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You won't see John Sence racing on Thanksgiving

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Posted at 7:19 AM, Nov 25, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-25 07:19:44-05

CINCINNATI - John Sence isn’t running in this year’s Thanksgiving Day Race.

“Maybe next year,” he said.

There was a time when Sence entering a local race meant everyone else was running for second. Sence won the Thanksgiving Day Race six times and the Heart Mini-Marathon six times.

Sence never stopped running. He just stopped racing.

Sence finished second to Chris Reis in the 2004 Thanksgiving Day Race. Reis had also beaten Sence in the Heart that year.

“That was kind of the changing of the guard,” Sence said.

He had two kids by then. Training at his level took too much time.

“I kept running for mental health as much as anything,” he said.

Sence, a vice president of marketing at Cincinnati Insurance, started to get the racing itch again. He began hitting the track as well as the roads. At 45, he’s now qualified to run in the Masters Division.

He planned to run the US National 12K in Washington D.C., a couple of weeks ago.

“I got in really good shape, he said. “I was running the Hudy 14K. I started to feel something in my Achilles. I had never had any problem with it. There was one hill on that race. I don’t even know where it was. Somewhere in Over-The-Rhine. It felt like an electric shock going up my calf.”

His comeback was off for the time being.

“The funny thing is, I was hoping to run 5:20 miles,” he said. “The guy who won ran 5:19 miles.”

When Sence was at the top of his game, he could run 4:35 to 4:44 for a 10K. Sence qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1996 and 2000. He won the USA Grand Prix title in 1997.

He had one of the top times going into the 2000 trials in Pittsburgh. He took a leave of absence from his job and went to Boulder, Colorado, to train.

He injured his hamstring in one of his last workouts, but was in contention through 13 miles.

“They only take three, so you’ve got to go for it,” he said. “Pittsburgh is a lot like Cincinnati. The hills started getting to me. It felt like my hamstring was a curtain cord.”

He obviously is not going to do that anymore, but 5:20 miles aren’t too shabby. Sence isn’t going to win many open races, but he plans to continue his comeback.

“I missed the competition,” he said. “I’m hoping to get back into it next year.”

Sence finished second in the state in cross country as a junior and senior for Milford High School. He was all-national runner-up in cross country as a senior. Sence never won a state title, largely because he happened to be the same age and live in the same state as Bob Kennedy. In all of the previously mentioned races, Sence was second to Kennedy. Kennedy went on to set American records in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters.

Sence went on to earn All-American honors in the 10,000 at Wake Forest.

One of his local records will never be broken. He set the course record at Rapid Run Park in West Price Hill, Elder’s home course and one of the iconic cross-country courses in town. Changes in the park mean no more races at Rapid Run.

“I remember that race like it was yesterday,” he said. “I felt like I could run forever. You don’t feel like that often, but I did that day.”

Do you remember the time?

“14:48,” Sence said. “It was a state record for about a week. Then Bob Kennedy ran 14:45. But I’ve still got that Rapid Run record.”