Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Ironmen Continue Streaks
photo by: Photo Provided
WHEELING — And then there were four.
Among the hundreds of runners who will take part in the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Saturday morning, only four men will be able to claim they are an ironman, having run in all 44 editions of the race. Those men are Mike Lemasters, Pat Cronin, Tim Cogan and Dave Fiorilli.
“It feels kind of unique that, through all the things people typically go through in life — the ups and downs, injuries, family events — this is the one thing that’s basically been consistent my entire life that I’ve done every year,” Lemasters said.
Although different, the four have remarkably similar stories as to why they decided to run in the very first race and what has kept them coming back for more than four decades.
Cronin, Cogan and Fiorilli all lived in Wheeling at the time of the race’s inception and were excited to participate in a big local race.
photo by: Joe Lovell
“I was heavily into running and I ran a lot of the shorter races that were around,” Cronin, 68, recalled. “Back then, it seemed like there was a race almost every weekend somewhere. It was just the natural thing for me to do then, enter the big local race and see what it was all about. I certainly had no idea I’d be running it for 44 years in a row.”
“Everybody that I knew ran,” added Cogan, 74. “Almost every weekend we’d drive somewhere and run a race. When they started this one I thought it was great because you’re lucky to have this kind of race in your hometown.”
Lemasters, 61, lived in Columbus and saw it mostly as a way to stay active.
“I was basically working a full-time job at that point so I couldn’t really participate in a lot of high school sports,” he said. “I saw that it was on a weekend and I like to run at the time, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
After one race, all four were hooked.
“I had never experienced being beaten by that many people at once,” Lemasters recalled with a chuckle. “I thought ‘I’ve got to come back and at least do better.’ I felt like I gave it a pretty bad performance. The second year was pretty much identical, but by the third year, I had chopped a lot of time off and I had started to run a lot of other road races and this just became part of my race schedule.”
“I guess it was just the love of running,” Cronin added. “Then, once the streak got going … it was just a matter of wanting to keep the streak going and being blessed enough to have the health to do that. The other good fortune that comes in is not having any major conflicts with anything else like weddings or funerals.”
Being held over Memorial Day weekend helps, as people are generally more free over the holiday weekend. It also adds a special meaning to the race for some.
“It’s my way of paying tribute to all who have gone before us,” Fiorilli, 73, explained. “Not only veterans, but family members, friends. This is another weekend where we kick summer off and we should remind ourselves of the terrible things that occur and that life is precious. As I get older, that’s even more important for me.”
Fiorilli said he started to take notice of his ironman streak around the 20-year mark and from there, it was just a matter of seeing how long he could take it, even if his body began to disagree with him.
“It really started to take a toll then,” he said. “It was becoming a chore but, then again, I couldn’t imagine going through the summer without the Memorial Day weekend race. It became something that I’ve felt that I’ve got to keep doing, it became a habit.”
“I just can’t imagine being on the sidelines and seeing the race go by,” Cogan added. “That’s one of the strong reasons that I still do it. And I’m lucky that I can still cover the course, at least I think I can.”
As each man aged and their bodies slowed, it became less about the race and more about the event itself.
“I have no expectations for time anymore, I just have to finish,” Lemasters said. “It’s not about time so much as just finishing and taking the rest of the weekend off.”
“I guess the big difference at this age is that I’m not as competitive as I was when I was younger,” Cronin offered. “I’ve been jokingly telling people that now it’s more of a stroll than a race for me. My times have slowed down considerably…I say my goal now is to finish standing up, the times are not important to me anymore.
“It’s more of a social event for me now.”
“Like a lot of people, I used to be fast,” Cogan said. “I ran a 20K in 1:26.00 and now I’m going to struggle to get it done in the three half hours that they say is the time limit. But it’s a part of me.”
While the men have never missed a race, the race actually missed them for a couple of years, being canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. All four are looking forward to its return this weekend.
“The second year (2021), I was kind of relieved because I had just had surgery and I may not have been able to make it,” Lemasters said. “That may have been the end of (the streak) for me. Now, I’m really excited to come back because I know this year is going to be one that I’m going to talk about for a long time.”
Cronin actually ran the course by himself on the Saturday before Memorial Day each of those two years.
“I ran it both years, unofficially, when they didn’t have the race,” he said. “On this Saturday morning the last two years, I went down and ran the course. But, it’s really nice that it’s going to be more of a social event again.”
The ironman streak is a testament to each man’s longevity of physically being able to run the course each year, but there’s also a certain element of luck to it as well. Although, there have been some close calls. Fiorilli, for example, one year in the 1980s ran the race and attended his brothers’ wedding that same morning.
“I had a brother that was married in Wheeling and he got married on that Saturday,” Fiorilli recalled. “The wedding was Saturday morning so I wanted to get the race done and still be able to go to the wedding, because I was in the wedding.”
Fiorilli remembers the race began at 8 a.m. that year and his brother’s wedding was at 11 a.m.
“Back then, I was much younger and I could get around that course a lot faster than what I can do today,” he said with a chuckle. “In those days, I could do it in less than 1:20.00. Today, if I make it in three hours, I’ll be doing good.”
Fiorilli gets a bit of an asterisk on his ironman streak because one year he was recalled into active duty in the Navy. He said the race director at the time, however, decided to forgive that absence as unavoidable and allowed his streak to remain intact.
As the men prepare to run in their 44th Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic, they reflect on how they have changed since that very first race and what the streak has meant to them.
“Life is progression and it’s regression and I’m definitely in the regression stage of life,” Fiorilli said. “I see how much progress I made in the first years of this running business and now I see that, at some point, I’ll regress to not being able to run in it. I’m almost at there now.”
“It is a strange accomplishment because inevitably you get slower and it’s a race that you’re not really competing against anybody else,” Cogan added. “But, way in the back of your mind you still want to beat a couple of people.
“There’s an inner runner that still doesn’t want to come in last. I came in last in the last race (in 2019), I’d like to at least do a little better than that.”