Normally I begin by encouraging you to sign up for one of the various upcoming events. I still want you to consider that (go to www.bkbltd.com), and at the end of this epistle I'll mention a couple of other items of interest so look for that!
I'm taking a different road today...hope you like the topic!
This past weekend I traveled across the US, not to announce, but to actually RACE in a race; the Westport 10 Miler. It was the 50th Anniversary of the event, a race that I participated in back in its 1st year, 1963 (it's how we prepared for fall cross country during the summer...ran a race a week adding a mile or so each week).
Having not raced for the past three or so years, this was a bit of a reach. It started and finished at my high school, Staples, and the race director is nationally lauded coach, Laddie Lawrence. His track and cross country teams have won over 32 state championships (like so many, I'm truly proud to have gone to Staples...check out this article. Here's the crazy part: He and I were co-captains on the '63 XC team along with Jay Eason (I'm on the left, Jay Eason's in the middle and Laddie's on the right). We've stayed in touch over the years, and I ran in the 10 Miler back in '84. So I called him, said I wanted to race and could I sign up on line?
And this is where my "Retro Racing" story really begins.
Laddie immediately proclaimed that I was "still high maintenance". "Just show up on race morning and sign in".
Since I'm a race director and a guy that touts the latest technology to my fellow runners, that simply sounded odd. "Sign in?", I asked? What does that mean?
Trying another angle I asked, "Can you get your bib the day before?" That would be easier for me since I had to drive over, check out the course, and I'd just stop by the high school or whatever running store was handling that. Laddie laughed and said, "Just show up on race day. Sign in. We don't use bibs!"
Having been slapped twice by my old buddy, I needed just one more tidbit and decided to ask one more question (remember none of this information I was gleaning was on line or in print...the high school is the Taj Mahal of high schools with an indoor track, amazing facilities spread over a college like campus, and 1800 students in 3 grades!): "Where should I park?" Laddie restated that I was soooo high maintenance and "just park by the tennis courts!" Case closed. I said "see you there" and hung up.
The day before the race I drove over to the site and just looked around. Staples was newly remodeled, and bigger and better than ever. In other words, intimidating. I pulled out the certification map of the course and walked over to where the finish line was supposed to be (I noticed a new spray of orange paint and decided that must be it). Then I drove over to the tennis courts, parked and walked over to the described start line. Again some recent orange paint appeared to fix that point. Good.
Back in my rental car, I drove to the start point, zeroed my odometer and started my official course tour (something I always recommend to my 5:30AM running group). Back in '84 when I was a bit faster (think I was 3rd that year) the course didn't seem too difficult...a few hills through beautiful shaded neighborhoods for the most part...a downhill start and back up that pretty easy hill for the final mile to the finish.
As I drove the course I began to get really nervous. The first set of hills just before 2 miles were, well, impressive. The next 3 plus miles were flat and rolling (I liked that and my nerves settled). Then turning halfway through mile 5 I looked up through my windshield (my nerves were again racing!). These were the forgotten Bayberry Lane hills, 3/4's of a mile with four ascents. After that the next almost 3 miles were flat or rolling (my pulse rate was no longer throbbing in my neck). Hitting mile 9, I turned to cover the final mile (the same mile we would run down at the start). It was seriously uphill (even in my car).
Course tour completed, confidence shot, I drove back to my hotel, had a quiet dinner, and went to bed.
Up early I went gamely through my pre-race routine. Drink coffee, get my gear on, grab my Mizuno racing flats, drink a Gatorade and some water, make sure I had my wallet and a dry shirt, get in my car and head back to the high school.
The race was slated to start at 8AM. With under 200 entrants, that seemed an easy thing to pull off, especially with the temps already over 70 at 6:15AM. Arriving at the school at 6:45AM, I dutifully parked at the tennis courts (carefully following instructions). No runners were in sight (I actually panicked thinking I had the wrong date, the wrong place, or SOMETHING!). I walked the 200 meters to the finish area, figuring that was where registration would be by now so I could "sign in" whatever that really meant.
And there was Laddie with some of his friends and students setting up a couple of tables and tying a Westport Road Runners banner to the side of the building. Laddie waved. I asked "could I sign in?" He replied without looking, "Not yet. We'll have that ready in a little while." With nothing really to do, I decided to jog a mile or so to loosen up. Returning at 7:15, I noticed there were a dozen or so runners milling around. I joined them. I lined up. When it was my turn, the young high school athlete asked me, "what is your Series number?" Ummm, "I don't have one", I quietly replied. "You need one!" she announced. The line was getting bigger behind me and I sensed their collective impatience. By the grace of God, Laddie walked over and said, "He's OK. He doesn't know how it works. Let him sign in and we'll get him a series number later."
Awkwardly I retreated back to my car and decided it was time to strap on my racing shoes and do my final warm-up. It was 7:35 and the race would kick off in less than 25 minutes. Another out of towner, Ken Pacileo (Burlington, CT) was also warming up (he looked quicker, younger, and considerably more confident). He also parked this huge new red pick-up next to me, and was wearing a 70.3 finisher shirt. My attitude was on a slide.
Gamely I asked, "Do you think it'll start on time?" He politely replied, "No idea. My first time here."
At 7:52AM no one was approaching the start area. I jogged over to Ken and said, "maybe they changed the start line? Let's run over toward the finish where they were signing in." He agreed. Just as we left that parking lot we saw a gaggle of runners walking toward us led by Laddie. With less than 8 minutes till the start, one would think they'd be stumbling over each other to get to the start on time. Not the case.
They arrived just before 8AM. Instead of rushing over to the actual start line, Laddie, in a seasoned coach-booming voice said, "I have some announcements!" No bullhorn, no sound system, just his voice. Every runner immediately fell silent. No side chatter, no backs turned toward him. Respectful quiet. Clearly he was in charge.
The announcements were some admonitions: "No headphones, period. You wear 'em, I'll pull you out." A few hands sneaked up to ears and popped things out that were covertly tucked away. "Stay to the right of the yellow lines. Watch out for cars. Be alert. Listen to instructions. Be safe." He introduced a few people, made mention of me being there (I was trying to be invisible since I had already made a few errors and the race was yet to start), and that he had run in the 1st race back in '63 and he was pretty sure I had won that one (my memory of that win was completely vague and my invisibility was now gone). The announcements were over and we moved to the start (the splash of orange paint line...no start banner). It was almost 8:15AM, the temperature was 74, and my heart was beating like a rabbit.
A Westport police officer (I think) produced a pistol. Laddie wished us luck and the guy fired the gun. We were off.
In an effort to fast forward through the next 10 miles, I admired how they took care of us. Police and course marshals were everywhere, the water stations were rock solid, the miles (freshly marked in that now ubiquitous orange paint) were easy to see and precisely in the right places. In other words, when it counted, everything that you needed was taken care of. The running experience was flawless. All you had to do was, well, race.
Yes the hills were crushing and the level of competition under those adverse conditions was compelling. My personal performance was not quite what I wanted it to be (I thought about quitting three times but with my newly minted "celebrity", that was not an option). Approaching the finish, I didn't see a finish banner. Just Laddie yelling congratulations and as you crossed the line, handing you a wooden tongue depressor with a number on it.
"Go back and sign in and turn in your numbered stick! Make sure you tell 'em your series number!", was repeated every minute or so. I wandered over to the tables, waited my turn, handed over the stick and began to answer a few questions: "Your name?" (I had to spell it a couple of times). "Your town?" (this took a little longer. Centennial was unfamiliar to the young woman and I had to spell it as well.) Series number?" Now the line was rapidly getting longer behind me. I looked down and away and said quietly, "I don't know it." She handed me back the stick and told me to get out of line and go "Look it up. When you know it, come back and we'll start over."
OK, this wasn't going to work for me. I was tired, stiff, and wanted some water (they had plenty so that was a plus!). With the last remaining scrap of my Irish charm, I begged her to let me go look it up, rush back and she could just write it in. No line. "It'll take just a second." With a slight eye roll, she went to the next person in line. I returned, pointed to the prominent blank space next to my name, she wrote in the number and I slunk away.
Watching the runners finishing, I reminisced. This was simply not far removed from what we used to do in races 50 years ago. The differences? The course was actually accurate, there were water stations, age group awards, and women ran along with us (several were in front of me). In this race this past weekend, the focus was on performance, and not participation. Just like that first year, we didn't get t-shirts, finisher medallions or have to wear an electronic timing device (it was flawlessly timed, by the way), and we still used the high school bathrooms. The spirit of the volunteers was abundant, the bagels were fresh, and the runners celebrated each other. I KNEW I was home.
So the next time you pout a little about some imperfection in a race, remember how fortunate all of us are. We pay alot more for the privilege now, but we get lots of perks (I saw the shirt from the Park to Park 10 Miler and it was awesome!).
Should you ever decide to run the Westport 10 Miler, prepare well in your training, slap down your $8, and enjoy the ride. I did. It was a top ten day, and I will always thank Laddie and the people like Laddie who serve us so well!
Thanks for reading and do your training.
Quick note: as Race Director of the Kaiser Permanente Colfax Marathon (18-19 May '13), here's a "head's up". The entry fee RIGHT NOW, is only $69! Trust me, this end of summer special will be fleeting.
See you on the roads or trails!