From Spanks to Global Warming
by Bill Donnelly
Once in a while I have been accused of writing mostly about what running was like Back in the Day in a way to make it look like the runners back then were much better than the runners of today. I assure you; such an idea never entered my head. Of course, not much seems to enter my head anyway.
I think this erroneous perception comes about because I have once in a great while pointed out how many runners during the 1970s were hitting times in the marathon that very few runners are hitting today, even though there are way more runners doing marathons today. All I can say is tut, tut, please do not read too much into my ramblings.
You see, I do realize that the big difference between the runners of the period known as “The Wonderful, Irrefutable Never-ending Domination Of Wondrous Distance Runners Ever Seen Simply Inspiring Near-impossible Goals” (or as those in the know call it, the WINDOW-DRESSING Period) of the 1970s, and the lowly, er, pretty good runners of today, is focus. By that I simply mean that the runners back then were almost entirely focused on running marathons, and other races simply provided speed workouts and a good chance to party afterwards.
Everyone I knew who ran put in 80, 90 or 100 plus mile weeks regularly, and we did this year round with no cooling off periods. The marathon was our goal, and
was the ultimate prize. Since you had to run or better in the open category, and masters had to hit at least to qualify for Boston , we had to push ourselves. Boston
Today’s runners do not look on the marathon as the ultimate goal. Many will do it to prove to themselves they can, and some are truly bitten by the marathon bug (much like being bitten by a giant bedbug). Still many runners have no desire to run the 26.2 mile event, and concentrate on shorter races, and there is no shame in that (Yeah, Right! – I didn’t just say that, did I? I just gotta figure out how to erase when I put down thoughts that might seem insensitive to others. White out doesn’t work, it just messes up my monitor.)
So anyway, I really shouldn’t compare the runners from Back in the Day to today’s runners by using results from marathons. It would be much fairer to use shorter races, even though back then we didn’t have track practices to help us. It just would be a more fair comparison.
So I went looking for races that would give a good and totally unbiased comparison of both periods. This proved difficult. I can’t use 5Ks because we did not have them in the ‘70s. What a silly distance anyway, you just start to get a running groove going and you’re in the finish chute. The Turkey Trot doesn’t work, because that was a 5 mile race Back in the Day, and now it’s an 8K, not much difference, but some.
So that leaves me with the 10K race, a very popular race in the ‘70s, not so popular now but you can find them. Since we just finished running the Depew-Lancaster Boys & Girls Club 10K on July 4th, I decided to use it for this piece of totally unbiased journalistic excellence in comparison writing. It is a Buffalo News Runner of the Year race, so it does bring together the best the area has to offer today. For the WINDOW-DRESSING Period road race I will use the Fredonia Farm Festival Koch’s Brewery 10K held in 1977. I choose this particular race because I just so happen to have a copy of the results and newsletter sent with the results. Cripes, I’m such a pack-rat.
I participated in both races, so I can knowingly make totally fair comparisons of the two. The Fredonia race was not a News Runner of the Year race, we didn’t have those back then, but since it was sponsored by the Koch’s Brewery, it was a popular race that drew large numbers of thirsty runners. I know that the
race was hot and humid, with no shade for relief. Fredonia was run in mid-August, and was always hot and humid. Lancaster
Both courses are fairly flat. Yes, I know
has those little hic-cups under the underpasses, but if you count those as hills, don’t run any races in Lancaster . Both races were almost equally big in numbers, and even though women’s running was just getting going, there were 55 women finishers at Fredonia compared to 176 in this year’s Pittsburgh race. So let the comparison begin, and I’m sure we will see that the runners of today are just as competitive as the runners from Back in the Day. Lancaster
First off, 532 runners finished the Fredonia race, compared to 578 in
. So far, so good, pretty even. The winner of the Fredonia 10K was Richard Saxton from Lancaster , who ran it in 30:56, which was 36 seconds slower than Mark Finucane’s 30:12 the year before. Not bad. Matt Glynn won the Rochester race in 32:38, just slower, but he wasn’t pushed hard as second place Mike Heitzenrater only ran a 33:50. In fact, if Glynn had run that time in Fredonia, he would have come in, let’s see, oh, um, 19th place. Lancaster
The old guy(36 then), Ralph Zimmerman was fifth in Fredonia with a 31:32, followed closely by local greats Alex Trammell and Kim Wettlaufer, both with a 31:42. As the newsletter said; “The top local finisher was FSUC (
) half mile king, Bob Carroll, who was 21st in 32:42.” It must be great to be king of something. Bob told me he would not really hit his stride for the 10K distance for almost another ten years, when he would just miss breaking 30 minutes by a second a few times. Bob didn’t run this year’s Fredonia State race, but he did a 35:02 last year to come in fifth, which would have placed him, well, that would be 80th at the ’77 Fredonia race. Lancaster
Lets cut to the chase. At this year’s 10K on July 4th, of the 578 runners, 28 broke 40 minutes. Of the 532 Farm Festival runners, 244 broke that mark. Yow!!! Others who ran Fredonia that you might recognize include Fred Gordon, who ran it in 34:28 for 56th place (a slow day for Fred, who this year still did Lancaster despite a hip replacement – yes, he was dead last in 2:23:13, but he had to walk the whole thing, and that time is just two minutes faster than he would run the Boston Marathon in 1978.) I had one of my slower 10Ks, finishing in 114th with a 36:13. Belle Watling Founder Dick Sullivan (just 49 at that time) was 137th with a 36:47, and Runtime Services founder Don Mitchell ran a 37:14 to place 159th. I could go on and on, but let’s get to the women, since women’s running has come so far.
The first woman in
was of course Allison Carr, who came in 20th with a 39:02, followed closely by Carolyn Nugent with a 39:58, and Elizabeth Schultz, who hit a 40:15. Pretty darn good, eh. Back in the caveman days of women running, the best the first woman could do was a, oh, wait, I forgot, this was the very first time a certain Nancy Dragoo (now Miesczak) showed up on the scene. Straight off the boat from Lancaster , she would take the running community by storm, and set all sorts of records. At her first time running locally, she was able to win first woman with a 134th place time of 36:43, good enough for 11th place in this years Malone, NY . Lancaster
was not typical, right? The next woman was 18 year old Mary Seybold in 37:09, then Amy McDonald in 39:05, Beth Dwyer in 39:43, and rounding out the sub-40 minute women was Nancy ’s 13 year old Marjorie Bessel, in 39:50. At the other end, the last three runners in Fredonia were woman, but the slowest time was 60:42. Not counting Fred Gordon’s walk in the park, the slowest time in Grand Island was . Lancaster
Enough with the stats, lets get to reasons why my comparison of the two races, which I did with purely good intentions of proving that runners are just as good now as they were Back in the Day, blew up in my face! There are some theories that have been put forth to explain the differences in performance. I will look at these with my scientic mind and show what bunk most of them are.
First, there is the “Oliver Stone Conspiracy Theory” (Ollie plans on making this into a 240 minute movie staring Richard Gere and Woody Harrelson) that involves a grassy knoll, landing men on the moon, and George W. Bush’s successful plan to make the Brits and Canadians more like us by secretly lengthening the Kilometer to exactly one mile. He hates the metric system, seems he could never quite get with it in his college days. Bunk! If all it took was Dubya not quite getting with it in college, he would have done away with all Math, History and English courses in college. College would be one big frat party with girls gone wild. Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe there is something to this theory.
The next theory that deserves some thought is the “Supersize Me” Theory. This one needs no explaination, and it certainly would explain why I have slowed down so much. But then again, I have plenty of other excuses, such as age, asthma, and the mile long Kilometers. So again Bunk!
Then there is the “Superstar-Great TV” Theory. What with such exciting TV shows to watch, such as “Fear Factor”, “The Real Gilligan’s Island”, and “The Simple Life”, who can tear themselves away from the TV in order to exercise. Add to that such talented superstars such as Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and William Hung to entertain us, it’s amazing anyone still runs. Double Bunk!! “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Brady Bunch”, “Lawrence Welk”, “Tiny Tim”, and “Devo”. Say no more!
Now for a touchy subject, and that would be the “Spanks” Theory. Put simply, with so many women running now, and instead of wearing bulky cotton shorts or formless sweat pants, they are now wearing form-fitting tights, tennis dresses, and dare I say it, spanks. It is said that now many of the top male runners are too distracted to put forth a tremendous effort (in running), or worse yet, they are purposely running behind the females in order to peruse the view. Bunk! Bunk!! Bunk!!! Who in their right mind would admit to such shameless sexism? Then again, it is another excuse I could use.
One other theory we must look at, because all others are Bunk, take it from me. This is the “Global Warming” Theory. This one makes some sense, since, as I have often pointed out, winters were much colder Back in the Day, and that, combined with us doing weight-training with all the sweat soaked cotton we wore, could explain things being different. And as hot as it has been this summer, it has been so hard to get out to train. Maybe we have something here. But wait, George Dubya has pretty much said that Global Warming is no threat and it does not exist, and if he says so, I say Bunk!!!! to that theory. But wait again, what if it’s just that Dubya couldn’t quite get with the Theory of Global Warming when he was in college. Hmmmm, maybe we do have something here.