In the Paddock

The scrap of paper, torn from one of those desk calendars you buy at Staples and jot notes on every month, passes from training log to training log every year.

Written on the paper are years and times, corresponding to starts and finishes in the annual Boilermaker 15k Road Race run every second Sunday in July in Utica, New York. The 2017 running marks the 40th edition and for yours truly it will be a dozen starts (and hopefully finishes). The July 9 race will also mark the 30-year anniversary of my first Boilermaker way back in the summer of 1987.

Summers in those days were spent at my grandparents on Lake George but I came out of the Adirondacks to join my friends, teammates and coaches for the race. We made the drive from Saratoga Springs to Utica early in the morning and were off with the nearly 3,000 other starters when the gun sounded.

I remember very little from the race to be honest, aside from being quite warm and no doubt sunburned. At one point a woman suggested I put ice on my head and my armpits, to help cool me off, and I probably took her advice.

The finish time was nothing spectacular, officially 1:19.03 for the 9.3 miles, or an average pace of 8:28 per mile. I finished in 1,364th place of 2,597 finishers. The winner that day was Mark Roberts, a native of Wales living in Casa Grande, Arizona, in 45:10 to earn a $2,000 first-place check. Budd Coates, the legendary Runner’s World coach, finished seventh.

For our efforts we received a finishers pin and a beer mug from Matts Brewing Co. painted with that year’s Boilermaker logo. Free beer was offered to all the finishers and anyone else – a tradition that continues today – but I don’t recall my 15-year-old self having even the slightest interest.

I’ve still got the pin, it resides in the top part of a small black box with other personal mementos that include a scorecard from a 1998 round of golf when I shot a 1-over 37 on the front nine at the Saratoga Spa State Park, a 1992 World Series ticket stub, two of my father’s watches, other pins from the Breeders’ Cup and even the 1994 Early Times Triple Turf and a couple Joe Montana football cards in plastic cases. The mug made the rounds from Saratoga to college, back to Saratoga and eventually to Lexington, where it was broken, donated to Goodwill or sold in a garage sale. Ah well.

Another reminder of that first Boilermaker is a couple notations from an old training log that I recorded mileage in from June 15, 1987 to June 26, 1988. Note to anyone who questioned why I kept such things: See, they did come in handy one day! (Full disclosure, as a self-proclaimed minimalist who wants nothing more than to simplify certain aspects of his life, I’m amazed I kept them, too).

On the three lines next to July 12 I wrote: “A very nice race, lots of cramps at beginning and middle. Ran strong at the end.” In the back of the book, in a section for the year’s races, I noted: “A nice race, very well done, hard course, ran with cramps mostly, humid.” Thankfully I’ve gotten over the word nice. (Note to anyone writing or describing something: Find a better word).

I returned again the following year, improving my time significantly to finish in 1:06.15 and good for 578th of 2,727 finishers. That pin is also in the black box on my desk, which was my father’s before me and is labeled as such, “Thomas J.”

The Boilermaker fell off my radar after that – and running itself before I was finished with college – and I didn’t return to Utica for the race until 2006. Ran fairly decent in 2006 and 2007 – in the 1:09 and change zone – and have yet to crack that 1:06.15 mark in nine subsequent attempts. It won’t happen on the 12th attempt either, but the goal is to top that 1987 effort. Considering a 1:11 and change for a 15k in November and some decent running in June after two half marathons in April took a toll on May training, the chances might be decent.

Whatever happens, happens. It will be great regardless to celebrate 30 years at the Boilermaker, add another pin to the collection and most definitely enjoy a cold beer at the finish. Hopefully.