The Making of a Distance Runner
Runners into Racers
If the Tiffin Carnival revealed anything, it was that our team COULD be a force to be reckoned within the state. We had placed fourth at the biggest meet in Ohio, and one of the biggest in the nation. But the fact remained that we were just beginning, and there was a lot of season left to go before the 1985 OHSAA State Cross Country Championships.
We were deep into training at this time running two-a-days Monday through Thursday and piling on mileage. We would get to school while the sun was just peeking over the trees, and run our four mile Ottawa Park loop. Then we would shower at school and just have enough time to scarf down some pop tarts and head to class. After the last bell for the school day, we would head back to the locker room, lace the shoes back up, and head out again for a workout on the Ottawa Park bike path or possibly some hill work on the streets in Ottawa Hills. Each time we headed out for a run, we were climbing that mountain to reach the top first. I remember this particular piece of advice that coach Lewis had told us in a meeting once, and I never forgot it. He said, “Training is like climbing a mountain. If you want to be first to the top, you climb every day until you get to the top. A day you don’t climb somebody else is, and they will reach the top before you.”
My body was physically feeling beat up, and I realized that focus was required from me to run twice-a-day, race on the weekend, and keep up with my studies. It was the first time in my life in any organized sport that I felt my commitment was paramount to my success. 1985 was also a time when running was about putting in the miles no matter what distance you were training for at the time. If we weren’t putting in miles, we were having serious “balls to the wall” workouts.
On top of the high intensity and volume of training, we were also racing Invitationals on weekends and had league meets during the week. The league meets were considered “scrimmages” or workout days for us to train on racing habits and tactics, like pack running or surging at certain points. The weekend Invitationals were the big meets where we were racing and making a statement in the Northwest Ohio area.
Hitting Our Stride
After Tiffin, we rolled through our first Tuesday City League Meet against Libbey, Woodward, and St. John’s (our rival) by getting our top 5 runners in before any other team had their third runner finish. It was a decent effort by us, but we had our sights set on the Perrysburg Invitational because it was a good-sized local invitational to see how we stacked up against the other Northwest Ohio District teams.
If you ever ran the Perrysburg Invitational before, you can vouch that it was one of the toughest
courses in the area before being discontinued. The course was at the historical Fort Meigs from the War of 1812 in Perrysburg, OH. The fort sets atop a large hill that the runners have to run up twice during the race, and it is aptly named “Agony Hill”. If you weren’t running up the rocky hill, then you were either running on the rutted trail that ran along the front of the fort or on the massive open field at the base of the hill, which was uneven at best. This was a course made for the mountain goat runners who could navigate all of this and still make it to the finish line in one piece. This was my first real “hill” test, and I wasn’t too excited about this exam. Surprisingly, I ran my PR at the time with a 17:46, and I was extremely happy with that because my time moved me up to 4th man on that day. We had also won the meet, narrowly beating Bedford again by 7 points.
There is a side note to this particular meet worth mentioning. This invitational also had an alumni race before the official high school races. Brad had run 16:16 that day to win the high school meet, but coach Gary won the alumni race in 16:20! I was in awe that our coach went out and crushed that kind of time right before the meet.
This winning pattern took hold for the next few weeks. We rolled through the next league meet claiming the top 7 spots against Stritch, Scott, and Macomber all while keeping a 10 second gap between our 1-7 runners. The next weekend Invitational was the Clay Eagle out at Pearson Park, the exact opposite course from Perrysburg. It was fairly flat and had solid footing through most of the course. I ran a big PR that day finishing in 17:14 and so did the rest of the team. I wound up 6th man on the day, and Brad (#1 runner) dropped a 15:53 for the win. Once again we won, and once again the runner-up was Bedford. This time was different because we had begun to assert ourselves and the hard training was beginning to take hold. This was a 19 team meet, and we outscored the second place team, Bedford, by 31 points! We knocked out our fourth consecutive win at the next Tuesday league meet, and we were feeling particularly good about ourselves, especially me.
Unfortunately, our good fortune came to a grinding halt at the Malone Invitational in Canton, OH. This was another huge meet with an impressive field of teams (29 teams in one race), and the course was a monster!!! It had a series of rolling hills that we had to traverse twice before winding our way to the finish line. The hills on the Malone College course were daunting for us Northwest Ohio runners, so you can imagine the look in my eyes when we arrived at the course. Seeing those hills took the wind right out of my sails and negative thoughts crept their way in. I figured any chance for a PR was off the table, and that was game over for me before I even set foot on the start line.
A positive mental approach was my weak point when I was younger; any adverse conditions had my mind going to “dark” places. Needless to say, I lived up to my worries and ran an unremarkable 17:54 and finished two seconds ahead of Craig Snyder, who was our last varsity runner on the day. Other than Brad, who placed 4th out of 200+ runners, we all laid an egg at that race finishing 6th overall. Earlier in the week, I had hopes of breaking 17 minutes but that turned out to be a bust. We headed back home to Toledo with our tails between our legs.
I was so close to breaking 17 minutes at the Clay Invitational, and I never thought that would be possible at the beginning of the season. Even though Malone was a bust, I was fueled to work harder and push myself to hit that sub 17 time which seemed to be the turning point from good to great in the cross country world. As if the coaches read my mind, the next Tuesday league meet was going to be another “pack” race led by Brad this time. The goal set by the coaches: sub 17 for ALL varsity runners...