Just over the Matthew Welsh bridge in Brandenburg, KY is a quiet country back road where I met the River Bottom Runners for a not-so-quiet stroll. It was 2 days before a big race and these runners were not only ready to run, but ready to tell stories about their fearless leader, Johnny Bevill. I’ve known Johnny since the beginning of my running career and I credit him for giving me a lot of good advice that I never listened to.
It took roughly 10 minutes into our meeting last week before Johnny points out that my rear end was still too small and that I needed to eat more. I knew it was coming and I was not a bit offended. That’s just Johnny. Anyone who knows him knows that he is “old school” and sometimes blunt, but he genuinely cares for his running community and it shows. He has a level of dedication to running that is second to none.
This weekend, Johnny Bevill celebrated something truly momentous. He crossed the finish line for the 40th time at the Derby Mini Marathon in Louisville on April 29th, 2017. Over the years, running has certainly changed according to Johnny. “There are more runners–especially female. Women are less self-conscious than they were before. And shoes–shoes have changed a lot. More cushion!”
When Johnny ran his first mini back in 1977, there were less than 500 runners. Today, the event boasts up to 18,ooo participants making running the mini a yearly milestone.
Johnny started running at the age of 21 in his mom’s driveway with a pair of work boots and blue jeans. During his 30th mini, Johnny became emotional and tearful when thinking back on those times. “I don’t know why I did that. I just started thinking about me being home and running up the driveway. I started to think about mom and dad. And I just lost it.”
Never realizing he had a streak going, Johnny almost missed 1 year due to illness. “I had a bladder infection for about 2 weeks before the mini. I had to run/walk to finish it.”
And from Johnny’s standpoint, the actual running part of the race hasn’t gotten any easier as he’s gotten older. “I started slowing down when I was 46 years old and you will too.” Johnny has battled through plenty of injuries that could potentially keep him out of running, but when asked how long he would keep this streak going, he replied with a resounding “I dunno. Ask Jesus!”
Married for 32 years, Johnny credits his wife Rebekah for supporting his running habit. “We took turns through the years. She’d watch the kids while I’d run and I’d watch the kids while she’d run. She’s done a lot of minis too.” When asked why they don’t run together now that their kids have grown, Johnny quips “I like to cut up and she’s serious so that don’t mix.”
Johnny has brought a lot of runners into the small running community in Brandenburg. Through the years, he had many routes through Meade County and encouraged many people to take up running for fun. I credit him for introducing runners to the hidden treasure in Mauckport, Indiana where I’ve spent many Sunday mornings trekking to New Amsterdam and back. Not only does Johnny organize group runs but he also makes sure that individual runners are taken care in Mauckport by tucking gatorades behind the guardrails for anyone that needs them.
And so I had a perfect run with the River Bottom Runners. I laughed at every story that they told on Johnny that he had forgotten. Although running has changed through the years, Johnny still has the same advice for new runners that I think could work for any runner:
“Don’t get in a hurry… When you’re first starting out, run until you get a little bit fatigued then walk it out and then start increasing it slowly, slowly, slowly. It all depends on how bad of a want-to you have…It’s a WANT-TO.”