Still streaking on the Fourth of July

By : 
DAVID PHILLIPS
Reflections from my Notebook

As I was turning a corner on the trail in Stewartville July 4 during the Summerfest runs, race director Kevin Torgerson shouted “here’s the only runner to complete all 21 races” as I ran by him in a crowd of people who decided to kick off the holiday with a morning run. I’m not sure if my minor claim to fame is a badge of honor or a mark of foolishness.

Although I’ve always contended “showing up” is quite an accomplishment in itself, heading out on the morning of the Fourth of July to sweat through miles of effort isn’t the noteworthy accomplishment I had in mind. And, the fact that I have spent the past 21 years running a local race may make my life sound pretty boring since the Fourth of July is a major holiday when most people probably have vacation destinations or joyful events to attend instead of putting themselves through what can be grueling races if they are held in oppressive heat and humidity, as was the case again last week.

The holiday tradition began in 1998 when my wife, who had to pick certain holidays to work each year, chose the Fourth of July because it was often in the middle of the week, places were crowded and it would have been hard for me to take time off to sandwich a family trip around the holiday. In those years when she chose that as a work holiday, she would finish early and still get home to take in more of the traditional July 4 activities, such as fireworks.

Since she was gone early in the morning and I would probably go out for a run anyway on a day when I was mostly off of work, I decided I might as well do a race. Stewartville always has the closest event scheduled each year.

I’m not a real competitive racer so my motivation to race, instead of just leisurely running, isn’t winning medals. The only races in which I go for medals are marathons. Everyone who finishes a marathon gets a medal.

Most of my running involves long distances, so the shorter races are more just to try something new and to compare my fitness against past races since I am mostly competing against myself. Besides, it is always good to challenge yourself once in a while.

I actually have won some medals in Stewartville, but they were when the races were new, thus a smaller crowd, and, more recently, when I hit the first years in a new age group, making me younger than most other people in the 10-year age range, especially the older age categories when people slow down as their age goes up and the numbers of runners thin out.

My wife doesn’t work the July 4 holiday anymore so I don’t have an excuse to keep entering the races. However, Torgerson brought up my streak several years ago and I feel some type of internal obligation to keep it up. I normally like variety in my races, so I don’t have any other race with any kind of streak, even a modest one.

Although I keep showing up to Summerfest in Stewartville, the experience hasn’t helped my times any. Last week’s mark was my slowest ever in the five-mile race and one of the slowest in the three-mile race, which is held after the five-miler.

Runners aren’t obligated to run both races, but I have chosen to because I like to get the miles in and it’s only $5 extra to add the second race.

I’d like to blame the slow times last week on the heat since it was near 80 for the first race and over 80 for the second one. However, my runs have been slowing down even when the Fourth of July isn’t brutally hot.

I guess I can’t deny the effects of aging, even though I was able to defy nature in my 50s when I improved each year, eventually peaking in the marathon when I was in my mid-50s. Today, I can’t run a five-mile race at the pace I ran my best marathon, which should be easy to do since the marathon is more than five times longer.

I may not be setting any more records and, perhaps, only winning medals if I outlast the competition in age, but I’ll still keep showing up as long as I am able to get through a race and we continue to stay in town. The staying in town appears likely as lately my wife has been volunteering both of us to help out at Historic Forestville’s old-fashioned Fourth of July each year, a duty I agreed to as long as our station is in the shade since the wear from the run may still be affecting me.

Maybe my streak will even outlast Torgerson’s streak, which is much more impressive than mine as 21 years is a long time to continually organize a race, a feat that is much harder to accomplish than just showing up to run in one. He demonstrates the “showing up” that is truly important because I wouldn’t even have a streak if there were no nearby races for me to attempt every Fourth of July.