A tradition like none other

Oak Park runners endure chilly weather to watch prestigious Drake Relays

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Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

Several of the chilliest days of my life have occurred in late April over the past 20 years sitting in Drake Stadium on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa at the famous Drake Relays track meet.

I was there again this year with Joe Petersen and Nick Bensen from the Oak Park Runners Club, plus Terry Nicola, doctor to many of Chicago's injured runners (which is how I met him).

Global warming? Not that weekend.

Even wearing my whole suitcase, I shivered in the stadium on Thursday evening while watching the distance events. As in Chicago, April weather can range from warm and sunny to cold and rainy. But at Drake why do we seem to catch the cold stuff?

However, in the program listing of competitors for the men's 5,000 meter run I noticed a familiar name. It was Malachy Schrobilgen, graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and an All-American runner at Wisconsin.

Sitting in the row ahead of us was a lady with her husband who asked to look at my program. She thanked me, and asked us to cheer for her son, Reed Fischer, a Drake senior, who was trying break the Drake school record for 5,000 meters. That record had been set way back in 1978 at 14 minutes flat. Last year her son came within only three-hundredths of a second, so this was to be his year to crack the barrier.

I explained why we were interested in Schrobilgen and mentioned that his dad was a member of our Oak Park Runners Club. But I agreed that we could also cheer for her son.

Both young men were among the overall leaders for several laps before Fischer and Schrobilgen moved into the lead. They ran shoulder to shoulder for lap after lap, when at the final 100 meters Fischer unleashed a huge kick, winning in 13:48 with Schrobilgen one-and-a-half seconds behind – a terrific race.

Fischer obliterated the old Drake school record, set a new personal best, and was the featured story on that night's TV sports report. It's races like that that keep us coming back.

And somehow in all the excitement we forgot about being so cold. But to shock us back to reality, the weather forecast showed temperatures in the 40s for the next day -- plus rain!  

And they were right. So on Friday the high jump and pole vault events were moved into the old Drake Fieldhouse where spectators and athletes alike crammed into limited seating areas. High school and college athletes also spread out over the fieldhouse floor, looking like a giant sleepover.

At least it was warm and dry inside. And fortunately the rains stopped in time for Friday evening's events, so it was not all bad. On Saturday, however, the rains came back at noon so we gave up and headed for home.

But someday I'm hoping for temperatures in the 60s with no rain for all three days. Please.

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