A Little Running Gear Shopping Today

Today the wife and I went out and did some running clothes shopping. In my last weekly update I whined about many of my running shirts having that runner’s stench and needed to go away or worse that 15 additional pounds made some a little lot snugger than was comfortable.

Now I would prefer to support my local running store when I go out to buy running stuff. Unfortunately, we do not have one – the nearest thing in the Augusta, Maine area is the Local Dick’s Sporting Goods, which usually has some good running gear, but it is fairly expensive. Either way, going with first run prices on multiple pieces of clothing doesn’t really appeal to me. Plus with both of us retired it does means we have to keep things within the budget and be prudent on how we shop.

The other thing is we are not fashionistas and just want the gear we want to be quality stuff, looks decent on the old body and is reasonably priced for what we are getting. We do have a Mardens in Waterville, which is hit or miss, sometimes you can find GREAT deals there and other times, there is nothing – it depends on the luck of the draw.

So we drove up there and did some shopping. Mary found a couple of tops, but I hit the jackpot:

  • 2 – Tenn Bicycle Long Sleeve Tech shirts – I like bicycle shirts for longer runs in the spring and fall, I don’t have to wear my waist belt as often. One less thing to carry/wear.
  • 1 – Adidas tech hoodie
  • 3 – CEP leg compression sleeves – I needed new one, mine had all worn out.
  • 1 – Smart Wool toe socks – I wanted to try them again to see if they help a little more with that right toe of mine. After wearing when I got home I might head back and pick up the other pair that was there later in the week.

It doesn’t sound like much in the way of running gear, but being able to buy them at Mardens saved us a LOT of money and didn’t kill the budget like buying them at full-price would have.

After trying everything on, they fit like they were supposed to and best of all, there was not any rotten spaghetti smell emanating from the old body, err clothes when I put them on.

Like I said Mardens is hit or miss, but today it was a pretty big hit.

I will be a little less offensive to others when I go out in public now. Smell-wise anyways. 🙂

Staying Smart – RunLog 1-29-18

Today was supposed to be a long run outside, since I said supposed, you can figure out that it didn’t happen.

Why not?

It was really quite simple, the temps with the wind chills were below my safety zone. When it is 17*F and the wind chills are in the single digits, I don’t do long or longer runs outside. I have had a couple of pretty bad experiences over the past five years, in those conditions and hypothermia can get you in trouble, before you realize you are in trouble.

So I have established safety zones for me and my running – your’s might be different, but after the last episode (which scared the shit out of me), I don’t mess around with them and have made them into pretty hard safety features in my running. I prefer to be safe than sorry.

When we walked Bennie a couple of miles before I was going to run, I knew with certainty that the conditions were exactly the kind that I had gotten in trouble in before. Especially, since part of the reason for the walk was that I wanted to wear the running shoes and merino wool socks that I would have run in and by the time we got back to the house my feet were pretty much frozen.

Not a good thing or something I want to contend with on a long run outside.

I just wasn’t going to take any chances and that meant no longer run outside today.

Which meant back to the treadmill at Planet Fitness this morning.

I wanted to get in 5-6 miles at 7.0 mph – nothing too thrilling or anything, but close enough to what I wanted to get done for a long run.

Right after I got to 3.4 miles or so, when I was attempting to straighten out my arm swing, I accidentally hit the kill button and reset the treadmill. Grrrrr one of the pain in the arse things that I hate about the treadmill, especially when my footpod/watch calibration was all screwed up. Oh well, I had a pretty decent idea of my mileage and guesstimated the remainder. After all, I maintained a steady 7.0 mph the entire run, so it should have been pretty close.

Other than that blip, I felt good and got ‘r done.

1975 – 1977 Running While On the SPAR

This post was written for and first appeared on One Foot In Reality.

Since I have started writing on Aging Runnah exclusively, I have decided to clean-up and re-publish my forty plus years of running series here. There were a few rough spots, things left out and I thought it would be nice to share this old fart’s story of running over the years – yeah the story of how I became the runner I am today.

To make things simpler I have broken these posts into somewhat chronological order, based on where I have lived and run. Some places will have their own posts, others will be combined sometimes I will even break out a particularly important event in my running into its own post.

This post will be about the years:

1975 to 1977 on board the UCGC SPAR & ACACIA & MESQUITE and back to the SPAR, but all three were homeported in South Portland, Maine during my time aboard them. They were all part of the 180 FRAM and we got stuck with all the swaps or should I say cross decking. The SPAR is now an artificial reef and all I have left are the memories and a few odd photos of her.

Some memories are good and some pretty bad.

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 180′ 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 Captains on down was pretty much “work hard/play harder”. Back in the day you were expected to play hard and if you didn’t…well you were considered an outsider, who wasn’t part of the crew. Some of the sea stories, ooh lala but that was a different place and time than today’s professional military :-).

However, one of the saddest memories is when I was in Little Creek, Virginia during October 1975 and went off the base. I saw a sign that said “Sailors and dogs stay off the grass”. It pissed me off that day and has stuck with me all these years. I know it was a different time and Vietnam was still fresh in many minds but…yeah it bothered me.

When I ran, it would sometimes be with one of the Ensigns (Enzymes) who had been a runner at the Academy (in a small world, many years later he was a full Commander and I was a Chief Warrant Officer stationed in Boston – we ran together again), 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 that I bought at the Cape May Exchange the day I graduated from Boot Camp. I had made a promise I was going to keep running, but never do it again in crappy sneakers.

While on the SPAR I got to run in Boston, Baltimore (Curtis Bay), Norfolk, Woods Hole, Governors Island, Rockland, GTMO (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) and few 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 and yes going home on weekends to see girlfriends in my POS (piece of shit) 1971 Camaro.

I also 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 as a permanent member of a ship’s company. 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.

The above photo is where I slept before the SPAR went through FRAM. Not a whole lot of room up there and with the engine room on the other side of the bulkhead – well you learned to sleep through just about anything – something I can still do.

Being on board ship was different, you became a member of an extended family and all the fun and issues that go along with 48-52 personalities. I did many things during this time that I wouldn’t do today and wouldn’t be permissable in today’s world, because I would be in jail or discharged from today’s Coast Guardvery quickly. Nothing really illegal, but the partying hard, would have gotten me in a lot of trouble. Back then it was what we did as a right of passage and it was a LOT more socially acceptable, than it is now. Being a Puddle Pirate or simply a Coastie isn’t…well let’s just say things are different.

The only thing I would have done differently is accepted that transfer to Hawaii and the 14th District Office job that was offered me at the end of that tour, instead of taking the AIRSTA Cape Cod tour. I have a feeling that a lot of things would have worked out differently for me.

Nope, running wasn’t really a priority for me while I was on the buoy tenders, but I did it enough that I never completely turned in my runner’s card.

Running and Boot Camp – 1975

This post was written for and first appeared on One Foot In Reality.

Since I have started writing on Aging Runnah exclusively, I have decided to clean-up and re-publish my forty plus years of running series here. There were a few rough spots, things left out and I thought it would be nice to share this old fart’s story of running over the years – yeah the story of how I became the runner I am today.

To make things simpler I have broken these posts into somewhat chronological order, based on where I have lived and run. Some places will have their own posts, others will be combined sometimes I will even break out a particularly important event in my running into its own post.

This post will be about the years June 1975 to August 1975:

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 with Bobby M. and another guy from Indian Island (who I don’t remember seeing again after the first week or so). I was all of 17 years old, naive as hell, never been on a plane before, never away from home for more than a night or two, and I was scared as hell!

Boot Camp 1975

However, I also knew that I had to leave when I did, things were not great for me at home and going in the Coast Guard all those years ago, was probably one of the best and most important decisions that I have made in my life.

Since the day I raised my hand and said:

“I, …, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Voluntarily giving that oath changed my life completely and still affects it, especially since I am still bound by my oath (I retired from the Coast Guard) and yes, I still believe in the oath I repeated. I gave the United States that proverbial “blank check” when I signed my name at the bottom of my Enlistment Contract that day and would not hesitate to do it again – if given the chance.

I really hate to think what my life would have been like if had not decided to go into the Coast Guard that summer – it would not have probably ended up…well it doesn’t matter does it, because I did. However, too many of my high school classmates have crossed over the bar to the other side that stayed home.

Uniform 26

Once I got to Boot Camp and became a member Uniform 26, I did my best to follow my grandfather’s advice: never volunteer, don’t stand-out, don’t be a dirt bag, don’t be first, (I screwed that up a little), don’t be last, do exactly what you are told even if it doesn’t make sense, keep your mouth shut even when you want to say something and become invisible.

Uniform 26 Graduation Photo

I followed that advice enough so that my 6th week into boot camp, my Company Commander – Chief Chambers (who was replaced by BM1 Terry, the ACC after week 7 if I remember correctly) asked me what I was doing in his squad bay, what Company did I belong to and was serious about it.

When I responded “Uniform 26, sir!” He said “bullshit, come with me” and took me into the Company Office and looked me up on the rolls, when he saw that I was in his company, he just sat down and started laughing.

After he stopped laughing, he told me to get to hell out of there, but I was in his spotlight for the next week and did more pushups, dying cockroaches and earned more demerits than I had in all my previous 7 weeks put together. This was until I was able to go back to being invisible again, when others in the Company needed his attention more than I did.

Running All the Time

One thing about boot camp – if you were not in formation, you were “on the bounce”, running where ever it was you needed to go.

The morning formation runs were pretty easy, but what we had to run in really sucked. We were issued the old white canvas, rubber bottom sneakers for running (true minimalist running shoes – if they would have only fit decently) and then when it wasn’t PE, we had to wear steel toed boondockers (which totally sucked and caused way too many blisters), especially when running with a rifle at high port on the beach or Marlborough country (those frigging sandy beaches), which our company seemed to visit way too often.

So I probably ran more during the 10 weeks in boot camp than I had my whole last year in High School.

The only time I didn’t really listen to my grandfather’s great advice was twice – during the 300 yard shuttle runs in our PE phase testing.

During the 2nd week PE test, I almost beat this big guy from Philly in the 300 yard shuttle run. He was pissed that a scrawny little kid from Maine had almost beat him. A lot of his “friends” gave him a lot of grief for that and I quickly learned to avoid him, if I didn’t want to deal with his attitude.

It worked most of the time.

During our 8th week we had our last PE progress test, which included another 300 yard shuttle run. We ran the elimination heats and finally it came down to the 2 of us and 3 other guys. Before the last heat, 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 (it was working too, he had gotten in trouble a couple of times for fighting in the squad bay and definitely had some problems with his temper) and I know he would have hurt me bad if he wanted to. However, I was the only one who was running that day, that had a prayer of beating him in the 300 yard shuttle and we both knew it.

During the race it was one of those times when everything just comes together perfectly and we were side-by-side 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 what felt like another 200, before I stopped and looked around.

I was actually scared he might try to kick my ass for beating him right then and there. I wanted to put a little distance between us.

When I jogged back up to the finish line, one of the PE instructors told me I had broken the recruit 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, because he had been “ordered” to be a good sport, he glowered at me and shook my hand (he damn near broke it – on purpose) and said he had never seen anyone run like that before and that we would talk about it “later”. That kind of ruined the moment for me a little

If I remember right he got assigned to “red belts” later that afternoon for something he said to the Assistant Company Commander, which was probably a good thing for me.

The next day during our morning formation run, I stepped in a sewer drain wrong and almost broke my left ankle. I was in the hospital for a week and barely got 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 right before we graduated, because certain people had looked for me to give me a “blanket party” for winning that race.

The reality is that

Boot Camp set the tone for the remainder of my life and the person that I have become.

It was the first time in my life I had actually the opportunity to sit down and talk to any other race. Back then there was only one black family in the town where I grew up in Central Maine and they didn’t have any kids. There were no Asians, no Hispanics, etc., pretty much everyone was of white Anglo-Saxon background or didn’t advertise their heritage (things were different back then).

Boot Camp 1975

Needless to say, leaving small town Maine for Coast Guard Boot Camp was just a little culture shock for me!

Coming from a small town in Maine, to the melting pot of boot camp in the mid-70’s. Especially, when I met and talked to so many people who didn’t fit the stereotypes that I had of them before I got there. Those ones you get from the television and nightly news. It was a definite learning experience and taught me that it doesn’t matter if someone is black, white, yellow, red, green or purple, it is how people treat you and how you treat them that matters the most and that is a lesson that I still use to this day.

I did a LOT of running in Boot Camp and while most of it wasn’t competitive, it was still running. When I left, I could run long distances better than I ever could and couldn’t wait to get to the ship I had been assigned to – back in South Portland, Maine.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences that I had that summer.

The Not-So Glory Days — High School 1971-1975

This post was written for and first appeared on One Foot In Reality.

Since I have started writing on Aging Runnah exclusively, I have decided to clean-up and re-publish my forty years of running series here. There were a few rough spots, things left out and I thought it would be nice to share this old fart’s story of running over the years – yeah the story of how I became the runner I am today.

To make things simpler I have broken these posts into somewhat chronological order, based on where I have lived and run. Some places will have their own posts, others will be combined sometimes I will even break out a particularly important event in my running into its own post.

This post will be about the years:

1971 – 1975

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”.

Before a 1974 Cross-Country meet against Greenville at Nokomis High School

For me high school was not the “Glory Days” that others had, it was a time that I do not have very many fond memories of, didn’t make any lasting friendships and pretty much the entire time that I was there due to home life and school life…

It was a part of my life that I just wanted to be over.

The best memories that I have now of this period are sports related, not academic or social.

To be honest I was a geeky, immature kid, who never really fit in any of the social groups of the time. It seemed that I was always on the outside looking in and didn’t dare to let anyone get too close to me for many reasons.

Some things never changed.

Cross Country

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

Even though I ran Cross Country for 4 years, I never placed once in a varsity meet, nope never.

Looking back I can honestly say that I wasn’t the most motivated long-distance runner.

I didn’t like running long distances or the idea I needed to “embrace” the discomfort or pain, especially during a race didn’t appeal at all to me back then.

However, we learned that I was one hell of a rabbit. After Coach Smith figured that out, he told me to go out as fast as I could for as long as I could (something I still do – old habits die hard), to draw out the other team’s best runners out sooner than they wanted to go – after all they didn’t know if I was any good or not. It even worked a few times and our faster runners were able to pass runners who had gone out too fast with me, in the latter stages of the race, because I had messed up their pacing.

I got my Varsity Letter my Junior year for “contributions” to the team.


The Outsiders

J.V. Cross-Country team photo from 1972 NHS Yearbook.

I am the last runner on the right – beside the team manager. No geekiness in that photo on my part ;-). Looking closely my feet were splayed even back then.

However, I did enjoy the social side of the cross-country.

Cross country gave me a sport where I found there were others like me, some of us were a little different and more than a little socially awkward. Not all the other runners were like that or like me, but there were enough of us on the Cross Country team who didn’t fit the popular student mold during my 4 years of running, that I actually fit in someplace – well most of the time.

Just Endured it

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 or the spring for track to start, after all I was going to be a professional basketball player and be drafted by the Celtics or win a gold medal in the 100 and 220 yard dashes at the Olympics – I guess that is why they call them dreams.

First Running Injury

I stepped in a chuck hole during practice my senior year about a 1/4 way through my last Cross Country season and hurt my right Achilles tendon (for the first time).

Enough so that after a week of limping around, we didn’t go to the Doctor unless it was absolutely necessary. After me whining enough, my mom took me to see Dr. Burke (who hated runners and running), who told me I was done for the season.

In many ways I was relieved when Dr. Burke told me that.

It meant that I had the perfect excuse and didn’t have to endure running those damned long distances anymore. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be the 13th man on a 12 man basketball team again that year or even run track in the spring. I was done with high school jocks and their superior attitudes and my “failures” to be as good as they were.

Also I “knew” then it was more important to me to find a job after school, instead of always having a sports practice that I had to go to (stupid me). I quite all my college prep classes, entered the co-operative learning program, went to work part-time during school hours as part of my job-training and found my first real girlfriend.

Actually the girlfriend (it didn’t last long) and a car my senior year meant I needed money more than sports. After all I had decided that I was going into the Coast Guard as soon as they would let me the next summer, so I was ready and already out the door in my mind.

Track

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

In the 100 and 220 yard dashes as they were called back then, let’s just say what I lacked in distance running, I made up as a sprinter in the spring.

Looking back with what I know now, I think I was 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.

I placed in a lot of meets in those two events and the relays, but I had a big problem with getting disqualified for lane violations. If I didn’t focus on staying in my lane, I would drift over the line and end up in the lane next to me on my right (leg length issue). It got so bad that Mr. Smith worked with me by putting up lane ribbons in practice, but we both would get frustrated by the number of DQ’s I would get during a track season.

My junior year I finished 3rd in the 100 and 4th in the 220 yard dashes at the League meet and was expected to run in the Regionals a week later – I never did. I played sick that day.

Why?

Due to the expectations that I placed on myself and that others had, I would get too worked up over a stupid race, get sick, feel like shit, not want to be there, etc and missed meets that year because of it. This race anxiety issue would come back to haunt me badly 10 years later, but it actually started my Junior year in high school.

Glory and Disappointment

My senior year I didn’t run track and was working at a part-time job in the school’s work-study program (money for gas and trying to impress girls – not that I was ever very successful – was a lot more important than running), plus I had committed to go in the Coast Guard mid-way through the year and had an enlistment date of June 23rd.

So I wasn’t worried too much about school or sports and was more concerned about how soon I could get to hell out of there.

Mr. Smith stopped me one day in the school hallway and asked if I would run in the Penquis League track meet.

I had been avoiding him, because I had gotten word through the grapevine that he was looking for me, to ask that question. I tried to put him off with the “I have to work routine”, but in the end and only because it was him, I said okay, but I told him not to expect too much from me, since I hadn’t done any running since I hurt my Achilles back in the fall.

I went to enough practices to be eligible and got my boss to give me time off from work on a Saturday (our busiest day) to run in the league meet.

A big part of my job at the Feed Store was unloading 100 pound grain bags from train cars, even though I only weighed 125 pounds. I didn’t have a lot of body fat and could put a grain bag on each shoulder and carry them out to a customer’s vehicle without too much trouble (now doing that stuff would just about kill me).

So I was in pretty damn good shape.

Penquis League Meet

Somehow, with minimal training, I brought home blue ribbons in the 100 and 220 yard dashes that day and almost a third in the 4×220 relay – the guy had a 20 yard lead on the anchor leg (I dropped the baton on the pass) and just nipped me at the end. Needless to say I surprised myself and a lot of other people that day and is one of the few real “Glory Days” that I had in high school.

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.

Based on my performance and times at the league meet, Coach Smith told me that I was going to run in the Regional Track at Orono, the next Saturday and that saying no was not an option. I begged off, saying I couldn’t get two Saturday’s in a row off from work. He called my boss, who gave me hell on Monday, telling me he had talked with Mr. Smith and that this was the chance of a lifetime.

Evidently Mr. Smith had told him that I actually had a chance to win in both events, I have no idea if it was true or not, (later when I checked the results of the Regionals, my league meet times were very, very competitive with the winning times at the Regional meet). My boss told me to go run in the race.

Unfortunately, that was the one thing I really didn’t want to and the closer to that Saturday got, the worse I got. I got a really bad attitude around the house, school and work. Was just miserable to be around and I skipped school that Friday, something that I rarely did, even though my parents really didn’t care if I did or not.

At that point, I had just over a week left before graduation.

I ended up not going to the Regional meet and Coach Smith was so pissed at me, he didn’t talk to me again, until after I got back from boot camp.

I will always wonder how I would have done at that meet – a rare opportunity missed.

The reality is that

High school was not my “glory days”.

In case you can’t tell, even after all these years, I still have not forgotten how much I disliked my high school years.

Running was an important part of my life in high school and it helped me to fit in, when I didn’t really fit anywhere else. Often I think that it still does. I am not great at the social side of things, although I can get by enough to survive, I just am not as adept in social situations as a lot of people are.

While I started my running way back then, it is strange now that I look back on it:

• thinking about what could have been, if I had had more self-confidence.

• that as much as I hated, yes hated running longer distances in high school – it is the one sport from high school that I still do and have grown to love.

• how much something that starts in high school can continue to affect us for a long time after we leave that period in our lives behind.

Was high school your “glory days” or was it something you endured and couldn’t wait for it to end?

Cross Country-What in the Hell Was That

This post was written for and first appeared on One Foot In Reality.

Since I have started writing on Aging Runnah exclusively, I have decided to clean-up and re-publish my forty years of running series here. There were a few rough spots, things left out and I thought it would be nice to share this old fart’s story of running over the years – yeah the story of how I became the runner I am today.

Harold 9th Grade – 1971 and yes I was wearing my Cross-Country/gym shirt under the oh so popular zipper shirts that I still love today.

In this post I talk about what was probably one of the more important decision points in my life, not just my running.

Soccer Fiasco

During my 8th grade summer, I played summer soccer a couple of nights a week at the high school with the J.V. and Varsity squads. I am left-footed and was fairly fast back then, so I mostly played left-wing. One problem, I was small (I was not 5′ and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet). It seemed when I got the ball the defenders always seemed able to knock me off it and usually put me on the ground – hard.

Most of the time I would bounce back up. However, the last time it happened the coaches had to come out and pick me up, because I had been knocked silly (probably what would be considered a concussion today). Back then there was a lot more of a “suck it up buttercup” attitude and it pissed the coach off that he had to stop practice so often to see if I was okay.

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 I had to turn in my gear. They tried to be nice and told me to come back again when I grew a little more. Needless to say this devastated an already fragile ego, especially since it was not because I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t willing to work hard, but because of my size – I was too damn small.


Learning about Cross Country

A few days later I was playing a pickup game of basketball in Goody Gilman’s old barn with a friend. He talked about how he was going to start running Cross Country, to get in shape for basketball season and asked if I was interested.

I asked him what in the hell was Cross Country (I had never heard of it) and he told me it was running races on trails. I thought to myself that is something that I could be pretty good at.

When he told me that everyone who went out for the team would make it – that they didn’t cut anyone. I really became interested. My ego was very fragile and I couldn’t stand being cut from another team – another failure to live down, which seemed that I was doing an awful lot of that summer – in sports and the rest of my life.

Getting To That First Practice

I got on the school activity bus the second week of August in 1971. All I know is that I was scared to death when I stepped onto to the steps of that bus. After all I had heard rumors about the Cross Country Coach – Mr. Smith and what a hard-ass he was.

The soccer players on the bus with us, reinforced his reputation by telling us stories about Mr. Smith, what he did at school, how he treated and hated soccer players. From what they were saying Mr. Smith was the biggest asshole teacher/coach in the entire school district.

Oh great, just a wonderful – a coach who was a jerk – just wonderful.

We got off the bus and the soccer players all went into the gym they knew the routine. A couple of them had some sarcastic comments for me, after all they knew I had been cut from the soccer team and teenage boys are not known for their empathy. I gave them the one finger salute for their comments.

Scary as Hell

Mr. Smith – 1972 Nokomis High School Year Book – Scanned Photo

Out walks this gray-haired, skinny, old guy with a black eye patch over one eye, who glared at me while I was saluting the soccer players and in a gruff voice and asked, “You here to run cross country or what?” I stammered and stuttered “yeah” and put the finger away – yep, great way to introduce yourself to your new coach.

Mr. Smith went over his expectations for being a member of his Cross Country team.

After he got done laying down Smith’s laws, he looked me over a couple of times, shook his head and told me that I needed a different pair of shorts and shoes, (I was wearing an old too big t-shirt, cut-off jeans that I had worn most of the summer (yeah lots of holes and kinda thin) and basketball sneakers (Chuck Taylor high tops) were from last basketball season and they were in pretty rough shape (you could see skin on the tops and places on the bottoms. I know I felt more than a little out-of-place, especially when everyone else was wearing gym shorts and decent sneakers.

I looked like the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, who was fighting a loosing battle to get to the other size.

I told him that I didn’t have anything else to run in right then (we hadn’t done our back-to-school shopping yet). I was the oldest of 5 kids at that time (another one was added the next year) and we were lower middle class. We got what we needed, but not too many extras.

Looking back I guess I didn’t make a great first impression.

Initial Run

He told us to go down to the track and run 4 laps around it to warm-up. Thinking back I must have looked at him like he was growing another head — 4 laps!!!

I had never run more than one lap at a time, usually as punishment for doing something stupid during soccer practice and wasn’t too thrilled about running that far. Everyone else had started running and I was still standing there – Mr Smith looked down at me and made a motion with his thumb to get going, he never said a word, but I knew what he meant.

I caught up and passed everyone else, but I didn’t even make it 2 laps around the track, before I started walking. I walked until he yelled at me to keep running. I had a long conversation with myself about how stupid this cross-country shit was and what a jerk this guy called Smith was, along with calling him every name in the book (under my breath of course).

Mr. Smith then walked us around the cross-country course (a 2.2 mile course), giving his strategies for different areas and how to box in opposing runners so they couldn’t get by. After touring the trail he told us to go down and run another mile to cool down. Yeah right.

This ain’t for me

I had already made up my mind that this was my first and last cross-country practice, running long distances sure as hell wasn’t for me. I cheated and only did 2 laps to everyone else’s 4. I got a lot of dirty looks and some comments from the other runners including my friend. I didn’t care – that was going to be my last time running that far – ever!

When we got back up to the gym, Mr. Smith was waiting there for us. He motioned me to come over and took me to the coach’s office. I was sure he was going to give me hell by the half-acre for not doing the 4 laps and to tell me not to bother coming back again – yet another failure.

The Gift

Instead he looked at me and told me I needed some better running gear and gave me some old running shoes (they were Converse canvas and rubber sole running shoes that were pretty well-worn, but in a lot better shape than my old basketball sneakers. These were the old donated shoes that the school had for kids who don’t have stuff and Mr. Smith also had found a pair of old gym shorts and told me that I would run better next time if I wore those along with the shoes.

We talked for a few minutes about what I wanted out of running cross-country. I told him I wasn’t sure about this long-distance running stuff and that I liked to run fast and short distances.

He said something that no one before him had ever said to me…he told me he saw something special about my running and that he expected me to be one of his better runners in a few years. He also let me know that he noticed I hadn’t finished running and that he was disappointed by my not giving 100% effort and that I needed to find a holster for my middle finger.

It didn’t matter to me then whether Mr. Smith’s prediction ever came true or not…what was important was that he was one of the first people in my life that told me that he believed in me.

That was his gift to an insecure teenage boy — belief — that I could do something, whether he meant it or was just saying it to say it to make me feel better (I found out later that he had talked with the soccer coach), on that day it was what I needed – badly.

Always remember that day

That first Cross Country practice was one of those times that I know changed my life and will always remember.

I was one of those kids who didn’t really have a lot going for him, had a tough life at home, just been cut from the soccer team and Mr. Smith gave me a chance and a choice, which I needed badly.

Mr. Smith

Little did I know at the time that Mr. Kenneth Smith – that Cross-country coach who so many people didn’t like, was one of the finest gentleman that I have ever met and that he would be a major positive influence in my life all through high school and beyond.

If Mr. Smith hadn’t taken the time to talk to me and help me out that night, I never would have gone back to the next practice.

It would have been a lot easier to quit, something I had done before – too often.

I went back

Yes I went back to the next Cross Country practice, learned that I could run 2-3 miles pretty easily and have been a runner ever since and will talk more about that time in my life in the next part of this series.

The reality is that

There are moments in our lives that determine the direction our lives will take.

That first cross-country practice was one of those moments in my life. Meeting Mr. Smith that day resulted in my gaining a mentor whose wisdom and sage advice steered me through some pretty difficult times when I was in High School. He was more than a coach or another one of my teachers, he became someone who I respected and later a dear friend.

What were one of those life-changing moments in your life that were related to running?