Running 1975-1982 – in the Coast Guard

This is a post in my ongoing series where I am looking back at over my 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, after dark, during the day or even during hunting season.

I have broken these next posts into where I have run. Some places will have their own post and others will be combined. This post will be about the years 1975 to 1982.

Cape May, New Jersey

I graduated from High School on June 11th and on June 23rd I was winging my way to Cape May, NJ for Coast Guard Boot Camp. Actually, I was in the best shape of my life before that, lifting all those 100 pound grain bags at Agway made a difference. I was around 5% body fat and pretty damn fast.  Once I got to Boot Camp, if you were not in formation, you were “on the bounce” – running where ever it was you needed to go. So I actually ran more there than I had my last year in High School.

One of the memories there, related to running was the 300 yard shuttle during in our 8th week PE test. During our 2nd week test, I had almost beat this big guy from Philly and he had been pissed that a scrawny little kid from Maine had almost beat him. A lot of his friends had given him a lot of grief for that.

Boot Camp was the first time in my life I had actually sat down and talked to a black person, so there was a lot of culture shock for me coming from a small town in Maine, compared to the inner city kids that I met there. We didn’t really have a lot in common and didn’t associate all that much while we were in Boot Camp beyond being in the same squad bay.

During our 8th week we re-did our PE tests and ran the elimination 300 yard shuttle heats and finally it came down to the 2 of us and 3 other guys. He told me he was going to kick “my ass bad” this time and if I beat him it would even be worse! He was definitely trying to intimidate me, because I was the only one in the our company or our sister company who were competing with us, that had a prayer of beating him. During the race it was one of those times when everything just comes together perfectly and we were head-to-head coming off the last shuttle. At that point I found another gear and just kicked it in, I beat him by a good 10 yards and kept running for another 200, before I stopped and looked around.

I was actually scared he might try to kick my ass for beating him, after all he had told everyone that if “anyone” beat him in a race, that he would take care of the problem. When I jogged back up to the finish line, one of the PE instructors told me I had broken the base record for the 300 yard shuttle (no idea what the time was) and that my name was going on a plaque in the base gym – never saw it???

The guy from Philly came over and shook my hand (he damn near broke it – on purpose) and said he had never seen the back of anyone’s like that before, especially a little white boy’s. Later I learned that a “little bit” of money had changed hands on that race with 10:1 odds against me to win. I ate free that night at the little liberty shack we were allowed to go to.

The next day I stepped in a sewer drain wrong and almost broke my ankle I was in medical for a week and a half and barely was able to graduate with my company.  I don’t know if it was true or not but a couple of guys told me it was a probably a good thing I was in the hospital ward until we graduated, because some people had looked for me, to give me a “blanket party” for winning that race.

South Portland, Maine

In front of my locker on the CGC SPAR

This is probably the longest time in my life that I didn’t run very often and wasn’t injured. Living and working aboard a ship, just was not conducive to running back in those days. I was on a Coast Guard Buoy Tender and they were not big enough to have an exercise room set aside with a treadmill. Besides exercising was not something we had time for.

The motto from the Captain down was “work hard/play harder”. Back then you were expected to. Some of the stories, oh lala but that was a different place and time than today’s professional military :-).

When I ran, it would sometimes be with one of the Ensigns (Enzymes) who had been a runner at the Academy, if we pulled into port in time or sometimes when liberty was granted, but it was very inconsistent at best.

Believe it or not my running shoes for almost the entire time I was on the ship were a pair of Pony running shoes.

I got to run in Boston, Baltimore (Curtis Bay), Norfolk, Woods Hole, Governors Island, Rockland, GTMO (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) and a couple of other cool places.

I might have gotten one or two runs in a week or not run for several weeks in a row. Most of my time on liberty was spent drinking at bars, playing softball or basketball. I got pretty damn fat during this time (for the first time) and it is a battle that I have had to wage for the rest of my adult life.

After 1 year 10 months 13 days and 11 hours and a few minutes, I got off that ship and never went back to sea again. I never did get over being sea-sick all the time, just sucked it up and did what I had to when we were underway.

Air Station Cape Cod and Falmouth, Massachusetts

My next place to run was Cape Cod Air Station and there I started running again pretty regularly.  I was running in Brooks (I think the model was the Vantage), only this time I started to run longer distances and found that I while I wasn’t all that great at it, it did help me get skinny again.

One of the thing about living on base was the only damn hill in the areas was coming back into the Air Station itself, so I always had to run up that damn hill. I lost most of the weight that I had gained onboard ship that first year at the Air Station.

The most memorable run I had been that first year there during November, I was supposed to be a tough runner, so I was running in shorts and a t-shirt. It was probably in the 30’s with 30 mile an hour winds whipping off the runways and I went for a 5 mile run. I was frozen when I got back and they took me over to the infirmary because I looked like I was going to die. A certain part of my anatomy was very frozen and had to be checked out by the on call physician to see if I had done any damage. It took a loooong time to live that one down.

My boss there was an ultra-marathoner (which was very uncommon for back then) and he gave me some tips and advice on running in cold weather in his office the next day. I learned to run with a plastic bag inserted in my shorts, or with wind pants in the winter time.

When I moved off base to Falmouth, I would go down and run along the ocean drive not realizing it was the Falmouth Road Race course (unfortunately, I never ran it though), I just enjoyed the views both scenery and girls that would be walking/running there. I lived on Tanglewood Dr in Falmouth and if you went all the way to the end of the road, it turned to an old dirt road that came out on a series of cranberry bogs, that is where I did a lot of my running back then. Not much traffic which was a problem during the summers on Cape Cod.

Shorty shorts and tube socks – I was sooooo cool!

I did run my first 5K road race in Falmouth on January 1, 1978, as a New Year’s resolution that I was going to run more and do some road racing.

The race was an utter fiasco, I was hungover, overdressed for the weather, almost didn’t finish and was the last male finisher if I remember correctly.

After that I did run more, but never really got into the local road racing scene after that New Year’s Day fiasco, my ego had taken too big of a beating that day to go compete against other runners in a road race again for a long time.

As usual I got hurt while playing basketball and ended up on crutches what seemed like most of the summer of ’78, actually only 3 weeks and I took the cast off, not the Doctors, which in the military they really get pissed about and they let me know they were not happy with me. So the summer of ’78 wasn’t a great running summer and that winter while I kept running a little every week, it wasn’t all that much.

St. Ignace, Michigan

I am on the left and I do believe that is the last time that I
had Abs.

I arrived there in July 1979 and had been on 45 days leave (vacation) during which I ran maybe 5 times. As you can see by the picture, I was out having too much fun and sun before my next duty station.

Tt was the graduation summer that I never had. So I was tanned, I had helped a farmer hay, so I was in shape (had abs) and had enjoyed my freedom just way too much.

The first year in St. Ignace, I really didn’t run that consistently, I met my first wife that summer, trying to fit into a new place and lots of bars, let me repeat lots of bars, led to gaining back all the weight that I worked so hard to get rid of.

The next spring was when I discovered mail order catalogs and Moss Brown Inc. of Georgetown. They did get a lot of money sent their way along with a couple other mail order companies that sold sports/running equipment and my weakness running shoes.

After that first year, I ran and I ran a lot. My boss was a runner and he was very supportive of my running.

I went through several different shoes while there (some very good, some horrible), but the one pair I remember most was going down to Petoskey, MI and finding a brand new pair of Nike Equinox, that I had read about in my Runners World and just had to have a pair. The store didn’t have any 7.5 or 8.0, so I settled on a very tight pair of size 7.0 and hated the shoe, they blistered the hell out of my right foot, but I ran in them anyway because I didn’t have any others (by then wife had gotten rid of all the old ones).

I know that I only ran about 50 miles in them before I went out and bought a new pair of Saucony Jazz, which didn’t work all that well for me either, so I ended up getting a pair of Brooks Tempos that I just loved and ran in those for a long time.

I was in St. Ignace until 1982 and I never ran a road race there, but I had several weeks where I was running 50-60 miles a week and reading all the running magazines I could get my hands on. The biggest memory I have of running there is finally making it to the top of the hill beside the town office, which was a real tough uphill run and then the 3.0 mile loop around the old trail out to the Airport, even back then I liked to run trails, I just didn’t know how much.

St. Ignace is where I learned that I do love to run long distances, even if I was and still not all that good at it.

This concludes the fourth installment in this series.

If you are interested in previous posts in this series you can read them by clicking the links below:

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, yearbooks, journals and reflecting back on these parts of my life.