A big runner’s expo also features booths promoting races throughout the country and the world, running products from shoes to shirts to specially formulated drinks, as well as retail outlets for running gear and race memorabilia. … Toward the end of our tour around the booths . . . I was speaking with someone at a booth about the Nashville Country Music Marathon when Mike came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come on, we have to go. We’re taking Frank Shorter back to his hotel.”
“Frank Shorter? I exclaimed, “the Frank Shorter?” Yes, the Frank Shorter. (excerpt from The Race Before Us)
Two weeks ago (prior to “A Run in Central Park“) I completed the Virginia beach half marathon. I was not prepared. I had no plans to run it, but I thought I’d attend the race because Frank Shorter (Shorter offered one of the Forewords for my book) was in town and we always have dinner with him the night before the RnR race. I also had arranged a meeting with Jim and Anne Ryun (yes, the Jim Ryun). Usually I run this race (or at least travel with) my law partner, but because neither of us had trained properly, I asked my niece Caitlin if she might want to go with me and meet Shorter and Ryun. Caitlin had become a runner over the last two years or so, and in adopting the Paleo Diet and sticking to a running regiment, she had lost almost 70 pounds and completed a half marathon – she is quite an inspiration.
I thought she might want to meet these running legends. She did, but she also wanted to run the half marathon, and do it with me. Not to discourage her, I said sure and immediately started to wonder how that was going to work out.
A few weeks later I picked Caitlin up on the Peninsula and headed to Virginia Beach. We arrived at the convention center, picked up our race bibs, and took in the expo. I’m a sucker for a good expo. Its exciting and inspirational to discuss distances, events, and other running challenges amidst the newest training devices, running shirts, and new flavors of Gu. We made our way to the stage in time to hear Frank Shorter talk about running tips for the heat expected the next day at race time. After the Q & A, we said hello and Caitlin got her picture taken with Frank.
We spent a little more time shopping for a new Spi belt for Caitlin as well as comparing the Garmin and Timex GPS watches. Then it was time to meet up with Jim and Anne Ryun ( a mutual friend had encouraged our meeting because of the themes of my new book). Jim Ryun, of course, set many shorter distance world records and won the silver medal in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. Perhaps Jim is best known for being the first high school runner to break the 4-minute mile barrier and he is the last American to hold the world record in the mile. (Just as Frank Shorter is the last American to have won the Olympic gold in the marathon.) As I said, these guys are legends.
I suspected that when I invited Caitlin to meet Shorter and Ryun that she probably didn’t know who they were. She had done her homework and was excited to meet them. We closed down the Expo and headed for dinner with a couple of my law partners and their wives. As we have done now for five years, we had dinner with Shorter, who is always fun and shares interesting observations about running and life generally. He was gracious to Caitlin and signed her bib.
We learned that the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” series of races (over 30 at one time) had just been sold by the Competitor group to a hedge fund, who had immediately decided to cancel all prize money for the elite runners. It was also feared that the new owner would end the tradition of bringing running legends like Shorter and Ryun to these race events.
What a shame I thought if the running public lost this unique opportunity to meet them. Maybe its the historian in me, but we are in the midst of what many have called the second running boom. Races have become extraordinarily inclusive – accommodating every type of runner and raising millions of dollars every year for charities. It’s now mostly about participating, not winning or your time. In the 1970’s, when the first “running boom” hit America, race organizers were excited when their registration number hit 2,500 or 3,000 participants. Today, those same races feature 25,000 and some have over 40,000. It’s probably fair to say that no one envisioned this type of growth.
We need to thank Shorter and Ryun, and various other running legends (such as Bill Rogers, Greta Waitz, and Steve Prefontaine). Hoping that a new generation of runners will appreciate the accomplishments of these legends I plan to profile a several these runner over the next number of months. As a reader of this blog I hope you will share these profiles with the new generation of runners – both the baby boomers who came to the sport fairly recently as well as Millennials, GenXers, and others.