Was listening to a podcast the other day and the runner being interviewed was talking about his first races in school. It got me thinking about my introduction to running and racing before I ever put a uniform on my body. FIVE races in five years. And I remember WAAAAY too much about each.
It was fifth grade and the culminating activity of the national physical fitness test: the 600 yard run. My gym teacher Mr. Wenzl had us primed and ready to run this monstrously long distance TWICE (I guess they figured if the first time didn’t kill us, they’d try a second). The “track” was simple. We ran the bases of the hardball field. 90 feet to each base, made for 360 feet or 120 yards per lap. Five laps made 600 yards. And without ceremony, we were off!
I have no idea what my time was for the first go round. I do know, however, that I WON! Ah, the taste of victory was divine, short-lived, but divine. I say short-lived because since I had won my “heat,” I would be placed in the second running with Larry Roma, who no one had told me was the school record holder. Well, I broke Larry’s record with a quick 2:06. The problem was that Larry broke Larry’s record with a 2:04.
In sixth grade the much awaited rematch was set. We both ran easy in the first running knowing the big matchup would be coming. The”final” had me taking an early lead only to have Larry come up on my shoulder with a little over a lap to go. Well, sorry Larry. I’m not sure if I had my Wheaties that morning and you did not, but I was not to be denied smashing through the finish at 1:58.
Next came Junior High. We were a 7-9 grade school and while we did the obligatory fitness test jive, we also did a thing called, are you ready for this, The Distance Run. WHOA, that seems intimidating. Turns out that the “distance run” was about 3/4 of a mile (which by the way, made it more than twice as far as the measly 600).
Anyway, 7th grade, I won with a 4:26 breaking the 7th grade record and coming up 2 seconds short of the record for the entire Junior High. In the 8th grade….. well, in the 8th grade I ran 4:00 “shattering” every record (closest guy was my buddy Steve Sly who was 20 seconds back).
9th grade, well 9th grade changed my life. I had always thought I’d play baseball in High School. I was a very good pitcher and an excellent hitter. My Dad, with all of the optimism of a Dad, thought that baseball might be my ticket. Turns out he was wrong. And so was I.
I ran 3:36 that day and the next day the High School cross country coach just happened to show up at Jr High PE class to chat with me. That was all it took to win me over. I became a runner that day.
(By the way, on a side note, as much potential as I had, my youngest son Ryan was scary…… 6:22 mile as a first grader)
115,000+ miles later, I still look at it as the best decision I’ve made.
What’s your story?