This post was written for and first appeared on One Foot In Reality.
Even though some of you may have already read previous versions of this post. 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 on Aging Runnah. 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
Running 1984-1988 – The Glory Years
Well at least the time in my running life, where I ran well and had delusions of grandeur.
CGAS Cape Cod 10K – 1985 //
1985 & 1986 were my personal glory days when it comes to my running career. Starting in April ’85 until September ’86, I think I ran a different road race at least twice a month and traveled to a couple of out of state races, specifically to run them. Something that I had never done before.
During this time my race pace was usually between 6:00 and 6:20 pace, which really wasn’t that fast for the time period, but faster than I had ever run before or since. Hell every once in a while I would break that magical 6:00 minute pace barrier for a race and I thought that I could do even better, with a little different training.
Those thoughts of grandeur that runners get from time-to-time, which were also wonderfully dashed during this time period when I got to run with some really good runners for a while.
We moved to the New London/Groton, CT area in October 1984 and I found a wonderful running community at the Coast Guard’s Research & Development Center that was located over on Avery Point (yeah, the college). There were about 10-15 people who would run almost every day at lunch time, so it was very seldom that I would run by myself, unless I wanted to. It seemed like there was always someone to run with.
At first I had a hard time keeping up with most of them, but I got better with the daily runs. When they saw that I was going to train with them in all kinds of weather, they began to accept me into their running circle (this was before Google, Facebook and all the running apps).
USCG Academy Indoor Track
One afternoon in January ’85 Bill B. asked if I was interested in doing some interval training. I had been reading a bunch of stuff in “Runner’s World” about interval training and told him sure. He told me that the Coast Guard Academy had an indoor track and that a bunch of the local runners that he ran with had used it every Tuesday night and were interested in starting up again.
I told him sure and that I was very interested in trying it out.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
The next Tuesday night I met with Bill and about 10 other runners in front of the CGA Indoor track entrance, it was dark and cold, so we just went inside without doing introductions. The Cadet at the desk asked if any of us had a Coast Guard ID card and I showed him mine and we went upstairs to the track. Cough, cough, chuckle a little mmmm Harold you were the only one with a Coast Guard ID card, the rest had to be signed in as my guests.
It was then that I found out the reason that I had been invited to do intervals with them was that this “group” needed a Coastie to get into the track. I was being used and began to wonder what was going on.
Once we got upstairs, Bill introduced me to AB and a bunch of other runners (who I would find out later were a bunch of regionally elite runners). I had heard of AB from reading “Runners World”, read his articles and knew of his accomplishments, so I was appropriately intimidated by meeting someone so famous in the world of running.
Surprisingly, during the first workout, I found out that I could keep up and beat most of these guys for short distances, but they were way, way out of my league once it was over 200 meters.
This indoor track intervals became a weekly habit, no I didn’t like the workout sessions while we were doing them, they hurt physically and it also hurt my ego, because I was easily the worst of the runners that were there and it bothered me a little to know that no matter how hard I trained, that wasn’t changing.
Any of those illusions of grandeur that I had been having, had a reality check when I was running with those guys. They kicked my arse without even trying.
However, they were all a great bunch of guys, who didn’t look down their noses at me, because I wasn’t in their league or even near it when it came to running. They all really tried to help me be a better runner with their hints and suggestions to improve my running form/style or slowing down once in a while to teach me what a certain pace felt like. I know that I learned a lot from them, so I really didn’t mind being the “worst” runner there or being “used” to get them into the USCGA Indoor Track facility.
Hell, I was using them and their knowledge to become an better runner. Win-Win.
I know that those interval training sessions, the help and suggestions they gave me, made me a much better runner than I had been before.
When I did my first race that year at Conn College that spring, I broke 20:00 minutes for a 5K pretty easily and a few weeks later broke 40:00 for a 10K. Eventually, I did get under 18:00 for a 5K, but I didn’t really enjoy running races over 5 miles and avoided the 10K, 1/2 Marathons and Marathon Distances (not much has really changed has it) ;-).
Pizza and Beer
After the Tuesday workouts we would go down for Pizza and beer at the pizza place just down road and yes they did drink beer/soda, eat and laugh just like the rest of us. Actually the socializing afterwards was as important to me as the interval sessions, I enjoyed the camaraderie that I experienced with those guys, it was the closest thing I had experienced to being back on board ship, without being on a ship.
After they moved outdoors and didn’t need me anymore, they still invited me to go to their Tuesday night workouts at whichever local track they chose that week. They used me as the kicker, when they got to the last turn on whatever interval distance they were working on they had to get past me (I had the inside lane). Since I could make them work hard for short distances that was my contribution. So I was able to add something to their training regimen. It meant something to me to be able give something back to them.
By July of ’85 I told them that one of my dreams was to break 5:00 minutes for a mile and they helped train and paced me during my attempts, but the closest I ever came was 5:01:42 (I puked after that one), I had a couple of 5:02 miles before and after that time, (it was always the third lap, that I had problems maintaining my pace and focus). I am very proud of that time, but was always disappointed that I couldn’t find that extra couple of seconds somewhere in me to break 5:00 minutes.
I am one of those guys from the book “Once A Runner”, who couldn’t break 5:00 minutes for the mile. A wannabe and never to be.
5 Mile Race and a bit of Redemption
When I came back to Maine for a vacation in August ’85 and to show off our first daughter, who was born in July to my family, there was a local 5 mile road race over in Corinna, that I wanted to run in. I saw a few people that I had run with in high school and I think that I surprised them and myself by coming in second overall in that small town race.
I finally had in my own eyes redeemed myself in a small way for all those years of futility and under-achievement while running Cross Country in high school. It is one of those moments when you cross the finish line and you know only one other person finished before you did – it was very satisfying.
Especially when a couple of my old Cross Country teammates who had beaten me easily and regularly congratulated me on beating them that day.
I was going to run a Marathon in Lyme, CT. in hopes of qualifying for Boston, during October ’86 and after a 20 mile training run a few weeks before the marathon, my right knee swelled up like a balloon. I couldn’t walk, much less run on it and the Doc at the Academy told me to forget about running the Marathon.
So I volunteered that day (I knew the organizers) to help during the race and watched my friends finish.
I guess right up until I had surgery in May 2011 that my right knee has always bothered me, it does make me wonder about how long something was wrong with it and it was not addressed or diagnosed correctly before then.
This is also where, I started the real battle with my race anxiety and it is one that I lost for a long time. It was the primary reason that I stopped competing for such a long, long time. I was good enough, but never good enough to do more than what I did, which in my mind was not enough. I couldn’t let go and then I would be so disappointed with myself after a race, that running stopped being something I enjoyed and wanted to do, to being something I endured, especially when I started running with the big boys. It has taken a long time to get past this crap, but finally after all these years I think I have a handle on it.
One of the things that this training with those regionally elite runners is that I found out how much difference there is between runners who could/would run sub 5:00 minute miles for several miles and running 70-100 miles a week, versus someone like me, who at best was racing at around a 6:00 minute pace and running 30-50 miles per week.
A vast difference.
Most of us don’t realize the how fast good runners are while watching them on TV and you can’t see the difference when they are in a race with you (because most of us never see them for very long).
In order to appreciate how fast they are actually running, you have to be running beside and then behind them and watch their back just floating away from you effortlessly, while you are struggling with everything you have to keep up, several times to appreciate how different they really are from the average runner.
The difference is so much greater than most runners realize.
I am not a name dropper, but Amby Burfoot was a great guy and I am glad that I had the opportunity meet and see him in places other than races he participated in locally. At those I never would have talked to him, I am too intimidated by famous people and by all the other people who are usually trying to catch their attention at something like that. I just don’t like those kind of social interactions and I am better in small groups, where I do not have to try to attract someone’s attention.
I still remember watching him run back then and how fluid he was, really let me see the difference between the local better runners and a former elite runner and this was 15-16 years after he won Boston. His form was amazing, but what set him apart from the others in my mind was his mental toughness.
He just didn’t quit.
John Kelley – the Younger
During this time I also got to meet and talk with John Kelley (the Younger) on several occasions at his Running Store and in other social situations. He always was a gentleman, very knowledgeable of running and the last time I saw him in 2003, he was gracious enough to act like he remembered me from all those years ago, after I told him the nickname that I used back then “Radar”.
After moving to Jewett City, CT in the summer of ’87 – it was one of those times where life got in the way of my running. Our first child born in July 1985, so she was beginning to be more needy, then the second one in April 1988, a new to us home in Jewett City, a much longer commute, the injury and a different boss who was not as tolerant about time out of the office (for running at lunch), all played into making it more difficult for me to run consistently at home or work.
All those factors led to a steady decline in my running, plus I began playing AD&D while injured and drifted away from my running circle, they found another Coastie to get them into the Indoor Track during the winter-time and I didn’t run a road race again for almost 10 years.
After the knee healed up I started running again, but not with the passion, consistency or zeal that I had had and certainly not the mileage or speed work.
The years 1985 and until October 1986 were my glory years in running, as far as being able to run fast, set PR’s and see how great good runners actually are.
Here is to the Glory Years, may we all have memories of our own. 🙂
I hope you enjoy reading these recollections, I know that I am enjoying going through the pictures, yearbooks, journals and reflecting back on these parts of my life.