By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
While some racers will focus only on what’s ahead of them Saturday at the 35th annual Clark Lake Run, John Sissila is running the 12k as a way of remembering what’s behind him.
Sissila was the Jackson High School cross country team captain in 1959, and he hasn’t run a race in the area since.
The 67-year old is traveling from his home in Maryland thanks to an invitation from an old friend Walter Reed, and this trip marks his first visit to Jackson in at least 20 years.
He has run 19 marathons, including three Boston marathons, and he is a co-founder of the Montgomery Country Road Runners Club, home to over 4,000 runners just outside Washington D.C.
He said he is really looking forward to his first distance race in almost 10 years and seeing all that has changed in Jackson County since he last visited.
He said he fondly remembers his days at Jackson High, where “the team was good, but not championship good.” One particular memory sticks out from a race against Ann Arbor High School.
“The leader from Ann Arbor had to keep slowing down a little bit to find out where the course was — it went through Cascades Park — so I was gasping for breath and telling him where to go, until a quarter-mile from the finish when he said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Sissila said. “He finished in first, and I had one of my most memorable races ever.”
This weekend’s race promises to be memorable as well, with record-breaking cash prizes and the largest throng of runners the county has seen this year.
Race director Pat Dwyer has been an active planner of the race festivities since the second race 34 years ago. He said “maybe 30 people” ran in the inaugural event, and he already had 472 runners pre-registered as of midweek.
For the 18th consecutive year, the race will host 12k and 5k runs, a 5k walk and a kids run.
Small cash prizes will be awarded to podium finishers in the 12k and 5k runs for the under-40 age group and over-40 group.
Also up for grabs is cash for setting course records. Age group records are worth $50 in both runs, the over-40 course records fetch $75 and a new overall course record setter would walk, or in this case run, away with $100.
The 12k and 5k men’s records are 36:13 and 15:08.1, respectively, while the women’s records stand at 42:57 and 17:31.7.
The course has changed over time, but one thing that has not is the presence of very fast runners at Clark Lake, Dwyer said.
“Back then the only people who ran were true runners,” Dwyer said, referring to the mid-1970s. “They ran faster than hell, and there weren’t many recreational runners.”
This year, the Michigan State University men’s cross country team will compete, as will Andrea Pomeranski, an Indianapolis native who trains in Michigan and already has qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
“Her 5k time a few weeks ago in Grand Rapids is about 40 seconds faster than our fastest-ever time,” Dwyer said. “She’s going to run the 12k, and she has a real good shot at the women’s record.”