The 40th running of the Swiss Days Race

Think you could run a 16:30 5K -- that's a 5:19 mile pace -- pushing your kid in a stroller? Past champ Justin Gillette couldn't pull off the win, but he placed second in one of the more memorable Swiss Days duels in recent memory.

Think you could run a 16:30 5K — that’s a 5:19 mile pace — pushing your kid in a stroller? Past champ Justin Gillette couldn’t pull off the win, but he placed second in one of the more memorable Swiss Days duels in recent memory.

Along with medals marking the 40th running of the Swiss Days Race, the committee thought it would be neat if the founders laced up their shoes and ran in it for the first time in decades.

Race co-founders Jack Shoaff, left, and Dad prepare for the start of the 1-mile race.

Race co-founders Jack Shoaf, left, and Dad prepare for the start of the 1-mile race.

But it was not to be. Dad’s knee problems are older than this year’s champ, and Jack Shoaf, the cross-country enthusiast who proposed the idea shortly after he was hired by its longtime sponsor, the First Bank of Berne, back in 1973, was sidelined by a swollen hamstring.

So when more than 500 runners and at least twice that many spectators lined up in their respective places for Saturday’s race, both retired bankers were in their traditional positions: Dad at the starting line, where he’d swapped out his usual whistle for a starter’s pistol, and Jack on his moped, ready to escort the leaders.

swissdaysmedalIn a way it was fitting, because the Swiss Days Race has become an entity unto its self, bigger than any one or two people. Dad and Jack stayed in the background as younger bank officials — many of whom grew up running the race, and in some cases, still do — handled emcee duties and passed out 160 trophies and ribbons to top finishers in both the 5K and the kids’ 1-mile race.

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” Jack had said the day before as he was making last-minute preparations for the race. They‘d already run out of  T-shirts, and now he was making contingency plans in case they had more runners than finish-line medals. With several bank employees and 18 members of his own family in the race, he was figuring out who might temporarily go without until they could order more. “But not the kids,” he said firmly. “We want to make sure the kids get theirs.”

As he and Dad took a break to compare notes on the evolution of the race over the years, they returned again and again to the theme of family involvement.

Doug Bauman, 66, is one of 2 runners to have competed in all 40 races. He displayed his trophy collection at the race and picked up another one this year with a time of 23:59.

Doug Bauman, 66, is one of 2 runners to have competed in all 40 races. He displayed his trophy collection at the race and picked up another one this year with a time of 23:59.

“From early on, we wanted to make sure kids have the same kind of awards as adults, to help get kids interested in running,” Jack said.

Besides offering trophies and ribbons through 10th place in each age group, they also wanted to have a spectator-friendly race. Eventually they settled on the current course that features a 1-mile “parade lap” where friends and relatives can watch runners before they head out and back on a country road.

“As many people who come out to watch, we could almost put bleachers up,” Dad noted.

On Saturday, onlookers were amused by the spectacle of a two-man contest between Brent Bales, the senior leader of Norwell’s cross country team this year, and past champion Justin Gillette, now a professional marathoner and young father who pushed a stroller for the duration of the race. Bales eventually won — “without ever having been touched by another runner,” he told Ben, which is quite a feat given the large crowd and narrow starting line.

Colleen didn't run as well as she'd hoped, but she had fun. (More photos below).

Colleen didn’t run as well as she’d hoped, but she had fun. (More photos below).

The crowd that fueled Bales proved to be Traci and I’s undoing as our strategy of pairing a quick first mile with late-race intervals fell apart amid all the hubub. We wound up a minute shy of our goal of breaking the 27-minute mark, but we did place 10th and 8th in our age group, respectively, which was quite a surprise given how many runners there were this year.

Ben, who placed third in his age group last year but is a bit out of shape coming into this season, shook off a bit of rust with a time of 24:47. Adding to his humiliation: Our numbers got switched, so that his name was called instead of mine when the top finishers in the 40-49 female age group were announced.

Colleen didn’t break her 1-mile PR set earlier in the week, “but I had fun,” she said. “And next year I’m going to push Kyla in the stroller.”

Norwell senior Brent Bales pulled away from Gillette to win in 16:26.

Norwell senior Brent Bales pulled away from Gillette to win in 16:26.

11-year-old Connor Torson, No. 63 in the black shirt, torched the competition in the kids race with a 5:50 mile.

11-year-old Conner Torson, No. 63 in the black shirt, torched the competition in the kids race with a 5:56 mile. Probably somewhere in this photo are some kids who belong to my second cousin Greg Isch, who scooped up prizes across several age groups on Saturday as well.

Fred Whitehurst and 95-year-old Richard Beitler have watched nearly every Swiss Days race ever held.

Fred Whitehurst and 95-year-old Richard Beitler have watched nearly every Swiss Days race ever held.

Mark Shorter, longtime treasurer of a 400-member running club in Kokomo and the second-place finisher in the 60 and up age group on Saturday, said he only knows of one Indiana race that's been continuously operating longer than Swiss Days -- the Sam Costa half marathon in Carmel, now in its 44th year.
Longtime participant and frequent trophy winner Mark Shorter, treasurer of a running club in the Kokomo area, said he only knows of one Indiana race that’s been continuously operating longer than Swiss Days — the Sam Costa half marathon in Carmel, now in its 44th year.
Traci hadn't run Swiss Days in several years, but she wound up winning her first-ever ribbon by placing 10th in her age group.

Traci hadn’t run Swiss Days in several years, but she wound up winning her first-ever ribbon by placing 10th in her age group.

I had my own stroller duo to battle as the finish line approached.

I had my own stroller duo to battle as the finish line approached.

 
Due to a numbers mix-up, Ben was credited with placing in the women's age 40-49 age group.

Due to a numbers mix-up, Ben was credited with placing in the women’s age 40-49 age group.

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