---- — NORTH ANDOVER — The North Andover 4th of July Road Race is now back at full throttle and that’s fantastic news for runners.
This old geezer of a reporter has very fond memories of this race. I think the first time I ran it was in 1993 or 1994. At the time, I was working as a counselor in a program for troubled teenagers.
I persuaded two or three of the teens to run in the race with me and they had a good time. They also seemed to be pleased that they could actually start a race — on a very hot and humid day — and finish it.
For the next several years, I ran a race just about every Fourth of July. Sometimes it would be the Jennifer Tinney Race in Boxford, a 5-miler; and sometimes it would be North Andover – and ALWAYS the 10K when I ran in North Andover!
In addition to the heat and humidity — I cannot recall a North Andover 4th of July Road Race when the weather was not hot and humid — this race challenges runners with a steep hill just minutes after the start.
“Is this (expletive deleted) hill ever going to end?” I muttered to myself many times as hundreds of other runners and I huffed and puffed our way up Johnson Street. When I crossed the finish line on Massachusetts Avenue, however, I was always glad that I’d run the race.
Unfortunately, no good thing lasts forever and that includes one’s career as a runner. For more than 30 years, I was passionate about running. Too bad I never, ever had the talent to match that passion!
I even ran three Boston Marathons, in 1990, 2001 and 2002. My best time was about 5:30 in 2001.
Again, I never claimed to have any talent as a distance runner — but I loved the sport!
The mere discovery of a road race that was A, within an hour or so’s ride from Ipswich; and B, at a time that did not conflict with work, church or other commitments, would make me ecstatic.
For the last 10 or more years of my running career, I weighed more than 200 pounds. That extra weight takes a toll on one’s joints and I was no exception. For maybe a year, I began to sense pain in my right hip whenever I ran, so I’d grab the troubled joint with my right hand — and keep running.
Finally, in November 2011, everything came to a head. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I ran the Turkey Trot in Essex, an 8-kilometer race that rewards participants with clam chowder and other good stuff at the finish. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, I headed down to Manchester, Conn., where I spent my youth, and ran the 15,000-runner, 4.7-mile Manchester Road Race.
I felt that pain in my right hip, but kept on running. After I crossed the finish line, I was limping and I continued to limp right up until March 13 of this year, when Dr. Hugh O’Flynn Jr., orthopedic surgeon par excellence, removed my badly damaged hip and replaced it with an artificial joint.
O’Flynn described the joint he removed at Beverly Hospital as the “Third World” of bad hips.
The limp is gone, but so, for the time being, at least, is my running career.
When I heard that the North Andover 4th of July Road Race was making a full-fledged comeback, thanks to the Borderline Running Club, I was excited. I think it was back in April that I made up my mind that I was going to walk the 5K, but maybe, possibly, within sight of the finish line, try to break into a brief run.
It was wonderful to pin a number on my shirt for the first time in many months. I walked at a brisk pace, but I reminded myself, “Walk, don’t run!” While still on Johnson Street, Selectman Bill Gordon, a very respectable distance runner, shot past me like a freight train, saying, “All right, Paul!” or something to that effect.
When I got to Massachusetts Avenue, with the finish line in sight, I tried to run, but quit within a couple of seconds. It didn’t feel right.
Then I tried to fire it up again and again it still didn’t feel right. So I walked across the finish line with a time of 49 minutes, 28 seconds.
Even during my last running days, I could usually do a 5K in the low 30s, if not break 30 minutes.
I had secretly hoped that I’d be able to run across the finish line. It wasn’t meant to be, not this Fourth of July anyway. I am thankful, however, that I was able to walk the 3.1 miles.
And thank God, while my running days may be over, I can still ride my bicycle.
Most important of all, I’m thrilled that the North Andover 4th of July Road Race, which began back in 1979, has made a triumphant return. Even if I can no longer run it, I will always look forward to walking it. So what if the young studs leave me in the dust!
Congratulations to the Borderline Running Club and North Andover. Let’s keep this great race going!
Paul Tennant is the North Andover reporter for The Eagle-Tribune. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.