Saturday, February 6, 2016

Training: The Summer of 72 and 73

I was a very lucky high school runner when it came to a training partner.  My the summer  of 71 before my sophomore year I was in sort of a no man's land.  I had moved away from Abilene and my old running partner Greg Morgenson had left as well moving to Lincoln, Nebraska where he would win a state championship in the mile his senior year.

We had one final race together in on the tough cross country course in Kansas City's Swope Park.  Greg was somewhere up in the top 5 while I finished back in the pack.  It was a hot August morning and knew my summer of inconsistent training would leave me really unprepared for the rigors for racing in the top high school class in the state of Kansas.

Fortunately for me at a point mid-summer my path crossed with Kent McDonald.  He had set a school record for 2 miles at Lawrence High running 9:08.9 the year before I entered the school.  The record stands to this day.  His freshman year at Kansas, Kent would win the first of four straight Big 8 steeplechase titles. 

Kent and I started running together at least three times a week in the summer of 72.  He became my running mentor.  Kent would take me into Kansas City for summer races.  As good as he was, he ran with me, he rarely tried to bury me.

Sometime early on in our training regime another former Lawrence High grad joined up with us.  Doug Schreve was a dominating miler who was attending Pittsburg State, where he had run at the small college national championships and set a school record.  Doug's arrival upped the ante.

When you get two alpha male runners together the training runs intensify.  Our runs were normally between 8 and 11 miles.  Doug didn't always run with us but when he did I knew it would take everything I had just to stay up with those two.  I soon realized that if I could engage them in conversation, it would help ease the pace. 

Running with Kent and Doug was like juggling dynamite.  On the flats I could account for myself fairly well but hills and downhills were something.  Apparently Doug's college coach David Suenram preached running the hills hard.  Doug would tear off every uphill leaving Kent and I in his wake.  The only problem is that Kent loved running downhill.  He would easily reel Doug back in while I would be floundering back 50 yards or so working my ass off to catch them on the flat stretches.

It was torture but it was fun.  I was like a kid in a candy shop devouring tidbits from these two great runners.  They were vastly superior runners but they never intentionally tried to bury me.  Many times they would ease off the tempo to allow me to catch up.  But there were times were it was every man for himself and I would find myself running the last couple of miles of a 10 miler by myself.

It toughened me up and made me a better cross country runner.  The sad part is my winter training was never even as remotely good as what I would do with Kent and Doug.  If it had been I would have been a much, much better runner in high school.

The summer of 73 was pretty much a replay of 72, although Doug was a less frequent partner out on the roads.  Kent whipped me into shape.  I was in the best shape of my life going into my senior season of cross country and were it not for a long lingering lung infection I picked up before the first meet that season I think my senior year would have been stellar.

Kent would try to help me salvage my running career the following fall after I was kicked off the University of Kansas cross country team.  He had warned me about trying to run for coach Bob Timmons.  Kent told me about the ongoing head butting he had endured with Timmie. 

Kent had broken his foot before what would have been his final year at K.U., my freshman.  So after my dismissal Kent and I started running together as he was red-shirting saving a year of eligibility.  It was a last gasp on my part to toughen up for the rigors of college running but it wasn't meant to be.  By the first week of December strep throat would knock me out and looking at my first semester grades, I decided that focusing on my academics would serve me better than running.

Kent McDonald #172 at the 1976 Olympic Trials
Kent never looked back.  His senior year at Kansas was epic.  He earned his 2nd All-American honor at the NCAA championships in the steeple and then finished 2nd at the U.S. National Championships running a still standing school record, 8:28.8.  When he ran that time it ranked as one of the 10 best in U.S. history.  He would run in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Trials.

Training with Kent and Doug was pivotal in my development as a runner.  I realized I had the talent to be a collegiate runner.  What I lacked was the self-discipline and maturity to battle back from adversity and tap the talent I had.

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