By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — It was still dark when Jan Haddad rode her bicycle into the driveway at the Calonkey residence Friday morning. Haddad was there to catch a ride to a 5K in Oklahoma City with fellow runner, Steve Calonkey.
To the multitudes who were still fast asleep in bed, heading out to Stars and Stripes Park at 5:30 in the morning to run a race with a 7 a.m. start time might seem a bit… well… out there.
But to Norman runners, Calonkey and Haddad, most holidays — summer and winter — start with a competitive run somewhere.
“It’s fun,” Haddad said. “What else are you going to do?”
For a non-runner, getting up at “o-dark-thirty” and running so hard you’re not sure whether you’ll pass out or puke first may not sound like entertainment. For those who are hooked, however, the runner’s high, sense of accomplishment, friends and fitness are well worth the price of an entry fee.
“We love to run, and we love to compete,” Calonkey said.
Calonkey and Haddad are fast. Both tend to be early finishers and often win their age groups.
But it’s not just about speed for this group of friends — Calonkey is excited his buddy Don Sickles, also of Norman, started running a few years ago. Sickles runs a 5K about six minutes slower than Calonkey, but that doesn’t matter. Friends encourage each other, share running tips and track each other’s finish times.
“It’s a great group of people,” Calonkey said. “Runners don’t have an agenda.”
Haddad agrees the camaraderie is one of the biggest benefits of running. While Haddad and Calonkey run close enough to the same pace that they often train together, running friends come in a variety of speeds — the real competition for any runner is always against yourself while trying to mark a new personal best time.
Calonkey started running in the 1970s when he was a student and football player at the University of Oklahoma.
“When you reported for football, they would run you,” he said. “That’s when I found out I could run. That was before the running movement.”
Calonkey enjoyed running, and when he discovered he could easily run five-minute miles, he realized he had a natural talent for the sport. When the running craze hit America, he was ready.
Haddad ran on a state championship cross country team in high school, though she said she wasn’t one of the top runners on that team.
“I started running in high school and off and on in college,” she said. “Then in the real world, I decided I need exercise.”
While Haddad might not have been one of the super stars in high school, her quick finishes have held strong through the decades and have won her some unique opportunities and local fame.
In the first annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Oklahoma City, Haddad took first overall for women runners. That earned her a free trip to West Palm Beach, Fla. to compete in the national event. She also participated in “Hood to Coast,” a 195-mile race in Oregon where teams of runners start at Mount Hood and finish at the Pacific Coast. There are teams of 12 people with each running legs of the race.
“It was fun,” Haddad said. Most of her teammates were unknown to her prior to the event, so it was a friendship-building experience.
Calonkey and Haddad have raised their kids running.
“Katelynn and I are trying to race in every state,” he said of his 29-year-old daughter. “She has about 28 states.”
He said he only has about 19 states under his belt.
“She’ll go to a wedding somewhere, and she’ll check on the internet, and if there’s a race, she’ll go do it.”
Calonkey has run some unusual races including the Fifth Avenue Mile race in New York City. His son, Robert, also runs and competes in triathlons, and his wife Susy jogs and walks.
When Haddad’s daughter, Katie, was young, they attended many small town races in places like Purcell and Piedmont where there fun runs and events for kids.
“That was a family thing,” Haddad said.
On Friday, Haddad, 53, took first in her age group with a time of 21:14, but Calonkey, 62, got edged out by a 61-year-old from Edmond who was one of the top finishers of the race with a time just over 18 minutes. Calonkey’s time was 20:40.
With a 20-plus minute 5K time, Calonkey doesn’t get beat in age grouping very often and he doesn’t plan to make it a habit.
“I have some work to do,” he said, as the pair analyzed the race and checked on the finish time of friends.
Calonkey and Haddad run holidays throughout the year including turkey trots on Thanksgiving morning and welcoming in the New Year on Jan. 1. They have run in scorching heat, blinding rain, and cold, harsh winds.
Sound like fun yet?
While Calonkey and Haddad are thin and fit-looking, runners come in all shapes, sizes and ages. There were kids under the age of 12 who finished the Stars and Stripes Forever 5K ahead of adults. Some older runners are still very fast. There are tall runners, short runners and heavyset runners and appearance is not an indication of speed.
Most races also include a heavy contingent of fast walkers. A few runners and walkers pushed jogging stollers with children on Friday — whether strollers are allowed varies by race. Some parents ran slower to stay with a child, and runners with disabilities also participate.
Friday, several runners and walkers — and in a few cases their dogs — were dressed in patriotic garb. There was a $100 prize for the best holiday costume. Post race refreshments included free slices of watermelon.
What better way to usher in the Fourth of July?
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