Decathlon Tributes – 2017

by Tim O’Keefe

The 2017 version of the Summer Decathlon was unique in many ways -some good, some not so good. The weather was great this year…no rain threats, decent temps, and even a few breaks in the humidity. There were some great head to head races and fun relays. On the not so good side was the venue issue. After years of running at Frederick High School, the track was torn up as part of the renovation. Our Plan B school was T J but they had plans of installing a new turf surface. That meant I got my first dose of dealing with on line track reservations through FCPS. The process is not too difficult but once sent, it goes into cyberspace with no indication of what is happening with the request. Starting in March, slowly, I was denied access to each high school until we were one week from our first race. It appeared that Brunswick was the only place welcoming us. So off to Brunswick we trod…down a long path to the track that has seen its share of wear and tear. At the end of week 2 Harriet gets a bill from FCPS for three tracks that we used at the same time each Wednesday. Finally admitting that the computerized system had skunked me, I need to turn to a higher being…someone who speaks computer. I went right to the top and expressed my frustration to Lou King. What took me 3 months and multiple e mails to do, Lou was able to set everything right with one e mail done in about 3 minutes, and getting cooperation from 4 different managers AND only one bill to Harriet for the correct track. Not only that, Linganore said they would be okay with us being there…after Lou gets involved. Linganore was a near new track close to the parking with classy bathrooms. Unfortunately our stay could only be for three weeks and then it was back to Brunswick. So what happens when you move the venue out of the city? Attendance goes down. Our largest race…the 800 meters had 40 runners. The last few years that would have been our smallest race. Even the naming of the 800 as a Grand Prix event AND Brusters Ice Cream was not enough to draw a big crowd. Our smallest night was the 200 meters where 20 runners toed the line. Back to the good news …big or small, everyone that came out had a lot of fun and got in a good workout.

For those of you not familiar with the Summer Decathlon, it is held on 10 consecutive evenings starting at the end of May until August. Each night has a Decathlon event from the 200 meters up to the 2 mile. Times are recorded and then reordered based on Age Grading. Points are assigned based on the reordered list. There is also a fun relay at each race with awesome prizes like Gatorade or a jar of homemade jam. A new relay was inserted this year that involved running a quarter mile, stopping and doing 10 reps of an exercise, and repeating this 3 more times. All that work in hopes of winning a bottle of Gatorade. There is a kids fun run where each finisher gets a freeze pop along with anyone else hankering for something cold. The whole event is meant to be as competitive as you would like to make it and has a family orientation to it. There were a total of 52 males that came out and 32 females. The oldest gentleman was Art Gregory at age 73 and on the ladies side was Jeanette Novak at 73 also. Our youngest runners were Collin Basford at age 6 and Maia Medellin at age 4. Being as it is summer, vacations impact the ability to attend all 10 races but 4 people made it to every one …Ron and Bev Black, Meaghan Vance, and John Way. John has made every race for the past 9 years and has only missed one race in the past 11 years. Meaghan claims not to be too competitive BUT skipped another “more fun” event to be able to attend the final mile run.

At the previous executive board meeting, quite a bit of time was spent on the value of volunteers in the club. I had to smile because the whole decathlon evening is all about volunteers. Each race director said yes to organizing the evenings race and providing the prizes. During the races, one heat times the heat before them and someone always steps up to organize the timers and record the results. Again the fun nature of the event…everyone likes helping out. A special thanks to this year’s race directors – Lou King and Harriet Langlois, Art Gregory and Ruth Taylor, Crista Horn, Marti Grib, Cheryl and Chad Connors, Paul Christiansen, Eric Cameron and his father, and Joe Basford. Special thanks to John Way and Joe Basford for helping decide numbers of heats and for Joe’s carting all the equipment around when I was at the beach. Special thanks to Jill Cameron for allowing this to be a free event for club members, Jen Halberg for the quick publishing of results, Lou and Harriet for taking care of money, membership forms, and race sign in sheets, and to the social committee for organizing the Brusters Ice Cream treat in mid July.
To earn an award in the summer decathlon you need to run in at least 5 races and finish in the top 10 in points. 10 men and 6 women accomplished that feat this year.

Number 10 for the guys is a newcomer to the decathlon scene but made an immediate impact both with racing and helping out. 29 year old Matt Rydzic ran 8/10 races and did every relay. His youth gives him minimal age graded advantage so his points were well earned. He ran a 5:31 mile, 1:45 for 600 meters which made him second finisher, and 65 seconds in the quarter where he was third fastest. Another 29 year old and newcomer to the SD scene was Justin Ross who provided a great competitor to push Matt to some of his fastest times.

Number 9 for the men was 36 year old Chad Merrill. Chad ran 8/10 races and was often the first one there helping haul the equipment down to the track. Chad was known for his fast starts and consistency in racing. He is often a top finisher in a lot of races in the area. He took his 5:44 mile in June and knocked it down to a 5:29 in August. He ran an 11:43 two mile and 2:42 for the 800 meters. Chad loved to run in the first heat and set a fast time for the “big dogs” to chase after in the subsequent heats.

Number 8 for males was Lou King. Lou is back from injury, healthy, and at the bottom of his age group at 60 years old. He ran 7/10 races. He managed to speed through a lot of the short races despite being in marathon training mode. His 6:48 opening season mile was dropped to a 6:45 by August. He ran a 2:59 for the 800 and hit 3:56 for the 1000 for 6th place overall. Lou was also the ” data checker” making sure I didn’t make too many errors in transcribing numbers.

7th for the men was Mike Geisler. Mike managed the 7th place spot even though he only ran 6 races…that gives you an idea of how fast and good he is. At 44, Mike is still able to run with and beat a lot of the young’ uns. He runs the fast heat and races with the leaders every time. Toss in the fact that he ran the Cat 50 in an amazing time of 6:35 and you get an idea of the beast he is. By the way his CAT time this year was an hour and 5 minutes faster than last year ! His 64 second 400 age grades to a 58.6 which was good enough for 3rd. His 28 flat 200 meters age grades to 25.3 which puts him at 76.6% which is flying. Just two weeks after his CAT run, he could still crank out a 5:40 mile which age grades to a 5:12. Just this morning Mike was third overall in a hilly 5 k race with a time of 19:34.

Number 6 for the men was 51 year old John Way. John ran all 10 of the races as he has done for the past 9 years and does so for about 4 other clubs in the area. It is not unusual for John to come to our Wednesday night race after having run a race in the morning and have two more races in the next two days. AND he runs every race incredibly fast. He pushes the pace hard and has a wicked kick that I am typically the recipient of. He ran a 6:19 mile that age graded to a 5:24 and got him 5th place. He doesn’t consider himself a sprinter but he reeled off a 76 second quarter mile that age grades to a 66 effort. He hit a 13:15 three k race which was a 7:07 mile pace on a warm humid night…and probably after racing a 5 k earlier that morning. John is a stats man and can tell you how everyone is doing in the standings and what they need to run to earn a certain level of points. Despite the number of races he does, he can tell you in intricate detail every part and time of that race. Anything you want to know about running…go ask John!

6th for the women was Jeanette Novak. The 73 year old ran 6 out of 10 races and can be found in a multitude of races all over Maryland and beyond. Her 11:46 1600 meter run age graded put to a 7:00 mile and was good enough for 6th place. Her 800 time was 6:06 which age graded to a 3:36 and her 1500 meter race age graded to a 6:53. This morning Jeanette won her age group in the hilly Middletown 5 k race.

5th overall for the men was Tim Morgan. With 9/10 races and at age 66, Tim would typically be challenging for the top spot overall. But this was a rebuilding year as he was rehabbing from a Fall injury. Every week he would get a little bit stronger and most importantly- pain free. The best track of progress is the mile run at the beginning and end of summer. Tim started with a 7:25 mile and by August had knocked that down to a 6:58 mile (AG 5:18). That is still not close to what a healthy Tim can do but it was progress. His 800 meter time was 3:10 (AG 2:25) and his 600 meter time was 2:15…good enough for 6th overall. No doubt he will be back at full strength soon enough.

In 5th place for the women was 51 year old Brenda Jacobs.  Though only running in 6/10 races, Brenda stayed competitive through the entire season. She ran the 1500 meters in 7:25 (AG 6:10) which was good enough for 5th place. Her 3:51 800 meters AG to 3:23. And with a note to her speed on the track, she flew through the 200 meters in 44.1 seconds…AG 36 seconds and 5th overall. Brenda is also our MVP at the finish line. Her organizational skills in aligning timers with runners and then recording each finish are unmatched. I’m not sure what her occupation is but I am sure she is the boss!

Holding the 4th spot on the men’s side was 37 year old Joe Basford. With 7/10 races was always near the top finishers. No matter what the competition, Joe was always with the leaders and often was the leader. His 2:25 800 meters put him just a few ticks away from the eventual winner. He ran 2 miles in 11:49 which was sub 6 minute pace on a hot evening. As for speed, his 26.9 was the fastest of anyone and the only one in the 26’s. Joe was also the relay king. No matter how challenging the decathlon event, Joe always found more in the tank for his leg in the relays.

Tied for 3rd place on the ladies end was 49 year old Pam Geerneart. Pam was so dominating that with only 5 races she managed to stay within striking distance of the top. AND she did this while training for her upcoming ultra races. Pam’s 15:05 2 mile AG to 13:03 for a 3rd place finish. At 1500 meters she logged a 6:24 – AG 5:27 for another 3rd. Her 87 second 400 AG to 72 seconds…and surprise…3rd place. Pam is a former president of FSRC and now works on making club runners better educated in the art of running.

The amazing and ageless Art Gregory captured 3rd for the men. At age 73, Art’s 8 races put him in the mix of the top runners. There were a variety of names that popped up for winning the races when age graded but the name that showed up most was Art’s. And for good reason. When you look at the % a runner gets for any race, you are seeing where the runners falls compared to the best at that age. Most of us have good races and fall in the 40-50% range. A really good race would be in the 60’s or low 70’s. To be in the 80% range you need to be amazingly fast. Art’s races are in the mid to upper 70% with two races putting him at 80%. That is phenomenal! Even crazier…Art is blazing on the track at the same time he is racking up miles for the CAT 50 k where he finished in 9 hours and 11 minutes. Out of his 8 races, Art won 4 of them and placed 2nd in 2 of them. Art ran 7:01 for the 1600 which AG to 4:56…the only one record a sub 5:00 time. At 1500 he ran 6:51 AG 4:30…a win by 4 seconds. One of his 80% efforts came in his favorite event…the 400 meters. His time of 77.7 AG 53.8 was 5 seconds faster than 2nd place. That is a huge gap in a one lap race.

In a third place tie for 3rd was 31 year old Meaghan Vance. A 2016 FSRC award winner, Meaghan used all 10 races to secure a top three spot. Meaghan downplays her running prowess but her consistent pacing puts her up front in every distance. Being young means she gets few AG points and in fact was the only non-master runner in the top six women. The consistent pacing part? How about a 6:54 mile in June and 6:53 mile in August. Both times she was the second fastest female. She ran a 3:01 half mile which again was faster than everyone except one runner. Meaghan finally did capture that top spot as her 3:58 1000 meter was 4 seconds faster than the 2nd place.

In second place for the men was me. At age 64 I am injury free and wanted to be sure the decathlon did not change that status. A trip to the beach gave me 9/10 races and a glimpse at the top spot. If you enjoy competing, you would enjoy the situation I found myself in this summer. Ron Black and I have typically been pretty close to one another time wise. This provides great motivation in training and makes each Wednesday night race truly that…a race. Ron had been coming back from an injury that produced 2 years of nonrunning and rehab. He was on the cusp of getting back into race shape. Neither one of us were any threat to the leaders…in fact it was rare that we even ventured into that final fast heat. I took the first three races of the season but by race three, Ron was coming into his own. No matter how well I felt I ran, Ron was always a bit better…sometimes by only a tenth of a second. So, I am not the champion but I did win! The majority of races I ran were better times than I have run over the past two years. You don’t usually do that at age 64 but I have Ron to thank for that push to work harder.

On the ladies side, the runner up was Ruth Taylor. The 49 year old ran 7 out of 10 races and still managed to press for the number one spot. Ruth is another CAT runner where she finished at 8:55. Not only did she prepare for CAT but she came into the decathlon recovering from an early spring injury. Ruth started the series with a 6:46 1600 meter run which AG to 5:46 and second overall. An amazing 800 meters was in 3:02 AG 2:43 and 3rd overall. In a show of speed her 400 meter time was 83 seconds AG 69 seconds for one lap. As summer finished, she is injury free, has CAT behind her and ready for a fantastic Fall.

After 2 years of being MIA in the running scene, 62 year old Ron Black is back where he left off – the champion of the decathlon. Ron rarely, if ever, missed a summer race and this held true this year as well. Ron literally raced himself back into race form and came through the summer with no issues related to his previous injury. How much did he progress in the summer? His 6:55 mile in June was easily surpassed with a 6:31 mile in August. One of the incredible things about Ron’s decathlon series is that he did not win any races. In fact, his highest finish was 2nd and he only did that once. BUT 7 times he was in 3-4-5th and those points added up. His second place finish came in the 800 where he clocked a 2:52 AG 2:16. To show he had no effects of his injury, he ran a 32 second 200 m that AG to 25 seconds. Ron showed he has his road speed back also as he won his age group this morning with a 22:40 5k on the hills of Middletown. You’ll be seeing a lot more of Ron!

As with husband Ron our women’s champion is used to that top spot on the podium. 57 year old Bev Black is back and stronger than ever. She also ran all 10 races but probably didn’t need them all as her point total was nearly the same as 2nd and 3rd added together. Bev won every decathlon race this summer. That in itself is spectacular but throw in the fact that in three of the races her AG% was higher than all the competitors…male and female! She did not have any race that was below 75% and one was as high as 80%. Remember that most of us mortals are in that 50-60% range. Every race she ran this summer was a highlight but a few to mention were: 15:21 for the 2 mile AG 11:57 – the only female to crack 12:00. The 800 in 3:03 AG 2:28…a 14 second win over second place in a two lap race. Finally a 1500 meters in 6:19 AG 4:51…not only the only lady to crack 5 minutes BUT 34 second lead over 2nd place. This morning she was one of the top female finishers in the Middletown 5 k and easily won her age group. I’m not sure what is in the water in Fairfield, PA but they need to bottle it and share it with the rest of us slugs.

Again I would like to thank Jill for making this possible and all the Steeps who both ran and volunteered to make the races go as smoothly as they did. This was the 26th year of the decathlon series and Lou has already told me to start working on reserving the Frederick High School track for next year. All are welcome to join us and if you really want to be competitive, join Ron and Bev and pry some of their training secrets out of them.