Keeping pace with the past

Race times have changed at the Frank Lloyd Wright Races for several reasons

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

I've always had a soft spot for the annual Frank Lloyd Wright Races here in Oak Park. The Wright Run 10K was my first-ever road race back in 1979, and I've participated almost every year since then. In its earlier years there were some significant problems, but in recent years the Wright Runs have been a well-organized, popular family event hosted by the Park District of Oak Park. And these days I'm grateful for the addition of the 5K to the original 10K since my arthritic knee can no longer handle the longer distance.

This year on a perfect October fall day, I ran the 5K (slowly), retrieved my stuff, and strolled over to watch the finish of the 10K. As the leaders crossed the finish line, I was interested at how few ran under 40 minutes. That got me curious; so when I got home I dug through my old race records.

With the Wright Run as my home town fall race, and within easy walking distance of home, many of my best 10K times were set here over the years, including my all-time fastest 10K here (38:20) in 1989, placing me only at a very modest 70th out of 876 runners overall, and 8th of 80 in the men's 45-49 age group. That result could only have been considered better than average in a very competitive field. 

However, at this year's Wright Run 10K that time would have earned 7th overall, and would have easily won the men's 45-49 age group. I don't have overall results from that 1989 race, but the old Oak Park Boulevard Run 10K only a month later had 167 runners finishing under 40 minutes, including 12 women. The 2015 Wright Run had 13 finishers under 40 minutes, including one female.

I don't want to sound like one of those old guys always talking about "back in my day," but what's happened with runners these days?

One friend suggested that with multiple races scheduled almost every weekend, perhaps there are now so many choices that the top runners don't show up at the same events. However, I have also seen statistics showing that there are more runners now than ever before, but race times are consistently slower. I recall a few years ago when the director of the Chicago Marathon said that average finishing times had increased from 3:30 to 4:30 over the past 20 years. There are also far more marathon participants. 

And some say that running has evolved to more of a social activity than a competitive sport, resulting in increased overall participation, but with slower overall results.

I confess to definite mixed opinions. On one hand I miss the intensity of the previous running climate, even though I was usually far out of medal contention. On the other hand it's hard to fault those who enjoy running as a healthful and social activity with less concern over competitive results.

Either way, I urge everyone to keep running, regardless of your pace (but faster is better). And maybe I was just born 30 years too soon.

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