Thursday, November 26, 2009

On the Run - Fall 1973

I worked hard in the summer of 1973.  I put in a lot of miles, many with K.U. steeplechasing great Kent McDonald and Pittsburg State mile stud Doug Schreve.  Kent would just roll on the flats while Doug would hammer the hills.  I would just hang on for dear life.  When it got really bad I would try to get them to engage in conversation and that would always cause the pace to slack off.   Rarely did the workouts turn into an all out race.  Kent and Doug knew the point of summer miles was to build strength. It wasn't about what I like to call, "who has the biggest dick" running.  There would be hammering but never any racing.

By early August I had a good indication of my conditioning by running the Lake Atwood Ten Mile in a hair over 60 minutes.  I went through the first six miles at 58 minute pace but died a slow agonizing death.  I was done in by the heat but I was pleased with the effort.

When cross country started it was business as usual.  Coach Steve Sublett would have us run intervals right out of the gate.  The early weeks of training showed that I was in great shape and we had a very good senior laden team.  But the first sign of trouble came when Keith Armitage caught mono a week before our first meet.  Then the weekend before our first meet I caught some sort of bug that left me with feverish that Saturday and Sunday.

I went to school Monday feeling weak but running no fever.  I figured that the best idea for practice would be to warm up and call it a day to rest.  Coach Sublett had a major workout in mind, 20 quarters.  He pleaded with me to run the first quarter and I reluctantly did.  I felt horrible, wheezing and coughing across the finish.  He kept begging me to run one more before leaving practice and again reluctantly I did.  Surprisingly I felt 100 percent better after that quarter and continued on through the entire workout, averaging a shade under 70 seconds.  It was a monster workout and it showed that I was in great shape.

Two hours later I was flat on my back feeling like a ton of bricks had fell on me.  I was sicker than I had been over the weekend now with a sore throat.  The workout had been a major mistake and would cause me to miss the next two days of school.  I made it back on Thursday knowing full well that I had to race on Friday in Manhattan.  It was an unseasonably cool misty day in Manhattan.  I was the favorite and took the field out hard.  I led through the mile and then I could feel the strength leaving my body and I was having trouble breathing.  First Northwest's Mike Mueller rolled by me then another and another and so on and so forth.  I ended up 13th feeling as weak as a kitten.

The worst was yet to come because Sublett had decided to run us in back to back meets and we traveled to Wamego the next day.  I had finished third there the year before and again figured to be the favorite.  The problem was I couldn't breathe and after taking it out hard I was in trouble by the mile.  It was a replay of Manhattan and again I hung on as best I could to finish 13th again.

The rest of the season was pretty much downhill from there.  The highlights, a 3rd place finish at Seaman behind Hayden's Dennis Weber and Tim Powell from Topeka West.  I remember Coach Sublette telling me I looked like a ghost coming into the finish.  My lungs were so screwed up my body was getting enough oxygen. 

A history making race followed at Shawnee Mission East.  It was the first time a girl had run in a boy's cross country meet in Kansas.  Tammie Gilpin from Wichita Southeast won a court injunction allowing her into the race.  It had rained all day and the course was a complete mud fest.  Gilpin ran in the junior varsity race and I'll never forget the look of fear on the face of Barney McCoy when he realized Tammie was trying to kick him down in the last 100.  Barney turned on the jets to save face.  I think she finished in the top 40.  As for me I was somewhere in the top 25 and ended the race covered in mud head to toe.  The bus ride home was a messy one.

I got sick again and missed our home meet.  I was running a fever for a couple of days and probably could have gutted it out.  I caught a lot of heat from my teammates for skipping it.  League and regionals followed and I managed top 25 finishes.  Regionals was the icing to the cake as both Clay Kappelman and Tom Reynold beat me.  It was the first time a teammate had beaten me in any race over a mile in almost two years.  It was a sign of things to come.

As for my lingering illness, it wasn't mono, the doctor believed it was simply a stubborn lung infection that wouldn't let go.  I figured a month of rest would put me on the road to recovery so I looked forward to a winter of training in hopes of salvaging my senior year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the Run - Spring 1973

I was loaded for bear. Going into track my junior year I wanted to put myself on a level with the best runners in the state.  The climb had become a little more challenging with the arrival of Clark Hamilton at Shawnee Mission North.  Clark had gone from an obscure quarter miling sophomore to a cross country stud the previous fall.  The list of tough competitors was only getting longer it seemed.

Kansas had five classes back then.  The prior spring distance runners from small classes had dominated the scene.  Chris Perez from Lakin, Keith Palmer from Lucas, and Bob Christenson were amazing studs from very small Class 1A and 2A schools.  This spring it seemed 3A was loaded with Steve Shaad, Terry Glenn, Jeff Rosenow, and Jerry Peffly.  Bob Christenson was back for his senior year as well.

I ran mainly against Class 5A runners.  Besides Hamilton I raced Stan Vernon and Tim Robinson from Topeka High, Jim Dillion and Eric Lathrop from Shawnee Mission South, Craig Powell and Mike Muller from Shawnee Mission Northwest (the genesis of Van Rose's dynasty), and an up and coming sophomore Tim Davis from Shawnee Mission West.

I switched things up going into the season.  I was putting in long miles, runs of 8 to 15 miles everyday, mostly on my own.  I would usually end up back at school to take part in the last part of the sprinters workout.  I was about as fit as I had ever been.  It showed at a time trial in late March.  I was running a two mile time trial with a group of guys who were running a mile.  I led through the mile at 4:45.  It felt pretty good but I slacked off over the last mile as there was nobody around and ran 10 flat.

We opened with an indoor meet at Pittsburg State.  The track was hard tartan, ten laps to a mile.  Running on it was like being a hamster on a treadmill.  I took it out hard and never looked back.  I ran 10:01 and probably won by seven or eight seconds.  I thought I was pretty hot stuff until I doubled back in the 880 and ran a stunning 2:08.

The following weekend was state indoor.  The only option was the mile and we had to run a qualifying round to get into the finals.  Each heat had 12 runners and the top six from each heat advanced.  The problem was that Ted Crank of Hutchinson somehow missed his heat, the first one, and was allowed into our heat.  I ran like crap and came in seventh and my coach protested and I was advanced.

Running back to back days indoors is no treat.  The dry air pretty much sucked the life out of me.  Then as we were warming up I started talking to Jerry Peffly and we were both scared shitless.  It was funny because Jerry went out and blasted everyone in the 3A race and won going away.  I went out and got DFL (that's dead fucking last for the inital impaired) in a stunning 4:36.  Part of it was nerves and part of it was the difficulty of handling the dry indoor air of Ahearn Fieldhouse.

The next three meets were less than stellar.  We ran a dual with Washington and I got second in the mile to a pretty good runner, Tyrell Barnett and took the two mile easily.  I got third in the two mile at Pittsburg State and third in the mile running really poor times.  The Kansas Relays had tightened up the qualifying for the two mile so I went into a triangle meet at Shawnee Mission South believing I had to run 9:45.  It was a typical windy spring day in Kansas and I struggled to get second behind Jim Dillion and ran 10:14.

The Kansas Relays was even worse.  I ran the mile in the distance medley relay and got my ass handed to me clocking a 4:39.  We were never really in it but my effort didn't help.  I had gotten into the two mile and that was something else.  I was in a brand new pair of Adidas Titans, shoes specifically made for tartan tracks.  Barry Schur a K.U. high jumper had given them too me.  I was in lane one, the front row.  They stuck Terry Glenn right behind me.  Now I'm thinking, oh shit, Glenn is going to be crawling up my ass!  I would have rather been behind him so I could have sat on him.  The gun goes off and I took off, the skies opened up on the back stretch and it began pouring as I pulled the field through a 61.  It was raining harder than hell and the bulk of the field started filing by me on the second lap.  I think I hit the mile in 4:52.  Sometime after the mile the sun comes out and it's like someone had opened the sauna.  I finished in 10th out of 12 runners hitting the tape in 9:59.  I was really pissed off at myself for letting my nerves get the better of me.

We went to Topeka the following week where again I doubled the mile and two mile.  I got third in the mile when I should have won it.  I remember with 700 to go feeling Tim Robinson's hand go down my back as he fell when he got tangled up with a runner from Washburn Rural.  Somehow Tim got up and sprinted like mad and went by the two of us.  The other memory is stepping off the awards stand after the mile and blowing chow all over the middle of the football field.  I got third in the two mile running yet another 9:59.

The league meet was at Shawnee Mission North, my favorite track.  I convinced the coaches to let me just run the two mile.  They had 21 runners lined up.  I spent the first lap and a half running in lane three with Stan Vernon and Clark Hamilton.  We went through the mile in 4:48 and going down the backstretch Stan looked and Clark and said, let's go.  I hesitated because I thought we were going plenty fast and that was a mistake.  Stan and Clark were gone as were another five runners.  I spent the next three laps trying to track down the break away.  I could only catch two of them, one was Tim Robinson.  One of the great things about that race is I can remember Van Rose, the coach from Northwest, yelling for me.  It really kept me going.  I got fifth running 9:41.1.

I was loaded for bear the following Monday at the Lawrence Night Relays.  I had a simple plan, run 67 seconds for each of the first three laps then run like hell.  It almost worked.  I hit 1320 in 3:22 and at 330 yards to go I let loose with a big kick charging by Stan Vernon and Tim Robinson.  Unfortunately as I came around the last curve I flashed back on a moment when I was in the same position on the same track in a 9th grade 880 when I had rigged up and finished second.  Sure enough I started to rig and Stan and Tim flew by me.  I ran 4:27.8.  I'm convinced if I had stayed focused I could have run 4:25 like Stan and Tim but I'll never know.

Regionals were at Shawnee Mission Northwest and the coaches deemed that I should double.  Only three would go in the mile but there were four of us good enough to move onto state.  Shawnee Mission South had Curtis Martin and Eric Lathrop while Tim Davis was running for West.  We basically jogged until we got to 300 yards to go.  Lathrop and Davis took off with Martin in hot pursuit.  I was a little slow to get into gear but coming off the final turn I was making up ground quickly on Martin.  I caught him with less than 100 to go and basically ran the final 50 yards looking back at him.  I took third and qualified.  I felt bad for Curtis because we had become friends over the last season.

I lost my lunch again after the awards.  The cheerleaders were completely grossed out.  About 90 minutes later it was time for the two mile and I was running well within myself.  But shortly after a mile bathroom problems hit.  I felt like I had to crap my pants.  I basically ran pinched legged over the last three laps unable to respond to a move by the lead pack fearing my bowels would let loose.  I ended up fourth missing out at a chance at the two mile at state, the race I really wanted to run.

The week before state was horrible.  The temperatures soared into the upper 80's so what little work I did seemed like a waste of time.  The day of the race it was unbelieveably hot.  Warming up in the sun sapped my strength so I jogged under the grandstands.  12 of us lined up for the finals.  The track was scorching hot and we jogged the first two laps until Clark Hamilton decided enough was enough and took off stringing out the field.  I was caught with my head up my ass when the move came and was in last place.  I struggled to catch to fading runners over the last lap and finished 10th in 4:36.  I remember hitting the finish line and ripping off my spikes because my feet were on fire.  I stepped off the searing track onto an even hotter artificial football field and could swear I had burned my feet.

Despite the poor performance I knew that I could run faster and better.  A summer of miles lay ahead and promised myself that I would do the work needed to compete with Hamilton and the rest.

Above is a late addition to this blog courtesy of Shawnee Mission North, Pittsburg State and Santa Monica Track Club great Jim Scott.  The pictures are from the 1972 state meet.  The first picture shows North's Clark Hamilton leading and I believe it's just as he started his surge.  To Clark's right is Ted Crank, a great runner from Hutchinson who ended up at Kansas.  Outside of Ted in the yellow and black is the great Stan Vernon from Topeka High.  Behind Clark is Tim Davis from Shawnee Mission West who went onto become one of the fastest milers in Kansas high school history a couple of years later.  He ended up at K-State.  Next to Tim is Kent Adrian from Wichita Southeast.  Off Kent's right elbow is the late Eric Lathrop from Shawnee Mission South.  He ended up going to Houston and had a decent college career.  You have to look hard behind Tim Davis and to the right of the Wichita East runner is yours truly.  I had quite the head of hair then.  I clearly remember this moment in the race because all hell was breaking loose and I was gassed.

The next picture is Clark Hamilton breaking the tape for the win.  Clark went to college at Missouri.

The final snap shot shows as follows.  In the back row is Jim Scott standing Kent Neubert, a very good middle distance runner from North.  The front row features Clark Hamilton and two great runners from Bonner Springs.  Steve Shaad, a stud in the mile and two mile who had a very good career at Wichita State and Mark Denney, an outstanding high school half miler.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Little Early Holiday Cheer

This was served up by my good friend Steve Riley.  As he put it, this is what happens when Bob Dylan serves too much eggnog at his Christmas party.

In case you missed it, Dylan has put out a CD of Christmas tunes, all in the name of charity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On the Run - Fall 1972

Getting ready for cross country going into my junior year was a study in some serious training.  I did a lot of my running with Kent McDonald.  He was a great training partner who while being a vastly superior runner never rubbed it in my face.  I can remember meeting at Lawrence High and hitting the roads around the country side coming back with our bare chests covered with all manner of insect.  I also managed one 100 mile week during the summer.  All I can remember about it is that it was pure torture.

I had high hopes going into the fall.  Our first race was at Wamego on a rolling golf course.  I took out like a shot and was probably 20 yards ahead at 880 yards.  By the mile I was only five yards up on Ed Anderson from Shawnee Mission West.  It didn't take long before Ed rolled by me followed by another kid.  I finished third and felt well satisfied.   I shouldn't have because the bad habit of going out too hard would plague me the rest of the season.

Following that Saturday we went to Emporia for a Monday meet.  I was incredibly frustrated because we arrived 15 minutes before the start of the varsity race.  With no proper warm up I felt completely out of sync and ended up 11th.  It didn't get any better the following week at Shawnee Mission East.  The course was at the high school and is one of the worst you could imagine running.  I went out too hard leading at 400 meters and was slowly but surely swallowed up by other runners.  I have a difficult time remembering where I finished but it was barely in the top 20.

We traveled to Topeka for the Seaman Invitational.  It was run in a rutted, God forsaken, cow pasture with live cattle roaming the course just north of Topeka.  Besides the crappy footing the course featured a massive gulley that you had to jump down and climb out of.  I went out like madman and this time held it together.  I probably felt as good as I had all season and won by a pretty healthy margin over some up and coming runners from Topeka West and Hayden's Dennis Weber.

It was pretty much downhill from there.  For some bizarre reason I decided to run a hard time trial the day before our home invitational.  I screamed through two miles at 10 minutes over the course.  The next day I was flat as a pancake after the first mile (go figure) and ended up drifting back to 11th place.  League wasn't much better.  I was somewhere just inside the top 20.

The clincher was regionals.  I went out hard as usual but was really hanging onto the leaders with about a half mile to go.  I was in seventh place but I knew there were about four runners from South right on my tail because their abrasive coach Verlyn Schmidt was chasing us around the course screaming at the top of his lungs.  Just as we were coming up to the final turn to the long finish Schmidt unloaded, "Get Rinkenbaugh, get that dog faced bastard."  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  His tirade worked because I tightened up and immediately began slowing down.  I ended up 17th.  I was crushed.

It goes to show what a mental train wreck I was when it came to racing throughout high school.  When I was in the zone I was a damn good runner.  But all too often I let stupid things upset me and destroy my focus.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Force is Strong

Sitting in the press box at Naples High School last night I could feel the tug, the irresistible feeling that there's a great story out there to be told.  I could see it across the field standing tall on the other side of the street at the Orion Bank building, strangely lit up on a Friday night.

I could see people moving around the offices where they were working to put a troubled bank back together.  The football game was a good one to cover but my eyes kept wandering back to the tall building across the way.  I wanted to be over there finding out what was going on.  About two hours before kickoff the FDIC had swooped in and seized the bank.

What I was doing covering a high school football game seemed insignificant when in front of me a drama that spoke volumes about the economic disaster that has crippled Southwest Florida was playing itself out.  I try to convey to my friends and family how bad things are here.  I think only people in Nevada, Arizona, and California can relate to the catastrophic nature of the economic implosion.

Our economy was built on the back of housing.  An orgy of building houses, strip malls and business parks lured a lot of people to the area.  Now it's stopped dead and it will take at least three to five years to unwind all of the foreclosed homes and properties.  It's grim.  Not Jimmy Carter, oil embargo, malaise grim, but it's damn close. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Run - Spring 1972

Forgive me my self indulgence but this is going to be a long one because I want to remember and share as much as I can about the events of that spring.

Joy would best describe how I feel about my sophomore year of track.  While cross country had been kind of a haze I came out of that daze of fall leaves and cold biting winds awakened by the rebirth that is spring.  I knew I was in decent shape when I time trialed a 4:52 mile indoors at Allen Field House before the start of practice.

Our first meet in late March was at Shawnee Mission North.  It was a cold and breezy day and the track felt crunchy when I lined up to run the mile.  Jim Scott, one of the state's best milers was there and my teammate Glen Lemesany was hoping to give him a real race.  I don't remember much of the race.  I think Glen was second or third and I was fourth or five.  I ran 4:48.  I doubled back in the Medley Relay running a 2:12 880.  I was completely out of my league running the half.

I wasn't fast enough to run at the state indoor.  I remember going and watching but a lot of those memories are a fog lost in the cavernous Ahearn Field House in Manhattan.   The aforementioned Jim Scott won the 5A mile and thanks to Jim's prompting I remember Tom Honer barely winning a tightly bunched 880.

Winter didn't want to let go that spring.  We ran in cool conditions at Shawnee Mission Northwest in a triangle with Shawnee Mission South.  Two things stand out from that meet.  South's coach Verlyn Schmidt berating Mitch Powlas, one of his best runners, throughout the two mile.  Powlas won but he left the team the following meet.  I ran a PR in the mile, 4:43, but more importantly beat Glen in the two mile running 10:21.  It didn't go over very well with my senior teammate.

A trip to Pittsburg State reaped two more minor PR's but I was more focused on running at the Kansas Relays.  I would run the 1320 in the Distance Medley on Friday followed by a crack at the mile steeplechase on Saturday.  The DMR was a complete bust.  I felt flat and ran flat.  The steeple was a disaster.  I had the advantage of practicing at Memorial Stadium.  Kent McDonald offered one bit of sage advice.  "Whatever ever you do," Kent said, "don't land with both feet in the water jump."

The gun goes off we make the first lap and head to the first water jump and I did exactly what Kent had warned about.  It was crowded and I was flustered and I hit the pit with both feet, and promptly fell on my face.  My spikes slipped right off the slick tartan and I went from fifth place back to dead last.  I spent the rest of the race slowly working my way back up.  With a lap to go I was within striking distance of getting back to fifth and as I sprinted around the final bend preparing to pass Yael Abouhalkah over the next to last barrier... Yael shifted out into my lane sending me sprawling over the barrier.  I quickly got back on my feet and finished an embarrassed 8th.  

I was at my wits end.  My workouts told me I should be running much faster.  The disasterous steeple left me wondering if I was cut out for track.  I finally took to heart something coach Steve Sublett had been telling me for six months, run heel-toe, stop running on your toes.  My idiot of a junior high coach had really brainwashed me and my disappointing efforts at the Relays put me in a frame of mind to listen.

Our next meet were the Shawnee Mission North Relays.   It was one of those rare spring evenings where the temperature was perfect and there was no wind.  North does something that most meets don't... run the two mile before the mile.  I was getting a shot to run eight laps fresh and I intended to do the unthinkable, lower my PR by 20 seconds and break 10 minutes.  I was going to do it running heel to toe.

I spent my entire 30 minute warm up staring down Larry Grecian from Topeka West.  I knew he would break 10 and I wanted to be on his ass the entire way.  I'm sure he thought something was wrong with me but I didn't care. 

The track at North was the best cinder track I have ever run on.  It was rolled and had a crisp schene to it that most cinder tracks never offered.  It was fast and my spikes felt great digging into the track when the gun went off.  Grecian settled into fourth place and I sat right behind him.  I remember going through the mile 4:54 and thinking wow, that's fast.  Somewhere after the mile I pulled past Grecian and continued to run freely.  I know somebody past me in the last mile but I remember flying over the last lap in 63 seconds.  I had run 9:49.5.  Heel to toe had work and I was ecstatic.

Glen Lemesany wanted nothing to do with me and was shooting darts in my direction.  He was running the open mile and had only one thing to say to me, "It was a fluke."  About ten minutes after the race my head was pounding and I was close to dry heaving.  I ran an uninspired opening leg of the two mile relay in 2:08 an hour later.  I was spent and I successfully put my team into a major hole it would never recover from with my poor effort.  But I wasn't discouraged, I was a sub-10 minute two miler.

I talked the coaches into letting me run just the two mile the following week at the Sunflower League Meet.  I wanted to prove the week before hadn't been a fluke.  It was a miserable rainy day.  The meet was run in conjunction with a dual meet that Kansas was holding with Southern Illinois.  I ran a scared race.  I played it safe and never really put in a full effort for fear of blowing it.  I honestly think I could have given Charlie Gray (who later won state) a real run for the money if I had tried but as it was he beat me by a good six second and I ended up in fifth in 9:54.9.  I wasn't even tired.  I had managed to beat Stan Vernon, a junior from Topeka High who later went on to be a standout at Oklahoma and a first rate runner on the American road running scene in its infancy.  I had managed to prove that the North meet wasn't a fluke.

We had only a day to recover because on Monday we hosted the Lawrence Night Relays.  I remember telling Glen in the school cafeteria the afternoon before the meet I wanted to run a qualifier for state indoor in the mile.  He looked at me with contempt and said, "No way."  Glen had been running really well that spring breaking 4:30 in the mile.  My best was 4:42.

The weather was perfect and I remember some kid from Leavenworth went out like a banshee and Glen and I were right on his tail.  We hit the 440 in 63... way too fast.  I hung on behind Glen as we went around the upstart but we were both later passed by a human bowling ball from Manhattan.  I later found out it was Mike Motley, a sophomore just like me.  He ran 4:29, I ran 4:33.0.  I had run a PR by nine second and streaked past the state indoor qualifying time by three seconds.  By now Glen was having to admit that I could run and that what I had done over the last ten days wasn't a fluke.

All the hard racing caught up with me six days later at Regionals.  On the bus ride over to Shawnee Mission South I noticed that I was getting a sore throat.  By the time I stepped to the starting line that chilly Saturday afternoon I was feverish.  I hung on as best I could running 10:19 and finishing fourth, one spot shy of qualifying.  When I got home I was running a fever of 101.  Glen qualified in the mile which he deserved, but I would have loved one more shot at running eight laps in Wichita.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On the Run - 1971

Spring of 1971 meant my first real season of track at South Junior High.  We had no track, just a dirt path around a football field.  My coach was an idiot.  I ran the 880.  It was the long event we could compete at but it didn't stop the coach from threatening me if I didn't take up another event.  He didn't like the idea of wasting space for an athlete who could only compete in one event.

Our training program was at best a joke.  I'm amazed that I ran as well as I did considering the lack of work we did.  Our first meet was at Hayden High School on the worst track I've ever competed on.  It was a like a slab of highway asphalt with giant cracks and ruts.  The coach told me to go out like a mad man and hit the 400 in 60 seconds.  What I didn't know is that he was trying to set the race up teammate Clay Kappelman to win.

I did as I was told and roared through the 400 and hung on for dear life and won in 2:18.  I could tell Clay was devastated.  I was happy and surprised.  Much to my regret it was a lousy race tactic that I struggled the rest of my life to overcome.  

Clay finally beat me by the fourth meet of the season.  It was the only invitational we ran all year.  It was the first time I competed against a runner I grew to know well from Ottawa.  Jerry Peffly is the best runner to ever come out of Ottawa.  Jerry was a great guy and a great runner.  He took several state titles his junior and senior years of high school.   He crushed us in the 880 that day.  I think Clay was second or third and I finished fifth.

I finally got a chance to run a mile in the fifth meet of the season.  I ran 5:12.1 and won.  At the time it was the Junior High record for Lawrence.  It lasted all of one year.

At the end of spring I ran an AAU regional meet and dropped my PR down to 4:56.  I remember two things from that race.  I got beat by a 440 runner from our school who decided to try his hand at the mile.  He ran 4:52.  Randy Wales never ran another race which is unfortunate because he was a great natural talent.  The other thing is I remember the kid who won the race.  His name was Steve Shaad and he was from Bonner Springs.  Steve, Jerry Peffly, and another stud named Terry Glenn would form a distance running power trio would be the Class 3A version of "Cream."

I trained through the summer running the occasional track meet.  I remember two summer races in particular.  A trip out to the tiny western Kansas town of  LaCrosse for a 10 mile race.  It was the first time I met Jim Hershberger. Google his name, he's quite a legend.  I ran 65 minutes, nothing special, except for Hershberger's comment about me running on my toes.  The other race was a one hour run at Haskell.  Larry Grecian from Topeka West won it going about a lap past 10 miles.  I was third, a couple of  laps short of ten, and went home with my first trophy.

My sophomore year of cross country is mostly snatches of memory.  I didn't like running on grass and hills.  I was a rhythm runner more suited to track racing.  I was usually the third man on our team and finished in the upper half to third of most meets.  I won two medals that fall, a seventh at Seaman and a tenth at the Lawrence Invitational.  Nothing really stands out except for the teams at Shawnee Mission South and Shawnee Mission West.  Both teams were really, really good.  West had Joe Wommack and a junior who is now a great columnist for the Kansas City Star, Yael Abouhalkah.   South had two seniors leading the way, Mitch Powlas and Charlie Gray.  Charlie went on to become a running legend in Kansas City.  Remarkably neither team won state that year.  As for my Lawrence High Lions, we weren't even close to qualifying for state.  I couldn't wait for the spring and track.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the Run - 1970

A suggestion came in my email the other day from a runner who used to whip my backside with ease.  He wants me to detail my high school experience in track and cross country because I was fortunate to compete against some outstanding athletes.  As I've blogged before I first went out for track in the 8th grade but it didn't amount to much.

My running career took shape in the fall of 1970 at Abilene High School.  I had probably averaged 20 miles a week training with Greg Morgenson.  I had also been inspired by Joe Newton's book "The Long Green Mile."  Our cross country coach Robert Chatham had loaned it to me before the season started.

The summer work paid off because I made varsity as the sixth man.  Our first meet was at Wamego where rainy conditions forced us off the golf course and onto a nearby cow pasture.  The footing was treacherous but I managed to finish 38th out of 100 or so runners.  I finished as the first freshman in the field.

I remember seeing Kent McDonald (a future national class steeplechaser) standing around injured with his Lawrence High teammates.  I also remember seeing Randy Smith crush the field in the big class race.  There was a lot hushed talk among my older peers on the team about Smith.  I had no idea who he was.  Smith ended up winning the AAU national championship five years later.  Kent was second in that race.

It was my only cross country race my freshman year.  Snow claimed the second meet of the season and that was that.  I moved back to Lawrence and entered South Junior High where the gym teacher promptly asked me if I wanted to play football.  I almost made the mistake of laughing in his face.  I could have stayed in Abilene with my grandmother and finished out the season but I had grown to hate life in a small town where everyone knew your business.  I wanted the anonymity of a city and Lawrence offered that.

I went to one Lawrence High practice.  It was a real pain getting from South over to the high school.  I felt unwelcomed and unwanted.  At the time LHS didn't allow freshman to compete so I didn't return.  Instead I concentrated on getting ready for track.

I did go to the state cross country meet that fall.  I watched Lawrence get dead last in the 5A race.  My former team, the Abilene Cowboys finished on the podium taking third in the 3A race.  I didn't have any regrets.  I was just happy that they had taken a trophy.

That same moron of a gym teacher told me if I was going to run on his track team, I had better learn to run on my toes.  I spent the winter learning how to do just that.  I did a lot of training on the old dirt track of Allen Field House.  I got to watch some great KU athletes up close and became close to one assistant coach in particular, Harvey Greer.  He called me Cosmos because he thought I was a space cadet.  I became something of a mascot for the high jumpers and hurdlers.  The distance runners were never around.  It was a great way to spend the my first winter back in Lawrence.

Where There's Smoke

The signs started percolating along the horizon of college athletics about two decades ago.  Minor sports like cross country, track and wrestling started disappearing from various campuses.  The common denominator was that they were men's sports.  The critics howled that Title 9, a federal law aimed at giving women an equal playing field when it came to athletics, was forcing athletic departments to make difficult budget decisions.

The problem has only gotten worse in recent years.  Athletic directors target men's sports with a vengeance in order to keep costs down and to stay in line with the scholarship quotas demanded by Title 9.  I've always found this issue a bit of a red herring.  I believe we're beginning to see just how troubled the ponzi scheme that is college athletics.

One just shrugs their shoulders when Cal Berkley talks about cutting sports because of the financial crisis.  They're just a bunch of goofy liberals, right?  But when Stanford, a private institution with very rich alums begins talking about it, there's more than just smoke.  I hate the thought of colleges cutting athletic programs.  I hate thinking about it even more so at the high school level.  But it's time for everyone to wake up and face the fact that money needs to go to improve our system of education, not to help keep a Division I powerhouse afloat.

I look at the Big 12 conference and its a veritable arms race.  The amount of money going into new stadiums, indoor training centers, and practice facilities is staggering.  The salaries of the coaches are obscene.  And regardless of how much the alumni give to their favorite team, most of these schools are subsidized in one way or the other through student fees and other state handouts.

I shudder when I see a Florida high school football team traveling to California to play another team.  WTF?!?  I wonder if it's really necessary for a JUCO team to travel halfway across the country for a contest when there are plenty of opportunities to get competition in their own neck of the woods?  I'm not suggesting that we gore the sacred cows of DI football and basketball but couldn't the gridiron boys get by with just 60 scholarships and an even dozen for the hoops team and about half the number of coaches?

We all know the priorities at most colleges regarding athletics is out of whack and it looks like the high schools are climbing on board thanks to ESPN.  I'm praying that the budget squeeze starts kicking some sense into college and high school administrators when it comes to athletics.  I don't want to see anymore track programs shutdown or swim teams sent out to sea, but that's where we're headed.

We need some sanity.  But it's not going to happen when athletic directors by and large are the tail wagging the dog.  College presidents lack the guts or the ability to reign it in and the howls of the alumni would be so nightmarish that I don't blame them.

The smoke is there folks, let's fire doesn't gut your favorite Olympic sport.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Legend of Craig Davidson

Pick up the latest issue of Runner's World and you'll find an article about one of my favorite people in the world, Craig Davidson.  When I moved to Phoenix in 1987 I was looking for a group to go on long runs with and a co-worker suggested calling Runner's Den.  Craig answered the phone and invited me to join his Mummy Mountain group in Scottsdale.  It was the start of a friendship that is now in its 22nd year.

Back then Craig was running a lot of miles.  He was routinely logging 140 to 180 miles a week.  At the time he was one of the best ultra-runners in the United States.  The article in Runner's World focuses on his ability to find money while he runs.  I can testify to his uncanny knack for spotting coins.  I can remember countless times running in the early morning darkness on a pitch black stretch of asphalt.  We would be deep in conversation when suddenly he would vanish.  I'd look back over my shoulder to see him stooped over picking up a penny.  How he could see it in the dark is beyond me.

Craig find all manner of items like firewood, water fountains, tools, and bicycles while putting in the miles.  He'd stash them by the side of the road and pick them up later in the car.  His garage was full of junk. 

But the most important thing you should know about Craig that the article doesn't reveal is what a good man he is.  He may well be the nicest human being I've ever met.  I don't think there's a soul in Phoenix who puts on a pair of racing flats that doesn't know Craig.  They'd all testify to the fact that he is a great ambassador for running and an even better friend. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Heard it from Howard

NBC is for sale.  The network is a shell of what it used to be.  Jeff Zucker's done an excellent job of destroying the Peacock.  The last stroke was putting Jay Leno on at 10 p.m.  I have nothing against Leno, but it's as though Zucker gave absolutely no thought of what it would do to the late newscasts at the local affiliates.  NBC owns nine affiliates, several in the biggest markets.  So far Leno's not done any ratings favors for those O & O's or the hundreds of other affiliates around the country.

That's why something I heard from the King of All Media Howard Stern makes sense.  Stern believes that if Comcast is successful in its bid for NBC it will abandon the last hour of prime time.  Stern hates Leno and I think his fantasy is for Jay to fail and for Comcast to realize Zucker's folly and pull the plug.

But there's some reasonable rationality to Stern's prediction.  Prime time programming costs are ridiculously expensive.  I think a lot NBC stations would welcome the opportunity to put on newscasts against the rival FOX stations.  Given the shrinking viewing numbers during prime time the move would make sense, however the last time I checked a ratings diary that last hour of prime time still catches the most viewers. 

I'm not holding my breath but I am wondering if Comcast is listening to Stern.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In the Presence of the Lord

 Tom Dowling chatting with Joan Benoit Samuelson at the Olathe Medical Center Run 1991
Joan seems more interested in Sam who is catching a ride on Tom's back

After St. George the slow, arduous process of growing up started.  It's still a work in progress but I had to work at bringing balance into my life because in 1990, the way I was living my life wasn't working.  Tom Dowling certainly knew that.  Since the first time I had met him in 1985 he would poke and prod hoping that I would straighten up and fly right.  He never gave up on me.

Tom will probably rank as the most unforgettable character I have ever known.  He had this unique ability to make you believe that you were the most important person in the world to him.  He did this not just with tens of people... but hundreds if not thousands.  It got to the point that a group of us simply called him "The Lord."  As blasphemous as it sounds, you just had to be around him to understand the reverence we held for his views on running.  Tom would expound on Lydiard training, Eastern mysticism, and speculate on whether abstaining from sex would help in the lead up to a big race.  He was all over the map.  Many times you would just shake your head and chuckle, but he had a way of looking into your soul and getting at the heart of a problem.

In high school he was something of a phenom out of New Hampshire.  His big claim to fame was winning the Penn Relays boys two miles.  One notable competitor in that race was Bill Rodgers.  Tom started college at Kent State, home at the time of college mile star Sam Bair.  From what I can discern from his stories Tom didn't have the maturity to handle college life and being away from home so he ended up leaving school.

By the 1980's he was married to Marcia and they were both successful high school running coaches.  His claim to fame was coaching Cathy Schiro, now O'Brien.  A two time Olympian, as a high school junior she ran with the leaders at the 84 Olympic Marathon Trials before fading at the end to finish 9th.  She set a high school record that still stands and won the Footlocker Cross Country title that year.

Around that time Tom and Marcia ended up in Kansas City working at a progressive health club called Health Plus.  Tom and Marcia ended up in KC in 84 working for a progressive health club called Health Plus and I met them in 86.  Tom and Marcia conducted a summer and winter running program for high school kids and about half of the top area high school runners came out of that program.  By the late 80's most of the area high school coaches hated Tom who unabashedly took credit (and rightfully so) for the accomplishments of their runners.

About a year or so into our relationship he asked me to travel to Dallas to meet the great Peter Snell.  This Lydiard coached runner had won three Olympic gold medals.  When we landed in Dallas and went for our rental car Tom didn't have a credit card.  Marcia didn't trust him with one.  I rented the car for him and we went on an adventure that included spending the night with Peter and his wife Mikki.  They couldn't bare the thought of us staying in a hotel.  I videotaped about an hours worth of conversation between Tom and Peter.  It was an unforgettable trip.

A couple of years after my St. George PR Tom decided that he needed to run a Boston qualifier.  I gladly paced him for the 26 miles over one of Kansas City's notoriously hilly courses.  He started pitching a fit about 18 miles but a coke break at 21 revitalized him.  As we made our way over the last three miles the streets were lined with signs on stakes with the names of competitors on them.  Tom demanded that I find his sign and carry as a sort of standard barer.  I did so for the last two miles and he had his qualifier.  

In 1994 Tom started having fainting spells while running and it was found he had a heart defect (just like Hank Gathers) and they finally got him on medication by early 1995.  He had just gone for his last treadmill stress test, passed with flying colors, got into his car to drive to work and suffered a fatal coronary.  He left Marcia and very young sons Sean and Sam.  His memorial service filled the Unitarian Church on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.  It was the same church were about four years earlier he had drug me off to see Ram Das, one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Just before Tom's death I had just moved back to Lawrence and started grad school.  It was probably the most turbulent time in my life but Tom was there offering his sage counsel.  I had talked to him one on the phone last time not more than a couple of weeks before he died.  He had always worried about me and he was being his usual encouraging self.  I can't remember much of the conversation but what's always struck me is that I remember telling him how much I loved him.  Knowing that helped ease the pain of losing Tom.

He played a major role in putting my life on the right path and thanks to him I have two dear friends.  It's been almost 15 years and rarely a day goes by when I don't think of him or something he said or did.  He wasn't a saint and I'm sure he was a handful for Marcia at times.  And I choose to believe his impact is still being felt across this country in the lives of the thousands of runners he coached.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

30 for 30

ESPN has been running a series of documentaries every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST called 30 for 30.  I have been very critical of ESPN for the past ten years or so because of the way it presents sports, especially SportsCenter.  30 for 30 shows just how good the World Wide Leader can be when it wants to be. 

Tonight's espisode was called Without Bias.  It was the story of Maryland basketball star Len Bias.  It was an amazing hour of television.  I've also watched the other 30 for 30 documentaries on Muhammed Ali and Larry Holmes, it too was outstanding as was the story of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band.  The only one of this series so far that lacked any punch was a look back at Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player who ever played the game.

If you get a chance watch 30 for 30.  It reaches beyond the hardcore sports fan and reveals a big part of the psyche of America.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Revisiting our Halloween fun

We decided to make light of our current situation for this Halloween.  We went to a birthday party for a three year old this Saturday, I went as myself, The Unemployed Bum, while The Czarina went as Miss Stimulus Package.

You can't see the back of my t-shirt which says "Crack is Wack."  The Czarina had fun handing out 100 dollar bills with my face on it.  I'm sure the Treasury Department wouldn't appreciate the humor.

The highlight of the birthday bash was watching the birthday boy try and break a pinata filled with candy.  The only problem was the damn thing was made with cardboard, making it impossible to break!
Watching the kids scraf down all that candy left me with quite an appetite.  So we went out for some fine dining after the party.

The Czarina tried to ditch me for this Zombie Waiter.  I think the blood stains got to her and she decided that she preferred the ketchup and mustard stains on my shirt.