Spence takes American masters record in stride

August 14, 2003|by ANDY MASON

Sure, McDonald's might go out of business, and the bars might even start closing before 2 a.m.

But if everyone became a little bit more like Steve Spence, the world might still be a better place.

Greatness and modesty rarely go hand in hand the way they go leg over leg with the 41-year-old Spence, the 1992 Olympic marathoner and the head track and cross country coach at Shippensburg University since 1997.

At the 15th annual Tom Ausherman Memorial 5-Mile Run in Chambersburg, Pa., last summer, Spence, no surprise, was right in the thick of things - as a volunteer worker. Some woman even vomited on him as she crossed the finish line. Spence shrugged it off and kept working the chute.

Spence was back at it Saturday for the race's 16th edition. Though, this time he opted to run it, even though he'd have to face an elite international field with only about two months of training under his belt.


Four-time Boston Marathon champ Bill Rodgers probably wishes Spence had stayed on the sidelines. Because, upon further review, it appears that Spence broke an American masters (40-and-over) record set by Rodgers in 1988 in Indianapolis.

"It's pretty cool. I didn't expect anything like that," Spence said. "I knew my fitness was pretty good, but I had no aspirations of running anywhere near that fast Saturday."

He caught everyone so off guard that his record-breaking performance wasn't immediately realized.

Spence - who was the second American and sixth overall in 23 minutes, 47 seconds - thought the American masters record for 5 miles was 23:45. So everyone, including race organizers and media, just went with that, assuming he missed the mark by 2 seconds. Because who would know better than Spence?

As it turns out, everyone was wrong. There isn't even such a thing as a 5-mile record.

But there is one for 8 kilometers (4.97 miles), which USA Track & Field, the official bookkeeper of American running records, says Rodgers owns at 23:51.

So Spence's time, even before a conversion, is superior to Rodgers'.

"If you convert Spence's time, that's 23:40," said David Monti, editor and publisher of Race Results Weekly and the New York Marathon's elite athlete coordinator. "It's quite remarkable for a 41-year-old man."

Some paperwork should now be the only thing standing in the way of Spence and the record book, assuming John Tuttle's 23:25 from 1999 never gets ratified by USATF.

"Why would a mark from 1999 still be pending? It seems odd," Monti said. "Assuming Tuttle's doesn't get ratified, Spence's becomes the U.S. record."

Monti said course legitimacy, often an issue with USATF, shouldn't be one here.

"I checked the Ausherman course," he said. "Not only is it certified, it's legitimate."

So, Spence - who once owned American records for 12 and 15 kilometers back in his heyday of pro racing more than a decade ago - is back at it again. His effort in Chambersburg Saturday was worth $200. Similar performances at higher profile races can be worth a whole lot more.

"This past weekend he could have been at the Falmouth (Mass.) Road Race, where the masters winner won $3,000," Monti said. "If you look at what happened there, he would have easily beaten any of the Americans by at least a minute."

But don't look for Spence in the national running spotlight again anytime too soon, because that's not what's important to him these days.

He's more focused on Ship's upcoming cross country season, which will likely take another big bite out of his training time.

"After the race, I thought about Falmouth. Three grand would have been a lot nicer than 200 bucks," Spence said. "But I'm running now because it's something I enjoy.

"We'll see in the fall. Cross country could be the end of it. I'll just take it one race at a time ... and maybe break some more records along the way."

Andy Mason is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at

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