As a 40-year veteran of running, I've been lucky and blessed to have met, raced, trained with and teamed up with some of the greatest people.
I don’t race much anymore. I’ll occasionally put together a planned season (like this past winter’s indoor track campaign of five meets or a fall cross country series that includes three to four races). But for the most part, I sort of “whim” it any more.
In July, I “whimmed” my way into the 40th Annual Buffalo Stampede, held just south of Dover in Camden-Wyoming. This annual 5k/10k event boasts a flat course, great organization and shirts, wood-carved buffaloes for category winners, a long history of success, and imported humidity. You’re also guaranteed to see people you don’t get to see often any more. I’ll get to them in a minute, but first…
I mention the Buffalo race because it and I have something in common. August 15th will mark my 40th anniversary as a runner. How do I remember the exact date? Ask any high school athlete when practices start for fall sports.
My very first run was a 3-miler on Hempt Farm Roads, just across a fairly major roadway in front of my high school, Cumberland Valley in south central Pennsylvania. The road itself was lightly travelled by cars, somewhat rolling terrain and had horse farms on either side. And I recall my running partners as well, very vividly. And the coach? Why, it was Jere the Bear (our nickname for him, not his real name).
From that moment, I was a runner. I had tried football and failed. I had played basketball and failed. I had attempted to wrestle and failed. I had tried swimming and failed. I had played baseball and was slightly above average but failed. But running… I liked it, I worked at it, I was decent at it. And it answered the question, “What is the best form of exercise?” It’s the one that you will do! And I ran.
In 40 years, I’ve seen the growth of the sport in all facets. From running shoes to nutritional supplements, from gadgetry and gizmos to destination races and city running tours. Our sport (and yes, it is a sport and not just a pastime or form of exercise) has evolved unlike any other and provided “real world” benefits rivaling NASA’s Tang drink of the 60s (Tang, the original replacement beverage). Do they still sell that stuff?
The first running book I read? Jim Fixx’s “The Complete Book of Running.” My first running shoes? The Nike Cortez. My first running kit? The Frank Shorter collection of singlets and matching shorts (maroon). And my first road race? I’m not making this up –the 1979 Harrisburg Marathon.
From a couple of books to an entire internet of reference materials. From four or five different shoe models (all men’s versions, by the way) to two dozen or more makes and hundreds of models. From a watch with a second hand for intervals to GPS and Apple watch technology that tracks calories, mixes music, syncs text messages, reminds users of their pace goal, and oh yes, measures time. And don’t even ask about the growth in the nutrition industry.
Now, about those runners I don’t get to see much anymore. As a 40-year veteran of running, I’ve been lucky and blessed to have met, raced, trained with and teamed up with some of the greatest people. MOST runners are genuinely interested in the training and racing of others, so it’s always fun to compare notes, stories and experiences. And us “old-timers” are always willing to share.
My father recently reminded me of the guy who used to wreak of garlic and would never wear a shirt, even on the coldest of days. There was the guy who trained by running to work every day (18-miles one-way). Then there was the guy who bought a hearse and drove from city to city running marathons and living in it. Not only has running gear and such evolved, but today’s modern runners in general aren’t as eclectic as some of those in my past. The KDs, LPs and BVs of the world did it “differently” and I love having that connection with them.
At the Stampede race last month, one of those days-gone-by guys was there. Larry has often mentioned he likes my columns (so I have to mention him). He’s still at it, after all these years. My brother-in-law Geoff and I both commented that we want to be just like Larry – still doing this in another 20 years. Seeing him still competing reminds us of both the history we are a part of and our hoped future.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails…
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.