The Lead Up
I was still flying high off my sub 17 PR at the last regular season meet of the year, but the coach brought the team and myself back down to earth by informing us the real season was about to begin. Real season? Did I miss something? I could’ve sworn I ran a bunch of races with an SFS jersey and teammates around me. Apparently, that was the regular season and now it was time for “championship season” or the REAL season as they called it. The “championship season” consisted of the league, district, regional, and state championships.
After he said that, I realized that I had never been an integral part of any championship before cross country. Sure, I was on teams that won a championship, but I wasn’t a real contributor. There was never any pressure or expectation that I would actually be involved with the outcome of the game. This time I was, and it began to sink in that week after my big PR. Luckily, I had the next week to settle down, but it didn’t go as I had hoped.
Get Out of Your Head
Our training during the week of the Toledo City League Championship went well, and I was physically ready. The issue was that I was not handling it well mentally; I was heaping tons of pressure on myself and worried about screwing it up for the team. If you read my earlier blog post, I mentioned that this was the albatross that I carried around for many years. I always had problems with pressure situations because I was constantly letting negative thoughts get in my head. What if I go out too hard and died? What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I couldn’t finish? What if I died at the end of the race? There was a theme to my mental weakness, and it wasn’t hard to spot that I had a severe lack of confidence. It always came back to me worrying about not being able to run fast enough because I wasn’t good enough to run with the big dogs. If you stay with me through my stories, you will see this theme occur many times in some of my biggest races, and how I eventually broke the cycle. Each passing day of that week, I could feel the “pressure” thermostat go up ever so slightly until Saturday, October 12th arrived.
So It Begins
The morning of the Toledo City League championship was an unusually warm day but it was raining. We met at the school bright and early then sat in the gym waiting to warm up. The city league meet is held at the Ottawa Park Golf Course every year, which happens to be directly across the street from St. Francis High School. This was a huge advantage for our team because we were able to stay in the warm gym and hang out until we needed to warm up.
One distinct memory from that day that has never left my mind was something coach Lewis did. He told us to come over and said he wanted us to listen to a song. He played Let the Good Times Roll by The Cars because he told us that this was our time, not to leave anything behind, and enjoy every minute of it. To this day, I still have that song on my iTunes and still listen to it before my big races. I always saw coach Lewis as the motivator and coach Gary as the engineer of the team. Gary would be the one giving me stats, splits, and other training knowledge, and coach Lewis would be the one in my face telling me to move my ass.
Our warm-up took us over to the park and through parts of the course, but we were already familiar with the course. It was a quiet warm-up except for Brad, who was his normal upbeat talkative self. The rest of the team was solemn, and I was in my own little world trying to calm my nerves before the race. Back then, we had no tent or shelter once we were at the meet, so we set up camp away from the start under some trees. As we finished stretching, put on our spikes, and had our laces taped down, I heard a distant noise like thunder or applause.
I looked up to see where the noise was coming from, and I asked the other guys what in the world was happening because it was getting closer and louder. They all grinned and looked at each other and said, “Here they come.” From out of the woods that separated the golf course from the road and our school, emerged 100+ St. Francis football players yelling and cheering the entire way over to the course. It was a tradition that the football team would walk over to the league championship before their Saturday film session and cheer for us. They didn’t just cheer; they overwhelmed the course!
Really? Now, I have my classmates here to see me fall apart in the race. Yes, those are the types of absurd thoughts that I had before races...always something negative. As the rain patted my head and the Knight football team belted out cheer after cheer, I stood up with my spikes on and began to head toward the start. The rain felt pretty good because it was also unseasonably warm for October (70’s).
As we waited in the rain for final instructions and the whistle, we took notice of our rival St. Johns just a few boxes down from us. In 1985 we were good enough to know that we could win the city league with an ok performance, but we still wanted to hand SJ their asses!
I wish I could remember more of this race, but I can only recall two things from the race…
First, the football team made a long line on each side of the white racecourse line to form a small tunnel, like you might see watching the Tour De France. When I ran through it and heard them yelling, “Let’s Go, Masters! Don’t let that SJ #$@% catch you!” I felt invigorated and jacked to keep pushing through the race, and as I passed through the tunnel I could hear them screaming at the SJ guy behind me. They were brutal, and I was grateful they were on my side.
Secondly, the finish was a long sloping downhill, and there were three of us neck in neck to try and cross the line before the other two. I had some decent foot speed, so I took off and never looked back with my arms and legs pumping furiously over the soaked fairway of the golf course. I should have looked back because the Devilbiss runner, who had several inches on me in height and a heck of a stride, was pulling up and passed me just before the finish line. One of them got me, but my pride was still intact because I beat the other guy, who just happened to be a St. Johns runner.
When Just OK is a Blowout
The race had ended and there was little doubt who had won the championship. We had placed our top 4 in the top 10 of the race and 5th man was 13th, and we easily outplaced St. Johns 37 to 78. They had over twice as many points as our team, and several of us, me being one of them, had a mediocre day. This was a huge boost to our confidence because we had demolished the field with a decent team performance. We knew we would be unstoppable if we were firing on all cylinders!
I wasn’t thrilled with my race, but I was happy with my finish and the fact that I didn’t fall apart. Little did I know that I was awarded 2nd team all-city because I was 20th (the last one to get an award). Getting recognized as 2nd team all-city was special because it made me feel that I was an integral part of my team. What I did mattered and that made me want to work harder for my teammates.
There is a city league tradition of the winning team throwing their coaches into the pond at Ottawa Park, and we took full advantage of the situation. It had been three years since SFS won the Championship! Both coaches Lewis and Gary went in for a wet but well-earned dip in the pond. We celebrated our victory and late at night painted the University of Toledo bridge declaring SFS 1985 City League CC Champs!