I don’t happen to be one of those runners who continually looks back and laments how running isn’t the same as it once was. Nothing is. Although the sport still entails putting one foot in front of the other as fast as possible, running, and especially racing, has changed dramatically over the last 30-40 years.
That’s a good thing.
There isn’t anything about my formative years in racing that I miss (other than less expensive entry fees), but it’s kind of fun to list some of the aspects of road racing that have gone the way of the typewriter, land lines and road maps.
Here are some of them:
Popsicle sticks. When you crossed the finish line of a road or cross-country race, you were immediately handed either a tongue depressor or a popsicle stick which signified your place in the race. If the race had a timing device, your time was attached to the stick and then placed on a board.
Small races. When I started running, all the race fields were so intimate and small, everyone knew everyone else in the race. Way back when, races were only for “serious” racers and a big field was usually way fewer than 100. I once ran in a race that five runners. At the time, Boston was the biggest marathon, but in 1972 it still only had 1200 runners. It wasn’t until the late 70s that Boston had grown to nearly 5000 entrants.
Entry fees. Although some races, notably Boston, were free, most charged an entry fee which was typically just a couple of dollars. Some of the bigger races charged as much as $5 but that money usually went into a pot to buy a few cases of beer.
Race numbers. Races used numbers, but they were often just hand drawn numbers on a piece of paper that didn’t serve much purpose.
Nutty starting times. Boston—of course—started at noon, but so did many other races. Even in the summer, some races started at mid-morning or later. Nobody seemed to understand (or care) that a late morning or afternoon start meant hot temps and a pounding sun.
Women. Boston just commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first woman–Roberta Gibb—who ran on Patriot’s Day. Even so, women were so rare in road racing in the ’70s, there weren’t even gender categories. The few women who did run were usually really good and would “chick” a bunch of the slower guys (me).
Odd, inaccurate courses. I don’t even know how courses were measured way back when (probably by a car), but the courses were usually either way short or too long. There were a few standard race distances, but a lot of the races had odd distances such as 4 ¾ miles, 5.2 or 7 ½ miles. Some races were simply set up between two landmarks—two bars was pretty common–and the distance was whatever it happened to be.
Aid tables. That is, if there were any. A lot of races didn’t have any fluids on the course at all (maybe just a garden hose), but if there was an aid table or two, they typically contained cold coffee, defizzed Coke and orange slices. Boston didn’t even have official aid stations until the mid-80s. Before that, you were left to the mercy of the spectators or friends along the course for water.
Race shirts. I’m not sure when race T-shirts became standard, but most races of 30 years ago didn’t offer them. (It kept the entry fees down.) There were always a few races that did have shirts, but you had to earn them by finishing or running a certain time. I used to run a 10-mile race in Stockton, California in which you had to break 60 minutes just to get the shirt.
Weird prizes. Road races were often sponsored by local stores and businesses and if there were prizes for the top guys, it was usually something like a toaster oven, portable TV, record player or a month’s supply of milk. I was never good enough to win races, but once I was awarded a bike helmet and in another, won a case of mineral water.
Mobile shoe stores. Most brick-and-mortar stores didn’t start up until the early ’80s. Before then, just about the only way to get new running shoes was from some guy who sold shoes out of his van at road races.
Race directors. Someone was in charge of every race, but that someone was usually an injured runner. Or some running club official who had nothing better to do. Professional race directors didn’t exist.
Those weren’t necessarily the good, old days of racing. Just old. Times change. So do runners.
O There were a lot of great stories to come out of the Boston Marathon. One is from Michael Lewis of Austin who ran from the finish line in downtown Boston to the starting line in Hopkinton (mostly uphill), turned around and then recorded a 3:22:24 on the traditional route.
O Another is from my long-time running buddy Jim Cleary. For 10 years, Jim has been one of the top masters guys in town and PR’ed at Boston a few years ago in the low 2:40s. But the 52-year-old retired software engineer has been injured and barely run since last September. When we last ran together about a month ago, Cleary was still hurting and had to stop every mile or two and walk. His longest run before Boston was 10 miles. But that didn’t deter him from running Boston again and remarkably, Cleary ran 3:07:43 on Monday. Muscle memory.
O The masterful women of Gilbert’s Gazelles finished fifth in the masters team standings on Monday, ahead of such biggies as teams from the Knoxville, Atlanta and San Diego track clubs. Congrats to the Boston scorers from the Gazelles: Dana Stanley Torres (3:18:28), Bonnie Yessian (3:18:54), Hannah Moore-Lewis (3:32:40) and Lisa Sutherland Herskowitz (3:33:11) for a combined time of 10:05:14.
O Zach Hine had the fastest time of any Texan in Boston. The Cornell grad who now lives in Dallas ran 2:21:37 (well off his PR of 2:16) and was the fastest American in the field and finished 10th. Hine, who had dropped out of the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, is coached by Steve Magness of Houston.
O Fastest runner with Austin ties was former Vista Ridge HS star Zach Ornelas. Now a teacher and living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ornelas finished 39th overall at Boston in 2:29:23.
O Austin Bussing, who won the most recent Capitol 10,000, will be picking up stakes and moving to North Carolina in a few months. The former UT runner who has worked at Rogue will be going to the University of North Carolina where he’ll be pursue a post graduate degree in political science.
O Allison Mendez, who won the women’s division of the Cap 10,000 for the second year in a row, will also be headed out of town soon. Mendez, who has worked at Sports Performance International in north Austin, has been accepted into nursing school and is trying to decide between Houston and San Antonio.
O The Rogue Trail Series continues this weekend with the second race—the Tangle 30-K at Flat Creek Ranch on Sunday. The 30-K starts at 7 with a 10-K getting underway at 7:30.
O Leo (the Lion) Manzano will run his first outdoor mile on May 20 at the Hoke One One Middle Distance Classic at Occidental College in Los Angeles. The event will be live streamed on usatf.tv.
O UT’s All World senior Courtney Okolo has been named to the Bowerman Watch List along with nine other collegiate track athletes. Okolo, who won the most recent NCAA 400 indoor title and ranks as the third fastest collegian of all time (50.69) in that event, was a finalist for the Bowerman in ’14. The Bowerman, named for the former University of Oregon coach, is presented to the top male and female collegiate track athlete.
O The UT men and women will be back in action on Saturday (April 23) at the LSU Alumni Meet in Baton Rouge.
O What I’m listening to this rainy morning: “461 Ocean Boulevard,” by the incomparable Eric Clapton. His second solo album, 461 was his first since overcoming his long addiction to heroin.
Have any news for me? If you have something, send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org.