The Fun Run

NOTE: This article was written in 1977, some months after I had run my first road-race (and written a popular account of it, The Roadrace). This was my second road-race, and my new magazine employer (New Look magazine, a Gainesville, Florida entertainment magazine) wanted me to write a similar article. It's normally not a good idea to repeat yourself, as every movie sequel quickly proves, but I agreed, and this somewhat less-successful effort was the result...

Unsafe at Any Speed
Could a talentless hack of a runner do good in an honest-to-God footrace? Could a talentless hack of a writer do good describing it afterward? We'll see. "But no matter," Hauser says, "I get paid either way."

If the 1977 Gator Gallop proved anything, it's that distance always outruns the man. But it's fun to try anyway.

At least it's fun before and after the race. During the run itself, though, forget it. Run-for-fun, hah. I've had more fun cleaning a catbox.

But there's something strong enough to drive 1,600 reasonably sober, nominally rational Gainesvillians to punish themselves for two miles, bludgeoning their cognitive faculties into a catatonic trance of drooling senselessness.

Yeah, but that's the answer there, I guess. That's the appeal. By God, it's fun to push yourself through the whirlwind. It leaves you with an intimate knowledge of yourself that you can never really find until you take that acid test. And the run becomes a truly great occasion when, like the Gator Gallop, it's one in which everyone can take part. The sun was out, the runners were feeling high and there was nothing but clear road ahead.
Another free T-shirt
The only other race I'd ever entered was the ten-mile (16 km) Sun Run last February. I was pitifully unprepared for that one and I paid the price. I had been training by running a leisurely three miles a day and had never run ten miles in my life.

This time I was ahead of the game, running a hard five to six miles a day, and only entering a two-mile (3.2 km) race. This was it, right up my alley. Set to go. Hot to trot.

Or so I thought, anyway.

I would never even have gotten in the shape I was in if I didn't start running a month before the race with my friend, George, who was doing five miles a day and surviving. George is good to pace with, but he has this disturbing habit of wanting to sprint the last three miles. He calls it good exercise. I call it showing off.

Every day it would be the same: George cruising back home, not bothering to stop for annoying distractions like breathing, with me following about ten steps behind, wheezing, gasping, weaving glassy-eyed all over the road like some heat-prostrated French Legionnaire staggering out of the desert inferno.

"Hey, that was a good run. Not tiring at all," he'd say.

I'd mostly stare at the ground, occasionally emitting unintelligible raccoon-like sounds.

It hasn't been easy, that's for sure. And to make gloomy matters worse, it's been hard to stay in training due to my totally self-decimating lifestyle: working to ungodly hours of the night for a certain local Feature/Lawnmower Repair magazine. Pedaling my bike home in the hours when all the bars are closed and the only people still up are the Sundowner motorcycle gang yukking it up at the Waffle House.

"Two up with hashbrowns, seaboard!"

I ended up missing runs for as much as five days at a stretch. But I still thought I could pull it out. This would be my crack at revenge for being clubbed to death by the Sun Run. I would run the two miles at a six-minute-mile pace and finally redeem my somewhat rumpled dignity.

Besides, there was a free T-shirt for every finisher. And, since I was representing New Look in the race, the management potentates even consented to let me have one of the company T-shirts. Hell, for two T-shirts I'd run to Jacksonville to pick up a carton of milk.

There was one extra problem for me on race day, however. To my discredit, I let George drag me over to the Backstage bar the night before and, not trusting the alcohol to wreck havoc on my running performance, he kicked me in the shin to complete the job. He claims it to be accidental. Believe me, I know better.

I awoke strung out and with a case of the "trots".

I arrived at the assembly point at the track in that perplexing condition and, to make matters worse, I unwittingly decided to do some pre-race stretching. The first time I lifted my leg onto the steeplechase hurdle, my thigh launched into a frenzy of spasms. And to my absolute horror, I stood there charly-horsed, done-in even before the sound of the starting gun.

But we harriers, as we like to refer to ourselves when not calling ourselves thinclads, are a hearty breed, and not ones to be deterred by mere physical disabilities.

So I sort of hobbled around, looking at the bright carnival of joggers and runners. A quarter to a third of the runners were women, which was nice to see.

Many runners were doing warm-up laps on the UF track. Others were stretching, talking, laughing or psyching up for the approaching start. It was fun to see so many runners milling around, like being reunited with long-lost family. And such a variety of people were there -- from eight-year-olds to those in their forties.

The Ried Co-op (a student-housing co-op) from campus had a contingent of about a dozen guys; no training, just a lot of enthusiasm. They thought it would be good advertising for their co-operative.

Rawlings Fourth Floor (a UF student dormitory) had a big group, whose members had some weird, unpronounceable name lettered on their shirts.

Finally, like one great flowing amoeba, we all started pouring into the street to start the race. The crowd was unbelievably huge, filling the street from sidewalk to sidewalk for blocks.

The sight sparked those golden memories and I spontaneously began chanting "Out now, out now" (NOTE: an anti-war chant from back then. Yes, that was a long time ago).

George, I and another runner, Steve, tried to squeeze into the first few rows. The excitement was buzzing through the crowd as we stood there. Then, with a muffled pistol crack, we were off, the whole mob screaming in delight. Almost immediately, Steve stumbled in front of me and almost fell down under my feet.

I tried to set a believable pace, and George and Steve sprinted away like whippets. The first few hundred yards were uphill and everyone was running too fast for me and I felt terrible.

A little kid tripped and fell to the pavement, and a crowd of runners helped him up. The first three quarters of a mile were excruciating. The distance was too long to sprint and too short to jog.

At the one-mile mark my breathing finally began to catch up with my heartbeat, and I passed the marker at exactly six minutes, right on schedule (this would be 3.7 minutes per km).

But it was too much. I just didn't want to finish. I was trusting in Newton's Law of Inertia to push me along for the last mile.

A girl came up and passed from behind and a guy near me went into a whole routine. "Hey, a girl's passing me! I can't let that happen. I'll just have to pull ahead," and he put on some speed. But he couldn't keep it up for long, and she eventually passed him again, much to his displeasure. Sorry, Charlie.

The last half mile I wanted to pick up my pace but I just didn't have the energy and I finally crossed the finish line at 12:18. George was way up there in the top fifty at 10:19. Steve came in just a little behind me.

I finished a little off my expectations but I was close and ended up in the top third or so, which is fine with me. The winner was Byron Dyce at 9:05. Really good. I can't even run that pace for one mile.

What a trip on the lungs that race was. George, Steve and I went off to change clothes and we were all sneezing and hacking away like some TB ward.

Run-for-fun, yeah. Someone set my iron lung on cruise-control, I'm going to sleep.


  1. I remember New Look Magazine ... since I was the editor! Great seeing this old picture of the hippie Keith in the glory days. Keep up the great work on this site. And keep on running!