FLINT — Tens of thousands of runners have participated in the Crim Festival of Races since its inception in 1977, but there is a very small group of runners who have devoted almost half their lives or more to the popular road-racing event.
The Crim 30-Year Club is comprised of just over 100 people who have run or walked the 10-mile race at least 30 times. The membership stood at 118 after last year’s race, and 12 more are entered for the 39th annual Crim on Aug. 22 in downtown Flint.
On the Thursday evening before the race, the club meets at the ice rink next to the University of Michigan-Flint Pavilion and inducts its new members. The new inductees receive free entry into their 30th race, and embossed on the back of their official race t-shirt are the words “30-year runner,” “30-year walker” or “30-year runner/walker.” Race founder Bobby Crim will be the guest speaker at this year’s induction.
The 30-year group also gets a 15-minute head start on the rest of the field, including the world-class runners who vie for the prize money.
“As the faster runners catch us, you get lots of pats on the back and ‘Way to go, 30-year runners,’” said club coordinator
John Jerome. “It’s very nice. We usually move to the side and get out of their way. They make very little noise when they run.”
Within this group is a smaller core of 18 people who have completed all 38 Crim 10-mile races. Their story has been documented by the media more than once over the years, but the other 30-year members get little fanfare.
“The folks that have run them all have received a lot of accolades,” noted Jerome. “But everybody else, their names are never in the paper. There are people who have lived through cancer or heart attacks or suffered injuries, but have been able to reach that starting line. We want to give them the best hurrah that we can.”
This year’s 30-year inductees are James Berry, Irena Burns, Reginald Coleman, Robert Daly, George Gawthrop, Michael Jewell, James Luyckx, Laurence MacDonald, Rose Schlott, Jan Wallen, John Wehrly and Paul Wright.
Why would someone want to run 30 Crims?
“They all have their own personal reasons,” said Jerome. “Some have had people in their family that were Special Olympians (the cause that launched the race in 1977). Or there were friends at work who said let’s form a team and run the Crim. Some just do it with family members. We have husband-wife couples in the club.”
With this year’s induction class, there are now 130 different stories in the Crim 30-Year Club. Here are a few of them:
Mike ‘Flagman’ Bowen
One of the most visible runners in the Crim every year, Bowen carries a POW/MIA flag that he has run with for more than three decades. His 31-year-long mission to run one mile for each of the 58,272 Americans who died or are missing from the Vietnam War was accomplished on National POW/MIA Recognition Day in September 2013 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
The retired tool-and-die maker from Flushing has run marathons all over the country and ran his 30th Crim in a row last year, a streak kept alive despite three surgeries in 2006.
Another popular runner in the Crim, McLincha is best known for dribbling three basketballs throughout the 10-mile race. What many people don’t know is that he also has assembled an archive of every runner who has participated in the 10-mile race, complete with their years and times. It’s available at www.crim.org.
“He spent months hand-typing information from old newspapers,” said Jerome.
McLincha, a Clio resident, was in the inaugural class of 30-year runners in 2006 and is among the 18 who have run them all.
Patterson ran his first Crim in 1981 and turned in his fastest time of 74:32 the following year. The retired Delphi engineer from Attica entered the 30-Year Club last year.
One of his biggest challenges came when his car broke down at Center Road and I-69 and he did a run/walk to the starting line, which he reached in time.
Mary Ann Isaacson
Isaacson typifies the determination of 30-year runners. The Flint resident missed the 1987 race due to cancer but four years later ran her fastest Crim in 85:35. In 2001, the day before the race, she fractured three toes slamming her left foot into a chaise lounge but wrapped them up, laced up her shoes and completed the race in 98:08. In 2007 she joined the Crim Training Program and won her age group for the first time in 96:59.
Gawthrop will be among the Class of 2015. The AT&T retiree from Clio has 34 journals covering 34 years of running, in which he has recorded his mileage, how long it took and who he ran with. He averages 35 miles a week and in 2013 logged 2,133 miles.
Gawthrop, 76, does more than run. He organizes the YMCA Santa Run in Flint and started the Clio Homecoming 5K Road Race. He has done the 10-mile Crim in as little at 70 minutes and as much as 90. Last year he ran the Bayshore Marathon and qualified for Boston.
Wallen, another new inductee, ran her first Crim in 1985 and progressed to marathons in 1991 at age 50. The Flushing resident ultimately ran 75 marathons, including 19 Bostons, until giving up that distance at age 71.
But she stayed with the Crim 10-mile and has completed 27 in a row, including her fastest time of 1:21.03 in 1992 and her slowest, 2:50.48, in 2003 when she got her foot out of a cast the day before and had to walk the course.