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Harry Murphy & Handicap Races

by: Alma Ramos

Note: The Saturday Morning Fun Run  in Clove Lakes Park on 9/23 will be held in conjunction with the 6 Hour Ultra Marathon and will be a handicapped 3 mile race.

Under former Coach Harry Murphy of the Prospect Park Track Club, I got to enjoy firsthand the pleasures of Handicap Races, between the years of 1986-1992.

For those of you who didn't know Harry, he was the kindest, sweetest, most knowledgeable man in Brooklyn. He knew everyone (and everyone knew him.) He could quote your race stats, as well as stats dating back 50 years! He was a contemporary with Joe Kleinerman and Kurt Steiner, and was one of the founders of the NYRRC (serving as the VP back in the early days.) He also ran over 40 Yonkers Marathons, and numerous Boston and New York Marathons. I can attest to the grand old trophies/loving cups and medals filling a closet, and room, in his Brooklyn apartment.

Harry "adopted" me as his granddaughter (he'd never married), and I happily called him Grandpa. He'd meet me rain or shine in Prospect Park at 4:00 pm (11 am in the summer) for my daily runs. He'd be my coach, timing me, telling me what/how to run, writing down my splits, etc. I'd be alone for those workouts, but it didn't matter to Harry. He was there for all of us, any time of the day, any day of the week, for any number who chose to come. That's why we PPTCers loved him so much, and I know that they continue some of his traditions today.

So, now you know Harry. Being from the old school, a Handicap Race was a tradition. Come Race Day, Harry would be seated at a bench with his hand painted, cloth numbers for us (we always gave them back afterwards.) He knew everyone's stats, so already had our times posted on sheets, along with our starting times. Now came the excuses from those coming to sign up (no entry fee): "Aw Harry. I can't start with that time. I hurt my ankle yesterday....I twisted my knee last week...My back hurts...I have a stomachache..." It didn't matter. Harry was firm. You'd run that time before, so this was your starting time now.

He'd line us up in rows behind the starting line. Slower runners took off first, to our cheers, and the next row would move up. Harry would be on the side, with his stopwatch ready. The runner with the fastest time was "Scratch." I remember the year I was Scratch. I felt so alone back there as I waited my turn to move up to the start. It was fun, though, trying to see how many runners I could catch who'd started ahead of me.

Afterwards, the winners received Harry's medals. He sometimes recycled medals he'd won himself in former years, so they were a great honor to receive. He also gave medals in various other categories as well. Following the awards, the party began, PPTC style. We hung out in the park for a long time rehashing the race and how we'd felt.

Now, I'm a member of SIAC. Harry had passed away in 1993, just months shy of his 80th birthday, but he's alive in my heart. Whenever I run, and especially in Prospect Park, I still remember him. I even dedicated a stone to him at the Carousel for all Children in Willowbrook Park. So, Staten Island has a part of him here too.

Therefore, it seems fitting for SIAC to be holding a Handicap Race on Sat. Sept. 23. Those of you who've never experienced one, will come away with the same fond remembrance of it as I have. Unfortunately, I'll be away that weekend and will be unable to participate. So, do me a favor. Run it for me, and let me know what you thought. I'm sure you'll agree you'll want SIAC to do more of them. I know I do.

So, happy running at the SIAC Handicap. But remember - no excuses! Take your starting time & have fun with it. Scratch guy or gal, see how many you can catch! Those of you who get to start first - run fast, and run your best. Everyone wants to catch you, so don't let them. Those in the middle, use the same strategy as those in front. Remember - Scratch man/woman wants YOU!

Alma Ramos