WESTPORT, Conn. For 49 years, the Westport Road Runners Summer Serie s has been a seasonal rite for runners throughout the area. And for all but the first three editions, the same person, Laddie Lawrence, has directed the 10-race series of progressively longer events. He spends the other three seasons of the year guiding the scholastic runners at Staples High School.
For Lawrence, getting up early for 10 Saturdays in a row beginning in early July and concluding Labor Day weekend is a busman's holiday. A star quarter-miler at Staples and then Arkansas State, Lawrence ran in the first few editions of the series, which was created by Staples football coach Chuck Smith as an off-season conditioning program for his players. Lawrence began co-directing them as a summer job 46 years ago and has never looked back.
"I would never have thought I'd still be doing it for almost five decades," says Lawrence. "But I still enjoy it. What keeps me going is knowing how much people appreciate what I'm doing."
That appreciation has grown. In the early years, only a few runners participated; now, fields approaching 200 are common, especially for the earlier, shorter races. "There's been a huge growth in numbers, especially among the more casual runners. The competition up front isn't as deep as it used to be, but more people run the races for their health and enjoyment, and the social aspect," says Lawrence.
With that growth, the series has changed a bit, including the computerized results posted on a website . But the no-frills, low-key atmosphere surrounding the races remains, engendered in a large part by Lawrence's own outlook and demeanor. Entrants still sign up on race day for a low fee, still get a T-shirt only by placing in the Top 3 and still get a tongue depressor with their finishing place at the end. "I think some of those sticks may be from the first year of the series," he jokes.
Through the years Lawrence has seen everything, including one race held after a hurricane when runners contended with downed trees across the course. He even directed the race the day he and his wife, Katie, were married. ("Thankfully it rained that morning and only seven people ran," he says.) Two weeks ago, he hustled home for his son John's wedding rehearsal. Of more than 450 races, the number Lawrence has missed can be counted on one hand.
Although the series entries and shirts bear the iconic Westport Minuteman logo, it would be equally appropriate if Lawrence's visage adorned them instead, because he become the face of running in Westport summers.
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