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Demo Derby

by Hal Higdon

Blaam!Returning to our hotel after the Standard Federal Bank 10-K in Grand Rapids this July, I noticed police cars and barricades. I paid them little notice, figuring they were part of race traffic control.

Back in the room, I glanced out our tenth floor window. Our room at the Amway Grand Hotel looked north upriver toward a construction site. An old auditorium was coming down; a new convention center would take its place. A number of people sat on the lawn of the Gerald R. Ford Library across the Grand River. Their presence puzzled me. I heard a countdown begun on a loudspeaker: "10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1...." I wondered: "What's this all about?"


Suddenly the building just north of us vanished in a cloud of dust.


A chunk of debris bounced off the window--or maybe it was a shock wave, because the window remained unbroken. It happened too fast for me to be frightened, but for a moment I thought I was in Baghdad.

When the dust from the blast settled, the building had disappeared. It was gone! I later learned it was the Grand Rapids Auditorium, built in 1932, site for various concerts, plays and operas. No more of that: The Fat Lady had sung! Too bad the organizers at Standard Federal Bank didn't warn everybody in advance about the explosion. It would have made a great race climax. The Amway Grand could have sold all its north-facing rooms to runners wanting grandstand seats to the demolition.

The race for me went smoothly. This is the second year for the SFB 10-K Series: four races at that distance run during the summer in the state of Michigan. The first 10-K was Lansing in June. After Grand Rapids in July, we would go to Kalamazoo in August with the series final at Auburn Hills in September. As a spokesperson for the series, it is my pleasure to run all four races in addition to giving pre-race clinics.

It will be hard to duplicate the Grand Rapids experience, even without the explosion. I live in Long Beach, Indiana, only a mile south of the Michigan border. Racing in Michigan is both natural and easy for me. Grand Rapids is less than two hours drive by expressway. Arriving with my wife Rose at the Amway Grand Friday afternoon, we met Carey Pinkowski, race director for The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon and organizer of the SFB 10-K series. We walked across the street for dinner at the Bulls Head Tavern with several members of the Hansons Racing Team. I sat next to Kevin Hanson. We discussed the expansion of his team to soon include support for female runners. Brooks Shoes would provide sponsorship funds to make that possible.

Flat, Fast and Scenic

Last year's SFB 10-K in Grand Rapids was contested over the hilliest course in the four-race series. That undoubtedly scared some runners away. For this year, Pinkowski prescribed a flat, fast and scenic course that headed north along the Grand River, U-turned near the 3-mile mark and returned south, crossing the river twice in a last-mile loop. I started in the back row, taking roughly half a minute to cross the starting line after the gun sounded, trusting the ChampionChip to sort out my exact time.

The weather was near perfect: a bright sun in a clear sky, but with temperatures near 70 and very little wind. I fell into a smooth rhythm and clicked off the first four miles within a few seconds of each other right at my goal pace. I ran near a runner with a red-white-and-blue shirt and a ponytail. We didn't talk, but I keyed off him, he on me, one of us sometimes dropping behind, sometimes pushing ahead.

By the fifth mile, I began to feel like the Fat Lady was sitting on my shoulders. My pace dropped. Ponytail moved ahead. The only rise on the course in the sixth mile allowed him to pull away. But I caught and passed another runner crossing the final bridge over the river that took us back to the start/finish areas. I ran more than two minutes faster than my 10-K time from Lansing the month before. I even won my age group, because the three runners who beat me in Lansing stayed away.

We take our victories where and when we can get them. Driving home after the post-race party, I began to plot the training that would allow me to improve on my times in the final two races in the SFB 10-K series. That is, if the Fat Lady can stay off my back and if I can pick a hotel where they're not blowing up buildings next door.

Hal Higdon is a Senior Writer for Runners World and a training consultant for The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.