I don’t race anymore—I run in races—which is not the same. Somewhere along the way, after more than 50 years running and racing, I have lost my mojo, and won’t be running in very many races in the future. It started in the past year or so. I had been racing the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) age group circuit, consisting of 8-10 races with distances varying from 5k to the marathon. In 2015 I finished 2nd in my age group, and was very satisfied with my season, although it was a bit of a slog making sure I got to enough races to qualify. In 2016 I didn’t finish in the top three and found it difficult to fit in the required races, given our travel schedule and my predilection to avoid longer races.
Then in 2017, I decided to see give it a go to see if I still had the fire in the belly to race and compete on the circuit. I did interval training once a week with a group called The Posse indoors at an LA Fitness facility, spending most of my time holding down the back of the pack as we ran around the six-laps to the mile track. The first circuit race I ran was the Wintrust Lakefront 10 miler in March this year. I had run it several years prior, each time getting slower and slower, and this year was no exception. I finished in a PW (personal worst) of 1:34. Making matters worse, I stopped several times during the race to walk, an irritating habit that was plaguing my races. In April I ran the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in Chicago again in a PW, with several bouts of walking. I thought, well this is it. Maybe I am done with racing. In May we went to Portland, Oregon in March and New Mexico in May to visit friends. Usually I am determined to get a few runs in when we travel, but this time I just relaxed and enjoyed our time with friends and finding the next best restaurant.
When we got back from Portland I did resume my running regimen thinking I would see what kind of shape I was in at Northwestern University’s 4.1 mile “Run for Walk,” in late July. Was that ever a mistake! I thought I should be able to run a bit slower than eight-minute miles for the race. Dream on Will! I did okay for about two miles, but then I stopped to walk along the route on the south end of the campus, and then again several more times before the finish, getting passed by many of my Evanston Running Club teammates as I slogged to the finish in NU’s football stadium, that will always be Dyche Stadium to me. That is when it hit me. I am done racing. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I have known racing and running at the front of the pack, even winning an occasional race or two, but what I was doing was not racing. With apologies to anyone hoping to run eight-minute miles, it just is too slow for me.
I have had a good run, so to speak, or as someone said to me, “You have checked off all your boxes, and there aren’t any more left.” That’s true, or mostly true. In the early 1970s I ran with the big dogs in New England and won a few races, and New England AAU championship races. I’ve finished 30th in the Boston Marathon and 10th in the Chicago Marathon and have run some reasonably fast times. I’ve been proud to be a member of the Evanston Running Club since 1975 and “wear the ERC colors” to local and regional races. My only regret, if I have one, is that I never broke 2:30 for the marathon, even though I believe I had the capability of doing it, as many of the New England runners I finished ahead of in races have done. Legendary runners like Rick Bayko, Tom Dederian, Paul Thompson, Larry Olsen, Peter Stipe and Amby Burfoot, although I only beat him when he was out of shape and getting back into training. But running a fast marathon requires an alignment of the planets with a fast course, no injuries, cool weather and an evenly paced race. Alas, it was not to be. Other than that I am satisfied, although I really do miss running fast and being at the top of my game as a runner. Most people think of running and racing as being a struggle filled with pain, but my own experience is quite different. I have found that running and racing fast is much different, with an ease and effortlessness that I can only characterize as a state of flow, and being, in that precious moment of focusing only on my breath as my body moves through space. That feeling is what I miss most of all as I now slog through races and workouts.
I will continue to run as long as I am able, and will even run a race occasionally especially if I have the opportunity to win an apple pie, as I did recently in a St. Louis 5k, but I will not race the CARA Circuit. The energy, passion and creativity that I have devoted to racing will now be channeled into my post-retirement career as a ceramic artist, but I look forward to still running 15-20 miles every week, resting on my laurels and reminiscing about when I used to race and run fast.