Welcome to July and the heat and humidity that come with this time of year.
But something is missing. Actually, a few somethings are missing.
Saturday is supposed to be one of the biggest sporting events Cedar Rapids hosts each year — the Fifth Season Road Races, better known simply as the Fifth Season 8K. But an event that survived even the historic floods of 2008 — albeit on Labor Day — couldn’t beat the coronavirus.
This year’s race has been canceled. And other July road racing standards — the Midnight Madness in Ames (July 11) and the biggest of them all, the Bix 7 in Davenport (July 25), have gone virtual.
This was supposed to be the 34th running of the Fifth Season, a Fourth of July staple through the streets of southeast Cedar Rapids. While it’s a race I haven’t run or even attended for many years, it’s always been a big deal to me personally and The Gazette sports pages generally. My youngest son, Benjamin, was born during the 1989 race. I still remember sitting in the waiting room, race number pinned to my shirt and my wife telling me “go ahead and run, this is going to take awhile.”
I didn’t run.
But I’m not alone in my passion for this race. Cal Murdock, who once handled all the timing for the race and remains its unofficial historian, penned the following as an intro to his year-by-year breakdown:
“Summer in Iowa isn’t complete without Fourth of July traditions: warm humid weather, spitting seeds from homegrown watermelon and watching fireworks blazing the skies with family and friends. Add to the list — Fifth Season 8 kilometer.”
The Fifth Season has been special to all runners in Eastern Iowa, especially in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area. While it’s never reached the status of a Bix 7, it’s “our race” and something serious road racers — and many, many more recreational runners — had on their calendar each year.
While the race has attracted some of the best runners in the world over the years, this event was always about the local runners, the Iowans who sneaked through and won it from time to time. Most runners don’t race for money or even medals. Most run for the camaraderie, the friendships forged on the road and the chance to possibly pass that one runner who always seems to be a step or two in front of you.
While I still run — or rather jog — I rarely race these days. But I miss everything about race day, toeing that line with butterflies in my stomach and streaking down that finish chute.
That’s what most will miss Saturday.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share a little history — thanks to Murdock — and rekindle some memories for the running community and possibly those who sat in their yard, raised their flags and cheered when runners flew past on Bever Avenue or through downtown.
Joesph Kipsang and Nan Doak (not yet Doak-Davis) won that first race in 1987. It drew 638 finishers. Keith Brantly, who would go on to run the marathon in the 1996 Olympics, won the race in 1987 and ‘88, setting a still-standing record of 22 minutes, 49 seconds in ’88. Doak-Davis won again in 1989, setting a then-record of 25:57 — a time that still ranks fourth.
Jeff Jacobs became the first native Iowan man to win the race in 1990.
Jump ahead a few years and you get some of the best and most popular women to run and win this race, including Libbie Johnson, another future Olympian, in 1996 and Kris Ihle in 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2001. Ihle’s 25:55 win in 1997 ranks third all time.
Jump ahead a few more years and you have former University of Iowa standout Diane Nukuri-Johnson, who won the race twice, including a 25:50 win in 2012 that ranks second all time. Cynthia Limo set the women’s record of 25:48 in 2014.
There are many other familiar names, including Rod DeHaven (1993 winner), native Iowan Dan Hostager (’94) and Simon Sawe (2000, ’01 and ’03) on the men’s side and Janis Klecker (’91 and ’92) and former ISU standout Bonnie Sons (’94 and ’00) on the women’s side.
The 2007 race drew a record 2,263 finishers, including 1,342 in the 8K. That ranks second to the 1,360 8K finishers in 1997.
Lots of good races, lots of hot and muggy mornings. Lots of good memories.
Here’s hoping the 2021 race goes off without a hitch. I may even have to join the fun again.