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Blog #3 from the RRCA Convention.

Lakeland, Florida
April 24, 2010 - Day #3

Greetings from Lakeland, Florida, home of the 2010 Race the Lakes 5K/10K Race and the 2010 RRCA 5K National Championship.  Day #3 of the 2010 RRCA Convention began with something that runners do instinctively:  run in races.  The heartiest conventioneers headed to Lake Mirror early on Saturday for the start of the 10K at 7:00 A.M.  The Iron Bulldog is not that hearty these days.  He walked from our host hotel to Lake Mirror 45 minutes later for the start of the 5K at 8:30 A.M.  RRCA Executive Director Jean Knaack and keynote speaker Bill Rodgers accompanied me on this ambulatory trip to the start line.  As we arrived at Lake Mirror, we saw runners who had started the 10K race almost an hour earlier finishing their race.  We were advised that some of these 10K finishers were going to do a daily double and run the 5K as well.  With Lakeland’s affinity for swans, I call this feat the “Iron Swan.”  President Bryan Graydon, President of the Lakeland Runners Club, served as unofficial master of ceremonies.

By 8:30 A.M., the sun was up, and a lovely breeze cooled the runners as they started the 5K.  The course took us around Lake Mirror through Lakeland’s downtown area and around another lake and then back to Lake Mirror.  It was a beautiful course, with some gentle hills and fabulous scenery and just enough turns to keep runners focused.  I did not wear a watch because I did not want to know how slow I have become as a runner.  Ignorance is bliss.  At one point during the race outgoing and incoming runners passed each other, and it was fun to shout some encouragement to RRCA runners who had invaded Lakeland’s placid setting for this race.  Nearing the finish, I spotted Chris Burch, the RRCA’s Iowa state rep, and I said, “Chris, let’s finish together!”  And that’s what we did.  We grabbed each other’s arms and raised them in triumph as we crossed the finish line.  It was very exhilarating to finish the race like that.

After finishing, I spotted many RRCA runners hovering around the trophy table like vultures around a carcass.  Their attention was well justified.  RRCA runners took many age division awards in both the 5K and the 10K.  George Rehmet, the Northern California state rep, did the Iron Swan and took home age division awards in both races (including a first place in the male 40-44 division for the 5K and second place in the male 40-44 division for the 10K).  Eve Mills, the RRCA’s Staff Coordinator for Program Services, won first place in her age division (of course, with ladies you never specify which age division) in the 5K after running 14 miles, including 6.2 miles in the 10K race.  At-Large Director Kelly Richards, who accompanied Eve on the extended warm-up for the 5K, finished in third place in her age division.  Executive Director Jean Knaack won third place in her age division.  After the race I said to myself, “The RRCA must have the most physically fit employees of any organization in the United States!”  Jean saw me at the finish line and commented that she thought she had finished ahead of me.  I made excuses with my herniated disc and meniscus-torn knees.  I’ll have to check the final results to see who has bragging rights until the next RRCA convention.  No matter.  When it comes to speed, a bulldog cannot compete with a greyhound.

Following the race, conventioneers returned to the Lakeland Center for the morning educational sessions, which included strategies for growing a running club, hosting RRCA conventions and championships, and Kids Run the Nation.  Lunch followed.

The keynote speaker for Saturday’s luncheon was Keith Brantly, a member of the 1996 United States Olympic Track and Field team.  Keith competed in the marathon in Atlanta.  He was also an American Olympic trials participant at various distances (5K, 10K, and marathon) in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000, competing in a total of seven trials events.

When Keith was introduced, he called Convention Director Dawn “Iron Buckeye” Decaminada to the podium for a special presentation.  Dawn is a graduate of Ohio State University and a rabid OSU football fan.  In January 2007, OSU played the University of Florida in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game and lost badly, 41-14.  Of course, Dawn has had to live with this defeat in Gator country for over three years now.  To make sure that the memory of the Buckeyes’ resounding defeat remains fresh in Dawn’s memory, Keith presented Dawn with a commemorative book, autographed by Gator Head Football Coach Urban Meyer, that celebrates the Gators’ victory over the Buckeyes in the 2007 championship game.  Meyer’s inscription reads, “Dawn, not everyone can be a Gator.  All the best, Urban Meyer.”  Dawn graciously accepted Keith’s gift, commenting that her mother had always taught her that if you cannot say something nice, just say thank you.  Dawn then told Keith, “Thank you.”

Keith’s talk focused on perseverance.  He started his career in an unusual way. At age 11, he fell off a motorboat, and sliced his heel badly.  Two years later, he was running in his yard when the radiologist who had helped him after the accident asked him if he wanted to take up running.  In high school, he ran 9:09.74 for two miles and then pursued running as a varsity athlete at the University of Florida (a four-time All-American in cross country and track), from which he graduated in 1983 with a degree in athletic administration.  He initially thought that he would make the United States Olympic team in 1984, but the running gods were unkind.  In 1988 and 1992, the running gods continued to work their voodoo, and he missed making the team by the narrowest of margins.  Finally, in 1996, the running gods were appeased and the stars aligned themselves, and Keith made the American team, placing third at the Olympic marathon trials.  He enjoyed his Olympic experience at Atlanta, finishing 28th after fading a bit down the stretch.

After Keith’s talk, conventioneers adjourned to the afternoon educational sessions, which included biomechanics/injury prevention; putting on a half-marathon/crisis communication planning; club non-running events to build camaraderie/creative group runs; working with charities/managing a non-profit organization; nutrition, supplements, and performance enhancers; and promoting a running club through writing/writing a press release.  Those who attended the session on the promotion of a running club through writing received an extra bonus:  a free copy of Hal Higdon’s new novel, Marathon.  I was among the lucky ones who came home with a free copy of Marathon, and I am looking forward to reading it soon (in all my spare time!).

Anyone who has ever attended a charity auction knows that alcohol plays an integral role in the bidding.  The trick is to get the bidders liquored up and then start the auction after their inhibitions have been loosened.  The RRCA has learned this trick.  The doors for the live auction opened at 6:15 P.M., and those who had bought dinner tickets also received two tickets for alcoholic beverages.  As soon as the doors opened, everyone with the beverage tickets rushed to the bar like wildebeests to a watering hole.  Then the auction began.  There were many interesting pieces of running memorabilia, including a pair of Nike running shoes that Athens Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi had worn during his training runs for the 2009 New York Marathon.  I had first seen Meb at the Athens Olympics in 2004 as he ran past the crowds on the boulevard leading to the marathon finish line at the original Olympic Stadium in Athens.  The shoes were autographed by Meb and included his inspirational motto, “Run to win.”  By this time, I was on my second Samuel Adams, and I said to myself, “These are not just any running shoes.  These are the shoes that the New York Marathon champion wore during his training runs, and they are signed by the champion himself.  I must have them!”

The bidding started out at $30, and I soon found myself in a bidding war with RRCA President Brent Ayer.  I questioned the prudence of a cutthroat, no-holds-barred bidding battle with my friend Brent, but quickly dismissed my reservations.  All is fair in love and RRCA live auctions.  After some back-and-forth bids, I won Meb’s training shoes for $100.  “Yes!”  I paid and proudly showed off Meb’s training shoes to the dinner attendees, fistpumping my way around the banquet room.  In case anyone is curious, I did not give Meb’s shoes the smell test to determine whether he really had worn them.  I did inspect the soles, however, to examine the wear pattern on the soles.  My examination revealed that Meb’s footstrike is very efficient, with no need for motion control.  I also notice that his training shoes look like my racing shoes.  The soles are very thin, without just a minimum of cushioning. 

Then someone asked me, “What are you going to do with Meb’s shoes?”  I did not reply immediately because I did not have a good answer.  What do you do with training shoes that have been autographed by a famous runner?  You can’t really wear them because the autograph will start to fade, and then the perspiration from your sweaty feet will taint the perspiration of the famous runner’s feet.  That would surely cause the shoes to depreciate in value.  At this point, I still do not have a good answer.  I’m thinking that I should display them in a shadow box, but my practical side tells me that they would be excellent paperweights on my desk at work.  Then it donned on me that I would have to tell my wife Ellen, who is well aware of my penchant for sports memorabilia purchases on ebay (I once bought 100 Frank Shorter Olympic cards on ebay for the bargain price of $10, as I was the only bidder) about this most recent purchase.  Well, I have some time to ponder this question.  Perhaps an early wedding anniversary present (June 22)?  Any woman can have jewelry, but how many women have an autographed pair of Meb Keflezighi’s training shoes?  Doesn’t the list of designated wedding anniversary gifts for each anniversary say that the appropriate gift on one’s 31st wedding anniversary is a pair of Meb Keflezighi running shoes?  I can see Ellen now as she unwraps the box, “Oh Honey, you shouldn’t have?”  Yes, that’s the solution!

After the live auction, the membership sat down for the annual awards banquet.  The awards banquet is the highlight of the convention.  All of the award recipients are called to the dias to receive their national awards.  This year, Ron Beasley, the youth program director for the Ann Arbor Track Club, was the recipient of the Outstanding Youth Program Director of the Year Award in honor of Kurt Steiner.  We at the Ann Arbor Track Club were beaming with pride when Ron received his award.  Congratulations to all the award winners!

My task at the awards dinner was to introduce Bill Rodgers.  In preparing my introduction, I did some research and came upon a plethora of anecdotes and vignettes about Bill.  There is a line in the movie Zorba the Greek in which Zorba is asked about life.  Whimsically Zorba observes, “A man needs a little madness or else he never cuts the rope and is free.”  Bill is a free man.

My research revealed stories about Bill’s affinity for pizza with mayonnaise, his post-collegiate encounter with smoking, his difficulty with directions, and his partying on Saturday nights at the bars of Boston.  My introduction was three pages long, and that was after editing.  Marc Zimmerman, one of our convention liasons with the Polk County Bureau of Tourism and Sports Marketing, called me on the Monday before the convention and told me in no uncertain terms that I had to shorten my introduction.  Disappointed, I was forced to leave out a lot of good material, but in the end, I tried to paint the portrait of person who eats, sleeps, and drinks running and has become the unofficial ambassador of the sport of running, the “people’s champion” as it were.

Bill’s keynote address was a sincere and heartfelt account of his running journey.  He noted that our sport, unlike any other sport, is participatory.  Nowhere in the world is there a sport in which elite athletes and back-of-the-pack athletes can participate in an event with tens of thousands other athletes of varying abilities and ages and backgrounds.  Running is truly an inclusive sport.  He acknowledged the great contribution that the RRCA is making toward the promotion of running in the United States.

Following Bill’s address, Bryan Graydon and Jean Knaack presented the 2009 RRCA National Running Awards to the award winners.  We had a great turn-out of award recipients including Roger Robinson who was there to accept the award for Outstanding Excellence in Journalism.  As the evening concluded Bryan thanked everyone on behalf of the Lakeland Runners Club, and the conventioneers and award winners were left to mingle and take even more pictures with Bill Rodgers (just in case the previous pictures did not turn out well!) and have him sign more convention keepsakes.  People talked about tomorrow and their plans to return home.

Other than a morning run at the Circle B Bar Preserve, no official convention activities were scheduled for Sunday.  As I exited the elevator upon my return to my hotel room, I noticed a group of conventioneers talking and laughing outside the room of Illinois state rep Beth Onines.  Michigan state rep Gary “Where’s the Party” Morgan was among them, and so with the intuition of Sherlock Holmes, I knew immediately that there was a party in progress.  Beth (also an age division winner in the 5K) is no slouch when it comes to parties and likes to keep the party going at conventions with her special drink:  tequila.  The 2010 RRCA National Convention was no exception.

Keep climbing that mountain and have faith.

Mitchell Garner
Central Region Director

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