Since I have moved to “A Runnah’s Story” I have decided to re-publish this series, clean-up the rough spots and share with you the story of how I became the Runnah I am today.
Ah the high school years, a time where we learn a lot about ourselves, make friends, lose friends and make memories that last the rest of our lives — in other words for many of us – taking a line from Bruce, “The Glory Days”.
For me high school was not the “Glory Days” that others had, it was a time that I do not have very many fond memories of, didn’t make any lasting friendships and while I was there, I just wanted it to be over. The best memories that I have now of this period are sports related, not academic or social. To be honest I was a geeky, immature kid, who never really fit in any of the social groups of the time. It seemed that I was always on the outside looking in and didn’t dare to let anyone get too close to me for many reasons.
To put it bluntly, I was your classic underachiever as a high school Cross Country runner. Even though I ran Cross Country for 4 years, I never placed in a varsity meet, nope never.
Looking back I can honestly say that I wasn’t the most motivated long-distance runner.
I didn’t like running long distances and the idea I needed to “embrace” the discomfort or pain of the distance, especially during a race didn’t appeal at all to me back then. However, we learned that I was one hell of a rabbit. After Coach Smith figured that out, he told me to go out as fast as I could for as long as I could, to draw out the other team’s best runners out sooner than they wanted to go. It even worked a few times and our faster runners were able to pass runners who had gone out too fast with me, in the latter stages of the race, because I had messed up their pacing.
I got my Varsity Letter my Junior year for “contributions” to the team.
However, I did enjoy the social side of the cross-country. Cross country gave me a sport where I found there were others like me, a little different and more than a little socially awkward. Not all the other runners were like that, but there were enough of us on the Cross Country team who didn’t fit the popular student mold during my 4 years of running, that I actually fit in someplace – well most of the time.
Just Endured it
Cross Country was not a sport I enjoyed, it was a sport that I endured. Truthfully I couldn’t wait for the season to get over and for basketball or the spring for track to start, after all I was going to be a professional basketball player and be drafted by the Celtics or win a gold medal in the 100 and 220 yard dashes at the Olympics – I guess that is why they call them dreams.
First Running Injury
I stepped in a chuck hole during practice my senior year about a 1/4 way through the season and hurt my right Achilles tendon. Enough so that after a week of limping around, my parents actually took me to see Dr. Burke (who hated runners and running), who told me I was done for the season.
In many ways I was relieved when Dr. Burke told me that. It meant that I had the perfect excuse and didn’t have to endure running those long distances anymore. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be the 13th man on a 12 man basketball team again that year or even run track in the spring. So I “knew” then it was more important to me to find a job after school, instead of always having a sports practice that I had to go to (stupid me).
Actually a girlfriend (it didn’t last long) and a car my senior year meant I needed money more than sports.
I have to write a bit about track, it was where I did pretty well and why I think Mr. Smith put up with me on the Cross Country team.
In the 100 and 220 yard dashes as they were called back then, let’s just say what I lacked in distance running, I made up as a sprinter in the spring.
Looking back with what I know now, I think I was natural fit at the 440, however we had a really good runner at that distance (I held my own against him in practice, if I was within 10 yards on that last corner, he was mine). We were weaker in the dashes and Mr. Smith told me I was going to do the 100 and 220 – I had learned not to argue with him.
I placed in a lot of meets in those two events, but I had a big problem with getting disqualified for lane violations. If I didn’t focus on staying in my lane, I would drift over the line and end up in the lane next to me on my right. It got so bad that Mr. Smith worked with me by putting up lane ribbons in practice, but we both would get frustrated by the number of DQ’s I would get during a track season.
My junior year I finished 3rd in the 100 and 4th in the 220 yard dashes at the League meet and was expected to run in the Regionals a week later – I never did. I played sick that day.
Why? Due to the expectations that I placed on myself and that others had, I would get too worked up over a stupid race, get sick, feel like shit, not want to be there, etc and missed meets that year because of it. This race anxiety issue would come back to haunt me badly 10 years later, but it actually started my Junior year in high school.
Glory and Disappointment
My senior year I didn’t run track and was working at a part-time job in the school’s work-study program (money for gas and trying to impress girls (not that I was ever very successful) was a lot more important than running), plus I had decided to go in the Coast Guard mid-way through the year and had an enlistment date of June 23rd. So I wasn’t worried too much about school, except how soon I could get to hell out of there.
Mr. Smith stopped me one day in the school hallway and asked if I would run in the League track meet for the team. I had avoided him, because I had gotten word through the grapevine that he was looking for me, to ask that question. I tried to put him off with the “I have to work routine”, but in the end and only because it was him, I said okay, but I told him not to expect too much from me, since I hadn’t done any running since I hurt my Achilles back in the fall. I went to enough practices to be eligible and got my boss to give me time off from work on a Saturday (our busiest day) to run in the league meet.
A big part of my job at the Feed Store was unloading 100 pound grain bags from train cars, even though I only weighed 125 pounds. I didn’t have a lot of body fat and could put a grain bag on each shoulder and carry them out to the customer’s vehicle without too much trouble (now doing that stuff would just about kill me).
Somehow, with minimal training, I brought home blue ribbons in the 100 and 220 yard dashes that day and almost a third in the 4×220 relay – the guy had a 20 yard lead on the anchor leg (we dropped the baton on the pass) and just nipped me at the end. Needless to say I surprised myself and a lot of other people that day and is one of the few real “Glory Days” that I had in high school. Coach Smith was accused of bringing in a “ringer” just for the league championship meet, but when they checked it out, I was legal, I had signed up and gone to enough practices to qualify.
Based on my performance and times at the league meet, Coach Smith told me that I was going to run in the Regional Track at Orono, the next Saturday and that saying no was not an option. I begged off, saying I couldn’t get two Saturday’s in a row off from work. He called my boss, who gave me hell, telling me he had talked with Mr. Smith and that this was the chance of a lifetime.
Evidently Mr. Smith had told him that I actually had a chance to win in both events, I have no idea if it was true or not, but later when I checked the results of the Regionals, my league meet times were very competitive. He told me to go run in the race and not to show up for work that day. Unfortunately, that was the one thing I really didn’t want to and the closer to that Saturday got, the worse I got.
I got a really bad attitude around the house, school and work. Was just miserable to be around and I skipped school that Friday, something that I rarely did, even though my parents really didn’t care if I did or not. At that point, I had just over a week left before graduation.
I ended up not going to the Regional meet and Coach Smith was so pissed at me, he didn’t talk to me again, until after I got back from boot camp.
I will always wonder how I would have done at that meet – a rare opportunity missed.
The reality is that
High school was not my “glory days”.
Running was an important part of my life in high school and it helped me to fit in, when I didn’t really fit anywhere else, sometimes I think that it still does. While I started my running way back then, it is strange now that I look back on it:
- thinking about what could have been
- that as much as I hated, yes hated running longer distances in high school – it is the one sport from high school that I still do
- how much something that starts in high school can continue to affect us for a long time after we leave that period in our lives behind.