In 1974, when 15 guys lined up for the inaugural running of the Swiss Days Race in Berne, the field included a pair of rival cross country coaches.
Doug Bauman, the 27-year-old Bellmont coach, ran the 3-mile course in 17:05 to win his age group, besting Adams Central coach Barry Humble, then 26, in the process.
Bauman beat Humble again the next year, and the year after that, and the following year as well – setting up a recurring pattern that would endure for 42 years.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Humble, at age 68, finally defeated his friend and longtime rival in what by then had morphed into a 5K. And even then, the pastor and retired teacher concedes, “it was only because Doug was damaged.”
Bauman, recovering from back surgery but reluctant to end his Swiss Days streak, gutted out a 28:24 with no training whatsoever. He finished fifth in the age 60 and over category, about 50 seconds behind Humble, who placed fourth.
On Saturday, both men returned for their 44th consecutive Swiss Days Race, with neither knowing who, given last year’s shakeup, now had the edge.
Thanks to the Swiss Days Race, Bauman, the 1964 Geneva graduate who still owns the now-defunct school’s cross country record, was able to keep besting his peers well into his 60s.
Though Swiss Days was his only race, he won a trophy nearly every year.
“Now, I’ll never win a trophy again,” Bauman declared earlier this summer when he joined some other Swiss Days old-timers for breakfast.
His back recovered enough for him to cut wood on his farm near Geneva but makes running difficult. He hadn’t run since last year’s race and doubted he would do any training before this year’s.
“In my 50s and 60s, I’m still out to win,” he said. Now, at 70 going on 71 – his birthday was the day after this year’s race – he can hardly run at all. “But I’ll run this year – if you can call it that – just to keep the streak alive.”
For years, the former Marine who survived “a mess” in Vietnam that killed all but 12 of 48 men in his unit would run 3 miles every day, no matter what.
“Ice, snow, rain, it didn’t matter,” he said. “I just went out and ran. And it wasn’t a jog, either – it was a run.”
THE RUNNING PASTOR
What does it feel like to get beat by the same guy 42 years in a row?
“It’s hard to be Humble,” jokes Humble, who often works his good-natured approach to running into his sermons at tiny Boehmer United Methodist Church in southern Wells County.
He cheerfully admits he was never a cross country star, recalling that he was “fifth or sixth” on his high school team in Pendleton and around 10th on the squad at Taylor University.
“But you know what? None of those guys are still running,” says Humble, who takes the long view in many other respects as well. When his students used to ask why he runs, he often answered that it improves his quality of life.
“If I didn’t run, I’d probably weigh 400 pounds,” he noted at breakfast that morning, digging into a plate of pancakes after his morning run.
Humble runs 3-6 miles every day but Sunday. He leads his bracket in the Adams County 5K challenge, a 12-race series in which he typically finishes third in his age group. At 69, he’s a little younger than Bauman, with no apparent injuries.
But when it comes to competition, the teacher-turned-pastor tries to retain perspective.
“In the final analysis,” he says, “it’s all about finishing” – an attitude that’s easier to embrace the older he gets.
AVOIDING THE WALKER
On Saturday, as always, it was Bauman who picked up the postrace orange drink from McDonald’s.
He’s never lobbied for Gatorade because when he was at Ball State he took part in a study that proved the sports drink was no more beneficial for runners than plain old water – or sugar water, for that matter. Though he never ran on the school’s cross country team, he likes to recall that he outran some of those athletes in the course of the study.
Race co-founders Jack Shoaf and Charles Isch recalled that for years, Bauman would show up at 6 a.m. to help set up, run the race, then help hand out awards – seemingly as energetic afterward as he was before.
When Humble arrived on Saturday, Bauman was reading a copy of a 1974 newspaper account of the very first Swiss Days Race.
“Hey Barry, come look at this!” he said.
Bauman was pleased to discover his time was 17:05, fast enough to beat some of the guys he coached in those days.
Humble was less thrilled to see that he finished third out of three in their age group. But he did finish ahead of some of the younger guys, he recalled. And the newspaper stated that all 15 three-milers turned in “respectable” times.
Asked about his prospects for Saturday’s race, Bauman admits he’s done a little training the last month or so – a couple of miles two or three times a week.
“No more than that,” he says. “I got this back surgery and I don’t want to be in a walker.”
Humble mistakenly thinks he’s worried about needing to walk during the race.
“No, no, being in a walker,” Bauman clarifies impatiently, pretending to lurch along while pushing a cart.
HAPPY ENDINGS ALL AROUND
As the runners come around the first 1-mile loop of the race, Humble leads Bauman by a block.
Bauman’s first mile is 8:32, well ahead of his 2016 pace of 9:10. It’s hard to know if he’s in pain or just intensely focused. He later says he never even saw Humble until he approached the turnaround with about a mile to go.
“I figured I’d catch him, pace him for a quarter-mile or so,” and then see how things went from there. “If nothing else, I figured I’d save something for those last couple of blocks.”
But Bauman eventually pulled ahead for good, finishing 18 seconds ahead of Humble for fifth place in 26:41.
Afterward Bauman was ebullient, not just for cutting nearly 2 minutes off last year’s time but for having lost eight pounds in the past five weeks.
Humble was pleased to get his best time of the year – under 27 minutes for the first time in 2017, if only by less than a second.
“That’s what I was hoping for,” he said. It’s not like he doesn’t try to beat Bauman. But it’s not his primary motivation.
These days, one of Humble’s old Adams Central runners, Roger Tullis, usually wins the 60 and over age group. Tullis, who ran the 1974 race as a teenager, has won it the last three years.
If the Swiss Days Race adds a 70-plus category to match other races in the Adams County 5K Challenge, both Bauman and Humble may go back to winning trophies again. But for now, both men say they are mostly interested in keeping their streak alive.
“I wouldn’t mind trying to make 50,” Bauman said, which would have him racing Swiss Days Race through 2023.
“I always thought 50 would be nice,” Humble agrees.
Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.