Running High School Cross Country 1971-1974

This is the third post in my ongoing series where I am looking back at my over 40 years as a runner. In this series you will find my recollections and honest reflections about a part of my life that others only glimpse, as that “crazy guy” they see out running in all kinds of weather, at night, during the day or even during hunting season.

Ah the high school years, a time where we learn a lot about ourselves, make friends, lose friends and make memories that last the rest of our lives — in other words for many of us – taking a line from Bruce, “The Glory Days”.

Running Cross Country

To put it bluntly, I was your classic under-achiever as a high school Cross Country runner.

Scanned Photo from 1973, yes I am number 7
Photographer Unknown – given to me my Senior Year by Mr. Smith

Even though I ran Cross Country for 4 years, I never placed in a meet, nope never. Came close one time, but just didn’t have enough left in the tank and got out-kicked by my team-mate. Looking back I didn’t have the dedication to train properly or the mental toughness to keep going when I really didn’t want to.

Just Endured it
No Cross Country was not a sport I enjoyed, it was a sport that I endured. Truthfully I couldn’t wait for the season to get over and for basketball to start, after all I was going to be a professional basketball player and be drafted by the Celtics – I guess that is why they call them dreams.

Although I wasn’t a very good long-distance runner, I was one hell of a rabbit. I ran faster than almost everyone for the 1st mile and Coach Smith after figuring that out, told me to go out as fast as I could for as long as I could and try to draw out the other team’s better runners sooner than they wanted to go, especially against opponents that didn’t know us very well. It even worked a few times and our faster runners were able to pass them in the latter stages of the race.

New Running Shoes

One of the best memories I have about running Cross Country was when we got new shoes my sophomore year. Many of us didn’t buy our own running shoes and just used the school’s Converse with rubber soles or track spikes, which were great for courses without any tar, but on other courses that had a lot of tar they pretty much sucked and there were a lot of them.

We got brand new Asics Tigers, they were bright blue nylon with white bottoms. There were enough for everyone to have a new pair that wanted them and everyone did. No they didn’t make me run any better, but I sure did like them better than those old Converse that I had been running in. I still don’t know how Mr. Smith pulled it off, but he did.

Screen shot taken from – http://www.runnersworld.com/community/forums/runner-communities/masters/first-running-shoes/.1

It seems the more things change the more they stay the same, some of today’s minimalist shoes don’t really look all that much different from these oldies but goodies. Many of today’s minimalist runners would have loved these shoes.

First Running Injury

When I stepped in a chuck hole during a practice run my senior year about a 1/4 way through the season, I hurt my right Achilles tendon. Enough so that my parents actually took me to the Doctor and Dr. Burke (who hated runners and running), told me I was done for the season.

In many ways it was actually a sense of relief for me that I didn’t have to endure running those long distances anymore and could finally get a job after school instead of always having a sports practice that I had to go to (stupid me). I had finally figured out that I wasn’t going to play pro basketball and wasn’t going out for the basketball team. A girlfriend and a car meant I needed money more than sports.

No looking back I really did not like or enjoy the actual running part of Cross Country in high school.

The Outsiders

However, I did enjoy the social part, many of the kids who ran cross-country were the “outsiders”, the not so cool kids, the ones like me who just didn’t fit in the “real” sports programs and cross-country gave us a sport where we found there were others like us. Not all the other runners were like that, but there were enough of us who didn’t fit the mold during my 4 years of running, that I actually fit in someplace.

This was the first year I wasn’t the shortest person on the team, I think I stood a towering 5’5″.

Scanned image from Nokomis Region High School Yearbook – 1972
I am the last runner on the right, just a little bit nerdy?  Dig the Chuck Taylors – brings back a lot of great memories

Anyone but Mr. Smith

If anyone else but Mr. Smith had been coach of the cross-country team, I would not have continued to run. However, he made me and many of the other team members feel that our contributions were important and that we were important even if we didn’t place in races.

As a teacher he was always banging his head against walls with administration, but no one and I mean no one messed with his cross-country runners, when they did…well it wasn’t pretty.

Mr. Kenneth Smith – Photo from
1972 Nokomis Regional High
School Yearbook

He protected us against all enemies, admins, soccer players, field hockey stick wavers and other high school predators who saw us geeky runners as natural prey. If you ran cross-country, no matter how good or bad you were, Mr. Smith was there for you – you were one of his kids.

Thank you Mr. Smith for protecting me all those years ago and for introducing me to a sport that I have grown to love.

Track

I have to write a bit about track, it was where I did pretty well and why Mr. Smith put up with me on the Cross Country team – I think.

Track was a different story though and I did pretty good in the 100 and 220 yard dashes as they were called back then. Let’s just say what I lacked in distance running, I more than made up as a sprinter in the spring.

Looking back with what I know now, I think I would have been more of a natural fit at the 440, however we had a really good runner at that distance (I held my own against him in practice, if I was within 10 yards on that last corner, he was mine). We were weaker in the dashes and Mr. Smith told me I was going to do the 100 and 220 – I had learned not to argue with him.

My senior year he asked if I would run in the Penquis league meet even though I hadn’t run a race that year, I had gotten a school cooperative job and was working 24 hours a week at the Agway Farm store plus going to school 1/2 a day. I went to a few practices to be eligible and got time off from work on a Saturday (our busiest day, so I didn’t get too many of those off).

Where I worked of my job was lifting and unloading grain cars filled with 100 pound grain bags, when I only weighed 126 pounds, so I didn’t have a lot of body fat and could put two grain bags over my head without too much trouble and could carry them around a 100 foot warehouse without any problem.

Somehow, with minimal sprint training, I brought home blue ribbons in the 100 and 220 that day and almost a third in the 4×800 relay – guy had a 20 yard lead on the anchor leg and just nipped me at the end.

Surprised myself and a lot of other people too that day. Coach Smith was accused of bringing in a “ringer” just for the league championship meet, but when they checked it out, I was legal, I had signed up and gone to enough practices to qualify.

It is strange now that I look back on it, that as much as I hated, yes hated running long distances in high school that it is the one sport from high school that I still do.

If you are interested in other posts in this series here they are:

40 Years of Running

I hope you enjoy reading these recollections, I know that I am enjoying going through the pictures, diaries and reflecting back on these parts of my life..

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