It] was a four-mile that started and finished at a greenhouse, featured awards with rooted running shoes, and seemed to usher in spring.”

She recalled another timely run. “On the Right Path, a small race in Clio, always coincided with the beginning of the school year. On a September Wednesday evening, this one always inspired me,” an English teacher. “Sponsored by a Catholic Church, a priest always read the passage from Timothy relating the running of a race to one’s spiritual life. Tasty vegetarian hot dogs were served after in a comfortable shelter.”

Not all of her memories of races past are quite so fond. “Emily’s Race is one I don’t miss. I remember coming home and running six more miles because the course was so crowded it was difficult to ‘really run.’”

No doubt many of you have already thought of the former Scotty Hanton Marathon in Port Huron. I saved this for last because it was named by almost all of those I contacted. Herm Smith quickly recalled, “One for me is the Scotty Hanton…held on Labor Day Weekend. It was the first marathon I ran. It is one of those things you will not forget. I first ran it in 1998…and I returned a couple of times. [There were] very few spectators, but you would almost get to know them by the end of the race as they would follow their friends and family all along the course. I always remember the drive early in the morning [to Port Huron], the school to pick up your number, and then a long day of running. Probably because it was my first, it was extra special, but I look back on it with fond memories, lazing in the grass watching people finishing and just getting to know the people there, laughing and feeling good about our long run. [It was] not quite as hectic as the big marathons these days where crowds are so big and spectators everywhere.” Comically, or not, he added, It was “very hot, a lot of road kill, and some parts of the course cars [came] a bit close.”

Gus La Ruffa echoed much of that ending’s sentiments. “Yeah, the Scotty Hanton Marathon. I remember being out there about 20 miles, all by myself on a country road. A small kid on a porch yells out, ‘Hey, mister, whatcha doin’?’ ‘Running a marathon.’ ‘Oh, what’s that?’” He laughs now, but…”Same race, the sign at the turn back to Fort Gratiot Middle School blew over. Fortunately, another runner’s relative picked up the sign. If he hadn’t done that, I would have been on my way down to Toledo.”

Doug Goodhue has fond memories. “Scotty Hanton was my very first Boston qualifier (8/30/86).” Tracey Cohen added, “I only did the half, but I too remember and liked the Scotty Hanton.”

Jerry Mittman had the same reaction as I did. “The first defunct race that comes to mind is the Scotty Hanton Marathon, which used to be held in Port Huron. It has some added significance for me as it was the first marathon I ever ran, in 1994.”

I recall Scotty Hanton with mixed emotions. I beat my previous marathon best by more than ten minutes and qualified for Boston. But…. I also remember the heat and close proximity of the cars and the long, lonely stretches on the country roads. It has been the only marathon where I really “hit the wall,” and I hit it very hard. A guy I was running with up to mile 21 or so finished about 25 minutes ahead of me! I swore—both the good and bad kind—that this was my last marathon, but, fortunately, as usual, Karen straightened me out. Time heals many wounds.

So, how about you? What defunct races do you remember? What memories return? Do you look upon them fondly or maybe not quite so happily? Would you welcome their revival? Regardless, sometimes memory lane teaches us some things and provides an enjoyable look backward.