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Kopac's Corner

Utica Boilermaker 2006 -- Star Gazing

by Bob Kopac

"I was just walking around this average American town today, and I saw one guy, I think he won the Olympics in the marathon [Frank Shorter]. I saw another guy who won the Boston Marathon a couple of times [4-time Boston and 4-time NYC Marathon winner Bill Rodgers]. I saw a woman [Kathrine Switzer]. So how did this thing get started that Americans are so successful in such an average town on such an average day?" [Laughter] Marty Liquori during his National Distance Running Hall of Fame induction speech

Marty Liquori articulated what is great about Utica, NY during the Boilermaker weekend. Just turn around, and you can run into one famous runner after another. It can be serendipitous, or it can be planned. I was fortunate to have Runners Gazette Magazine press credentials, so Judy Creedon, Lynne and I attended the Saturday press luncheon. Frank Shorter sat down next to us, and we talked about Middletown, NY (his home town) and the Orange County Classic.

Bill Rodgers then came in, and we showed him 1979 and 1980 Boston Marathon programs that featured his photo on the front covers. We had received these official programs from Bob Rothers children after Bobs death. Bill graciously autographed them.

Next came Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson who sat and talked with us. We showed them a 1975 NYC Marathon program (also Bob Rothers) that had a photograph of Kathrine on the front for having won the previous year. Her husband Roger pointed out an interesting feature in the photograph. He said, Kathrine has this incredible ability, when she is having her photograph taken, of running with both feet off the ground. My theory is she can actually run for a hundred yards without touching the ground if there is a camera there. We told Kathrine and Roger about Bob Rothers Great Feet in 1979, where he ran several long races within a month, including running a half marathon on Sunday and then running the Boston Marathon the next day. Kathrine reminisced about running back in those days and said, I used to run a marathon every weekend, practically.

It wasn't all star-gazing at the press luncheon, however. There was important fact-finding to be done. I learned that the Boilermaker is part of the Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO), which consists of 5 races: The Boilermaker; Puerto Ricos Worlds Best 10K; Washington, DCs Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler; Spokanes Lilac Bloomsday 12K; and Atlantas Peachtree Road Race 10K, the site of the PRRO Championship. All races offer prize money. To encourage competition, the PRRO set up a Runoff Purse bonus. If a runner wins 2 of the 4 non-championship races, and then wins the Peachtree 10K championship race, he or she wins the purse. The purse starts out at $5,000. For each year the purse is not won, $5,000 is added. The announcer said the purse for next years Peachtree Road Race is $30,000.

Because there is little drug testing in non-marathon races, the PRRO decided to pay for the testing in their races. Elite runners agreed with the decision because it ensures a level playing field. The United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA) performs the drug testing for the PRRO. At the Boilermaker, the top 3 male and female winners are tested. In addition, 2 more male and female athletes who finish in moneyed positions are randomly tested. During a discussion at our luncheon table, I learned that, should an American record be broken at a race, that result will be certified as a record only if the athlete has been tested for drugs. At Peachtree, by coincidence, the 3rd and 4th place male and female finishers were randomly selected to be tested. The Boilermaker would be holding drug testing -- ironically -- in the brewery!

After I finished my fact-finding, we headed over to the 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM CD/PHP Runners Forum Ask the Experts. This years panel consisted of Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson. Runners had the opportunity to ask questions to the superstars, and the panel provided entertaining and informative answers. For example, one of the questions was, Do you have any anecdotes about what motivates you during a race?

Bill Rodgers said, I was hoping you were going to give us some. [Laughter] We are kind of older and beat up. We have a lot of miles on these legs Once I was running a 10-miler in a little race in western Massachusetts. This dog comes up and charges me. I jumped back and grabbed a rock. Thats what you do when a dog comes after you. Theyll usually back off. I was in a little adrenalin high in the race. I threw it at him. Hey, I love dogs; I didnt want to hurt him. It bounced off his nose and went into a window of a house. I was in 3rd place by then, but man, the adrenalin I got from that! I moved into the lead. I won a jar of honey for first place. Just think of that if you see a dog on the course.

Frank Shorter followed with, That reminds me. One time in Michigan I was racing Herb Lindsey, who at the time had just graduated from college. He went on to become the best road racer in the world about 3 years later. We beat each other up for a case of Leinenkuegel beer. We all reach certain points--the British call them bad patches--where physically and emotionally you are at a low. You have to have the faith to run through it. All of us, in certain points in races, get to those points. What I then do is I try all the mental tricks in the book to keep going. You want to finish; you dont give up. You simply dont give up. You run through it. When all else fails for me, Ill get to a point where I say, Do I really want to finish this? Think about all your races. You get done, and you are on a high. You want to tell anyone your story: the tree, the dog, the fire hydrant, anybody you can corner to talk about your race. I say to myself, it is much easier to talk about the race and answer those questions How did you do? than to try to explain why you didnt finish. Thats my trick. I dont resort to it that often, but I do that more frequently now. It sounds kind of harsh, but its true. In the same sense, when you are at an event like this, I couldnt come here and not run. People ask, Are you running the race tomorrow? I always say, Yes, yes I am. because I couldnt be here and not run. In the same way, I cant get in a race and think of not finishing it. The only times Ive never finished a race is when I have been hurt. The last time I had to drop out of a race was in Finland in 1973. It turned out I had a stress fracture. I ran through the first half of the marathon in 1:04, and I was way ahead. All of a sudden I was sitting on the side of the road, looking around and saying, What am I doing here? My foot snapped, it broke, and I sat down. That was the last time I dropped out of a race and did not finish.

Kathrine Switzer remembered, Heres a quick inspirational story. When I first started running, every time I went out of my apartment house, I had to go down 3 flights of steps. There was this family who lived on the second floor. They were all about 100 pounds overweight, and they had a bunch of screaming kids running around. They would all give me catcalls and bang their wooden spoons on pans when I went out. It was unmerciful. I couldnt wait to move out of the place. I was making a speech about 10 years later when this woman came up to me, and she was so excited to see me. She said, You dont recognize me. I said, No. It was the woman who lived on the 2nd floor. She had lost 100 pounds. She was somehow inspired by my running at a subconscious level, left the husband who banged on the pans at me, and became a marathon runner. I said, if she can do it, anyone can do it. Sometimes when I am hurting out there, and I am dragging my butt, I think if she can do it, I can still do it. So think about that tomorrow.

Roger Robinson completed the question with, For our book 26.2 Marathon Stories, Kathrine and I did a lot of research into stories like this. One quick story that has a moral: The 1908 Olympic Marathon in London. The English runners thought they were going to win easily. They all went out at 5-minute miles. I can say--having been born in England--every now and then the English get this strange notion they are much better than anybody else. When they get knocked out by Portugal [in the 2006 Soccer World Cup], they are always surprised. [Laughter] On this occasion, after 10 miles they were surprised they could not run 5-minute miles any more on a hot day with limited training that people did at that time. Then a South African Charles Hefferon came through, and the Italian Dorando Pietri were the leaders at 23 miles. Meanwhile, the American Johnny Hayes at 10 miles was 5 minutes behind. He was nearly a mile behind the leaders on the first 5 miles of the Olympic Marathon, with people up trees and lampposts jeering at the Americans because the Brits thought the Americans were not going to do very well Remember the famous incident on the track when Dorando Pietri came through and collapsed as he came into the stadium? He actually collapsed, I have discovered, before he came in, just on the way into the stadium. He then collapsed 4 times on the way around the track, received help, would never have finished without that help. He was almost carried across the line. Johnny Hayes at that point was still running 6:15-mile speed. If anybody deserved his gold medal, it was Johnny Hayes of America. And the sympathy for Dorando Pietri: okay, he was very gallant, but he was not the true winner. The moral of this story for all of you is very simple: Go out slow.

What if you didnt have press credentials, and what if you didnt arrive in Utica in time for the Ask the Experts Forum? You still could have seen superstars at the 2006 National Distance Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the Stanley Theater. Recognized at the ceremonies were Frank Shorter, Kathrine Switzer, Ted Corbitt, and Nina Kuscsik. Roger Robinson received the George Sheehan Award for Excellence in Journalism.

This years Hall of Fame inductees were:

During Gerry Lindgrens acceptance speech, Gerry said his high school coach inspired him to help other runners become better: You can show those people because you are so skinny and wimpy, if you can run in the front and play the rabbit, it would not only make the team better, it might even inspire others to think, If Gerry Lindgren can do it, I can do it too. Gerry said, So that was my motivation Hopefully my entry [into the Hall of Fame] will help some other runner someday see what I have done and say, I can do better.

Marty Liquori paid tribute to fellow runners when he said, This Hall of Fame is special because it is my peers, who influenced my running. And also, through my broadcasting, that personal interaction with everyone on the posters behind me So it is very gratifying for me to join some of my idols.

Patti Catalano Dillon talked about the influence of other runners on her career when she said, I have been blessed along the way and stood on the shoulders of so many people who came before me. Kathrine [Switzer]. Doris [Brown Heritage], Nina [Kuscsik], and Joan [Benoit Samuelson], Lynn [Jennings]; I stood on so many shoulders, that I see myself as the first tier that peeks up over from the trenches.

After the ceremonies, Marty, Gerry, and Patti signed autographs. Gerry also sold autographed copies of his book Gerry Lindgrens Book on Running. Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer sold autographed copies of their book 26.2 Marathon Stories. Lynne and I discovered there are 2 different ways to read their book. I first looked at all of the great photos; then I started reading the book from the beginning. Lynne read the book from the beginning, encountering the photos along the way. Either way, the book is well worth the look/read. Being interested in writing, I also bought Roger Robinsons book Running in Literature. How could you not love a book that has the subtitle A Guide for Scholars, Readers, Runners, Joggers, and Dreamers?

After the induction ceremonies, I talked with Boilermaker course director Jim Stasaitis, who told me a superstar anecdote. Jim said, I met Kathrine Switzer down in Peachtree City, GA, at the RRCA convention. I got a picture of her and me arm-in-arm. Somehow for the 100th running of Boston, there was an article about Kathrine, and there was a picture of her, and the caption read, Kathrine Switzer and her deceased ex-husband. The picture was with me! It was in one of the Boston papers, and she had done some work up here in Utica for the Heart Association. I sold her book for her. She wrote and asked, isnt this the guy who was selling my book? Ever since then, I get hugs and kisses from her, all the time, and she says Oh, theres my deceased ex-husband!

On the morning on the race, you could have seen stars by doing what Peter and Luane Haggerty of Rochester, NY have done for the past several years. They set up an Uncle Sam doll and a multi-language sign on Dwyer Avenue, where elite athletes warm up before the race. Peter and Luane wished them good luck in each runners native language, and the athletes autographed the Haggertys sign. Peter and Luane also got the autographs of several Hanson-Brooks Running Team members, including the first American finisher Melissa White.

Or, you could have seen superstar wheelchair athlete Saul Mendoza at the Boilermaker starting line; Saul won his 6th Boilermaker 15K in a time of 34:18. Or perhaps you could have run the Boilermaker 15K next to Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, or Patti Catalano Dillon.

You might not have been fast enough to run next to the Kenyan stars. The first 4 male finishers were Kenyans. Sammy Rongo ran down Wilson Kiprotich to finish in a time of 43:16, winning by 13 seconds. Next were William Chebon in 43:39 and Nephat Kinyanjui in 44:24. On the female side, the finish was very close, with Gete Wami of Ethiopia coming across the finish line in 49:31, a scant 2 seconds before 2-time Boilermaker champion (2003, 2004) Susan Chepkemei of Kenya. Third place went to Jemima Jelagat of Kenya in 49:39, and Nataliya Berkut of the Ukraine was 4th in 49:53.

You could also have had the chance to see future American stars in the race. At last years Utica Boilermaker, the lone American male in the top 20 was Jacob Frey, who finished in 20th place. Jacob was at that time a member of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, which is a center that allows runners to continue training beyond their college years without the financial necessity of working fulltime. (See the http://www.hansons-running.com web site for more information.) This year, the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project sent a larger team to the Boilermaker because, as one member of the team told me, They treated the team so well last year that we had to come back here. And yes, the Americans improved. The top 3 American males, all Hanson-Brooks members, finished 14th, 15th, and 16th: Mike Morgan in 45:49, Brian Sell (4th at the 2006 Boston Marathon) in 45:54, and Jeff Gaudette in 46:09. On the American distaff side, Brooks-Hanson member Melissa White was the 7th woman finisher in 51:48, Zola Gomez was 9th in 52:42, and Maggie Chan-Roper was 10th in 52:50.

So, if you wish to be star-struck, register for the 30th anniversary of the Utica Boilermaker in 2007 by going to the http://www.boilermaker.com web site. Youll thank your lucky superstars you did.