Friday, November 24, 2000

The St. Pete Times Turkey Trot 10K

The St. Pete Times Turkey Trot 10K was my first 10K race. The first year I ran it was in 1982. My older brother Jim had gotten me into running some road races. It was around this time that I read Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running, and got into road racing. My brother was competitive and he and his buddies ran this race for time. His efforts got me to try to run this race the best that I could.

The St. Pete Times Turkey Trot has a 1 mile walking event, a 5K run and a 10K run. When I was first running this event, 10K events were all the rage. Today, 5K races are the most common racing events and the 5K crowd has eclipsed the 10K crowd at the Turkey Trot. But for me, the 10K event was and always will be the main event. Part of the charm of this event is that it is staged from Jack Russell Stadium, my old high school football stadium where I once played football and did the pole vault during track season. The races start a half mile away on Keene Road, a large 5 lane road that has plenty of room for a large race start. The 5 lane straight road goes for almost 3 miles before turning off smaller 2 lane side streets through neighborhoods for the second half of the race as runners space out according to their pace. The race then finished back at Clearwater High School, with the last stretch of around a 100 yards on the staduim track.

The Keene Road stretch was exciting in part because the road has some early rolling hills. Thus, as the large crowd of several thousand runners takes off, you can see the leaders take off down the road ahead of you and watch the crowd of slightly faster runners funnel back to the main body of runners. A cool look and one that gets your dogs running. It is on this course that I learned my tendancy to go out too hard early in a race.

The other nice thing about the Keene Road section of the course is that it goes right by the old neighborhood where I grew up. Every year until recently, my parents would walk out to the corner of Keene road and Nursery Road and cheer us on as my brothers and I ran by. They would take our pictures and we would wave and shout greetings to each other.

My parents take a picture of me and brother Dave at the 2004 Turkey Trot

While there is a super large turn out for this race and the Keene Road section is eye catching from a runners perspective, this is not what I consider a pretty course. It is run through typical Florida neighborhoods lined with fences and ficus hedges. In fact it is from comparisons of this mundane "anywhere in the world" neighborhood look from which I adopted my motto/advice regarding running: Run in Beautiful Places. While I will always cherish this race the way you might cherish your first kiss, it is not a beautiful course. Not ugly, but nothing to write home about either.

The tee shirts for this event fall in a similar category. We would always proudly wear our Turkey Trot Tee shirts that afternoon wherever my family was gathering for our Thanksgiving meal, usually managing to get an extra shirt to my father. We felt wearing the shirt was a badge of honor. We had run the Turkey Trot that morning and had earned our right to over-eat at Thanksgiving Dinner. The other reason we wore the shirts that day is they were invariably the ugliest running shirts you ever saw. Being a Thanksgiving race, the logo always involved a picture of a large turkey in some running pose. Invariably, the color was some florescent green, yellow or orange. You had better wear it that day, because you wouldn't be caught dead in the thing any other day of the year. You might wear it to cut the lawn or paint the house, but that was it. It was from these race tees that I judge all other race tee shirts. If they are of the caliber of the Turkey Trot tee shirts, I've sometimes just passed on taking the shirt. However, the Turkey Trot shirts had their place of honor on Thanksgiving day.

I would do the Times Turkey trot on and off over my years in law school and later as I returned with my wife Salome to visit my family for Thanksgiving. During my years after law school, I ran mostly as a fitness runner and would only do the Turkey Trot every other year or so.

When my brother Jim died of esophageal cancer in the summer of 1995, my brother Dave and I decided to run it as a tribute to our fallen brother. Thereafter, we both ran it for the next 10 years. During our annual get togethers, bother Dave and I would talk about how it would be cool to one day run a marathon. However, neither of us took serious steps toward the goal. It was like when we were kids and would have fantasy talks about what we would like to become one day. It would be cool to be a race car driver or an astronaut. The marathon talk fit that same wistful thinking. Yeah, it would be cool to run a marathon some day. Only through other means would I ultimately be coaxed into a serious commitment to the marathon.

Brother Dave would fall out of shape and have to gear up in the fall to get ready for the Turkey Trot. My wife Salome started running the 5K event and eventually worked her way up to the 10K main event. She would typically come in behind both of us, with me coming in first. One year brother Dave got really out of shape and added some real weight. The dude had gotten down right hefty. However, he managed to get into minimal running condition. At about mile 4, Salome passes Dave for the first time ever in a road race. She thought he was clowning around with her, but soon realized he was simply out of shape. This was the low point for my brother.

As he heard I was training for a marathon in 2002, he decided it was time to get in shape. I think he was afraid we would do the marathon experience without him and he would totally miss out. Thus, he started training regularly. He and I ran the Gaspirilla 15K that January and he ran his first marathon on February 2, 2003. After that, both he and his wife, Dianna got into shape and started getting into road racing.

For the next year, I was still faster than Dave. The thing you must know about my younger brother is that whatever I've gotten into as we were growing up, Dave would come along and do that same thing, only better than me. I was a good chess player, he came along and worked so hard at it that he became a near master. I could no longer sit down with the guy. He studied and knew classic moves from reading chess books. I went out for football in high school; he comes along years later to be a much better player than me. Now, with running, he started closing in on me. Dave started running races every weekend. He started running races on the weekend and during the week. His times were getting faster and faster.

I think it was Thanksgiving 2003 that Dave finally beat me in the Turkey Trot. I had gone out hard and had dropped him at the 1 mile mark. He kept at it. With about a half mile to go, he sees me up ahead of him. I have no idea where he is. He keeps reeling me in as we approach the track for the last 100 yards. I guy to my right side tries to kick past me. I turn my head right to keep an eye on him as I pick up pace to keep him from edging me at the line. Dave take that moment to kick hard past me on my left. I never see him pass. As I work my way down the finish shoot, he stands there to greet me. "Where the heck did you come from?" I ask. He smiles a Cheshire Cat smile at me as he tells me about his passing me on the left.

The next year, Dave continues to improve and is the first of us to run sub 45 for the 10K. I get a PR coming in 46 minutes. Dave has surpassed most of my records since, except I still own the marathon record. I'm sure if he reads this post, that record will fall in the next couple of years. But I've come to accept that my records are a mark for a younger brother always trying to prove his worth to me. I love him as a brother and as a running buddy. I don't begrudge his need to try to surpass whatever mark I make. Those markers mean much more to him than they do to me. I run for the joy of running.

P.S. After completing the 10 year streak of running the Turkey Trot in memory of my deceased older brother, I took the family to New York City to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In part, the trip was a planned break of the streak. After 10 years, how many years do you go for? 15? 20? 25? I really don't want to think about it. While this race will always hold a special place in my heart for several reasons, I don't want do running streaks. I've decided that there are just too many beautiful places to run. Running steaks can crowd out your events calender if you let them.

Brother Dave continues the Turkey Trot streak at age 45 with the streak at 14. He had a tough year last year coming off of a divorce. I was not in town and his family who usually ran one of the events with him were absent. I've run an event solo before and I relate to his expression that it was a weird felling to be running in a large group with no one to relate to or gather with at the start or finish. He ran it anyway as an act of redemption and was glad he did. Unlike me, I think he'll keep running the Turkey Trot until he can't run anymore. I hope his streak reaches 50.

Saturday, January 01, 2000

Running in My 20s

When I was in high school, I played football and did the pole vault during track season.Add Image As a pole vaulter, I would see the overly skinny cross country runners, who ran the mile, 800 and 400 events, and think they looked emaciated. At one point, I considered trying cross country, but saw the cross country runners over the summer wearing tee shirts that read 100 mile club. This meant that they were running 100 mile weeks over the summer to get ready for fall cross country season. I figured I carried too much weight to run competitively with these spaghetti armed waifs and stuck to my more gymnastic vaulting. These guys just did not look manly to me. Oh, I knew I could never get near them in a distance race, but who wanted to look like these guys?

I had an older brother, Jim, who had tried football as a freshman, quickly decided it wasn't for him and got involved in the local bicycle scene. He was so into bicycling that he and his riding buddies followed the exploits of Eddie Merckx before there was any televised coverage of the Tour de France. From there, he started into running and eventually triathlons were thrown into the mix. During my college years, my brother arraigned for me to buy his buddies road bike and took me occassionally on some mid-range rides. On my return to Clearwater after college, he got me to start running. I ran my first 10K race event in 1982, the St. Pete Times Turkey Trot. My brother and his buddies were competitive. I was happy just to complete the course.
Brother Jim running a faster 10K time than I could ever hope to achieve.

I recall the first time I ran for my first long run in the 10 mile range. It was my first of only a couple of times in my life that I really felt the runners high. I remember just cruising along feeling great. I felt like I could run forever. Unfortunately, this feeling of a true runners high comes about once a decade.

The winter, my brother convinced me to run a half marathon at Sand Key Park in St. Petersburg. I wasn't sure I could run a distance that long, but I'd give it a try. I have two strong memories of that event. The first was getting to the 10 mile marker and thinking, "Why am I doing this? No one is paying me to run this long. I'm not being forced to run this far. What exactly is the point of all this?"

The second memory was of approaching the finish line and a spectator off to the side was smoking a cigarette. I caught a whiff of his smoke. To my oxygen sensitive lungs that whiff of smoke felt like a room full of smoke. I felt great resentment towards this spectator for smoking next to the route. I'm sure he had no idea of the discomfort he was causing the runners going by him. After finishing the half marathon, I was proud of my achievement, but had no desire to run that far again.

After that I ran the Gasparilla Distance Classic, a 15K road race run along Bay Shore Drive in Tampa. That run was nice because it the route is an out and back route next to Tampa Bay. You can see the leaders coming back as you approach the turn around point. I also ran a midnight 4th of July 5K run.

After working a couple of years as a CPA in Tampa, I returned to UF in the fall of 1986 for law school. I ran the Homecoming 5K a race from UF down University Avenue west into downtown Gainesville. It was festive run since it was run on the course and right before the homecoming parade. In the Spring of my first year, a bunch of us turned out for the Law Day 5K, which a few professors who were runners would show up and run with/against the students. My Civil Procedure professor, Dennis Slobogan had been a college track runner and he smoke the lot of us. My Torts professor, Richard Pearson was a tall, lean, but grey marathon runner who gave us a run for our money. I don't recall who beat whom at the end, but I recall it was a close finish.

I had a roommate, Tip Tomberlin who was a somewhat overweight guy from Jacksonville, who had run the Gate River Run. That spring we ran several road races outside of Gainesville. I don't recall the distances, but remember they had nice country side courses that we ran. I seem to recall running an event before a strawberry festival once. During my Law School years, I would return to Clearwater and run the Times Turkey Trot.

After law school and marriage to my wife Salome, we settled in Fort Lauderdale. I fell away from the road running circuit and never really hooked into the races in the area. I would run for general fitness, but would go long periods of not running at all. When I was 28, we started to go skiing once or twice a season. Thus, I tended to slack off during the summer months and start running enough in the fall to get in shape for the Turkey Trot and ski season. Salome & I entered the Zakaria 10K Heart Run in the late 1990s and ran that a couple of years in a row. It was a race sponsored by a local heart surgeon. However, an older runner died of a heart attack on the course in 1998 and the race was cancelled after that incident. I again returned to fitness running, but always felt it was a shame the race was cancelled most likely because of liability concerns.