Vidakovich column: Running with a tough crowd
As I write this, I know they are out there on the roads running, training. As soon as I stop typing this, I had better get out the door and get in some miles. The need to try to keep up is always present. The 60- to 69–year old age groupers are a tough crowd to run with.
I began distance running in early August of 1980. I would circle the Glenwood High School track four times after a night of basketball in the gym. Most evenings I did the mile with Jim Richmond, and we ran our first of many races together about a month later on a Friday night in Aspen. It was a 10K called “Take the Money and Run,” and we both ran in our high top basketball shoes with times in the mid 40-minute range. Not bad for a couple of beginners who had no idea of how tough 6.2 miles at 8,000 feet could be or the type of pace needed for a respectable time.
A few weeks later, I purchased my first official pair of running shoes at the Athlete’s Foot in Grand Junction. They were the top-of-the-line Nikes, with soles that looked like a giant waffle iron that protruded out on each side and in the back. I think I paid $39 for them. My, how the times have changed.
Since that Friday night in Aspen, I have probably done somewhere around 500 races of varying distances from 1 mile to 15 miles. I have never attempted a marathon or even had the desire to do one. I will retire someday from running races without the mystical 26.2-mile distance as part of my resume.
In the early years, it was difficult for me to place in most races running in the 20-29, 30-39 or 40-49 age groups. There were some tough distance runners in the area, and it was usually the case that I was on the outside looking in when the top-three runners in my age division were announced at the post-race awards ceremony. It was even a major chore back then to keep up with Paul Driskill and Bob Willey, a couple of running legends who were much older than me and nowhere near my age group.
I mistakenly thought that once I got a little older and landed in the old guy divisions, I would start to see a few more ribbons and medals for my efforts. But running now at age 61 has proven to be a bit more difficult, and placing in races requires as much preparation and focus as was the case decades ago. I guess I have to admit that the work I put in could be much better. Running only 10-12 miles a week with no speed work on the track leaves me looking at the backside of a lot of running shoes in races.
With the likes of Brad Palmer, Bob Dubois, John Stroud and Ron Lund around, the prospect of me walking away from the local 5K with any hardware becomes dim indeed. If you throw in the folks who don’t do many races but are talented runners like Richmond, Rick Chavez, Charlie Wertheim and Dennis Webb, I face the gauntlet among the over-60 crowd.
With all this being said, I don’t believe I have ever gone into a race with the main goal being to place in my age group or in the top 10 or 20 overall. It’s nice when those milestones are achieved, but I have always derived the most satisfaction in running from knowing that I get out the door many mornings to get in some miles in beautiful surroundings, and that I run as hard as I can in races, competing mostly against myself and the clock. It’s always interesting to see how I will react when the fatigue sets in, and taking another step toward the finish line is like pushing the proverbial boulder up the hill. It’s important, though, to keep going no matter how you feel. That comes into play in most avenues of life, also.
It’s always good to see everyone that I mentioned above at the local races. I could give many more names in varying age groups who can be counted on to show up at most all of the running events in the area. It’s a society of distance runners who share a bond that many people wouldn’t begin to understand unless you have spent the time out on the roads and alone with your thoughts.
The races will keep rolling along, and so will the competition. Maybe if I’m still around for the running times in the 70 and over age group, I will begin to hit my stride. Of course, at that age, I will probably be satisfied if my own stride doesn’t trip me up and I don’t go skidding along the pavement.
If I do go down for the count, I will get up and get to the finish line any way I can. You can bet on it. I have to keep trying to run with that tough crowd until my legs run out of steps forever.
Glenwood Springs native Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports writer, teacher and youth sports coach. His column appears on occasion in the Post Independent and at PostIndependent.com.
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