Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 8 Mar 2004 21:19:03 -0500

Pros at Work


(rerun from March 1995 RW)

This was a business trip for the visiting professional runners. Now began the last and hardest lap of their weekend.

Local runners who made up nearly all of the race field the day before were home asleep in their own beds. The pros were up early to head toward faraway homes.

This was the morning after the race, when the pros hit emotional and physical lows to balance off the highs of the day before. These runners were leaving town before the sun came up. There hadn't been time for an eye-opening run.

In this case the town was Flint, Michigan, where they raced the Crim 10-mile. In a week or two they would join the nomadic pro running circuit someplace else.

None of the runners in the backseat was speaking now. They wished the driver and his front-seat passengers, a TV producer and a writer, would stop yakking and let them doze.

One of the pros tried not to become ill. All of them tried not to think about the violent thunderstorm they would soon fly through.

Two men in the backseat were past winners at Crim, with four titles between. One finished out of the money this time, and the other didn't finish at all.

Brian Sheriff is a citizen of the world -- son of a Zimbabwean mother and Irish-American father, college-educated in the U.S. and now working in Japan for Mazda. Sheriff flew halfway around the world, only to eat something at his pre-race meal that made him ill.

He finished a distressed 18th. Getting into the car the next morning to start his trip back to Osaka, he said, "Give me a window seat. I feel even worse today and might need to make a quick stop."

Ken Martin was newly remarried and resettled in Colorado. He'd come to Flint looking for the form that had won this race for him twice before.

Martin dropped out and wound up in the medical tent. "There's nothing really wrong with me," he said later. "I'm just having trouble racing for some reason."

Both Sheriff and Martin lost the gamble that goes with being a running pro. They missed out on the cash.

There are no guaranteed paydays in prize-money races. The bigger the purse, the more competitive the races become and the greater the odds of being shut out.

Running for a living isn't as lucrative or glamorous as it appears when we only catch glimpses of the pros at the starting line, on the awards stand and in news coverage. I sometimes get more revealing looks.

I wandered uninvited into a heated discussion at Flint between race officials and Suzana Ciric. The woman came from a country, Serbia, where seventh-place money goes a long way. She was about to lose it all for cutting corners on the race course.

Even winners don't get away easily. I stood in the long line of reporters wanting to interview Anne Marie Letko.

She looked more relieved than elated with her victory. She'd moved to Atlanta to adapt to heat of the Olympic city, yet had required medical treatment after becoming overheated in the Falmouth race.

Letko won Crim six days later, then hobbled into the interview area with blood seeping from her shoes. She said, "I might be overtraining for the New York City Marathon. I ran a slower time today than my 10-mile split will need to be at New York."

She would have preferred to get out of the sun and off her feet, to shower and eat as other runners do. But Letko carried through with the post-race obligations of being a winner. This is where a pro earns her money, and it takes longer than the racing.

UPDATE. Sheriff and Martin were soon to retire. Letko was soon to become Anne Marie Lauck. The next year she would be the top U.S. marathon finish (in 10th) at the Atlanta Olympics.

No American, female or male, has finished higher since Joan Benoit's victory in 1984. Lauck would return to the Games in 2000 in an unusual way for a "marathoner" -- by running the 5000.


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