Yes, it is a hilly, meandering route from the state capitol to the park in Stoughton.
I also had an opportunity to review and compare finishing times for Syttende Mai between yesterday and 20 to 25 years ago. Looking back it is amazing to realize how much faster the field was and what a talent magnet the race was.
My dad dug out his running diary. His entry for that the 1985 edition of Syttende Mai indicated he finished 119th overall out of 1,472 finishers and eighth in his age group (40-44) in a time of 2:12:33. He wrote he was “aiming for 2:10 but will take it.” He also mentioned his running buddy “Ron took it easy. Finished strong around 2:25.”
This was supremely humbling information. First of all, I headed into the 2006 race with a goal of finishing in 2:25. Having run the race for the second time in just under 2:37 in 2005, I knew lopping off nearly 12 minutes (by running 40 seconds faster per mile) would be anything but “easy” as it had been for Ron. But based on last year’s results, a 2:25 looked likely to bump me from 116th overall to one of the top 50 finishers.
Twenty years earlier, however, a 2:25 runner finished in 318th place.
How was that possible? The six years Dad ran Syttende Mai, from 1980 to 1985 (the official results for which he also squirreled away), he was accompanied by an abundance of fast fellas, all self-made products of that era’s heralded running boom.
Back then the elite women and old-timers were speedy, too. In 1980, for example, 24-year-old Lorraine Moller of New Zealand ran 1:55:36 and set the the women’s world record for 20 miles – and on anything but a flat course. She went on to become a four-time Olympic marathoner. That same year, Hal Higdon, who is today the most prominent American master’s marathoner, ran the race in 1:54:27 for 16th place overall. He was 48.
In 1983, future Silent Sports magazine running columnist Tom Kaufman, at 32, ran Syttende Mai in a very respectable 1:58:42. And he was beat by 64 other guys in that race! (Among them was Dan Rindfleisch who, at 29, finished in 6th place with a time of 1:46:17. Much more recently, Rindfleisch has advertised himself as “The Ironman Realtor” in the same magazine.)
In 1983, in fact, an astounding 80 runners broke the two-hour mark and the winner, James Ingold of Monroe, set a course record of 1:40:20. (That’s five minutes per mile, folks!) Now compare that to last month’s winning time of 1:53:56 by Madison’s Matt Hooley. He and the three men who followed him were the only ones to make it in under two hours in 2006.
I don’t mean to diminish Hooley’s accomplishment, because neither I nor many other runners can maintain a sub six-minute per mile pace for 5K let alone for 20 miles. But clearly the talent pool was much deeper two decades ago. How else can you explain my 45th overall place this year for running just under 2:27?
And apparently you don't have to delve that far back into the record books to be impressed. I'm told the Syttende Mai results from the 1993 and 94 races show a 2:27 would have placed you 161st in 1993 and 141st in 1994. The winning times were 1:46:22 and 1:50:10.
What's happened since? It seemed like there were a lot more runners than walkers in the total 1,150 or so participants. The resurgent Green Bay Marathon was the same day. The Mad City Marathon is next weekend. Does my generation have the same depth of talent but its diluted by so many more events?