I started running in 1972 when I was a junior in high school and have logged well over 40,000 miles over the years. I started by running 0.9 miles, resting for fifteen minutes, and running back. I dropped my weight from 204 pounds to 144 and ran on the track team in the spring of my senior year. I was always a "middle-of-the-pack" runner, never having to worry about winning anything, which wasn't my goal anyway. I just loved being outdoors and simply ran for fun. The Dayton area is blessed with hundreds of miles of interconnected bikeways and I've run quite a bit of that, including the entire span of the Little Miami River bikeway from Milford to Springfield. I couldn't have been born and raised in a better place to be a runner. Anyone that runs as much as I have will accumulate a few stories. The following are some of my favorites.
I began running at Deweese Parkway and Island Park in North Dayton, which was mostly grass and dirt trails. I remember deciding to run barefoot on my usual 4-mile run, leaving my parent's house with just a pair of running shorts on (much to my mother's dislike), and walking down to Deweese. Running barefoot was beyond my wildest dreams! It felt like walking on air with such a sense of freedom.
I mentioned I ran track my senior year in high school. One day a buddy of mine and I decided to make a competition of that day's schedule, which consisted of a mile, 1/2-mile, 660, 440, and 220-yard runs, with a short break in between. Whoever won at least three of the five would be the victor. We took off on the mile together, stride for stride, as fast as we could. I narrowly won the mile with a time of 4:58, the only time I have broken 5 minutes. Tired, we also ran neck and neck in a torrid 1/2-mile, ending with me claiming another narrow victory. Exhausted, we ran the 660-yard segment and I put everything into it to win the third leg and claim victory. Drained, we jogged the final two legs. I realized later that we had a track meet the following day and awoke the next morning with sore legs and no desire. In a miracle, the meet was rained out and rescheduled for another day. What a relief!
I started my first full-time job at Wright State University in November of 1977. The day before I ran the first of what would become many Dayton River Corridor Classic half-marathon races, and the first time I had attempted a race of that length. The race went fine, but the next day my legs were so sore I could hardly walk and barely climb stairs. But the worst was trying to go downstairs, which required turning sideways, gritting my teeth, and accepting the pain. Those first two days were not spent in my office where movement could be minimized, but instead at an IBM event at the Drawbridge Inn in Covington, Kentucky, where I was moving all day long. I learned that sore legs are at their worst the day after the day after (so Tuesday in this case). But watching a 23-year-old young man in a business suit limping around must have been quite the sight.
A large portion of my running has been with my best friend Jim, who hired me at Wright State and helped me get a job at Mead. Our lunchtime routine was to run 4-5 miles, pick up a pizza or a sub, eat at our desks, and leave work together around 6:00 pm. Lots of good memories, but the one that stands out occurred during a business trip together in Washington D.C. We stayed in Crystal City, a couple of miles from the Washington National (DCA) airport. We decided to run over to the airport and back, about a 4-mile trip. But when we got to the airport we weren't the least tired and seeing the Washington Monument, which didn't look too far away, we decided to run into the city. We went to several of the monuments and memorials and then realized we had to run all the way back too. All told we figured we ran over 13 miles that evening or about a 1/2 marathon. Two tired puppies!
Speaking of puppies, one of the scariest moments I've had running was during a 10-mile run heading south out of Xenia Station. A couple of miles into the run I began to hear dogs barking. Lots of dogs. Gradually the barking got louder and closer. I was out on a bikeway with no one around, no place to go, and no place to hide. Suddenly I pack of about 30 dogs burst out of the woods and joined me in my run, darting in and out of my path, and friendly as can be. They ran with me for over a mile until I reached a crossing road and they collectively decided to turn around, leaving me to finish my run without their companionship.
Running races was not the rage when I was younger. I participated in the first Turkey Trot races held in Miamisburg, Ohio on Thanksgiving mornings. Being part of a few hundred dedicated runners who braved the early morning cold, snow, and occasional rain shower to run 8K (4.97 miles) felt like being part of a close-knit society of people that shared your passion for running. This race, now extended to 5 miles for the metric-challenged, has exploded to nearly 10,000 participants and has become more a jog than a run. I still do them, but now head to Starbucks for coffee after the race, then enjoy a Bloody Mary in my hot tub with my wife and daughter and wrap it with a nap. I really like the new routine, but have a misty eye for times past.
Most days running feels about the same, but there are times when you realize you're having a bad day, you can't get up to speed and it just hurts too much. And then there are the wonderful days when you fly like the wind, feel like you can run forever and you break a personal best by more than a little bit. But when that happened, only one time ever on race day, it made my day. I've run quite a few Dayton River Corridor Classic races, a half-marathon along the Great Miami River, but this one particular day I averaged 6:45 per mile, at least 20 seconds per mile better than ever before or since. I averaged 6:17 for the first 4 miles and ran the first 10K in under 39 minutes. My best 10K race time ever was 40:28. I just had it that day. Don't know why, but it was a special day.
I've attempted 3 marathons in my life, completing only one. The marathon is the only race where I stand at the start line and wonder if I'll finish. For the shorter distances, I just ponder how fast I think I'll run that day. The marathon I completed (all three attempts were the Columbus Marathon) occurred during the second attempt and was an unusually warm October 13th. I adapted to the heat, kept myself hydrated, and plugged on. The worst part of the race was between 14 and 20 miles. It was during that stretch that I didn't know if I could make it. At the 20-mile mark, I had 6.2 miles to go, a 10K, and I knew I could make it. While still hard physically, the harder, mental part was passed. But there were a lot of runners cramping and I concentrated hard on keeping my stride even and not making any jerking types of moves. Then the finish line was in sight. I focused on not making any sudden moves. At least until I reached the finish line when I jumped in the air and pumped my fist in victory and realized that I was going to land on two very tired legs, which might collapse, leaving me an embarrassed mess, crumpled on the asphalt. I landed, both hamstrings strained, started to cramp, and then miraculously held firm. And my jump was captured on film by the finish line race camera, which I didn't know until I saw the previews mailed to me days later. And this story ends with me driving an hour and a half back to Dayton, barely able to walk up the stairs from the garage to the first floor, and enjoying my son's 9th birthday party. Quite a day!
While a marathon is grueling, the race that wiped me out the most was a 14-miler at Caesar Creek. I knew going into it that it was a trail run, winding through the woods. What I didn't realize was how narrow, twisty, and root-filled the path was going to be. The course was a pair of out-and-back 7-mile routes, with runners frequently headed at each other. So I had to avoid runners and try not to trip on the roots, while not being able to ever get a stride going. I only fell once, a quick face plant, while trying to simultaneously avoid runners coming at me and the roots. I was tired after the first 7 miles, but with some hope that the second portion would not be as bad, decided to run the second half, which was a major mistake. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was more exhausted than I'd ever been, way more than the marathon I completed. I quickly grabbed a bottle of water, and in a near panic walked to my car and headed home. I felt so bad I just had to get out of there. That feeling of panic is something I never want to experience again.
Some running surprises really shouldn't be so unexpected, such as a 16-mile training run I had on one cool, cloudless early spring day. I ran the Great Miami River bike trail from the downtown Dayton YMCA to Miamisburg, grabbed a drink, and ran back. Only took two hours, so I moved at a pretty good pace, about 7 1/2 minutes per mile. But the surprise happened when I was taking my shower in the YMCA locker room. My skin hurt. I didn't know why, it was so strange. Then it dawned on me. I was sunburnt! I had spent two hours in bright sunshine without a shirt, the first time that year after running all winter bundled up and losing my tan. But the cool day prevented me from noticing that I was turning red.
Dayton is blessed with four seasons, with the occasional harsh winters and scorching summers joining the perpetual green of spring and the oranges and reds of autumn. During one of those harsh winter days, with single-digit temperatures and 20-mile-per-hour winds, my girlfriend Elaine, now my beloved wife and running partner, and I went for a run on the Great Miami River Bikeway. Falling in love is wonderful and spending time together, however, and whenever you can, apparently overrides any logic that would have stopped us from trying such a crazy stunt. Neither one of us had ever been that cold in our lives, so cold that it just plain hurt. Eyes, ears, lungs, feet, everything was frozen. I'm really glad she owned a hot tub!
Dayton also gets the occasional good snowstorm and when I saw one day that we were likely to get about 8 inches I thought that starting the run as the snow started to fly would be loads of fun. So I put on my cold weather gear and headed to Spring Valley, a handy spot to park and catch the Little Miami River bikeway. I timed it just right, starting my 10-mile run to the south just as the snow began, running right into the falling flakes. Running alone, along the bike path, in the snow was such a serene experience. The first half ended with about 4 inches of snow on the bike path, my footsteps the only scars on an otherwise beautiful blanket of snow. A few inches of snow is not hard to run in. Four inches starts to be a challenge. By the time I got back to my car, there were 8 inches of snow, and the last part could hardly be called a run. But what a memory!
As I mentioned at the start, I've always been a middle-of-the-pack runner, so the following personal bests are not impressive, just the most I've been able to extract from my body over the years. I list them because I'm proud of them and proud of the work I put into accomplishing them. But these are just numbers and I don't recall these very often. It's the memories, those detailed above and the hundreds of others, that make my running passion (it's not over yet!) a special part of my life. If you're a runner, a skier, a cyclist, or whatever passion calls you, I recommend you write down your special times and share your memories.
½ Mile - 2:17
1 Mile - 4:58
2 Mile - 10:58
10K - 40:28
½ Marathon - 1:28:43
Marathon - 3:50:22