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A Small Race in a Small Town

By Hal Higdon

Reunion weekend at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and I opted to run a 5-K race on a Saturday morning instead of following intellectual pursuits. So did a dozen of my classmates and a handful of alumni from other years plus the president of the college, Rob Oden. The race, which traced a twisting course through the college's Arboretum, attracted eighty-nine runners. A small college. A small town. A small race.

The run and walk was billed as "Saturday in the Arb with Rob and Hal." Having majored in art at Carleton, I designed the race T-shirt that featured a variation of the famous Georges Seurat painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Men with stovepipe hats. Women with parasols and petticoats. A monkey on a leash. My addition was a line of runners by the lake.

When I attended Carleton College back in another era, our president was a geologist and Antarctic explorer: Laurence McKinley Gould, second in command of Admiral Byrd's 1928 South Pole expedition. Carleton's current and new president, Rob Oden, runs. His first day on campus last summer, he ran 16 miles. "I got lost," Rob admitted sheepishly to me before the race.

"Rob," I responded, shaking my head. "You're the one we've chosen to lead the college through the millennium. You can't get lost!"

An edge in fitness

The two of us posed for photos, then the race began. Those 16 miles obviously gave Rob an edge in fitness. He rushed ahead. So did my sophomore-year roommate and cross-country teammate, Lou McMurray. Another Carleton alumnus entered was Dale Kramer, a 4:01 miler and former NCAA champion, celebrating his 25th reunion. I was celebrating my 50th and had pushed my classmates to join me, walking if not running. Eleven (including spouses) accepted the challenge, remarkable when you consider it. How many other 5-K races have 12.3 percent of the field composed of people over the age of 70?

The 5-K started and finished in front of Northfield's Middle School. After four or five blocks through residential streets, we ducked into the woods: a narrow trail, uneven, rolling, reminiscent of many happy cross-country runs a half century ago. Every so often I caught a glimpse ahead of Lou, my roommate. Throughout our years in college together, I was the better runner, but during a workout on the track two days earlier, Lou seemed now to have the edge. Nevertheless, in the second mile of the race I found myself narrowing the gap between us. Crossing a grassy field, I pulled even, then ahead, but finally decided it would be more fun to finish together. We crossed the line holding hands overhead, barely ahead of a classmate's wife, who was a power walker!

Behind were other classmates walking, some of them in their first organized "race." One, a horsewoman during our college years, said, "I never realized a running race could be so inviting."

Rob had vanished. As president, he had nineteen speeches to give that weekend. One was at a convocation scheduled in a few hours. I was due at convocation too, but didn't need to march in the front of the procession. That was fine with me. After a half century of running since graduation, I like my current position in the back of the pack.

Hal Higdon is a Senior Writer for Runner's World and a member of the Carleton College Sports Hall of Fame. "A small race in a small town" originally appeared as a Bell Lap column for that magazine's online edition. For another article by Higdon about running in the Carleton Arboretum, go to: Trails Once Trod.

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- Books by Hal Higdon