I ran in the very first Shamrock Shuffle on March 16, 1980. It didn’t look like that picture. We ran through Lincoln Park and there were about 1,000 runners. I was 28 years old.
It was my first competitive race. A year before I had knee surgery to repair the ACL I tore playing basketball. After I recovered from the surgery (full leg cast for 8 weeks back in those days), I couldn’t play basketball at the level I had before, so I decided I would become a competitive runner. My knee surgeon thought that was a bad idea. He said I would wear out my knee.
My training program was very scientific. I ran south on Sheridan Boulevard from my apartment to Loyola and back as fast as I could. I thought there were 10 blocks to a mile, so I figured I was running well under 6 minutes per mile. I decided to test myself on the Loyola ¼ mile track and discovered I wasn’t as fast as I thought.
Walking to the el one day in January I saw an ad for the Shamrock Shuffle 5 Mile Race (no metric system back then). I figured that could be the launching pad for my competitive running career. My goal was to run 6-minute miles.
I was excited. I ran the first mile in 5:45, which was way too fast. I was still under the 6-minute pace through the second mile, but fading. By mile five I was dying. I finished in 33 minutes, 50 seconds for a pace of 6:46. I was 169th (no age groups back then). I remember being very disappointed in my performance.
I ran in three more races that year, always with the goal of breaking the 6-minute barrier, but fell short each time. After that summer, I didn’t race again for 14 years.
On the 4th of July weekend in 1999, my neighbor Ricky Byrdsong was shot and killed two blocks from our home by a white supremacist. The next summer his wife Sherialyn started the Race Against Hate 5K in Evanston. I signed up as a small gesture of respect for Coach Byrdsong. It was a great day of community participation and it inspired me to start racing again.
I started competing in triathlons in 2005 and I have now participated in over 150 races. I even made it to the Boston Marathon.
In March 2020, I wanted to run in the Shamrock Shuffle again, but COVID shut it down. I signed up for the St. Paddy’s Day 5 mile run, which was held near Lincoln Park, just like my first race. Every other race in Chicago had been cancelled. It was an eerie experience. I drove to the race and parked 30 yards from the start line. That doesn’t happen in Lincoln Park…ever. There were only a few hundred participants.
I had an unrealistic goal as I always do. I wanted to run the 5 miles in under 40 minutes – an 8 minute pace. Proving that I have learned something in 40 years, this time I didn’t go out too fast. I finished the race in 37 minutes and 30 seconds for a 7:55 pace. My Garmin data revealed that the course was only 4.7 miles long. My real pace was 8:05. But it’s not my job to measure the course so I’m going with 7:55. Mission accomplished.
That was three years ago. If I ran it today my goal would be a nine-minute mile. The toughest competition I face is that younger version of me. I just can’t beat that guy. He’s stronger, faster, and better-looking.
But maybe I’m smarter. Or at least more experienced.