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.