Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Good Friday?

The year was 2001. The second event in my "race instigator" career. The story of that world-changing event follows.
The Frogger 5.5K 
Hair of the Frog Brewery
13 April 2001

The Setup
If you were one of the dozen who ran the Shawn & Don 5K in December 2000, you no doubt saw it coming.  An excellent microbrewery.  A guy who runs a marathon every month, another who knocks the mirrors off passing vehicles with his bare hands, and an over-speedy Yooper. Then throw in some beautiful nature trails. It had to happen. Jake and Holly were geeked when Shawn initially talked to them about it. The team was now complete.  Now to pick a good Friday to have a race.  THAT'S IT!  GOOD FRIDAY!  It was also Boston weekend, so we didn't have any competing races.
It turned out that our new friend, Jake, was quite the artist. Next thing you knew, we had posters and a really kickin' T-shirt design. He also had some family involved with Gazelle Sports, who agreed to be one of our sponsors, providing numbers and gift certificates for the race.
The Field
Figuring on maybe 30-40 people, we were totally blown away by the numbers that showed up.  We ended up with 62 runners in the race.  We had runners from as far away as Portage, Ludington, Lansing, and even three guys from New Zealand.  We ran out of numbers.  Shirts too.
The Start
At the whistle, the anxious runners headed for the nature trail.  But Big John had a plan.  He knew he couldn't outrun all those slender fast guys, but he did know he could block.  Running his butt off for the first 30 yards to get a lead heading into the trail, his plan worked like clockwork.  With his size working for him, nobody could get by him on the trail.  That wouldn't work for long, however.  There was another John -- soon to be race winner John Lipa -- who, after his third attempt, dove through the trees, blew by the big guy and let him eat some dust.
The Trail
The runners followed the trail of toilet paper hanging from the trees, chalk marks on the trail and road, and signs made by Jake and Holly with a really cool running frog on them.  The kilometer marks were on the road in chalk.  We figured that kilometer marks would be better than mile marks.  After all, no self-respecting American has a clue what his pace per kilometer is supposed to be.  So who would know if the course was short?  Or long?  On the streets coming off the trail, we did a 2k loop through a residential neighborhood, then back to the trail and past the starting line.  The second loop was one lap around Lamberton Lake.  Out on the street, take a right on Lamberton Lake Road, and a couple hundred yards to the Duck Crossing sign.  Down a driveway, skirting the bottom of the hill and back onto the nature trail.  Duck one log, jump another one, and the runners head into the home stretch.
The Finish
John Lipa emerged from the trail way ahead of the pack, finishing in a blazing 20:36.  At 23:38, our women's winner Amy Wing came in.  And the good news was, EVERYBODY set personal records for this distance.  The bad news is, we aren't quite sure what this distance was.  We did know, however, that all the people who paid for 5.5K got more than their money's worth.

Big John stopped for a cigarette.  The more svelte runners he was blocking earlier took a look at him and decided not to try to beat him mercilessly. Wise choice.
The Afterglow
Awards in the Pub.  Winners Amy Wing and John Lipa received gift certificates from Gazelle, and random drawings were held for a bigger variety of frog prizes than we previously knew existed.  Everyone was treated to some of the best microbrew to be found in the city of Grand Rapids.
The Start of Something Big
 From "off-the-wall" little races held at various breweries around Grand Rapids, we grew into something big. Ten years of our marathon, the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon. From our first event with around 20 friends at Founders back in December 2000, we've now grown to a weekend of running that involves over 6,000 people.

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