Earlier this week I was scrolling through YouTube videos letting the algorithms toss old road and track races my way when a mid-80s video of the Gasparilla 15K popped up in the feed. The race featured a few familiar names from “back in the day,” but the winner turned out to be John Treacy, an Irish distance star who finished second in the Olympic marathon.
It was interesting that during that YouTube video of Gasparilla, announcer Marty Liquori noted that he’d talked to John Treacy following his Olympics marathon triumph the previous year and teased the elite runner that he’d now be tempted to “run for the money” and cash in. But Treacy told Liquori, “No, I have a plan and I’m going to stick to it.” Treacy had incredible range, winning the world championships in cross country, competing in the 5K on the track and then placing second in the Olympic marathon.
Treacy was never the prettiest runner in the pack. He had a gangly Irish look about him with pail, flailing arms. Sometimes he looked like hell and you wondered if he would keep going. But the man could motor. I was a similar runner at times.
I was watching the video of the Gasparilla race and saw Treacy break from the pack and lead all the way to the finish. On my phone it wasn’t that evident what Treacy was wearing to race that day in the rain. Then it hit me: that’s the same New Balance kit that I wore before scoring the sponsorship with Running Unlimited.
The New Balance singlet and shorts were madly comfortable. I liked the fabric feel but also the simplicity of its largely white pattern complimented by the blue mesh highlighted by a red stripe around the middle. I felt fast in it. Perhaps I wasn’t the prettiest runner in the pack. But on some days, I could motor.
I recall racing in that kit through the streets of Oak Park, Illinois on a cold, wet October day in 1983 to a 32:00 10K victory. The shoes on my feet were Nike Elites, a waffle-based racer that I’d first used in college. I wore the same NB kit later that fall at the Sycamore Pumpkin Run 10k, finishing second in 31:52 in the bright autumn sunshine. That’s one of my favorite running pictures of all time.
It was just fun to see that kit on the likes of John Treacy in that video. His was cut slightly different in the shoulders, and the singlet bore the big words “NEW BALANCE TC” on the front. I think Dick Beardsley wore a NB kit with those words emblazoned on his chest, and other elite runners as well. I still own and wear quite a bit of New Balance equipment from shoes (880s) to gear.
I never earned the NEW BALANCE insignia of a truly elite runner. As a sub-elite I had tons of fun running as fast as I could. Wearing the right kit to make you feel fast. So did finding the right shoes. It was all part of the gig in those halcyon days. We all cared a bit too much, trained a bit too maniacally and raced a little too often.
What other time in life are you going to give your all like that? No regrets. Lots of fun recollections, even if it wasn’t all pretty. And still at it after all these years. Can’t complain.