Ron Marinucci - May Column

Ron Marinucci - May Column

In August, upwards of 15,000 runners and walkers will again line up in Flint for the 40th annual Crim Festival of Races. Originally featuring only the marquee 10-mile road race, the Crim has expanded to include events for just about everyone—shorter races including a Teddy Bear Trot, spring and summer runs to prepare for August, and even a bike tour of the course. How different today’s Crim is from that which started it all off in 1977!

Of course, the race was the brainchild of then Michigan House Speaker Bobby Crim and his executive assistant, Lois Craig, as a fund-raiser for Special Olympics. They were assisted for that first race by a number of veteran runners, including John Gault, Mark Baumann, and Phil and Fred Shaltz, and then Flint mayor Jim Rutherford and his top aide John Harpst.

I’ve done quite a bit of research on the Crim’s history, gathering information from dozens of sources, including interviews with organizers, directors, and participants as well as newspapers (mostly The Flint Journal) and magazines (Michigan Runner). Michigan History Magazine will have an article of mine later this summer that tells of the Crim’s inception, how it began and almost ended in 1977. That first year’s history is fascinating, but so are some of the later stories. Here are a few from the 1980s.

Twenty-two runners have completed all 39 Crim 10-milers. Some of these veterans call 1983 “The Year of the Fog.” The Flint area was blanketed in pea soup. Many runners who drove to the race were snarled in traffic, missing the race start. On the course, with the fog, many runners continued to grope their way along. Bobby Crim, who had run each of the previous races, ran it again. This time he guided blind runner Howard Meyers, a tether binding their wrists. In 1986, Crim ran the race blindfolded, himself tethered to State Representative Bob Emerson. “I don’t know how Howard does it,” he recounted. (About 20 years later, I ran the 10-mile with a blind runner, Michael Holmes.)

The next year brought rain, but it was quickly forgotten by 1985, when “a monsoon” greeted runners. More than an inch of rain fell in the first hour of the race alone. Between the curbs, streets

became running streams of water. Long-time Crim runner and finish-line announcer Scott Hubbard recalled, “It looked like rivers in the streets.” He didn’t run that year, but in remembering shook his head, “I wondered what it would be like on the course for runners.” Running shoes became leaden weights. At aid stations, volunteers were forced to take refuge under their water tables. Dreams of PRs or even fast times were all by shot by the deluge. Many runners just opted to use the race as an excuse for a running party. Mark Baumann, who is one of those who have completed all of the Crim 10-milers, remembered, “There were tons of water on the road. I gave up on what [time] I planned on running. I just ran with a friend and had fun that day.”

Another Crim story or, rather, stories stemmed from that “Year of the Monsoon.” They involved Flint’s ABC affiliate WJRT news anchor Bill Harris. In 1984, then a bachelor, Harris “lived on the Bradley Hills.” That year, “I was awakened by this cacophony of feet, this mass of humanity” running past his house. He grabbed “a few doughnuts and some beer” and went outside to watch. “I remember laughing at them. But I was so inspired I ran the next year myself.” He chuckled, “I don’t know why.” Like most runners in ’85, he, too, threw away any hopes of a fast finish in “the nonstop downpour. We forgot about PRs and decided to have a blast. And we did!” But in forgetting, Harris ran his fastest Crim that year.

And he has other Crim memories, too. In his third ten-miler, “My wife, who was also my coach, announced at the Bradley Hills that she was pregnant with our second child.” Later, in 2009, to commemorate running his 25th Crim, Harris said, “I stopped at my old house for a beer.”

There were other developments in the 1980s. Buick came on as a major sponsor in 1984. It would remain so until 2009, when it was forced to withdraw as a condition of accepting federal TARP funds. Three years later, “a half Crim,” as then race director Anne Gault called it, was added. This 8-K race drew more than 1100 runners, “without robbing” from the longer event.

The addition of more distances and events over the next half dozen years led to a name change, “The Crim Festival of Races.” Gault explained, “’Festival’ comes from the idea that we have so many events.” They have, in recent years, attracted more than 15,000 runners, walkers, racewalkers and wheel chair racers. She noted then, “We had eight different events, seven different starting times, and five different start areas.”

In 1988, Lisa Weidenbach won her third women’s Crim victory. The former University of Michigan swimmer posted a new US record, 53:10. And, three US Olympic marathoners, Nancy Ditz, Mark Conover, and winner Ed Eyestone, used the Crim as a tune-up for the Seoul Games.

The Crim barely had time to celebrate Weidenbach’s record. Excitement and a dose of anxiety marked the 1989 race. In winning the women’s race in 51:47, Cathy O’Brien not only shattered the US women’s record, but broke the world ten-mile mark. Or did she? Later that evening, during WFUM’s rebroadcast of the day’s event, John Gault and Scott Hubbard noticed “something happened.” That “something” was the police escort leading O’Brien off the certified course. Hubbard, a registered course certifier, then “noted two other places where they ran the course not the way it was measured.” With the record on the line, he found Gault and Phil Shaltz and remeasured the course, unofficially, that night in the dark. Hubbard was “reasonably confident” that the world record would stand when their new measurement showed the detour actually added “about 20 feet” to the distance. A couple of weeks later, Pete Riegel, a national official from Columbus, Ohio, came to Flint to authenticate the course and its distance. His measurement differed from Hubbard’s, but was still ten feet longer than ten miles. O’Brien’s world record, amid a few harrowing weeks, stood for two more years.

That debacle led to a mainstay of future Crims, “the long blue line.” The line is a pale blue streak painted on the Flint streets so runners—and police escorts--can follow the course without being led astray. It was measured by Hubbard with help from Gault. Due to traffic and their own personal

commitments, the only time for them to work was after midnight during the middle of the week. Around mile seven of their measurement, the two were interrupted by a neighborhood security watch team wondering what Hubbard and Gault were doing, at that time, in their neighborhood. Hubbard recalled it was a bit of a dicey situation until Gault blurted out “something about the Crim.” Oh, with that the watchmen gave their approval and the job was completed, “about 2:30 or so, Hubbard yawned.

Hubbard also serves as the finish line announcer on the bricks of Saginaw Street. He’s held that position since 1982. “I was recruited to help identify runners at the finish line for Bobby Crim,” who was calling names over a loudspeaker. “Not long into it,” Hubbard said, “Crim handed the mike to me. ‘Here, you know so many, you call ‘em.’”

Lost in the drama over O’Brien’s record-setting performance were two other exciting episodes, typical of many Crims. Also in the women’s race, Weidenbach and New Zealand’s Anne Audain dueled to the finish. They exchanged places three times in the race’s final two blocks and finally broke the tape in a dead heat for second place. In the men’s race, Ecuadoran Rolando Vera bettered the 7-year old Crim course record by 17 seconds, yet settled for runner-up to the 46:23 of Brian Sheriff from Zimbabwe.

New Zealand? Ecuador? Zimbabwe? Yes, by 1990, the Crim had taken on an international flavor, if it hadn’t already. We’ll explore the ‘90s and beyond in coming months.