The Firecracker Race Evolution: Interview with Lou Peyton
By Noelle Coughlan
We are celebrating the 39th Fleet Feet Firecracker Fast 5k this year. It wasn’t always fast, it wasn’t always a 5k and this will be the third year it has Fleet Feet in its name.
Lou Peyton was the female winner of the first Firecracker in 1977. There weren’t many male runners in 1977 and even fewer female runners. A female was considered an “odd ball” if she ran. Lou knew of Pat Torvestad and a lady down in Texarkana who were runners that year. And even Pat said she was only “jogging” (what they called “running” in the 1970’s) to stay in shape for skiing.
At that time The Firecracker was a seven mile race with a lot of hills. Gary Smith and Max Hooper calculated the mileage by driving the route in a car. It started at the Cammack Village Fire Station Swimming Pool. It went on Overlook, where a new housing development was just being built. Gary Smith, along with Max Hooper and Otis Edge, were getting ready to open the first running store in Little Rock, Finish Line Sports. This was the second race Gary and his friends had put on since just December 1976.
Lou was young and didn’t know much about races because there weren’t many around. There were 67 participants in the race and Lou knew the other female runner, Pat, from her neighborhood. Pat was running around “Lou’s half mile circle” and Lou wanted to know who that was running on “her” circle! They have been friends ever since.
The day was sunny and probably hot since it was July 4th in Arkansas. The race started around 8 or 9 am. Lou was wearing her brand new Nike Senorita Cortez sneakers that she paid $29.95 for. Lou says good shoes and proper inserts are totally worth it. The difference good shoes made for her that day convinced her. To this day, she makes sure her shoes are in good condition so she can continue to run without pain.
The gun went off. Lou and Pat were neck and neck at the beginning. Lou had not run many races so she wanted to make sure she had enough energy to complete the race. Lou was behind Pat for the first four miles. Finally she got tired of looking at Pat’s back shoulder and decided she had enough energy take the lead and pass her.
No chip timing in 1977, just a stop watch and a call out as each runner crossed the finish line. Lou went on to finish the race in 50:33 on the hills. No “mainly downhill” course here!
Lou has run the Firecracker at least ten times. She won the first and third years of the race. Her husband, Charley, has run it too. They have either run or volunteered every year but two! She believes consistency is the key to The Firecracker. It is a race that you “don’t want to miss” so she makes sure to either run or volunteer at it. “It is like a reunion; you see everybody there.”
She feels the race has gotten better year after year. Better timing devices, police to keep the streets safe, fast course and more goodies at the end. She remembers when it was only a fire truck that hosed you down at the end and some water. Now many run for the Firecracker Trophy and/or the watermelon and cookies.
Today a good pair of shoes are more like $129.95 than $29.95. It would be hard to get a fire truck to spray anyone down. No stop watch is used. The chip is in the bib and the participant can access his or her own time immediately after crossing the finish line by scanning the bib with a smart phone. The race has grown from 67 participants to 1,671 finishing the race in 2014. Last year 809 males finished the race and 862 females. There were more females than males. These are all big changes from 39 years ago, yet the race has always been held on July 4th and Lou has always been a part of it.
We look forward to seeing you and your family at the Fleet Feet Sports Firecracker Fast 5k on the 4th of July.