Dick Burchett’s History of Running

The following is an except from a book our longtime employee Dick Burchett is writing for his grandchildren. It primarily discusses Dick’s long running career in Danville and Lexington.

My family and I moved to Gwinn Island in 1978 and I found myself so busy I had no time or energy for sports. But these things would soon change! The Sunday of Labor Day weekend, 1981, I was reading the Danville newspaper at the dock when I came across a big ad on the back page of the paper. I read the ad carefully and learned that there was a duel taking place between a young lady, Joni Morgan, and a prominent doctor, who I later learned was Mack Jackson. Joni had been a runner at the University of Kentucky, and just been hired as a writer by the local newspaper. Dr. Jackson represented the Boyle County Medical Society, which mistook the talent it was up against in Joni. How lucky I was!

Weeks before the race started, I met these two dueling people, who would be prominent later in my life. Over the years, I grew to love them both and later would call them great friends. It was later that Mack (who owned a large farm on Chrisman Lane) cut trails and put on races and made everyone feel so welcome to just run and walk the trails on his farm. Some of the races included crawling thru culverts, blowing up balloons, and writing four lines of poetry at various stations along the running path. Anyway, back to the story. Joni went on to beat Dr. Jackson and establish herself as one of the best female runners locally. Then people had a lot of fun with the battle of the sexes, as well as young versus old. After reading the ad for the Constitution race I asked two of my employees (Ray Clark and Sherwin Prince) if they would run the race with me. With big smiles on their faces, they both said “yes.” Both were heavy smokers and they never made any effort to back up their “yes” with any foot work!

I had almost four weeks to train for this event. I started running up and down Gwinn Island Road. Training brought me into contact with other people who would later become very dear friends as well. My wife, Marge, was working as secretary at the Centenary United Methodist Church where David Hilton was the pastor, and also a good runner. Mort Hoagland, one of the nicest, kindest bankers, was in charge of the church finances. He also was just starting to run and he made me feel very welcome. This is the same Mort Hoagland that had his young daughter counting his laps in his driveway. He also did this in Bermuda shorts, until he could run for at least one mile. I was able to join up with some other runners from time to time. A few days before the big race, I went out to K Mart and bought a pair of athletic shoes. Without any advice or fitting help I bought a size 10 shoe (I now wear a size 13 and probably should have then too!). Wow, what a mistake! By the end of the 6.2 mile race, my feet were blistered badly. I will never forget this eventful race. The first mile was bad planning and poor execution. We, Mort and I, ran much too fast for the first mile and we paid the price later. The first mile, the split mark was nowhere close to being correct but it didn’t matter. I managed to hang on, but things were getting tough. Just as I got close to the Farmers National Bank, I noticed there was a younger runner who was being encouraged by some friends who had already finished. They were yelling for their friend to pass me, to pass me! Every time he tried to pass, I would speed up just enough to hold him off. By the time I went by the Hub, my stomach was screaming. The urge to throw up was acute. I did beat the other racer, but barely. I crossed the finish line in a time of 52:27. My words were, “That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I will never do this again.” I said. “This was stupid.” I didn’t like the feeling of being out of control.

For the next five days, I did not run a step. And then, Mort called to tell me there was a race on Saturday—a 7.5 mile race from Harrodsburg to Danville alone Route 127. I said, “OK.” During this race, Mort employed a new race strategy. He would run almost as hard as he could, and then he would walk. The finish of the race was in the parking lot of Boyle County High School.

Most of the people there I did not know and most had finished the race far ahead of me. I could not believe all these people sitting on the curb, so casually eating and drinking. Jim Lester, I learned later, was a prominent local runner. And he was so fast! The race director was E.G. Plummer, the cross country and track coach for Danville High School. E.G. later became a dear friend and blessed me with many years of coaching, especially after I became the cross country coach for Centre College. I learned later that E.G. was one of and perhaps best, most successful running coach in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

After the Harrodsburg race, I would jog a little bit every once and a while. Winter came, and Mort called one day to invite me to a winter run starting at David Hilton’s house in Rolling Hills subdivision. The wind was sharp; it was snowing and cold. My toboggan was crusted with icicles. As best I remember those present were David Hilton, Jim Rogan, Mort Hoagland, a young man named David, Joni Morgan and me. Our route was out Waterworks Road, to the end and back. We were joined by a beardy faced fellow who looked like a Bohemian from Russia. He had in the car with him not one, but two dogs! This stranger was Mark Morgan, who later became one of my dearest friends. We biked and ran together, sharing many heartaches and joys together. The Morgan children, Daniel, Patrick and Sam, were so nice to me and became very dear to me over the years.

Quickly, the more I ran, the more I wanted to run. I’ve been known to go out for a five mile run from my home on Gwinn Island Rd. and end up in Harrodsburg—then I was privileged to run back! Soon a group of runners were meeting every Tuesday at 5:30 at my house, and later at Roger Trent’s, also on Gwinn Island. During the winter we would move in to town, and meet at the bike shop. Later, runners began meeting at Hempel’s house on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5:50 a.m. The size of the groups ranged from seven or eight to twenty or twenty five.

There has been for a long time a big crowd of runners meeting on Bluegrass Pike at 7 a.m. each Saturday. One of the neatest things was that so many people were running all times of the day and night—you saw runners running everywhere in Danville. A run was liable to break out at any time. We even devised races that were very different. Besides the races at Mack’s, we came up with a race where everyone had a chance to win. A local runner by the name of Margaret Foley, a local attorney, complained that slower and larger runners never had a chance to win. So, we came up with a race whereby every runner had a chance to win. We named it Foley’s Frolic. The first race was a cross country race with four runners per team. Team members were of different abilities and speed. We tried to make each team competitive. We had approximately fifty runners at the first event, which was followed by a spaghetti dinner at the local Armory. Carl Westerfield, a member of the National Guard, made it possible for us to use the guard facility for cooking and race headquarters. The other race we started is a race that continues to this day. We called it The Twinkie Run, and no watches or timers were permitted. The distance is a 10k or a team of two 5k runners. To win the race, each team or individual has to predict its finish time; the team that actually finishes closest to its projection wins. Pacing was real important here—your inner clock! The event is still being held on the Tuesday nearest the summer equinox in June and it is followed by a potluck with brats and Twinkies! This race started in 1983 or 1984. To win the Twinkie is a great prize.

I have met so many absolutely wonderful people along my way, in my running life. I have traveled to many faraway places and have had so much fun with so many different people. Several runners who stand out are Mack Jackson, Larry Fletcher and Edgar Morgan. Mack was an orthopedic surgeon who was so smart, kind, and thoughtful. He was musically talented, artistically talented (painting and throwing pots especially), wrote poetry and was an excellent athlete in high school and college. In spite of his many talents, he never bragged but was always polite and humble.

He opened his farm to the use of everyone. For many years his cabin was used as a place of meditation. Mack donated space so that a real working kiln was constructed for use by Steve Powell and Centre College art students. The trails that Mack cut out were used for many years, by many people. In addition to the many races that Mack and his three brothers put on, his farm was used by many as a place to have contact with nature. His passing due to melanoma was of great and deep sorrow to almost everyone.

Another great asset of my life was meeting and coming to know Edgar Morgan and his family. Edgar was the father of Mark Morgan, and was a doctor in Louisville. Edgar was one of the toughest people I have ever known. I aspired to be as tough a person. Whatever Edgar did, he did it with full gusto. Dr. Morgan began running at the age of 65 and made a remarkable entry into the sport at the Jackson Run. Edgar’s first race was a disaster. He showed up on a very hot day with long pants, a long sleeved shirt and vest, and no idea what he was getting in to. Nearing the finish line, Edgar overheated and passed out, banging his head pretty hard on the roadway. After receiving good medical attention, Edgar licked his wounds and you knew he would be back. The next week, Edgar, along with his son Mark, returned to the race scene and repeated the entire course. Most people in Edgar’s shoes would have written off that experience and never tried to run again—but not Edgar. With time, practice, good shoes and apparel, Edgar went on to become perhaps one of the best age group runners all around. At the age of 71 Edgar ran a time of 1:46 for a half marathon. A few examples of his talent were running the Boston Marathon at age 67 in 4:17:00, a 26:58 5k at age 78, and a 35:33 5k at age 83. He also completed the Boston Marathon at 84. Edgar quit running at 89. The last few years he was known to run in a helmet with knee pads, as he fell somewhat frequently but always got up and kept going.

Once while running at 15K race in Tampa, Florida, the Gasparilla Run, Edgar got into a wrestling match with a police officer who thought he should stop running the race because he looked so bad. The police officer misjudged Edgar’s grit and determination. Nearing the nine mile mark, the officer tried to pull Edgar out of the race. During the tussle and fall to the pavement, Edgar broke his collarbone. Edgar got away from the policeman and went on to finish that race. After showering, he got in his car and drove all the way back to Louisville to have his collarbone set by his own doctor/friend.

You get the idea that Edgar was someone special, and someone that I particularly enjoyed. He was tough.

For a while, running became my identity. But, it became more. Running was a gateway to many different experiences and relationships. It was so much a challenge to work really hard and set a new PR (personal record). There’s just something great to be approaching the finish line, and you are trying so hard to catch the runner in front and stay ahead of the runner behind. It’s a wonderful and full feeling to be working so hard, and the sweat is rolling out of your body. It is also almost like a religious experience and sweating is the purging of your soul.

People often ask me, what was the hardest race I have ever done. That’s a hard question. I’ve done two Ironmans in Florida, raced up Pike’s Peak, starting at 5,000 foot elevation and ending at more than 14,000 feet. I’ve crewed across Death Valley over mountains and through desert in an event known as Badwater, for Dr. David Jackson, along with John Taylor who’ll argue that it’s harder to crew than to run the race. Badwater was approximately 134 miles, starting at Death Valley in July, the hottest and driest time of the year. But for me, the most painful race has to be the mile in Danville, Kentucky. Better at distance than short, you run your guts out and it’s over so quickly. When it’s over your lungs are screaming because of lack of oxygen.

For me, there’s been another gift that has come with running. I absolutely am convinced that all these years and miles of running have saved my life. There’s the bad experience of the dock fire, and my quick recovery. There’s also the experience of diabetes, followed by five stents and two heart attacks. I know I am here by divine providence and a high level of fitness. The divine providence is Rick Serres, randomly stopping to pick me up off of the shoulder of the road and getting me to the hospital as I was experiencing a major heart attack.

As you probably already know, I have been a runner for about 35 years. But running is much more than running to me. Running provides a gateway into our soul. On a long run, we can work out many issues and problems which earlier had seemed insurmountable. Perhaps one of the greatest joys of life is to run alongside a dear friend and listen and share as we resolve these inner problems. Running enhances our positive mental health. Running can help us learn to like ourselves and to like others.

If you are into building positive, long lasting memories, look no further than running. We have been on so many great road trips, such as the Gasparilla Race, 15k, in Tampa. We have also run in California, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Alabama, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.

People I have met and known and have gone on road trips with include, but are not limited to, the Thorntons, Roger Trent, Roger McAnley, Milton Scarborough, Ernst and Kathy Crown Weber, the Hempels, Rick Serres, the Andersons, the Morgans, Buck and Pam Rogers, and Jim Rogan. Many more included within this group include my dear friend John Sensenig.

I had just started running and was eaten up with it, when I read in the newspaper there was going to be a race in Lexington. I’d never been there but I got the phone number out of the ad—I dialed it, and John Sensenig answered the phone. He told me the race had been cancelled, and that he ran a small running shop. I went there and saw a small hole in the wall store, just a small show room in front, almost no heat, and John slept upstairs in his storage area, having just been divorced. It was winter, and I saw an ad in the running magazine for the race in Tampa and I asked the Morgans if they wanted to go—they were eager. Joni’s always been eager to go to Florida in the winter—and I asked John Sensenig, who surprised me by wanting to go. We asked Vonda Jump, one of my cross country runners, who’d never seen the ocean, and she went as well. We camped on the beach at Ft. DeSoto near Tampa. We had a good time running, riding bikes and swimming. Sensenig was so funny—as we started approaching Tampa he kept saying, this place looks familiar. Turned out he’d camped at Ft. DeSoto before! After the race we took off for home on Saturday afternoon—Joni laid on the back bench, kind of moaning which was quite unlike. No wonder. Turned out she was pregnant with their first child, Daniel. This started a lifelong friendship and business relationship with John Sensenig, my second brother.

It has been said that the ability to run well is in direct proportion to one’s ability to work hard. Talent is one thing, but grit and determination can go a long way to compensate for talent. Personally, I never thought I had much talent but I could be real stubborn. Always be stubborn for the right thing.

Dick Burchett

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