To paraphrase the old West Point ballad made famous by General Douglas MacArthur upon his retirement, “Old track and field sprinters never die …”
They just keep turning up in local road races, hobbling and griping their way through the obligatory miles, if only for the sheer joy of that final kick to the finish line, imagining themselves to be Usain Bolt for the last 200-meters or so.
It only stands to reason, as there are about a million 5Ks across the country each year, but the opportunities to race on a track — to hear that gun and lunge off the starting line, to hug a turn in lanes and make up a stagger — are few and far between.
That’s partially why the Godiva Track Club’s Summer Track Series — so rare, so special, so successful — consistently draws more than 100 runners to each of its Wednesday night meets.
“Running some 5K is just not the same as running an 800 or a 1600 on the track,” said Tina Clossic, who ran at the first of Godiva’s 12 Summer Track installments last Wednesday on UNC’s Belk Track. “That excitement of passing and catching somebody: it’s inspiring. Or the fear of someone coming up behind you and catching you, like someone did to me in the 200-meter today.”
“To feel that foot speed, hugging the turns, coming through and feeling that adrenaline rush at the finish is so different,” added Clossic, who lettered in track at UNC and currently runs distance through Fleet Feet Carrboro training programs.
The Godiva Summer Series track meets offer a menu of different races on Wednesday nights in events ranging from 100-meter dashes to 5Ks. The 2015 season began last week and runs for 12 weeks, finishing up on Aug 5. Running each Wednesday on UNC’s Belk Track beginning at 7 p.m., the meets are open to anyone, including children as young as toddlers and people in their 70s and 80s.
All ability level and all age runners are welcome, Godiva members and non-members alike, and $1 donations are welcome, but not required.
Meet events follow two different schedules, separated into “long nights” and “short nights,” which run alternately throughout the summer.
A “long night” schedule of events — offered on June 3, June 17, July 1 and July 15 — consists of a mile run (usually 3 heats), 200-meter dash (in lanes), a one-mile racewalk, several heats of the 800-meter run, and a 5K (3.1-mile) run.
“Short nights” — on May 27, June 10, June 24, July 8, July 22 and Aug. 5 — will offer three heats of the 1500-meter run, the 100-meter dash (in lanes), a 1500-meter racewalk, 400-meter dash (in lanes), and a 3000-meter run (7-½ laps, or just under two miles).
Runners self-seed the heats at all meets according to their own competitive expectations and personal bests. Young children typically run first, and the competition level escalates with each successive heat, often with elite talent gracing the final races in each event.
Those who complete in at least three-quarters of the races (no more than four per meet) over the 12-week series earn the prestigious Godiva Ironman award.
Longtime Godiva summer meet director Charles Alden said that the meets are following the traditional format this year, with the exception of one midsummer meet on July 29, when events will follow a theme celebrating Godiva’s four decades of existence.
“This is the 40th year of the Godiva Club, and we’re trying to do celebrations to mark that anniversary,” Alden said. “Every year we have one meet with odd races to celebrate midsummer. This year, because the Roman number for 40 is ‘XL,’ the theme for that meet is ‘Excel in XL — Celebrating 40 years of Godiva Greatness.’
“In that meet, all the race distances are somehow multiples of 40,” Alden explained. “There’s a 40-yard dash; the 1600-meter run is 40 times 40. Then there’s a 4x400-meter relay, which is always popular, and the final race will be a 4,000-meter, or 4K.”
Founded in 1975, Godiva was named for the Coventry Godiva Track Club in England by its founders, which included a UNC Morehead scholar from England. The Summer Series, began just three years after Godiva was founded.
Godiva offers an annual Running Start Program for those who are new or returning to the sport. The club also presents popular running events like its fall cross-country season races, a slate of winter cross-country runs, and regularly scheduled group runs most days of the week.
Godiva’s May 17 banquet looked back at the previous year for members, complete with a dinner celebrating age-group awards, its Winter Series awards, and Fall 2014 cross-country awards. The Godiva website stated that Godiva’s 2014 Female Runner of the Year was Jess Broglie, while Greg Sousa was named Male Runner of the Year. The Volunteer of the Year was Richard Wolfe.
Alden said the Summer Series, like Godiva’s annual awards nights, feels a little like a family reunion.
“I’m inclined to say, ‘Happy New Year, (to everyone),” he said, adding that the series draws runners of all ages and abilities. “Last year we had runners aged 1 to 84-years old. The first time we run a 100-meter dash is great to watch, because the younger kids are all over the place.”
And for every runner on the track, there is a different set of goals, motivational factors, and running stories.
“I joined Godiva, but I was once the fat girl on the track team — I ran the 800—but I weigh less now than I did in eighth grade,” said Heather Cooper, who now works in pathology at UNC Hospitals. “I’m dabbling tonight: I’m running the 800 and maybe the 5K.”
For former UNC runner Dave Mabe, the goals were more concrete.
“My goal was 4:50, but I thought it was 1600-meters (instead of a mile),” Mabe said. “I ran 4:51.45 though. I’m pleased with it.”
“I’m going to go do a workout now,” Mabe said, shortly after his mile run, adding that his next big race will be the Run with the Bulls on May 30.
Adam Sutter, a former Chapel Hill High runner and current assistant Tiger track coach, last Wednesday was about getting re-acquainted with racing.
“It’s been two years since I’ve been in an actual race on the track,” Sutter said. “I was running with Dave (Mabe) for the first three laps. Then I hit the fourth lap: I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is why I should’ve been training.’”
“I’d run around a 5:23 on the Chapel Hill High track wearing trainers,” said Sutter, who ran a 4:55 mile at the Godiva meet. “I felt like if I got out on a good rubber track in spikes, and I do better when other runners are pushing me.”
Jonathan Crabill ran on a dare from neighbor Mabe.
“He and I ran yesterday morning, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come out and run a mile?’ I was hoping to run a 7:00, and I ran a 6:41,” Crabill said. “It’s really fun to be out among other people.”
This evening will mark the next of 11 more Summer Series meets, the rare opportunity to sate that ageless need for speed and, for some, the chance to commiserate with others thereafter.
Said Sutter: “As much as I was complaining about my race, that was probably the most fun I’ve had in quite some time.”
Want to run?
About the Summer Track Series, see www.carolinagodiva.org/