The Senior Campaign
Even though I truly enjoyed being a camp counselor for kids, I knew I needed to stay home that summer and focus on my training. Instead of working with kids in Brooklyn, MI, I kept my job bagging groceries at the Foodtown on Heatherdowns and Reynolds. This was going to be a summer where I wanted to train and make a statement my senior year.
I took it upon myself to start a diet and strengthening program, and it was met with mixed results by my body. I began doing regular sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups along with holding some old weights in my hands and mimicking my running arm swing motion for minutes at a time while stationary. I have never been a big fan of lifting, not even when I played football which helps explain my lackluster career. I could handle these running exercises, and I figured it couldn’t make me slower.
For my diet habits, I bought a book that was popular in the ‘80s titled Nathan Pritikin Diet For Runners, and read it cover to cover feeling like I stumbled onto a hidden secret weapon in my running arsenal. Dieting was not a word that teenage boys mentioned to their friends or teammates, so only my family knew what I was doing. I grew up in a middle-class household, so my diet was always meat-based with quick recipes for dual working parents. We had the normal staples for most homes back then with pork chops, spaghetti, scallop potatoes and spam, hamburgers, etc… I grew up with meat at every meal and to this day still like to eat some type of meat with my meals.
The Pritikin Diet had a low tolerance of red meat and anything fried. It didn’t matter because I was all in on anything that might make me a faster runner. Unfortunately, this diet did the opposite to my racing.
The personal strength training was going well, but the diet was extremely difficult. I had to start making my own meals and trying to stay within the strict parameters of the diet was tough. The issue wasn’t the diet itself but my lack of calories. I was not a fan of this particular diet, so I was not eating my normal calorie intake. My parents had mentioned that I looked pale a few times, but knew I was trying to eat “healthy.” I was eating healthy, but I was not even eating close to enough of the calories that I needed.
I started the diet in June and had lost close to 10 lbs within a month, which is not good because I was a 5’ 9”, 17-year old running 50-60 miles a week. This wasn’t really noticeable to me beyond the fact that I felt a bit tired and sluggish on my longer runs. I truly found out how the lack of calories affected my performance when I headed out to the Delta Chicken Run (my first ever road race).
The Delta Chicken Run was a local road race put on by Dave’s Running Shop and was one of the popular summer 5K’s back in the 1980’s. The 5K was held in conjunction with the Delta Chicken Festival in mid-July, and you could smell all the chicken cooking on the grills as you came into the home stretch. My parents wanted to watch me race, so they drove me out to Delta, OH, early Saturday morning.
I had roughly 6 weeks of solid training under my belt and wanted to see how my fitness was before the start of official practice in a few weeks. I had never run a 5K road race before, so I was looking forward to racing against more than just high school guys. I was about to find out how men raced, and it was a tough lesson for me because I figured I would roll over all these old geezers (old geezers were guys in their 30’s).
I lined up right next to this short guy with a mustache and small afro, and he was only in his racing shoes and shorts. I thought this was a joke, and these guys weren’t serious racers at all; I was so far off base once the gun went off.
Wrong On All Accounts
The gun went off, and I was already chasing down several old geezers with the little guy that was next to me way out in front. I couldn’t believe how stupid this guy was for going out that fast. I figured he would be toast by the mile, and I would slip by him easily. I never saw him again until the finish line. I quickly forgot about him and was busy trying to hang with these guys just in front of me after the mile...they weren't slowing down! How was this possible?
I was not making ground on them at all during the second mile. In fact, they began to pull away and I lost contact with them. The last mile was racing solo because I was caught between the top group and the next pack of runners was chasing me down. They reeled me in before the finish, and I barely got to the line before getting caught by another pack.
I felt beat up and embarrassed that I had my ass handed to me by a bunch of older guys. I think I was mad at underestimating them for their age and how they looked. I soon found out the little guy next to me at the start line had won; I couldn’t believe he won! I soon found out that this runner was a local Toledo stud named Wally Rodriguez. He was an incredible runner who had a long and successful running career because of his durability. This was one of many battles that I would have with Wally over the next 10 years before he hung up his racing shoes.
As I shuffled over to my parents, I was not happy with how tired I felt for a not so great time (I can’t remember what it was). Both my mom and dad told me I looked as white as a ghost and was dying coming down the stretch. My parents did not sugar coat it if I didn’t run well, and that is something I am grateful for. On the drive home, they asked what I had eaten the last two days. It wasn’t much and my parents were not in any way, shape, or form healthy food eaters. They DID know that I was definitely not eating enough and put a stop to the diet.
It was a smart decision in the end because my poor eating habits were at least going to give me the calories I needed to keep training hard. This is one aspect of my training career that I have never mastered or even came close to success. My poor eating habits have been my Achilles heel throughout my running journey.
The St. Francis summer conditioning program was coming to an end, and official practice was about to begin. At the end of the first week of practice, we would have a time trial to see who would be running varsity for the first meet in a couple of weeks. I had busted my tail training all summer and was hoping to close the gap on my two classmates, Craig Bickle and Mark Wenrick. This was going to be a true measurement of my fitness, and I was both excited and terrified...