by Rob Tucker
April 11, 2013
Born To Run
"I'll get up at 5:30 a.m., make coffee and then run," said the longtime Maple Grove cross country coach Monday evening. Then, with a laugh, he added: "It's kind of a sickness, but I like it. I do it because I enjoy it."
Rappole isn't the only one afflicted.
His running partner on many of those early morning treks is Joe Campbell of Forestville, and another frequent companion, especially during the high school track season, is Jamestown attorney Rob Liebers.
That the trio enjoy running may not be particularly noteworthy; what is noteworthy, however, is the
fact that each of them are older than 50 - and make a habit of besting competitors half their age in races around the country.
Running, it seems, isn't a young man's game after all.
Given the wide-ranging ages of those competing in these racing events - the Atlanta half marathon, a race Rappole recently won for his age group (60-65), had some 14,000 competitors - a way of judging each racer's performance on equal terms soon became necessary.
Enter the World Association of Veteran Athletes, the world governing body for track and field, long distance running and race walking for veteran athletes, and its "age grading" system.
The system, first published in 1989, works by recording the world record performance for each age at each distance. Thus, if a world record for a 53-year-old woman running a 10K is 35:01, and another 53- year-old finishes a 10K in 45:18, the latter's age-graded performance is 77.3 percent (35:01 divided by 45:18). This allows older runners to compete on even terms with younger ones, and in many clubs today the age-graded champion earns as much (possibly more) recognition than the event's overall winner.
"Obviously for some old (guy) like me it's kind of fun when you look at the age-graded performance and win out of 14,000 (people)," Rappole said with a laugh. "At the Turkey Trot in Buffalo, I was No. 1 and Joe Campbell was No. 2 in the age-grade race. So the age-graded thing, it works for us."
Rappole has recorded age-graded performances as high as 87.8 percent and Campbell as high as 87.2 percent while Liebers hit the 87.4 percent plateau in a recent race at Ithaca.
Those numbers are, put simply, outstanding.
"If you're running in the 80 percent (range) that means you're running in the top two or three percent in the country," Rappole explained.
There's no denying that each of the three are fast. Very fast. But who is the fastest?
That likely depends on who you're asking, but another important factor, Rappole notes, is the race's distance.
"Rob is fast, he would kill me in the 800 or the mile," Rappole said. "But once we get to the 10K, we're about even. And anything over that, I'll beat him.
"My old legs can go for a long time at the same speed."
Among their recent accomplishments, Liebers finished fifth at the USA Track and Field National Championships in Washington D.C., in the mile, finishing in 5:06.80. And before that, he ran a blistering 5:03.51 mile at a race in Ithaca, which was, at the time, good for second best in the nation (and top 40 in the world) for his age group (55-60).
"That's just fast," Rappole marvelled. "When you're 55 years old and can run a mile in close to five minutes, wow."
Rappole, meanwhile, recently won the Atlanta half marathon and hasn't lost a race in his age group (60-65) yet; and Campbell, well, here's a sample of the acclaim he earns amongst area runners from a post by "Jay" at the Buffalorunners.com forum:
"I just recently raced against Joe in the Orienteering trail race, and yeah, wow. Just after I was starting to be pleased with my surge up the Eternal Flame hill ... Joe cruised past looking totally effortless.
"Much respect." For all three.