The Roanoker - September/October 2014 - 14
R THE 360
The 40-Year Semi-History
The sad trend is more walkers, more emphasis on participation over competition and
ever-slower times. Just ask someone who's lost as much off his 5K time as anybody.
MAYBE ONE WAY TO LOOK at the evolution of the 5K run in the Roanoke area over
the years of this magazine's existence is to
consider that in running races over the span
of most of those years, my time has deteriorated from a personal record (PR) of 18:26 to
the god-awful 26:04 I ran at the 33rd Annual
Shawsville 5K back on July 4.
Naw, maybe that's not the way to look at it.
Or perhaps it is, given the overall trend
of more and more races featuring more and
more walkers and significantly slower average
times over those years.
Take, for example, the contrast at what is
one of the oldest 5K races still around. This
spring at the Vinton Dogwood Festival 5K
there were, among the 104 finishers, just four
who ran it in under 20 minutes. Contrast that,
just for example, to 1993, when there were 40
people under 20 minutes at the same race,
and seven runners under 16 minutes, among
103 finishers. (It should be noted that the big
bad Blue Ridge Marathon, which runs the
same day as the Dogwood, has undoubtedly
siphoned some speed from Vinton, but the
Go back to look for an area 5K in 1974 and
it appears the closest thing is the Salem Distance Run in August, which also celebrates
its 40th this year, and which has featured
a 5K for many years, but started out a "6.3
miles, I think it was," according to Joe Larocco
(17:10 PR), who ran in the first Salem race
and planned, as we went to press, to run in
the 40th as well.
The Dogwood goes way back as well, but
the good people at Vinton Baptist Church,
who have run it for at least 20 years, are not
sure how far. Long-time Vinton runner Patsy
Crowder (PR: 28:30) started running in 1978
14 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2014
and has been a fixture at the race ever since.
Scout for a 5K race in the immediate
Roanoke area in 2014 and you'll find one on
nearly all warm-weather weekends, and on
more than half the weekends of the whole
year. That's a good thing in a way, but there's
also an accompanying trend: At many of those
races, more than half of the participants walk.
In fact, at the Komen cancer-cure "race" this
spring, you had to pay extra "if you want to
be timed," like it was, you know, vain or something. They played the National Anthem for
the daggone walkers!
On Thanksgiving Day at the 15,000-participant Drumstick Dash, the huge preponderance are doing no dashing whatsoever. In
2013, there were about 3,000 people finishing
in under 50 minutes, by which point things
are definitely pretty strollish - leaving 12,000
people pre-walking off the T-Day dinner.
A wonderful event and family-and-friends
gathering to be sure, but maybe we should
re-name it the Giblets Meander?
Wasn't so back in the heyday of area races,
highlighted by the likes of Festival Run, the
Virginia Western 5K, the Dogwood and - just
down into Montgomery County - the aforementioned Shawsville 5K.
Which, by the way here three-plus decades
on, has somehow maintained its purity as a
race. Yes, there are a few walkers back there,
but in every age group from 9 and under up to
70-74, there are, every year, exemplary times.
I mean I finished third in the ol' 65-69 this
year, and was more than four minutes behind
the amazing Doc Weiss (16:45 PR). What a
dude, what a guy.
The secret to that race's ongoing purity as
a competitive event?
Race director Marvin Ballard (19:58 PR),
who has headed the race for all but two years
(one each for his dad's illness and his marriage)
since 1982: "I think it's a unique constellation
of little things. Things like great community
involvement, a good course that finishes well,
the fastest-family competition, and I don't
think you'll find better prizes at any race."
He's right, and on that last point, the crowd
sticks around for things like pairs of running
shoes, meals at upper-end restaurants and
a $50 bill, not to mention Ballard's vaguely
Carsonian stage schtick as he gives out those
prizes and as he awards runners, often taking a moment to recognize their past-year
achievements and family or school ties as well.
The Roanoke Festival in the Park Run,
which reached its pinnacle in the years when
it was sponsored by Dominion Bank, has been
around most of the 40 years. Talk to Bob Copty (PR: "Oh, 22 or 23, somewhere in there"),
and he'll recall the informal Roanoke Centipedes running group "sitting around over
beers in one evening in 1977 and deciding to
put on a race for festival" - a race that Copty
says wasn't a sure thing to actually happen
until it did.
That race long ago lost the crown it held
back in the mid-'80s as the area race, when it
was directed by long-time-and-still runner
Byron Yost (18:32 PR), former Dominion executive who says he's found that retirement is
what he does best, as he works on a memoir
titled "A**holes I Have Known."
Yost, who has records of his annual mileage
going back to 1983, says running "has been
an incredible blessing to my life," a sentiment
shared by many of us who began around
when he did (1979), and for the reason he
"We did it right," he says of the Dominion