Arts Fest Roadrace

Traditionally, local road runners celebrate the Arts Festival with a Sunday road race. The race is now a 10K event coupled with a 5K fun run but in its early days was a much more demanding 10 miler. It’s been a long long time since I ran it but it used to be one of things that I always looked forward to. Once I got past the Phi Psi 500 in April, the next running event that I looked forward to was the Arts Festival 10 Miler.

The race was actually one of the first things that really bonded Tod Jeffers and I. I’ve related to many the story of how Tod and I met before the Phi Psi 500 (I’ll save documenting that story for another day) but I’m don’t think I’ve told too many in the family about our Arts Festival races.

The very first Arts Fest race was held in 1976 and was a large 10 mile loop that started and finished on campus. When I showed up at the start of the race in 77, Tod was the honorary celebrity starter for the event. When Tod saw me warming up before the start, he ran over and said “Are you actually running in this thing?” When I responded affirmatively, he said “Well if you can do it, I can too.” He then added that as soon as he started the race he was going to rush home, change his shoes and meet me out on the course.

Sure enough, about 15 minutes into the race, Tod pulls up behind me in his car, parks it and jumps out. In those days, Tod didn’t have a pair of real running shoes but he changed into a pair of “sneakers”. At this point we were two miles into the race and far enough out of town that he could just leave his car parked on the side of the road. That left eight miles to go – and if you aren’t a regular runner eight miles isn’t an easy thing to pull off.

I slowed down a little in order to not stress Tod too much and things went well – for a while. After about another 4-5 miles, Tod was in noticeable pain. When I asked if he was OK, he said he was having trouble with his legs rubbing together and chaffing. I told him that was typical and that I and many runners put vaseline on our legs to avoid that. That immediately started Tod thinking.

At the time, the race course ran through a little small town just outside of State College called Houserville. Many of the Houserville residents were outside on their front lawns supporting the runners as they ran by. Tod spotted this old couple sitting on their lawn chairs right outside their front doors and turns to me and says “wait here a second”. Tod ran up to the couple and politely asked if they had any vaseline available. The old man pulled himself out of his chair, disappeared into his house for a minute and reappeared with a BIG jar of KY Jelly. Tod dipped his hand into it, slapped it on his thighs and rejoined me (I had been jogging in little circles in front of the house waiting for him). He remarked to me “I took one look at the couple and just knew that they had a bunch of petroleum jelly around”.

The jelly worked wonders and Tod bounded forward with newfound energy. That newfound energy lasted about a mile or so and then he started dragging again. I will give him credit though. He did manage to gut it out and finish the race though but he was really hurting. He actually missed work the next morning for the first time in over 10 years when he was so sore that he couldn’t even get out of bed.

That experience did turn Tod into a more serious runner though. From then on he started training a little more seriously and he and I would run the Arts Festival 10 Miler every year.

That leads to another Arts Fest story. While Tod and I would run every year we weren’t very serious about it. We would always show up at the start of the race with a cooler of beer and hydrate with a beer before the start (Tod and I subscribed to the George Sheehan theory of beer being the perfect replenishment fluid for runners). After a couple of years of the 10 mile loop, the course was changed to two laps around a five mile loop. That worked perfectly for Tod and I because we could now stop at our beer cooler after 5 miles and down another beer before continuing.

In those days the race was dominated by a former Penn State runner, Greg Fredericks who was a two time Olympian. Greg would run away with the race every year and used to have to find new ways to motivate himself. One year, Tod and I, as would be our norm, completed the first five mile loop right around our standard 43-45 minutes. We stopped, had a quick beer, chatted with our girlfriends and took off for the second lap, leaving sometime around the 46-47 minute mark. By the time we finished it was sometime a little after the 90 minute mark.

When we asked who had won the race, we were told that Fredericks won in a runaway as usual but that he wasn’t happy with his finish. The first thing that he asked as he crossed the finish line was “Where’s Fall and Jeffers?” When told that we had just left, he responded “Damn, I wanted to lap them”. Greg’s fastest time for the 10 mile race was 47:37 but this year he was a couple of minutes off that pace.

Here is a report on the race the year that Greg Fredericks set his personal record time. The article is by another friend of mine Dennis Gildea who some in the family may remember from my wedding. He’s the guy who wrote the story “Mr Fall of Fame” and was one of the instigators of the Phi Psi 500 Hall of Fame hoax pulled on me (second generation Fall Family members will have to wait for another time for me to detail that incident). Dennis sums up how we all approached road running in those days when he ends his article with this quote

Quite a bit more can (and will) be said about this race, but it will not be in today’s sheet by your Mirrow track scribe. Your Mirrow scribe finished 102nd in 69:10 and then got on the business side of several Tuburg Golds to replace the precious bodily fluids that seeped out of him over the 10 miles.

My running days are far behind me now. Given the current condition of my knees I will be ecstatic if I ever reach a point where I can just walk eighteen holes of golf again. Nevertheless it was fun reminiscing about the old days.