Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stirrat has come home to New Jersey

Published by the DAILY RECORD of Morris County, New Jersey
On Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stirrat has come home to New Jersey

There’s an old saying in running, “He came out of the woodwork” and for runners in New Jersey they may have thought that of Reno Stirrat.   Stirrat, who moved to Rockaway last fall from MA, actually has done no such thing.  He’s been an elite runner all his life, just not here.

Stirrat began his running right here in Morris County beginning his sophomore year at Morris Hills high school.  The 60 year old was by his own admission too small to be playing the sport he loved, football.  In his freshman year on the team he was always the fastest boy to finish the warm-up mile prior to practice.  He caught the eye of the cross country coach who teamed up with the football coach to see just how fast this kid was.

The football coach pulled Stirrat off to the side and said to him, “We’re going to see if you can really run, really run.”

Stirrat was held back for 30 seconds after the other boys took off.  “Let’s see if you can catch them.”  And he did, he beat them all.

In his sophomore year while the other boys had grown bigger Stirrat remained slight and after few sessions of practice, he realized he wasn’t going to be a football player.  He quit.  The cross country coach asked him if he wanted to run. 

“I said sure, why not?” said Stirrat.

Two days later Morris Hills had a cross country meet against Blair Academy.    Stirrat was in the JV race.  He was told to follow a particular runner who was expected to win the race.

“I ended up coming in first place,” said Stirrat.  “It came that easy.  I won the next JV race and I was put on the varsity team after that.”

His coach was Tom Skutka, who in 1955 was the first high school runner to run under 4:14 in the mile.  Skutka would put his best athletes in the mile but he told Stirrat, “Reno, you’re not a miler, but you are the best athlete in your graduating class.  You’re going to be a great distance runner.  But the mile is not your event.  I’m just putting you in there so you learn how to run fast.”

After high school Stirrat spent one semester of college and dropped out to join the Marine Corps.   His first marathon was the Marine Corps in the first year that they held the race.  He didn’t know anything about training for a marathon.  He ran three ten milers to train for it, and still finished the marathon in 2:44 on only thirty miles a week.

“That kind of debunks the theory that you have to do the long run,” he said.

After the Marine Corps Stirrat attended Iona College on a full scholarship on both cross country and track.   His time of 29:52 for 10,000 meters may still be the school record.

Stirrat is in a unique position in the sport.  He is the only American who has run a marathon in five decades in under 2:45, and one of only two people in the world who have done so. 

Not surprisingly the first three were run in well under 2:45.  Here are his stats:  1979–Rocket City, 2:19:17, 1987–Rocket City, 2:20:49, 1990–Rocket City, 2:25:17, 2007–Boston, 2:44:46, 2010-Boston, 2:42.27.  In 2020 Stirrat will be 66 years old.  While he may not hit sub 2:45, if he goes under three hours  he will be in an exclusive club; running sub three hours in six decades.  No one has ever done it.

Stirrat doesn’t just run marathons though, as New Jersey runners have noticed.  At the Miles for Music 20K on March 22nd he won his M60 division in 1:17:49.92 and topped the age grading list at 86.79%.

Stirrat was coveted by several New Jersey clubs but chose the Shore Athletic Club because that club competes nationally.  He will be focusing his racing on the national masters racing series.  He competed at the 8K in Brea CA in late February.  In two weeks he will be racing in Dedham MA at the masters 10K championship.   In order to maximize his score he will need to compete in five of the races offered.  His tentative list includes the Syracuse Festival of Races 5K in which he won his M55 division in 16:52 in 2010.  Others could be a mile race in Flint Michigan, the 5km cross country in Saratoga, the 12K in Alexandria and possibly a trip to San Francisco for the club cross country meet in December. 

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