by ANA OLVERA
For the past 34 years, thousands of runners have participated in the annual Fifth Third River Bank Run, some only once and others continue coming back every year. Dennis Schultz, an affiliate faculty member at the College of Education at Grand Valley State University, has participated in the River Bank Run’s 25k race every year since its start in 1978.
Schultz decided to run in the first River Bank Run while working at Forest Hills Northern Middle School after betting the physical education teacher he could finish the race in three hours. He showed up to the run wearing Adidas shoes and expecting to win the bet.
Schultz only ran in high school to get in shape for basketball, football and baseball and never participated in track or cross country. “They were just a bunch of boys in underwear, trying to find their pants. That was my mentality,” Schultz said.
However, he ended up finishing the race in two hours and 31 minutes, describing his first experience with the run as a “tremendous sense of accomplishment.”
“I felt like my body was broken. But the support from other runners and the cooperation made it enjoyable,” Shultz said. He even recalls being asked if he had been in an accident after walking quite gingerly a couple days after the run.
Schultz says no real training goes into preparing for the River Bank Run besides running with the North Kent Running Club in Rockford and their track workouts.
“They are definitely my support group. They’re very encouraging and they’re probably more proud of the fact that I’ve run the Fifth Third Riverbank Run every year more than I am. There is just phenomenal camaraderie involved,” Schultz said.
Another source of support for Schultz is his family, especially his daughters Kelly and Lindsay, who both ran in high school and continue to stay active.
Schultz has participated in other marathons throughout the years, but now primarily sticks to the River Bank Run. He also recently postponed a visit to an orthopedic doctor for what may be a torn ligament in his left knee. After being reassured by doctors that running did not contribute to his knee injury, Schultz knew he had to keep his consecutive record.
“It’s borderline insanity, but I welcome the challenge. I’m a goal setter and the goal is to run as long as I can—and I know at some point I won’t be able to. But when I can’t run anymore, I’ll bike; when I can’t bike anymore, I’ll walk,” Schultz said.
Fifth Third River Bank Run race director Kristen Aidif is amazed by the veteran runners, their dedication, and how “they’ve always been at the same place on the second Saturday of every May.”
“It’s amazing to hear their incredible stories about running with some sort of trauma, whether it be the flue, a hurt ankle, etc. They are the epitome of the heart and soul of long-distance runners,” Aidif said.
At the age of 58, Schultz’ strategy for this year’s run was to rest to have his knee in the best shape possible, running about three times in the month of April.
“It’s not about running fast, it’s about running for a lifetime,” Schultz said.
Schultz suggests new River Bank Run participants to run at a good pace where you’d be able to hold a conversation, and to ideally run with someone else. “In addition to running steadily, you’d be enjoying each other’s company,” Schultz said.
In fact, Schultz ran alongside fellow running-club member Jeannine Keenan for support, and said, “It made all the difference.”
The Fifth Third River Bank Run is held annually on the second Saturday of May in downtown Grand Rapids. This year’s run was Saturday, May 14, with more than 22,000 participants during race week, according to the event’s website.
“I’m surprised [the race] has been able to sustain interest. At first I thought having the 5k and 10k races would take away from the 25k race. But I think the inclusion of those races actually encourages runners to improve. They can start with the 5k and work up to the 10k and 25k races. I’ve seen remarkable growth in the River Bank Run,” said Schultz.
The River Bank Run is the largest road race in the country and the first big outdoor event in West Michigan every year.
Aidif describes the event as a “celebration of running and walking and coming together as a community to celebrate something so positive and important in the lives of our friends and neighbors.”
Spectators and participants can fill out an online survey on the River Bank Run’s website’s front-page to address their concerns and ideas on how to improve the event and make it even more successful.