As readers of my blog, some of you may consider yourself privy to the articles I’ve been writing for the MDRA’s magazine. Of course, others probably don’t give a damn, especially if you don’t live in Minnesota. Well, it’s that time again. Below is an article I just finished about the history surround the club, the Minnesota running scene and the magazine. Thanks to Jim and Eric for providing some, much needed, feedback on my (very) rough draft.
The Minnesota folks may want to wait 2 months until it’s in print. The non-Minnesota folks may have already hit their “back” button. In either case, if you make it all the way to the end, there will be a cool “link” waiting for you – for you listening pleasure.
MINNESOTA DISTANCE RUNNING HISTORY (not the actual title)
Maybe you missed it. I know I nearly did. As I did a little research for this article in early March, I noticed that it was the same day that the MDRA was born, March 12th. Happy 46th Birthday, MDRA, or as it was called back then, MRRC – Minnesota Road Runner’s Club.
As I wrote in my last article, I may not be a history buff, in general, but I love to read about running history. That got me thinking, “What’s the history behind the beginning of the MDRA? What was the Minnesota running scene like at that time? And how has the magazine you’re holding in your hands changed over time?” This article will try and take us back to the ‘60s and ‘70s to shed some light on those questions.
Is there a better way to start a running club than with a race? The “5 mile” race (later measured to be 4.6 miles) was held at the Columbia Golf Course and seven runners finished. After the race, the club held its first meeting, in the friendly confines of the parking lot. During that first year of existence the club had nine dues paying members and put on 14 races. By the end of the second year, memberships (20) outnumbered races (17). While MDRA still continues to organize about 20 races a year, their real growth has been in the number of memberships, which are approaching 3,000.
You may have heard of some of the races sponsored by MRRC at that time; Fred Kurz Memorial 10-mile Handicap Race, which is arguably the oldest continuously run race in the Midwest. I say arguably because some people give that title to the Lake Johanna 4 miler, which actually moved from the Columbia Golf Course, site of the club’s first race. There was also the Raspberry 5 miler, which still takes place every July in Hopkins. As for marathons, the 1963 Land of Lakes Marathon was the first marathon in the Twin Cities in over 50 years. The race had five entrants and three finishers. That’s a far cry from marathoning in Minnesota as we know it today.
While those three events are fairly “normal”, the same can’t be said for every race during that timeframe. Apparently the ‘60s and ‘70s were a popular time for racing on the track and relay races. For example, here are some events that you just don’t see anymore; 10-mile, 20K and 1-hour, where runners try to run as far as possible in 60 minutes, all on the track. As for relays, there was the 2-man/10-mile relay where runners alternated 440 yard repeats and the 24-hour relay where teams of 10 alternated running mile repeats for an entire day.
Even other events that were “normal” had strange things about them. For one, Certification didn’t seem to be a big deal as numerous races were run at unique distances. I found results for races ranging from 1.3 miles to 8.2 miles to the Jackrabbit “15” which was certified at 15.202 miles. And it’s not just the distances that were unique, the categories were as well; sure there was the open race, but there were also races specifically for girls, coaches, women and even joggers. In one such event, the first three finishers were not eligible for awards because they finished under the “jogger minimum” time limit of 12 minutes for the 2 mile “race”.
Obviously with all these races, the club needed a way to disseminate news and information to its members. In 1967, this magazine – known as the Minnesota Distance Runner newsletter, at the time – was born. It was billed as, “an infrequent, but worthwhile publication of the MRRC.” And it was “published at infrequent intervals 4 times yearly according to the mood, whim or training schedule of the editors.” Keep in mind that 1967 was prior to the internet-age. Therefore, the newsletter was the best and probably only place where runners could find a race schedule, entry forms, and results. They could also find an occasional article within the pages of the newsletter, like “Heat Hazards to Runners” and “Living with Winter Weather.” An interesting side note; this was the same year that another publication, Distance Running News, was also born. You probably recognize it as Runner’s World.
Overall, those newsletters were really no different than today’s RunMinnesota. What was different was the overall feel of the newsletter. Given the relatively small number of runners at the time, the newsletter had a distinct close-knit feel to it. There was a lot of “inside” information distributed throughout the issues. In some instances the newsletter was even used to “call people out.” For example, they published a list of names whose memberships would expire “if they don’t fork it over.”
Another example was aimed at a race director, “If you’re looking for the race results for the trackorama 10,000 meter race, so are we. Race director Ron Daws has still to turn in the results (nearly 3 months now). In case you’d like to express your concern…” The article proceeded to list Ron’s home phone number. This was definitely an interesting approach. It’s even more interesting if you take into account that Ron Daws was Olympian Ron Daws. Try and imagine this magazine chastising a current Olympian and then listing their home phone number, and nowadays, email address, so you could voice your displeasure directly.
In addition to “outing” people, the newsletter was also used to remind runners to be safe. A somber example; “Remember that damned few of the driving public are track fans and you’re in an awfully poor position to argue about your right of way with 3500 pounds of steel and glass coming your way at 50 mph.”
I mentioned that the newsletter was the best place to find race results at that time. Looking through these old results, three things jumped out at me. First, some people have been involved with the sport for a long time, like; past MDRA presidents, Jack Moran, Rick Recker, and Dave Kuehn, Dennis Hahn, whose photos often grace the pages of another local running magazine, top local coaches Dennis Barker (Team USA Minnesota and Augsburg College), Steve Plasencia (University of Minnesota), Scott Christensen (Stillwater), Rick Kleyman (Armstrong), and Grandma’s Marathon Race Director Scott Keenan. I won’t disclose their ages. Let’s just say all their names appeared in the race results a long time ago.
Second, lots of today’s top runners followed in the footsteps of other family members; recent Olympic Trails Marathon qualifiers Mike Reneau and Pete Gilman have fathers (Jeff and Allen, respectively) whose names appeared near the top of the results 30-some years ago. A quick scan of recent results shows they’re still finishing near the top of their age group. Another name from the past is Greg Yetzer, father of probably the fastest sister-trio around, Rebekah, Annie, and Elizabeth. Of course their mother, Mary, an outstanding runner in her own right, probably had something to do with their speed. One last name that I easily recognized was Kempainen; only this time it was Olympian Bob’s older brother Todd. Knowing how this sport works, I’m sure there are many other similar examples that I missed.
Finally, prior to looking over the results, I was sure that I’d see Olympians Ron Daws and Garry Bjorklund, along with sub-2:12 marathoner, Steve Hoag’s name at the top of every race. While they did win their fair share, there we a lot of other guys winning too, like Tom Hoffman, LaVerne Dunsmore, Chuck Burrows, Glen Herold, Chuck Ceronsky and Don Timm. When I asked Hoag about that he said; “Yes, winning was pretty spread out, due to the talent here. Interestingly, for every name you mentioned here, I can come up with 3 or 4 names equally as good; Mike Slack, Garrett Tomczak, Bruce Mortenson, Jim Ferstle, Dennis Barker, Mike Seaman, Van Nelson, etc. There was incredible talent in this area at that time, and deep.”
Hoag went on to mention how the following local women were also nationally recognized; Jan Arenz, Val Rogosheske, Alex Boies, and Jill Hanson. These are the women that would blaze a trail for other top local women, including; Olympian Janis Klecker, Grandma’s Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon Champion Jan Ettle, and the one and only 6-time Olympic Trials Marathon finisher, Bev Docherty, just to name a few.
While the MDRA is going strong, it wasn’t always clear how much the club would prosper. Even 13 years after helping to start the club, Pat Lanin had reservations about where it would go from there, “I don’t see MDRA dying. I think that it’s going to make it. If I had really built up an organization that was worthwhile, it’ll keep running long after I’d stepped down. I think that the thing is viable on its own and it should, hopefully, last. There are just too many people who at least seem interested enough not to let it go. I can’t imagine it dying.”
Indeed there have been, and still are, people interested enough in the MDRA to not let it die. Whether you were at that first club meeting or just became a member, you are responsible for the club’s success. Here’s to the next 46 years.
Alright, as promised (hopefully you didn’t just skip ahead), check out Pandora.com. It allows you to key in a musician and then it creates a play list of similar artists – for free. I’m not positive how they determine “similar artists”. The other day I punched in Neil Young and an hour later I was listening to Hole. But if you're in need of some new music while at your computer, check it out. Thanks to Scott for the link.
Quote of the day;
“Mind is everything: muscle – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.” – Paavo Nurmi