It's About the Laces
It’s been a couple of years since I published my last blog post, and life has kept me on my toes with not a lot of free time to enjoy one of my favorite things: writing. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to write for enjoyment, so I want to recommit to my blog for all of you who have been waiting on some new stories. So let’s get back at it and pick it up at the beginning of my senior year.
The road races were over, summer was slowly winding down, and now it was time to prepare for the 1986 CC season at St. Francis. We had a solid core coming back for the fall of ‘86, but the major gap was we lost #1 and #2 on the team. It wasn’t a lame 1 and 2; Brad Wotring and Steve Baugh were hammers out on the course, so there were big spikes to fill!
I was hoping to fill one of those gaps at our 2 mile time trial. This was a race between all incoming SFS cross country runners at Ottawa Park to see who would be the top 7 varsity for the first meet of the season. I was around 4th-5th man most of the previous year, but I wanted to be the top dog. I figured that since we lost two that put me in 2nd-3rd spot just from attrition.
After my Delta Chicken Run fiasco (previous blog post), my confidence was a little shaken. I just had to keep telling myself that I had a great summer of running where I did not miss a single day of training. I was ready and knew that my level of commitment would play a factor in the mental part of racing for this day.
In an earlier post titled, There are Carnivals in Cross Country, I mentioned that there was a “shoelace” tradition back then. The #1 runner on the team wore pink and black shoe laces in their spikes. They were passed down each year from the previous year’s #1 to the new #1. I am not quite sure of the whole story behind the laces, but all I knew back then was that I wanted those laces in my spikes for the very first meet of the season.
Then There Were Five
It was an early Saturday morning in August when we all gathered in the locker room to warm up and prepare for the time trial as a team. All the returning varsity runners were pretty confident that we would be on varsity...just which position was up in the air. Mark Wenrick, Craig Bickle, Dan Harrington, Craig Snyder, and myself were ready to get this season going because we had big goals as a team from the success of last year.
With the 5 of us pretty locked in, that only left 2 spots for a strong contingent of returning runners with a few of my classmates coming out for their first year. Jim Gothier and Dave Aman were quality 800m track guys that decided to run cross country their senior year. Throw these guys in with a big senior class on the team and some strong juniors that were right there, it was going to be tough getting a spot and even tougher to keep the spot.
The entire 1986 SFS squad lined up on the bike path of Ottawa Park to decide who the top 7 would be for the first meet of the season. It was a little nerve-racking because I was looking to make a big splash right from the gun. It did not quite go the way I had planned…
As I said, I was looking to make a big splash right off the bat because I stayed home all summer and trained like it was my job! I was a fast starter in races back then, and I paid the price dearly many times. It took years to learn that going out really hard at the start was usually a death sentence unless you know you WILL win the race
I was planning on going out hard (sub 5 pace for mile one) which was a bit of a gamble on my part because we had a lot of solid guys who could beat me any day of the week. Luckily, I did not have to worry because some new upperclassman on the team took off like a bat out of hell.
The shock of seeing someone unknown charge to the front and pull away from us was all I needed! I took off after him and kept him about 10 meters ahead...Mark came out with me. We glanced at each other wondering what in the world was this kid thinking. He did help me run a sub 5 mile, but we were all gassed and still had one more mile to go. I fell back on my one big strength as a racer; my ability to just keep grinding a hard pace until I drop. I was always stubborn when it came to falling off the pace because I never dropped off easily...the competition had to really work to lose me. I geared down and plowed through the last mile in about a 5:15. It was fast enough to drop Mark and the newbie pretty quickly.
I did it!!! I was the number one man for the start of the season, and it hurt like hell to get it. I remember Mark coming in second, and the jack rabbit that took us out had barely held on to make the varsity squad for the first meet. It was a tough race having to bust out like that, but it played to my strengths.
When all the dust settled, it was the 5 varsity runners from the previous year plus sophomore Doug Patterson and Junior Walter Ralph. Doug was a promising sophomore who ran into a string of injuries his freshman year, or he would have been in the varsity lineup as a frosh. Walter was new to the team as a junior and was a big, strong runner that had serious power.
The varsity lineup for the first meet of the season was set:
It was time to put up or shut up in actual meets as the #1 man for the defending City, District, and Regional Champs!!! NO PRESSURE, RIGHT???