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Looking ahead to more 5K memories

Runners spread out during  the early stages of the 2013 Reagan Run in Dixon.
Runners spread out during the early stages of the 2013 Reagan Run in Dixon.

The 15th Annual Reagan Run 5K takes place Saturday, July 5, beginning at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home and winding through the streets and woods of the city center. The challenging course ends at Haymarket Square Park, with food and music, and families and friends laughing and recounting the details of the run just completed. Whether they competed for a medal or just managed to finish the run, they will take home a great memory of effort and accomplishment – not to mention a stylish dri-fit t-shirt.

It will be my 15th year of participation in “the Reagan,” and 36 years since my first road run. That first one was the Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Washington, then in its second year. Challenged by a college friend to give the 8.25-mile event a try, we both ran 33 laps on a high school track once and declared ourselves ready.

Wrong. Taking off with 5,500 other runners, it was a serious struggle to make it around the hilly course … but I was hooked.

That was in 1978, in the midst of the first running boom in the U. S., energized by Frank Shorter’s marathon gold in the 1972 Munich Olympics. The popularity of Shorter, Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine, Boston’s Bill Rodgers, and even Kansas’ Jim Ryun, inspired many thousands of us also-rans to seek out a running event almost every weekend.

The number of running events shot up quickly around the country, including the Sauk Valley. We had the Dixon YMCA Friend for Life 10K, the Rock Falls Days 10K, the Sterling Park District 10K, the Buffalo Stampede 5K/10K in Polo, Mt. Morris’ Freedom Run 10K, Oregon’s Nash Dash 5K, Morrison’s Harvest Hammer 5K and Duathlon, Ashton’s Harvest Days 5K, Walnut’s 4th of July 5K, and several others. A little farther drive away were the Oglesby 10K Classic, the Bix 7(still going strong!), and the Sycamore Pumpkin Run 10K, among many others. You more mature runners no doubt remember these runs fondly.

The fervor subsided 15 to 20 years later, as many of the above events were abandoned, but then the second running boom rapidly swept the country a few years after that. The running events that faded into memory were replaced by new events in the same communities, and are now joined by multiple 5Ks – and more – in other communities.

The combining of a running event with a charitable cause, even just to help individuals who have suffered a tragedy, has given us more than one option virtually every weekend, even in winter. Add to that fact the growing fitness awareness among all ages, and we have a fast-growing running/walking population.

The Reagan Run was started in 2000 to give Dixon a running event, and to raise funds for Dixon Main Street. With 315 participants the first year, it has grown to over 1,600 registrants in 2013, with even more expected this year.

The Kids’ Fun Run that precedes the Reagan Run at 7:30 a.m. started 14 years ago with fewer than 50 kids 9 and under, grew to over 300 last year, and has added training opportunities for the kids several weeks before the run.

The three kids in our family began participating in runs when they were ages 4, 5 and 7 in those early days of racing popularity. Now 30-somethings, they still run 5K, 10K or half-marathon events, and are involving their children, too.

The “accomplishments” of races we did together as a family often get retold. Like the Camanche, Iowa 5K, where the gun went off while our two sons were a half-mile away warming up. Or the Salt Lake City 10K, when one of them was still in a port-o-potty at gun time.

Many families will be making memories again at “the Reagan” again this year. The uniqueness of the course, the large participation, the surrounding Petunia Festival activities, and the by all accounts excellent organization of the event all add to an unforgettable atmosphere. Oh, and did I mention the stylish and memorable dri-fit t-shirt?

Welcome to your next great running memory.

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