Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Epilogue One: Basking

Memories from the bus ride home, post-race:
- Everyone belting out our awful version of "We Are the Champions" by Queen, until we were hoarse.
- The feeling that WE did it, together.
- Looping around the square in Baraboo, celebrating from the seats of the yellow school bus.
- Entering the BHS gymnasium, where a varsity volleyball game was going on ... causing the game to pause as word of our victory spread in the crowd (sorry, volleyballers).
- Posing for more photos in the gym with our trophy:
Kneeling (L to R): Kelly, Hegley, McGann, Nikl
Standing (L to R): Queniahan, Coach Briscoe, Crary, Nelson

- Pizza Hut, post-shower (where else?).

Here are a few more post-race clippings from the scrapbook:

Here's Shannon winning the girl's race:

This next one was in the Tomah paper:

Now here are some handsome lads (um ... we looked much better in person!)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 18, 1979 (Thursday)

Chapter One: Pre-race

From running log:
Cross country RACE. 1979 SCC cross country championship on Tomah Hiawatha golf course. 1 mile warmup, 3 mile race. 0.1 cooldown. Slight breeze, a bit humid, 65F ... (to be continued)

30 years later:
I think you can imagine how hard it was to concentrate on classroom instruction on this day 30 years ago. The entire cross country season was about to come down to the race we had made our goal. What did we care about quadratic equations or the geopolitics of the Cold War? Huh?

We dressed quickly and got onto the yellow bus to drive us up the interstate highway to Tomah. We were, as usual, a bit of a motley crew in our mis-matched gray sweatsuits and various Baraboo-themed warmup jackets. Having seen the course recently, all we needed to do was warmup, stretch, and get to that starting line ready to rock.

By tradition, the boy’s team sat in the back of the bus, the girl’s team in the front. When we parked in Tomah, the girls all piled off, but the boys stayed behind for just a minute. That minute would be Coach Briscoe’s defining moment.

Coach Briscoe was a nice guy. He wasn’t really a runner, and his coaching was (for all practical purposes) something more akin to babysitting. He was there, we did the work, he made sure everyone was accounted for. I’m sure he wasn’t much more than 5 years older than most of us. But he definitely enjoyed that season, and always had a ready smile and a look of pleasant surprise about him. All of this only added to our success.

On that bus, we were eager, intense, and nervous … probably a little too nervous. We had put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and now it was time to perform. As a coach, what do you do with that situation? Coach Briscoe made his decision. I don’t know how long he’d planned his speech, or even if he did. But it was brilliant in its simplicity, honesty, humor, and connection with popular culture.

All he did: gesturing along with his words, he stated, “Well, I don’t have a can of Schlitz beer here, but if I did I would pop it open and say ‘go for the gusto’!” We broke into roars of laughter, he smiled and walked off the bus. It was a familiar and somewhat silly ad campaign that we’d all been subjected to countless times on television. Meaningless, irreverent, and perfectly-timed. Nicely played coach.

We piled off the bus charged with emotion but with a smile which helped us relax and focus. A bit of jogging and stretching, and we headed to the open field and the starting line.

Chapter Two: The Race

From running log:
... I hit the halfway point in 7:37, then gave it all I had ... (to be continued)

30 years later:
The starting line was a crowded mass of teenage boys, forming a sort of multi-colored swash of wiggling humanity across the green grassy field. Alternatively hopping in place, stretching, or dashing out and back to stay warmed up, we were counting down the seconds to the gun. Looking left and right, I saw all of the familiar faces, each concentrating in their own way. It was an intense moment.

At the crack of the gun, we were off. Just over my left shoulder, I heard Chris Kelly grunt out something like "for Charlie!", but for me it was already Jim Boehm and myself storming to the front. This photo was taken perhaps 15 seconds into the race:

You may need to click on it to enlarge, but you will see that Jim Boehm and I have already bolted to the front, and looking right behind us you see my teammates Chris Kelly, Todd Crary, and Moose McGann have jumped out fast too, inching ahead of Mike Bennett and his teammate Terry Murphy. Right behind them you can see Ben, Nellie, and Ken who have also leapt out of the gate. Think we were a little fired up?

I ran the first lap hard but under control. As was my style in the conference, I ran from the front and forced everyone else to try to match my pace. The Tomah course was a firm surface with short grass, no mud or puddles or steep hills. I felt strong and in control. As we ran up the hill right before the finish area (end of lap one), I surged slightly, and only Boehm and Bennett could hang on. We were 1.5 miles into the race, and we had run 5:05 per mile pace. Here is a photo of the leaders as we ran by:

I have the lead, with Boehm as always right on my shoulder. Mike Bennett is hanging on, but you can see by his downward gaze that he already suspects that he won't be able to keep up with our pace. Chasing behind is (in order) Jim Angus from Reedsburg, another runner who had come on strong near season's end; then his teammate Matt Klecker; followed by Terry Connors of Wisconsin Dells; and Baraboo's Moose McGann. Like most runners, I never once looked back to see what was going on behind me, but if I had done so this would have looked exactly as I expected, except perhaps for the strong showing by Angus. The race was half-over, and it was time to determine who was going to win and who was going to crack.

The second lap became a bit of a war of attrition. As Boehm and I continued to apply pressure in our standard one-two "punch", some of those behind began to fade. To his credit, Angus kept running hard and got past Bennett, who had begun to fall victim to his too-strong early pace. Harry Haslanger had advised me to stay behind Bennett for the sake of the team; instead, I had run him into the ground for the sake of the team. He pushed himself gamely, but would end up in 7th place on the day. Another victim of going out too hard for his fitness was my rival Terry Connors, who would also fade on the second lap and end up in 11th place.

I had no idea what was going on behind me. All I wanted was that win, to cross that line first. With about 1000 yards to go, I finally stole one quick glance over my shoulder at Boehm. I learned two things. One, he looked tired, his cheeks were red. Two, there wasn't anyone else within striking distance. As we neared that final hill before the finish, the same one I'd surged on at the end of lap one, I put my chin down and just did it again. It was too much for Boehm, he relented a step, then two, then three ... suddenly I couldn't hear him breathing behind me anymore. I crested the hill and opened up into the fastest kick I could muster.

My lungs were on fire. I wasn't breathing so much as gulping for air, in audible groans. I didn't care. No way was anyone going to pass me now ...

Chapter Three: The Finish

From running log:
... and finished in 15:39 for FIRST PLACE! I'm #1 in the conference, beating Boehm by 8 seconds ... (to be continued)
30 years later:
I did it! All of the hard work, all of the worry, all of the focus, and all of the emotional turmoil of a team without Charlie. This was, for me, vindication + accomplishment + effort + joy. I had imagined this moment over and over again, played it out in my head. I had reminded myself over and over what I wanted to do and how I would do it. I had set my mind on a goal and I had acheived it. I was exultant. But wait, cross country is a *team* sport ... what was going on behind me?

I knew Boehm would be second, and turned to shake his hand while still in the finishing chute. He was a good kid, he congratulated me and said he had given it everything he had. We had both run our best three-mile times ever, and in a sense we had done it together. I'd run 5:13 pace, he'd run 5:16 pace. It was a hearty handshake, we had respect for eachother. I let go of his hand and headed back to the finish line and then up the course a few yards to see what would unfold in the team race. Here they came: Angus in 3rd, nice race. Then Larry Massen, the Adams runner whose teammates had tried to deliver him a race earlier in the year by blocking the course, well done - I never expected that of him. In 5th was Matt Klecker, his ever-present and slightly sideways smile firmly in place. Right on his heels was our own Todd Crary, literally flying down the hill and across the line, nearly running Matt over in the finish chute. Wow! Then Bennett and Murphy from Portage, uh oh. Next came not one, not two, but three runners from Wisconsin Dells: Novy, Gelhaus, and Connors (sandwiched around McGinnis, the runner from Tomah who would not count in the team standings because his school did not field a full team). It looked like the team competition was going to be close. Within the next 16 seconds, it was a torrent of sprinting finishers battling across the line. We managed to get four more guys across the line: McGann, Nelson, Queniahan, and Kelly ... and Portage brought two more and Dells one more. It looked like we had it! The crowning glory for our team was the furious finish of Ken Nikl in 23rd place, out of a field of 42 runners. We'd put our 7th man right behind Portage's fifth man, and ahead of the fifth man from the Dells, not to mention we'd put all 7 of our guys basically in the top half of the field. Outstanding.

Chapter Four: Post-race

From running log:
... The team kicked a$$, finishing 17 points better than Portage. WE ARE THE CHAMPS!!! It was for Charlie, man.
1 Hegley 15:39 (wow!)
6 Crary 16:11 (wow!)
12 McGann 16:28 (wow!)
14 Nelson 16:34 (wow!)
17 Queniahan 16:39 (wow!)
19 Kelly 16:44 (wow!)
23 Nikl 17:01 (wow!)
This is a damn good team, one to remember. Crary ran the race of his life, and Nellie ran really fast. Moose ran so hard he almost passed out at the finish! I set the course record. It feels great, what a job by everyone. BHS might give us a little recognition now, even Schnetz at the BNR. YEOW!!

30 years later:
In the nervous moments at the finish area, you rely on your coaches who have frantically tried to record the places of each finisher ... and both of our coaches had us calculated as the winners. We grabbed cups of hot chocolate and posed for a victory photo, resplendent in our crummy cotton warmups:

First row: Crary, McGann, Hegley, Nellie
Second row: Queniahan, Kelly, Nikl
We were number one!

The top seven runners were named "All Conference" and we posed on the hillside for our photo:
Missing from the photo was Larry Massen, I'm not sure why. I blinked at the flash bulb, oh well ...
As we filed back to the bus for the drive home, arms draped around each other, we basked in the glow of accomplishment, and tasted the bittersweetness of having to do so without Charlie.

I will post a few more related post-race comments next, but to end this lllooonnngggg post I will simply append the results of the race (in wonderful mimeograph!), including the JV race (Baraboo runners had finished 1st and 2nd with McCannon and Toman) and the girls Varsity race (Baraboo won that one too, with Shannon and Dori going one-two individually and leading the team to a hard-fought, close victory over Portage). Stay tuned for more stories and reflections soon.

October 17, 1979 (Wednesday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 2 mile warmup, 3 mile workout on the grass and trails behind the high school, and up the hill to the cemetary. We ran to Charlie's grave together as a team. Being there brought on some tears, and motivation. I can do it, we can do it, we must do it. Go!

30 years later:
The typical run on the day before a championship meet would be a lark. Most runners would have been goofing off, laughing and joking and running as slowly as possible. For us, in 1979, it was a bit different. I told the coaches that I would be leading the team on an easy run to the cemetary to visit Charlie's grave. The coaches were smart enough to keep their distance. I gathered the entire boy's team, and spoke briefly about what we were going to be doing, and about Charlie. It was a quiet, somber jog to the cemetary, where we gathered in silence around the grave, over which the grass had begun to grow but the broken soil was still evident. It had only been a few months since the funeral and the burial.

I had prepared a kind of motivational speech to give when we arrived, but in the moment, looking at the watering eyes of my teammates, and feeling my own tears start to flow, I couldn't talk. I felt like the words would only reduce the experience. I was clutching a 3 by 5 notecard, but I crumpled in my fist and just let all of us be in the moment. All of us react to grief in different ways, some embrace the emotions and let them out, others avoid the pain and stay at the periphery, most of us vacillate somewhere between each end of that spectrum.

Finally, after maybe 5 minutes graveside, I said, "There is nothing else to say. Tomorrow is for Charlie." Then I turned and began slowly running back to the high school. The only runner who did fall in with me was Todd Crary, who instead jogged over to another grave. He had other respects to pay. We were all surprised by this, but respected his moment. We didn't think of Todd as a private kind of guy, but he had sadness and loss in his life that none of us really knew about. I stopped the group at the exit of the cemetary, where we stood in silence, stretching gently until Todd re-joined us. Then we ran in silence back to the locker room.

It was a quiet and quick shower for everyone, before we headed our separate ways home. I made eye-contact with each member of our varsity, and we all simply nodded at each other.

Tomorrow was going to be our day. Charlie should have been there with us, but he wasn't ... except in spirit. We would have to win this race without him as a teammate, but with him by our sides anyway.
When we got home after practice, we found this article in the Baraboo News Republic:

Friday, October 16, 2009

October 16, 1979 (Tuesday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 1 mile warmup, 4 mile workout, 0.5 mile "relays". Mostly on the road, Crawford loop. It was kind of a screw-off day. I feel fine, tho my back is just a little stiff. Relax. Win SCC. We had a really good team meeting tonight, and went over notes from H. Haslanger (via H. Simon). I also made a bunch of notes and we talked about every runner and what they needed to do.

30 years later:
While his doctor would no longer allow Harry Haslanger to coach our team, that did not stop him from keeping tabs on our performances, as well as attending other races to scout our competition. He had been thinking about the conference meet all season long, and in a conversation with the head coach Helen Simon he had transfered his accumulated thoughts and strategies to her. After practice, we held a series of team meetings. First, we sat with coach Simon to hear her read Harry's notes, scanned here (that's my handwriting at the very bottom of page 2):

So, the esteemed Harry Haslanger felt that I should not try to keep up with Mike Bennett, for fear that I would fade and hurt the team. While I respected his opinion, the truth was that he had not seen Jim Boehm and I demolish the field recently, and I knew in fact that it was Bennett who would have a hard time keeping up with us, and if he tried he would be the one likely to fall back and hurt his team. Sorry, Harry, on this one I had more information. I respected Mike Bennett as a runner, but I expected him to finish in 3rd or 4th place, duking it out with Matt Klecker of Reedsburg, while Mr. Boehm and I waged our own fight up front.

The suggestion to match up with Portage, runner-by-runner was a good one. In fact, I had been carefully tracking the runners from all teams in the SCC during the season (see scanned image below, sorry for poor quality), and had prepared to encourage my teammates to adapt that kind of strategy as well. Make the race into a series of smaller races, with each of my teammates tasked with getting the better of one or two specific competitors. I felt it would help us stay focused. From my careful tracking, you can see that while Connors still had the third best time, he had run that time almost a month earlier. Bennett had the 4th fastest time coming in, but he had run that time all the way back in early September. Those two had probably peaked a little too early. I knew in my heart that my only real focus had to be Boehm.

After Coach Simon went off to meet with her girl's team, it was my turn to get us focused. I met with the Varsity runners only, and went over my own notes. It's actually funny how many of my prepared remarks matched up with Harry's:

Well, you can certainly see that we were intense! I guess we were taking a bit of a Lombardi-esque approach, but we were young and this seemed to be the method for stirring up the strongest competitive juices.
We had two days to go ...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15, 1979 (Monday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. Ran 1 mile warmup then 3.5 mile workout, plus 6 x 100 yard sprints. Up to 62F now, feels warm after cold weather last week. I feel good, I'm running strong. We have to beat Portage. I have to beat Boehm, Klecker, Bennett, Connors.

30 years later:
We were counting down. Only three days to go before the race we'd been gunning for since before the season even started.

When I started this blog, one worry was that it would be too long. Day after day, how on earth could that be interesting? Well, for me (at least) it seems like the days have flown past over the last couple of months, and here we are on the verge of the race that would define our season and cement my identity as a runner. Back then, the season did seem long. It spanned the hot summer months, the beginning of the school year, the change of season to autumn, numerous races, plenty of homework assignments, and on and on. Now, 30 years later, a couple of months seems to go by in the blink of an eye. Has time accelerated?

You can see how single-minded I was about this cross country season. After every workout, I would diligently update my log, and frequently remind myself who I had to out-run in order to be the champion of our conference. I suppose it reads as tedious repetition now, but it was effective then.

Most of all, I wanted Baraboo to be the next school on this list of champions, and I wanted my name in the "individual" column ... ironically, as the first champion from Baraboo since 1972, when Charlie's older brother had done it:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October 14, 1979 (Sunday)

From running log:
Ran about 4 miles around downtown Baraboo with Todd Coolidge. It's warming up a little bit. We ran a decent pace, and talked. He says that Connors is finally healthy after some minor injuries ... but can he run well on Thursday? I think that I'm peaking perfectly. Our team must win! Go Todd, Tim, Ben, Mike, Chris, Ken, and me!

30 years later:
My old training partner Todd was now running for UW-Oshkosh. Pushed by talented teammates, he was in better shape than I was. But on this day, running with him, I felt light on my feet and capable of any pace or distance. It was a good thing that we took it easy, which wasn't typical of our runs together. Perhaps he'd raced the day before, frankly I don't recall.

While I was of course concerned about all of my competitors for the conference title on Thursday, to be honest the news that Terry Connors was finally feeling good didn't worry me too much. After a full season, it seemed pretty clear to me that Jim Boehm was going to be the guy who would push me. We had raced each other all season long, it seemed, and we had a pattern of running together. I'd be in front, he would be right on my heels pushing me the whole way. We'd used this tactic to run away from the field in our last race, and I expected more of the same on Thursday. Please don't take that as a sign of disrespect for Terry; he was a tough runner and if he'd been healthy all season I think he would have been my number one worry. But running is a sport in which the strongest win, and for the 1979 cross country season Terry Connors just wasn't the strongest.

October 13, 1979 (Saturday)

From running log:
Ran 3.5 miles on the grass and roads around Warner Park in Madison after going to the Wisconsin Badger football game with Aunt Chris. It was cool and breezy, 42F. I ran well, and I feel good. I want to really kill it at the SCC race on Thursday.

30 years later:
Wisconsin Badgers football ... they finished 4-7 that year, but on this date in mid-October they managed to beat Michigan State 38-29. The previous weekend they had lost to Indiana by a score of 3 to 0, so clearly this was a marked improvement. Of course, the following week they'd travel to Columbus, Ohio to get shellacked by Ohio State 59 to 0. Ouch. But this isn't a blog about football ...

Our cross country team was riding the wave of a successful season and feeding off of a building momentum enhanced further by everyone's dedication and excitement. On this evening, while I was running at an easy pace around Warner Park, I was day-dreaming about running that conference meet. I was going over the course in my head, thinking about the start, the turns, the grass, the road crossings. The route around the golf course in Tomah was 1.5 miles long, so we'd be running two complete laps. It had only a couple of minor hills, but one was a significant up and down right before the finish line. In my mental rehearsal I plotted over and over again how I would attack that hill, on both laps. If anyone was still with me on that last lap, they would have to kill themselves to stay with me on that last hill.

Visualization is a technique of using guided imagery to go over your upcoming performance. Research has proven it to be effective across myriad sports. I was just a teenager then, I had never even heard the term. But I was using the techniques simply because I couldn't help myself. It's like the kid in the backyard at dusk, dribbling the basketball and counting down the final 10 seconds of the imaginary game until he tosses up his game-winning shot at the buzzer ... over and over again. These little games we play in our heads are inspired by our enthusiasm, and they also happen to create self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, picturing yourself running strong and taking the victory can actually make it come true. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 12, 1979 (Friday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 8 mile run on the roads (out Reedsburg Road). Quite cold, windy, 40F, including the first snow flakes of the season. Man, am I tired! Two races in the past three days. I didn't run well today, but that's okay. I will get in some runs over the weekend. Keep looking to conference meet. I'm gonna win.

30 years later:
That last sentence, "I'm gonna win", if taken out of context could sound rather cocksure. But I know differently. I wrote things like that in my running log, over and over again, when I was young. It was a self-motivation technique that I employed. I wanted to focus on the goal, I wanted to believe that I could accomplish that goal, and for me it helped both if I wrote the words down on the page. I no longer do this with the big goals in my life ... perhaps I should think about that.

There was less than a week to go before the race that I'd been training and planning for over the previous 5 months, ever since the end of the previous spring's track season. All of that hard work, all of that energy, all of that worry and anxiety, was about to come to a head.

We were already plotting out strategy for that conference race. During the run on this date, we ran together and talked about the teams that would be our main competition (Portage, Wisconsin Dells). We talked about how hard we had prepared. We talked about how each and every runner on our team was important to the outcome, how every man had to run the best race of his life. When I got home that night, I started making some notes on things I wanted to say to the team later in the next week, as the date closed in. For today, it was enough for us to have a shared, on-the-run experience as a varsity team. Everyone was on board. It felt great.

Monday, October 12, 2009

October 11, 1979 (Thursday)

From running log:
Cross Country RACE. At the Tomah Hiawatha golf course. 0.5 mile warmup, 3 mile race, 0.3 mile cool down (3.8 miles total). Cool, breezy, 45F. I hit the halfway mark in 7:42, then finished in 16:00 and first place! That takes me into the conference meet undefeated and with the best time. Look out Connors, Bennett, Klecker, and Boehm. I'm going for it next Thursday, all-out from start to finish. Crary and Ben ran well today, McGann was a little tired, Nellie re-injured his stomach muscle. We need to have everyone running strong next week. Boehm got 2nd today, and he and I simply ran away from everyone else. Will it be the same next week?

30 years later:
As our final rehearsal for the conference meet, things could not have gone much better. Well, I guess maybe it could have been 5 degrees warmer and no wind, but let's not get greedy. I recall that Jim Boehm and I just ran away from the field, we had our own race while everyone else had theirs. I was feeling strong and ready.

Perhaps strategically, the Reedsburg team held their number one runner Matt Klecker out of this race. In his stead, Jim Angus had run a very strong race, much to our surprise. We'd never considered him a threat, but here he was with a huge improvement and right before the conference meet. Someone else to worry about.

In the same way, our own Todd Crary had run a great race, and now he had to be making the other teams worry about him. Likewise, Ben had done his best time of the year. We were all closing in on a peak. Perfect.

I know that this blog is about the boy's team in 1979, but let me just take a moment to recognize Dori Helms for winning this race for the girls and in the process setting a new course record. We all loved Dori for his unbounded enthusiasm, and we all found it entertaining that she would cheer her lungs out for the boy's team, screaming out the kind of things that she probably told herself when she was racing, such as "Don't stop now, you're almost there" or "I know it hurts, but you have to keep going". In comparison to the few others who would yell only encouraging platitudes ("Lookin' good", "Way to go"), Dori's inner-psyche-specific utterances were both unique and strangely motivating. She was a good runner and a good teammate, and her strong running that year should not be over-looked. She was the bubbling good girl in counterpose to her teammate Shannon Sophie's bad-girl persona, but together they were a great one-two punch to their competition. Our girl's team had a good shot at winning their conference meet too.

In those pre-internet days, when full results simply weren't available anywhere except on someone's clipboard, I'd often take 10 minutes post race to copy down the complete slate post-race, like this:

The article from the BNR, with quotes from Coach Briscoe (I guess he was finally feeling more comfortable in his role, after nearly a season and by being a part of all of our banter and focus). He was certainly clued in on the fact that Portage would be our competition ... and we hadn't faced them head on all year long. The stage was set, we had one week to go:

October 10, 1979 (Wednesday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 1 mile warmup jog, 3.5 mile workout (4.5 miles total), on the roads (Ninth Ave and Seventh Ave). Another cool, drizzly day, 50F. We also ran some stairs inside the high school. Easy day before tomorrow's race. Tomorrow, I want to work for a strong race throughout, I have to run the 2nd mile stronger, while still going out fast in the first mile. Gotta beat Boehm again.

30 years later:
After an easy run on the roads of Baraboo, we were a bit damp and chilled, so partly to warm ourselves up, we ran up and down some stairs in the BHS gym. Yes, on a day following a race and with a race the next day. What can I say, we weren't exactly well-coached! Our strength was in a shared sense of determination and motivation, not in our scientific training regimen.

On the next day we'd get our first good look at the course that would be used for the conference championship. I would have given just about anything to have that race hosted on our hilly and difficult home course, but the race host was determined by some kind of rotation and we had no control over that. I wanted to go into the conference meet with the best time in the conference, as added intimidation for my rivals.

October 9, 1979 (Tuesday)

From running log:
Cross country RACE. Royall Invitational in Elroy, Wisconsin. 1 mile warmup, 3 mile race, 0.3 cooldown (4.3 miles total). Cool, windy, 49F. I ran 16:03 for 3 miles - the best time in the SCC conference so far this year. I finished in 3rd place and got a medal. The team finished 3rd, not as good as I thought we could. Everyone ran well though, especially Ben and Chris. McGann finally broke 17:00. I finished 3rd because of a hill in the final 500 yards, I just couldn't run up that thing after going out too fast earlier in the race. I beat Boehm again, but damn he's tough, (probably my biggest competition for the conference meet). We have another meet in Tomah on Thursday, I need another good race and fast time. Tomah is where the conference meet is going to be held.

30 years later:
We were running against unfamiliar competition in Elroy. Of the other teams there, only Mauston (with my new arch rival Jim Boehm) was a team that we had faced before. If memory serves me correctly, this is the meet at which the organizers, equally unfamiliar with us, masacred our names badly at the awards ceremony. I think they announced me as "Pug Hegsery", which would stick as a way to tease me in the hallways of BHS from that point onward. And they also murdered other names ... if you remember how, please post a comment below.

The team was continuing to improve and run well. Having Moose break 17 minutes was fantastic, and having Ben and Chris continue to get stronger and faster was a huge boost for our chances at the conference meet. We were all on the right track, all we needed to do was remain focused and committed.

Article from the BNR sports pages:

October 8, 1979 (Monday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 1 mile warmup, 4 mile workout (5 miles total), on the roads (Crawford variation). Cool, windy, steady rain, 58F. Easy day before the race at Elroy tomorrow. My right hip is sore again, I hope that's not bad news. I hope for better weather tomorrow.

30 years later:
I was always worrying about my right hip. I'd strained a muscle there during the previous track season, and it flared up now and again during the cross country campaign. I've written before that runners are worriers and complainers, we not only whine to anyone who will listen about all of our aches and pains, but we also log them carefully so we can track them later. Yeesh. We are not quite hypochondriacs, but we are certainly nearer to that end of the spectrum.

October 7, 1979 (Sunday)

From running log:
Ran about 5.8 miles on a cool sunny afternoon 60F. I clumsily twisted my left ankle on a pot hole in the road ... stupid. With my sore back and leg muscles, I had to coat myself with a layer of good old Ben Gay just to be able to run. I need more rest. There is a race (Elroy Invitational) on Tuesday, then at Tomah on Thursday. It is now less than two weeks until the conference meet. We must win!

30 years later:
The dreaded pot hole ankle twist! It happened to me countless times. Those Wisconsin roads get destroyed in the winter, with its alternate cycles of melting and freezing. Luckily, unless it's an actual sprain, a twisted ankle is typically something that hurts a bit but is otherwise easily ignored. Whew.

All focus was on the upcoming conference meet. The races in-between were merely warmup events for the main show. I'd never been to Elroy, Wisconsin ... to me it sounded like a place for a rodeo more than a place for a cross country race. Then again, I was from Baraboo, not exactly a bustling metropolis of sophisticated urbanites.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October 6, 1979 (Saturday)

From running log:
No entry, did not run.

30 years later:
Well, everybody needs a day off now and then!

Given that I'd been complaining about being tired the week before, this was probably a prudent decision. Then again, I probably took the day off because I had been out late the night before at the football game and subsequent Homecoming dance, which probably ended with a few of us heading over to Pizza Hut as usual for a late night snack (one pizza each, except for Mike Walker who just couldn't keep up with the voracious hordes of us - we all owe him a few pizzas, I'm sure we made him pay his share even though we ate most of his pizza before he could finish his first couple of slices). While I don't recall exactly, my guess is that I slept in late on Saturday, then had a nice lazy day at home doing nothing much but watching television.

October 5, 1979 (Friday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 0.5 mile warmup, 3 workout (3.5 miles total). Grass LSD. Ran the home cross country course, but in reverse direction - screaming down Cardiac Hill. My legs are tight and tired from yesterday ... also from riding kid's tricycles in the Homecoming Parade today (being silly).

30 years later:
Homecoming is supposed to be a tradition in which alumni come back to a school for a celebration, usually involving attending a football game. But when you are a high school kid, homecoming is more like an occasion to goof off, dress funny, and beg your way into the annual parade. While the football team got all of the attention and glory, we cross country runners managed to get ourselves a spot in the parade. That spot consisted of a pickup truck and several borrowed tricycles. As the parade crept along, we would take turns riding (awkwardly) the trikes, and tossing candy to the kids in the audience. It was silly, it was a bit nerdy, it was harmless ... sort of like how the general population viewed runners anyway. Most of all, it was a good excuse to get out of school for the afternoon.

We also attended the football game that night. Now, not to throw stones, but the football team in 1979 was over-matched on the field. Football is a strong tradition in Wisconsin, and for whatever reason the other school's teams in the conference had better squads and better performances that year. I'm not even sure our guys won a single game. Does anyone remember? If so, please post a comment below. Still, we attended the home games, and cheered lustily. And, of course, other kinds of lust were in abundance, as high school football games represent the chance to flirt not only with girls from your school, but even to build up enough gumption to sneak over to the visiting team's bleachers and try to impress girls from (gasp!) the other school. I was embarrassingly awful at impressing girls, no matter what school they came from. So, for me, attending football games was generally a waste of time, with one exception: Being a teenage boy, I was keenly aware of the inter-school rivalries, and watching our football team lose was actually extra motivation for me to go out and thrash that same school's cross country runners in the next meet. Thus, the foibles of our footballers helped motivate me to extract my own little sip of vengeance out on the cross country course.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 4, 1979 (Thursday)

From running log:
Cross country RACE. 1.5 mile warmup, 3 mile race, 1 mile cooldown (5.5 miles total). Cool, damp, windy 50F. We ran a triangular meet with Reedsburg and Mauston at the Mauston Country Club, a fairly flat and smooth course with only rolling hills. I ran 16:27 for first place! I remain undefeated in the conference, and so does the team. I beat Klecker (17:00) and Boehm (16:40). McGann, Crary, and Nelson ran well, but Ben didn't. I think it's just in his head, he can run better, he is in shape. My left calf is a little sore, and my throat was hurting today. That was a fast course, too bad it wasn't just a little warmer.

A photo from the Mauston Star, published about a week later. If you click on the photo, you should be able to read the caption, in which local boy Boehm is listed, along with two unidentified runners. Funny. In this photo, at the half-way mark of the race, I'm leading with Klecker right on my shoulder and Boehm sitting third. You can see the marked difference in our styles. I tended to run upright, with a high back-kick and I loved to be in the lead; Klecker was lighter and smoother with his stride, and ran with better tactics than me, rarely taking the lead unless it was late in the race; Boehm is all muscle and power and dogged determination:

30 years later:
After going through a short down period mid-season, I came back to run my fastest time and win another race against conference opponents. Frankly, it felt good.

The team was also coming together at the right time. Everyone was running faster than they had all year. Ben didn't have his best race, but he still ran close to his personal best for 3 miles cross country. We were getting into a groove, exactly what we needed to go after the conference crown.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I was still more worried about Klecker than I was about Boehm. Looking back these three decades later, the latter deserves a lot of credit for his running in 1979. He was not even mentioned as a pre-season favorite in the conference, but clearly had pushed himself in training and gotten himself really fit. Keep in mind that he did not have the kind of teammates that I did; there really was no one on his team who could push him in training. When our team ran short intervals, guys like Nellie and Ben and Chris would consistently run faster than me, even though I was giving it all I had. Those guys ran the 880 yard (half-mile) during track season, and I was a two-mile man. They had more natural leg speed, which they had been honing over the past couple of years. What this meant to me was that I was challenged and pushed nearly every day in practice, while a runner like Boehm was basically training alone. Clearly, this gave me an advantage. Whether I could capitalize on that advantage fully would be determined at the conference championship meet later in October.

Article from the Baraboo News Republic:

October 3, 1979 (Wednesday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 1 mile warmup, 4.5 mile workout, 1 mile cooldown (6.5 miles total) mixed road LSD with grass field Indian-style run. Plus 10 hill repeats. We need to psyche up for tomorrow. We need good team effort. My back is still healing, it hardly hurts at all anymore. My legs are a little tight and sore. I want to break 16 minutes in tomorrow's race, or at least run damn hard.

30 years later:
An Indian-style run is a type of workout in which several teammates run together single-file. One-at-a-time, the runner who is last in line sprints to the front of the line. After that runner has arrived at the front, the runner who has taken over last place does the same. And so on and so forth in a continuous rotation. It's a good way to get in some short, high-intensity work during an otherwise easy run.

We were scheduled to race the teams from Reedsburg and Mauston on the latter's home cross country course the next day. For me, it would be another chance to face my rivals Matt Klecker and Jim Boehm. For the team, this race should have been a mere tune-up; we had more talent and a deeper pool of fast runners than those two opponents.

Running sub-5:20 pace per mile on a fairly flat cross country course was my goal for the race. I'd never run that fast before, but I knew I was improving and I wanted to take my best shot.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October 2, 1979 (Tuesday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. Ran 1 mile warmup, 8 mile workout, 0.4 mile cooldown (9.4 miles total), road LSD up past the hospital and on County Hwy A. Warmer and sunny, 72F, but the air was full of little annoying gnats. Clouds of bugs everywhere, so bad that it made it hard to breathe. I finally had a decent run, and I really pushed it. I think Crary may be breaking out of his slump too. I got a lot of rest last night, it helped. It's important.

30 years later:
Have you ever been subjected to running through clouds of little flying bugs? I don't recommend it. I'm no insectologist, but there must be some reason that a sudden warm and sunny day in the early autumn, following upon a week of cold, wet weather, brings out one last swarm of no-see-ums. It's like their final, huge party to end the summer that just went by too quickly for all of the little monsters.

When the air is thick with bugs, you spend the entire run with your eyes squinted nearly shut, and your mouth open only a bit so as not to augment your diet (or litter your lungs) with fresh bug meat. The hungry little devils swarm around you, attaching themselves to every little hair on your body, gleefully drowning in your sweat or dive bombing in a final blaze of glory into your clothing. For them, it is the final orgy of their short lives; for you, it's an itchy, annoying, sputtering, eye-rubbing frustration.

From my log, you can see that despite my addled adolescent mind, I was able somehow to figure out that what I needed was some rest, some real sleep. What's cool about it is that it could be so effective in just a couple of days. Ah, how I long for those days, when yesterday's problems could so quickly seem so far away. Maybe we do have a thing or two to learn from our younger selves. Yesterday? You mean the day before today? Man, that was so long ago ...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1, 1979 (Monday)

From running log:
Cross country practice. 0.3 mile warm up run, 6.2 workout (6.5 miles total). Road LSD. Cold, windy, drizzling rain, 55F. I ran terribly again. What's wrong? My rhythm is all off, everybody ran ahead of me and beat me in the workout, except for Todd who's running lousy lately too. We need a good performance Thursday. I think that Ben, Tim, and Moose should do well. I wonder if I'm sick? Is it just a slump?

30 years later:
Days like this one thirty years ago are why the best cross country teams are often the product of an experienced and attentive coach. I don't mean to criticize our coaches, I truly believe that they were doing the best that they could. But a more-skilled coach would have seen Todd and I lagging behind all of the other runners, looking wan and drained, and that coach would have shut us down for the day and maybe even a couple of days. High school runners are not yet experienced enough to know when to say that enough is enough. We were wearing ourselves out, but no one was there to instruct us to slow down. As you can see from this log entry, we'd both reached a point where our bodies simply refused to keep going.

This illustrates a classic dilemma of the human condition. We have a seemingly innate tendency to believe that when things aren't going well, the answer to the problem is to do more of the same thing that got us in trouble in the first place. We are all guilty of this, it's part of being who we are. In the running world, it is manifest when a runner becomes exhausted and starts plodding through workouts like a zombie, therefore decides he/she is "out of shape" or "in a slump" and thus needs to push even harder and longer during workouts. You can see how this vicious cycle inevitably leads downward. Another example would be when the man of the house decides to "do a little remodeling", when of course he has no idea what he's doing. He starts by hammering through some dry wall, only to crack a gas pipe. After shutting off the gas, he tries to repair the pipe, only to ruin the threads on the connecting pipes. So he goes out to spend money on gas pipes, but in order to fix the problems he caused he ends up tearing into the walls on three different floors of the house. Then he struggles to repair the walls ... you get the picture. You must know at least one person who fits this description (and don't be surprised if it's yourself).

In 1979 my gut instinct was that I was in a slump and I just needed one good, hard workout to turn it all around. To all of you runners and coaches out there, anyone who says something like that is tossing up a big red flag. Your task is to have that person rest a little, back off, re-think, and if necessary call in an expert (in the runner's case that would be a doctor, in the weekend handyman's case that would be a licensed contractor).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 30, 1979 (Sunday)

From running log:
No entry, did not run.

30 years later:
I confess that I don't recall this Saturday from three decades past. I imagine that I was still licking my wounds from the previous day's race in Richland Center. I had expected to excel on that course, but it had been quite the opposite. How does a teenage boy reconcile lofty expectations versus mediocre peformance? Typically by getting really angry. After all, when you are a teenage boy, every negative emotion is rapidly translated into anger. At least with anger you feel powerful and masculine ... and at that age we are in constant doubt about both.

Perhaps it was for the best. Reading back over my running log I can see the pattern developing: I was getting worn down, from consistent hard training and not getting enough rest. I was never very good at sleeping, especially at falling asleep. I'd lie awake and obsess over the day, or over the tasks of the next day. I was pretty hard on myself, for a lot of things: not running up to par, getting even one answer wrong on a quiz, making a fool of myself (again) in front of some girl I liked, arguing with my roommate Ben, treating my three younger sisters badly ... Sigh. Over the years I've mellowed somewhat, but these characteristic traits stick with us throughout life. I was and still am able to contain some of the anxiety both by being active and by making detailed plans. Some of my not-falling-asleep was due to my mind spinning away making those plans. I'd have been better off getting a good night's sleep and just winging it.

It was the last day of September. In high school cross country, moving into October meant moving towards conference championship races. September was for getting yourself into shape, October was for reaching a peak. We had a goal, it was time to achieve it.