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Do Not Go Gentle...



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.


Sometimes...


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5 comentários


Quite a heartfelt journey to a return to the Shamrock Shuffle. And competing with our younger self is something that keeps us humble until the circle of our lives reach the end, eh?

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Stuart Grasmeyer
Stuart Grasmeyer
16 de mar. de 2023

But much smarter looking now that you need to wear glasses also maybe you may have inspired me to go for this local swim at our new hood https://portseasurf.com.au/pier-to-perignon/

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Len Joy
Len Joy
16 de mar. de 2023
Respondendo a

Hi Stu - thanks for reading. I probably missed it, but I couldn't find the distance for your swim. Have fun!

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Cary Wong
Cary Wong
16 de mar. de 2023

Thanks for sharing Len! I admire your persistence and of your history with the Shamrock Shuffle, may the luck of the Irish continue with you.

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Len Joy
Len Joy
16 de mar. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thanks Cary.

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