It’s 6 o’clock on a Tuesday night and just yards away from the Yardley-Makefield Fire Company about a dozen runners are lined up and looking like they’re ready to dash off and help put out a five-alarm fire.
When they hear “go!” a lead pack including Yardley’s Rick Mingione sets off on the weekly four-mile jaunt with plenty of pace.
You know how it is with group running – everyone wants a shot at the front. Although he turns 70 in November, Mingione is no exception. He still has the lungs and the legs to keep up with this competitive bunch of Bucks County Roadrunners Club striders.
And all that training could help explain why the retired British Petroleum executive was able to win not one but two gold medals this past weekend at the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh.
Mingione swept his age group in the 10,000- and 5,000-meter events, overcoming hilly terrain and an occasional raindrop or two (plus a 350-mile drive just to get there).
He says a lot of the credit for his success goes to BCRR. In addition to the Tuesday nightsessions, he also takes part in the club’s Saturday morning hour-long runs originating in downtown Yardley.
“What it does is it gives me an anchor that obligates me to run every Tuesday night,” Mingione said. “When you have the group, the event and the time, it provides discipline and accountability to do it.
“I can’t tell you how many Tuesday nights I didn’t feel like going. You don’t want to be a wimp – you know, it looks like it might rain or you’re tired that day. I can use it for a hard run or a soft run, whichever I feel like.”
In the Steel City competition, Mingione won the 10K handily, crossing the line in 42:53, nearly two minutes ahead of runnerup Bill Long.
The 5K on Sunday was a different story. He had to go all-out to finish in 20:53, just four seconds ahead of naitonally-ranked Robert Qualls.
“It was probably one of the most fun races of my life,” Mingione said with a chuckle. “This guy (Qualls) had beaten (Philadelphia’s) Gene Dykes (U.S. age-group marathon record holder) and he has sort of been anointed ‘king of the middle distances’ now.”
Rick and his perceived nemesis battled back and forth during the competition in a park adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh campus.
Qualls chose not to run the 10K so Mingione was able to put that race on cruise control. But not the 5K.
“I’m running the race and at two and a half miles someone passed me on an uphill,” Mingione said. “I wasn’t sure it was him. I passed him again on the downhill. My plan of kind of coasting in. . .I had to decide if I was going to run it all out the rest of the way.
“I knew he was a miler and I wasn’t going to outsprint him. I was just trying to stay with him. Then I made a stupid move at 2.5, passed him kind of hard and that was way too early. It was a quarter mile to go, slightly downhill but I was exhausted.”
At that point, the Downingtown native was listening for his pursuer’s footsteps and figured he would be overtaken in the stretch.
Then a funny thing happened. The big pass never happened.
“I kept up and went as hard as I could and he never caught me,” he said. “That gold medal in the 5K means a lot more to me than the 10K.”
Mingione ran the mile, two-mile and cross country at Downingtown and then for one year at Lehigh University.
“A lot of the guys I ran with at Lehigh were much better than me but now they’re running 5Ks with their grandkids and putting on a little weight,” he said.
“For some reason, I stayed in shape and then when I got to my late 50s, my daughter started running cross-country and I started racing again. I’ve had my share of injuries but I’ve been able to come back everytime. It’s a marvel to me that I’ve been able to get back to this level.”
Rick and his wife, Margie, have three daughters, all of whom have been runners at some point.
Christine, the oldest, teaches marine science at Stockton University in New Jersey; Carolyn is a psychologist practicing in Chicago and Monica is a civil environmental engineer.
The eldest two have Ph.D degrees.
With victories in this sort of competition, Mingione has established himself as perhaps the new “king of middle distances.”
But rest assured it hasn’t gone to his head. You can still find him sharing a few laughs in the post-run parking lot on Tuesday nights and it’s just as much fun as those gold medals.
>Eat and Run 5K, 8:30 a.m., Council Rock High School South, Holland. Contactwww.runsignup.com