by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
Long-time commuters often develop a kinship of sorts with other commuters—fellow travelers who take the same routes to and from work each day. And so it is with runners, who inherently relate to other runners who compete in our region’s racing circuit, mostly 5K events that produce not just endorphins but also fellowship.
Over many years of road racing, I’ve come to recognize familiar faces at each event, regulars on the annual 5K tour. One such stalwart is Tom Raffio, the estimable CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, who among other things is also an author and a member of the state Board of Education.
A decade or so ago, Tom and I competed in the “Clydesdale” division—for male runners who weigh 190 pounds or more. I usually finished ahead of Tom, as I always took notice of how I measured up against other Clydesdales.
But then Raffio stopped qualifying as a Clydesdale, meaning his weight dropped below 190 pounds. Concurrently, his run times improved and he regularly finished ahead of me. The passing years saw my run times incrementally get worse—but there was never a chance I’d lose my Clydesdale status as Tom did.
I wasn’t happy about this turn of events, and had some private angst about the unfairness of having to carry over 200 pounds around a race course, competing against lithe runners who had much less to carry around.
“Runners who weigh only 150 pounds should have to carry a 50 pound weight, to make it fair,” I once suggested. That proposal went over like a “lead balloon,” so to speak.
Still, my competitive juices still flowed, like at the Angels 5K Road Race in Penacook in May. Coming down the home stretch I could see Tom ahead of me, and I went into a sprint and edged him out at the finish line. (Even Venus Williams occasionally wins a match against Serena!)
I hoped for a similar result at the NHTI 50th Anniversary 5K on Oct. 3. I kept Raffio in my sights, trying to stay within 20 yards so I could kick it in at the end and steal another victory from the former Clydesdale. But as I kicked it in, Tom did likewise and I couldn’t catch him. I was going to congratulate him but he ran straight from the finish line to the parking lot, where he jumped in his car and sped off.
“He’s got another 5K to go to,” explained a fellow runner. “He’s off to do the Lions 5K in Hopkinton.”
“But he’s already run two races this morning,” said another. “He ran the Girls Inc. race before coming here for the NHTI race!”
Aye carumba! No wonder he wasn’t a Clydesdale anymore. Three 5K races in one morning! A friend of Raffio’s bet that Tom couldn’t do the three morning 5K’s in under 75 minutes, cumulatively. Raffio’s times in the three races were 20:56, 26:20, and 26:10 respectively, for a total of 73:26—which won the bet.
But there was more.
That evening Tom danced the night away at the NHTI 50th Anniversary Gala and then got up the next morning and ran a 13-mile half marathon from Loudon to Concord. That was his 82nd race of the year, as he closed in on a goal of 100 road races in 2015.
I saw Tom again at the Granite State Ten-Miler in Concord on Oct.17. I stayed ahead of the 55-year-old CEO for about a half mile but after he passed me I knew I wouldn’t catch him. He finished the race in 81:56. It took me 89:48 to get my 205 pound body to the finish line. But having just turned (gulp) 60, I figured I might finish near the top of the 60+ age category.
Not so. I was only 10th out of 20 geezers. Raffio’s personal trainer, 68-year-old Tom Walton, finished with a time of 75:51. And as fast as Walton’s time was, it still trailed the 74:30 turned in by my 62-year-old NHTI colleague, Professor Perry Seagroves.
I guess I need to take up dancing.
In addition to all the aforementioned, runner Raffio is also writer Raffio, having co-authored a book with Boston Celtic Hall-of-Famer Dave Cowens—THERE ARE NO DO-OVERS.
“Success in business is like success in sports,” said Raffio. “Leadership traits that work in athletics also work in business. I interviewed and researched many people while working on the book—from successful athletes to successful billionaires—and the overarching themes included outworking the competition and taking care of people. And by the way, Dave Cowens was wonderful to work with, a great athlete and a great human being.”
MORE ON COWENS
I once worked as a counselor at the Don Nelson/Tom Sanders Basketball School at N.H. College. Cowens concurrently had his own basketball camp at Regis College, and he challenged the Nelson/Sanders counselors to come down and take on his counselors on the basketball court. A fellow counselor from Concord named Mark Bergeron broke away for a slam dunk and hung briefly on the rim. Cowens grabbed the ball and flung it at Bergeron’s head and yelled “Quit hanging on my rim!” Cowens’ competitive juices were always flowing.
(For the record, our Nelson/Sanders team triumphed and Cowens had to buy beer for the winners. I still have a can of that PBR somewhere, one of my most prized trophies!)
If Clydesdales are male road racers who weigh more than 190 pounds, what do we call the heavier class of female runners, those who weigh more than 140 pounds? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Oct. 29 include Yankee legend Mickey Mantle (1931) and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Juan Marichal (1937).
“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” – Oprah Winfrey, after completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
Female runners who weigh over 140 pounds are known as Fillies, but unlike Clydesdales, many Fillies seem reluctant to claim that special status!
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and for NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.