For a moment I was on the fence: go back to school or run. Seriously.
Despite being sick way too much of the time, I got back into running while teaching at College of the Sequoias (COS) in Visalia, California. I say “back into” because I first got hooked on running in high school, way back before running was cool and before they had many (or any — I don’t recall) distance training shoes.
I can remember running five or six miles on roads at that time in what were in essence racing flats for track. No cushioning, no stability wedges for my over-pronation. Is it any wonder that I developed fallen arches? I believe I got my first pair of true running shoes — Brooks — while in Visalia. After high school, I basically stopped running throughout college, except for the year at Citrus College (Glendora, CA), when I decided, in all my chubbiness, to go out for the outdoor track team. I have no idea what I was thinking.
No cushioning, no stability wedges for my over-pronation. Is it any wonder that I developed fallen arches?
Foolishly, I only started training when the season began in February or March, but by the end of the season, after many rough workouts, I had some success in the intermediate hurdles. I got interested in the decathlon and began trying some field events, like the high jump and discus. One of the highlights of that season was training with Chi Cheng, a Taiwanese athlete who was having trouble with her high jump. I would give her tips on her jumping technique and she critiqued my running style when we warmed up together.
She was a world record holder for a time in the 80-meter hurdles and the 200-meter dash. She wanted to compete in the pentathlon but her high jump was weak. This was 1967, by the way, before the “Fosbury flop” technique took over from what we were doing, which was called the “Western roll.” I think I did help her, but like a lot of memories from my college years, it’s a bit fuzzy.
At COS all my classes were in the morning, so my afternoons were pretty free, except for working with the newspaper staff. Because my approach was hands-off until after the issue was published that week (and then I would critique it) I could help out with cross country and track meets. I got excited by watching the competitions and decided to get back into running. The other impetus was that there was a faculty vs. the women (and alums vs. the men) cross country meet to open the season and the faculty times my first year were pitiful. I decided to train for the second and led the faculty to multiple wins.
One year there was a very talented young lady on the team. I was determined to win that year’s race, and I began training harder. Prior to that, I had been happy to place high enough for the faculty to win, but hadn’t cared about winning the race. The 3-miler was in Mooney Grove, a park just south of town. The course was new, however, taking a little side jaunt down a dry river bed filled with soft sand. It cost me the race. I had been letting her lead and I let her get too far ahead. I knew I was fast enough to beat her with a strong finish, but I didn’t know about the deep sand, which was at about the 2.5 mile mark.
When we both cleared the sand she had me by about 100 yards. I was able to make up a lot of that, but she ended up beating me by about three seconds. Another 50 yards, and the race would have been mine. But it really pushed me into trying to train seriously. The problem was I was either sick or injured from running too hard during the non-sick days to make up for lost time. Still, a few days after my 30th birthday, I went out to the college track with a friend as timer to see if I could break five minutes in the mile. Running by myself and not having run at the proposed pace for many years, I easily managed a 4:54.
I was so pumped by my successes that for a time, to assuage the boredom that was beginning to waft into my life, I seriously considered giving up on my desires for an intellectual challenge and a Ph.D. and concentrating instead on my running. That didn’t last long, however. It was just a dream, a reverie, and I realized I would just end up with injuries and frustration. I guess that is how desperate I was feeling about my life. And anyway, I simply wasn’t good enough. So I relegated running to a sideline status that still brings me joy, despite Petey slowing me down. He’s a real bastard.