There are Carnivals in Cross Country?
“How did he run 16:10 on that course?!”
This was a recurring thought that ran through my head on the bus ride back from our first meet of the year vs. the Bedford Mules. I literally ran over two minutes slower than Brad on the same 5K course, and I was D-E-A-D!!! Even though I had been practicing with Brad Wotring for over a month and was usually looking at his back, I did not truly understand how good he was compared to the rest of us and the Northwest Ohio area for that matter.
I only trained with Brad for a year, but I learned a lot about true commitment to running and success. I always thought I trained hard until I watched Brad and just how much he pushed himself in workouts. I realized that Brad was on another level of commitment that I had not come close to at that time. What I will always remember about that year running with Brad was the pure joy he showed in all aspects of his training and racing. He wasn’t a “Ra-Ra” type leader, but a teammate who led by example. Brad would smile on the starting line while the rest of us were trying to stop our knees from knocking before a race.
Watching Brad my junior year was part of what motivated me to train harder and move out of my comfort zone. Well, it was that and “the laces”! I don’t remember the entire story behind the laces, but I do know that the number one runner on the St. Francis CC team back then had the honor of wearing “the laces” on their racing spikes. The laces were hot pink with black stripes on them, and they were hideous. Nobody cared how they looked because they were passed on to the #1 runner, and that was motivation for me. It was also motivation for Mark Wenrick, who was my classmate and top underclassman on the team. Mark was usually the third man behind seniors Steve Baugh and Brad, but he would get by Steve every so often to claim that second spot. This meant that I had my work cut out for me in the back as 7th man.
Our first invitational was the Celina Rotary Invit in Celina, OH, and we handled the relatively small 7 team field with an overall score of 33 points. We placed 4 runners in the top ten of the race, and I was able to move up to 5th man on the team with a sub 18 (17:49). If you are unfamiliar with how cross country races are scored, it’s fairly simple. The first five runners for a team are assigned the point value of where they finished in the race. For example, our top 5 placed 1st, 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 13th(me) at the Celina Invitational. If you add our places 1+3+6+10+13, you get a score of 33, and, like golf, the lowest score wins. Celina was simply a prelude to the largest cross country meet in the Midwest at the time, The Tiffin Cross Country Carnival.
Anyone who ran cross country in the state of Ohio knew about “The Carnival”. It was like an early state championship meet for the Ohio teams to test their mettle against the rest of the state. This year would be no different with the premier Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus schools all making appearances, but the top dog was a tiny school in Southeastern Ohio. Caldwell High School was a small division school, but any team could enter the “Elite” race as long as they could hang. Believe me, this team could do more than hang, and 1985 was the beginning of Caldwell’s dominance in Ohio, which led them to 8 consecutive state titles in DIII.
It was notoriously hot at Tiffin the weekend after Labor Day, and September 7th, 1985, was no different. I remember watching the girls’ race and seeing a girl run into a tree on the course because she was disoriented and close to collapsing from the heat. If the heat didn’t get the runners, then the creek that everyone ran through would surely make things difficult. There was a small gully everyone ran down and then through a small creek that wasn’t more than 10 feet wide and about a foot deep. There were two issues with this obstacle. 1) Once crossing the creek, you had to go up the other side of the gully after losing momentum from running through the creek. 2) This obstacle was just after the mile, which meant most runners were still packed up in large groups.
One of the highlights of running at Tiffin was watching the other races navigate the creek. What inevitably happened was the back half of the race would begin to struggle going up the hill after the creek. This would be a chain reaction of runners having to stop and walk or crawl up the hill because there were people on it and no room to pass. As the pile of runners built up, then other runners coming down the hill would hit the water and fall face first in the creek trying to stop themselves from running into the backs of the runners exiting the creek to get up the hill.
As an added layer of “fun”, the side everyone ran up would get wet, slick, and a bit muddy from all the water being tracked on it because a good part of the gully was all dirt from the years of races on it. It was quite a sight to see and very dangerous for a runner who got caught in the back half of the race where the bulk of the runners were found. It eventually became too dangerous, and the creek was eliminated from the course in the 1990’s.
When the team led me over there to see this spectacle, I was immediately freaked out!!! Both coaches stressed that as long as we got out in the first mile like we normally did, we would be safe from the melee. Between the creek and heat, this race could have literally been the death of me.
As I said it was hot that day, and we had those old school warm-ups with the sweatshirt lining inside and the water repellant layer on the outside. We all ditched those except for another classmate of mine, Craig Bickle. He came off the bus in full sweats with his hood up, and the more we harassed him, the more resolute he became in wearing them. He ran the warm-up and prepared for the race in full sweats and his hood up the entire time. The coaches gave up after a while and were probably hoping that Craig would come to his senses. That did not happen, and he, unfortunately, paid for it in the race.
I don’t remember much from that race except that I ran terrified for the first mile because I was having visions of myself falling in the creek and slipping down the hill as I tried to escape the clutches of the creek crossing. When I finally got to the creek, I saw that I had a clear path, so I let loose down the hill and almost went ass over applecart when I hit the water. I was not prepared for my legs to stop so suddenly when hitting the water at that speed. The water only came up just past my ankles, but that was all it took to stop my sprint in its tracks. Fortunately, I held my balance and kept the legs moving like the coaches told us. I was able to get back to form and get up the hill quickly. But boy-o-boy my legs were cooked from that effort at the creek. The rest of the race was nothing more than a giant open field in the sun to zap any leftover energy from the creek before heading back up to the finish loop. The finish loop around the park was about 600 meters long, lined with trees, and shaped like a big grass track oval, which was absolutely crazy for runners and spectators.
Our race was a 20 team field, and we were waiting to see if we had pulled out the win against some of the best teams that Ohio had to offer. One issue that was not working to our advantage was that the coaches moved Craig Snyder, varsity freshman runner who ran similar times to me, into the 7th-9th grade two mile race for Tiffin. By the results, it wouldn’t have mattered much because we placed 4th with 161 points and were 23 points from third place Cincinnati Elder. They were another all boys private school, and Elder had a strong tradition of state championship teams.
But the team that stole the show was Caldwell, who scored 66 points and outdistanced second-place Shelby by 73 points. Shelby had scored over twice as many points as this tiny school from Southeastern Ohio! Brad placed 4th overall that day in a field of approximately 120 runners, and we all suffered our first loss of the season BUT we would see Tiffin again...