Tales From the Crypt Pt. 2
Three Strikes and You’re Out: Strike One! Now that I was no longer a football player but a cross country runner, it was time to prepare for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, in the summer of 1985 going into my junior year, I worked at a summer camp in Brooklyn, MI (Camp DeSales), which meant I couldn’t begin training with the team for over a month since I was out of town. I would love to say that I trained like an animal on the dirt roads of Brooklyn, MI, while at camp but no luck. My running was sporadic and not remarkable at all. This meant that when I finally returned from camp after the 4th of July, I was severely lacking in fitness. But it’s not like these guys were that good or running every day, right? Wrong!!! Strike Two “Come on, man!” “Awwwww, man, gross!” “What’s wrong with you?!” Those were a few choice quotes that I received my first few days of cross country conditioning when I would “lose my breakfast” at the end of each run. This was not how I wanted to make a “splash” on the team, and I wasn’t sure what the problem was because this wasn’t an issue before. Every morning, I would show up ready for conditioning and would struggle toward the end of each run. As we would get closer to finishing the run, I would start to feel sick to my stomach. It would keep getting worse as we got closer, until I would finally erupt into a full-on fire hose vomit stream as we finished in the school parking lot. This is not how one goes about impressing teammates on the first day of conditioning. It took about several days before the coach had enough of me making a mess outside in the school parking lot and figured out the problem. I thought it was poor fitness because these cats were fit and running me into the ground on a daily basis. This was not the case...
What the problem turned out to be was my morning breakfast routine. Each morning when I woke up, I sat down and had a big bowl of delicious sugary cereal like I always did. Apparently, this was not how distance runners fueled themselves right before a run. This was explained to me by one of the coaches, Gary Bryan. He asked me what I was eating before I came to practice and how long before. I explained my big bowl of cereal about an hour before coming, and he just chuckled then told me that was my problem. This was really the first time that I had spoken to the other coach, and this man would eventually turn out to be the most influential coach that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and am still friends with today, but more about Gary later. Strike Three! Gary also noticed that I had on a less than desirable pair of running shoes that were from track season. When I ran track, my mom took me to JCPenney and bought me a pair of brown Etonic “running” shoes. I grew up in the south end of Toledo, and we all played football, baseball, basketball, and street hockey. Back in the ’80s, nobody in the South End ran, and that included all the adults in the neighborhood. My parents were just as clueless as I was to the sport of running, but they were on sale!!! Gary told me about a local store that sold only running shoes, and I thought he was joking. Who would have a store with just one specific type of shoe? Luckily, this store was located on Reynolds Rd. and Hill Ave, which wasn’t too far from where I lived. This was also the beginning of my long-standing relationship with Dave’s Running Shop and owner James Mason. We walked in and Jamie (James) was working the counter, and the only one in this tiny store. When Jamie informed my mom that I should have two pairs of shoes, one for running and another for racing called spikes, she began to head for the exit. Eventually, Jamie and I convinced her that two pairs were necessary, but the real selling point was Jamie explaining to her that these shoes were all that she needed to buy for the season.
With my spikes and training shoes in hand, I was prepared to take on the rest of the season when official practice began in early August. What I didn’t realize was that no shoe on earth was going to prepare me for the rigors of a cross country season under Gary and coach Lewis.
Down But Not Out Once official practice began in August, my fitness was coming around, and the rest of the team was no longer afraid to be around me at the end of a run. But these guys were legit, and I was barely hanging on to the top 7 guys all summer. In case you are unfamiliar with cross country, the top 7 runners are considered the varsity squad. Well, I didn’t join as a junior to be on the JV squad, so every day was like a workout for me to make sure I kept pace with the varsity squad. I never kept a training log in high school, but I knew we were running around 60 miles a week at the top end. I was just trying to keep up and make the varsity team once the racing season began. I was definitely dragging through August from all the miles, but I was slowly adapting. Just when I felt like I had turned the proverbial corner of my training, we had a dual meet set up to determine varsity. It was time to see how I stacked up in a race situation! Tales From the Crypt Part 3 will highlight my first cross country meet against Bedford. Yes, that’s right, Bedford where I have been a teacher and coach for 28 years...talk about full circle.