How does it feel to get beat by the same guy 42 years in a row?
I’ve been to many a Swiss Days Race over the years, but this was a plot line that eluded me until my dad, who helped start the race back in 1974, happened to mention it one day while we were working on a book about tales from his life as a banker in Amish country.
I knew about Doug Bauman’s race streak because he was a frequent age group winner and for years also helped announce the awards afterward. At the 40th running of the race back in 2013, he’d brought all of his trophies as part of a historical display.
But I never knew about Barry Humble, who’s also run all 44 races – and until last year, had never beaten Bauman, though both are former cross country runners and coaches who are roughly the same age.
I interviewed both runners earlier this summer so I’d be prepared to write a newspaper column on their long-running friendly rivalry on deadline after Saturday’s race, which took place less than 24 hours after our return from visiting my daughter in Charleston.
Though Bauman was clearly the more competitive of the two – a real go-getter as a former Marine and high school record holder – back surgery had made running so difficult that he basically doesn’t do it anymore. He was lacing up his shoes just to keep his race streak alive.
That made it seem likely that Humble, a longtime pastor and retired teacher who runs regularly and appears to be in relatively good health, had a good shot at beating Bauman for only the second time in 44 years.
That’s not how it played out. You can get the details from my column here, if you’re curious, but what really struck me afterward was how these guys both seem like sports heroes, albeit of two dramatically different mindsets.
Bauman clearly saw this as a major challenge, and he did wind up doing a bit of training ahead of time, but his performance in this race was more about having a warrior’s mindset, even at age 71.
Humble takes a more philosophical approach to running. As the fifth or sixth guy on his high school cross country team, and around the 10th guy on the squad at Taylor University, he learned to focus on improving his time without being jealous of the runners higher in the pecking order.
He runs because it makes him feel better, allows him to enjoy the occasional elephant ear without putting on weight, and because it’s fun to socialize with other runners – including a couple of guys he used to coach whom he now sees regularly in a 12-race county 5K challenge. He also enjoys using running stories in his sermons.
Could he have dug deep and matched Bauman’s pace when his rival caught and then passed him with about a mile to go in Saturday’s race? It’s certainly possible. But Humble, who rarely finishes higher than third in his age group in the county challenge races yet leads his division overall due to his consistency, was hoping to beat 27 minutes for the first time this year, and he likely didn’t want to get caught up in a chase that might wear him out.
In the end he achieved his goal – by less than a second – but that was good enough for him.