How Did I Start Organized Running

A lot younger me

This is the starting piece on my history as a runner. In this series I plan to tell a few stories from a lifetime of running.

They will be my recollections and honest reflections on a part of my life that others only glimpse, as that “guy” who was out running (mostly by himself) all the time.

I hope you enjoy reading these recollections.

How long have I been running?

Organized running for me probably started in August of 1971, yes a long, long time ago.  Here is my story of how it began.

Pretty much like many other youngsters I ran ever since I could. I cannot remember a time when I haven’t run here or there or been involved in sports that need running.

What I did best growing up was running fast for short distances in sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, football (nothing organized), school yard races, races at the swim front, tag you are it, hide and seek and all those other games we used to play.

It was just fun to run and run fast.

The Smallest Guy my Grade

I was always the smallest guy in my school for age, so one of my survival methods was being able to outrun the bullies (and there more than a couple in our little town) from my grade and the “older” kids (either before or after school). This meant that I needed to be able to run really fast, but only for relatively short distances, once you got by the gauntlet, they didn’t try to run after you.

Up until my 8th grade summer I was always the 2nd or 3rd fastest guy in my age group even though I was usually what seemed like a foot shorter than everyone else. However, I could never beat Brian S., and after a while it became a mental thing.  I “knew” that I couldn’t beat him and didn’t for the longest time any time there was a time to run fast.

Things start to change

One day down at the Newport Swim front there a bunch of us hanging around and he was getting on me pretty bad about being so much smaller than him, never as good as he was – in name the sport, etc. He was your classic local “jock jerk” type that was great at everything, good-looking and everyone thought he was great. He was one of the star athletes in our school and I was just one of the supporting role players.

I got fed up with his “witty” remarks and challenged him to a race from the Legion Hall steps to the life guard stand – about 50 yards.  You know those “boy” challenges with all the words and things that go along with that kind of challenge. He just said “I don’t know why you want to even bother, you know that I will kick your ass!” Along with a lot of other jeering and “fun” comments from our “friends”.  After about 5 minutes of this abuse and me not backing down from him, he agreed to the race.

The Race

Everyone at the beach was hooting and hollering.  They cleared all the people out-of-the-way and one of the “girls” started us. For me it was one of those “Chariots of Fire” moments and yes I beat him by about 5 yards – he had underestimated me and how fast I was. He was all blustery and demanded a re-match saying that he wasn’t ready when the girl said “go” and that he just let me win.  After a lot of banter back and forth we agreed to make it a best 2 out of 3. He won the next race, but barely. I remember his words pretty clearly “See Shaw, I can beat you anytime I want too!”

The third and last race was even more hotly contested between us going back and forth until the end and as much as I want to say that I won – I didn’t.

He beat me by about a yard, but I was no longer intimidated by him.  Even though he beat me 2 of 3 races, beating him just that once let me know I could do it again. However, he did treat me with a little more respect and didn’t pick on me nearly as much after that.

In the future he and I pretty much swapped off who would win when we were in the same heats in track or doing wind sprints in sports that we did together, until our Junior year in high school – after which he never beat me again.

This is the first real race that I remember and it was an important milestone in my life.

Soccer Fiasco

Later that summer, most of us former 8th graders were going out for summer soccer and were practicing a couple of nights a week at the high school. I am left-footed so they put me out as a left wing, but I was so small compared to everyone else that when I got the ball the defenders were always able to knock me off it and usually put me on the ground – hard.

I heard the coaches talking after one time when they had to come out and pick me up, because I had been knocked silly again (probably what would be considered a concussion today) and say “He sure is fast, but there isn’t anything to him, he is going to get hurt if we let him play very much” and that they were planning to cut me from the team. Back then you had to make the team and soccer was a lot more physical than it is today, you expected to get hit when you got the ball.

At the time I was a couple of inches away from being 5′ and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet with clothes on.

That night after practice was over they took me aside and told me they were cutting me from the soccer team for my own protection and told me to come back again when I grew a little more.

After hearing that, my hopes for playing soccer were dashed and I sat and moped around for a while. My ego had taken a big hit, being the first player cut from the soccer team, not because I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t willing, but because of my size.

Learning about Cross Country

A few days later Jay B. and I were playing a pickup game of basketball in Goody Gilman’s old barn on one of those rainy summer days.  I hadn’t told anyone else yet that I had been cut from the soccer team, it was too humiliating to me. Instead I isolated myself from my friends and just told everyone that I was tired of playing soccer and wasn’t going to play anymore.

I told Jay everything and complained to him about how unfair the soccer coaches were to me and told him that I had already been cut from the Soccer team, because I was too small and they were afraid I would get hurt playing at the high school level.

We kept playing basketball and kept talking. He said he was going to start running Cross Country the next week to get in shape for basketball season and asked if I was interested. I asked him what was Cross Country and he told me it was running races on trails – I thought to myself that is something that I could be pretty good at.

Playing sports and being part of a team was very important to me back then. After all I believed that I was going to go on to play professional basketball – ahhh the dreams of youth.

When he told me that everyone who went out for the team would make the team – that they didn’t cut anyone. I really became interested, in reality my ego was very fragile and being so much smaller than everyone else my age didn’t help a whole lot. I didn’t want to get cut from another team again.

I got on that bus the second week of August in 1970, that was when I started my organized long distance running career.  Little did I know then that it would become something that I would be doing and love for the next 40 plus years. I certainly didn’t realize it then.

So that is the story behind how I became a runner.

How did you become a runner? When did you admit you were a runner?

Read the rest of the series here 40 Years of Running

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