My Eighties Adolescence: Determination

In January of 1986, I started my first year of high school track. I was a Junior. My last year as a member of a Track & Field team was five years earlier, during my first year of Junior High, when I finished that short season as an undistinguished distance runner.

That lack of athletic distinction prevailed throughout my Junior year. As a 3200-meter (2-Mile) competitor, I never achieved a faster time than 11:48. Back then, the record time in that event, for my high school, was a 10:44, set in 1970.

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At the end of the 1986 season, I set three goals for my upcoming Senior Track season:

1) Win competitive medals and ribbons whenever they were available (usually only during Invitationals and Finals).

2) Break my high school’s record for the 2-Mile Run.

3) Qualify for the State Finals.

At the time, I was appropriately scrawny for distance running, weighing between 150 and 160 lbs, but I wasn’t that tall. If memory serves me correctly, I stood just under 5’10”.

Image (120) State Finalist 1987bColorResized

I had a bit of an edge in competition when running against shorter guys, but guys with longer legs and less weight to carry were hard to beat.

In order to meet my three goals, I decided to continue training after the 1986 Track season concluded, running 4 miles a day, 6 days a week, for the next 6 months, regardless of weather. Once my Senior Track season began, I continued this basic regimen with the same intensity.

Towards the end of the 1987 Track season, I managed to break the school’s 2-Mile record by 8 seconds. In order to get that time, I’d had to borrow a teammate’s spikes, since I’d been competing in regular running shoes.

During the last lap of that 3200-meter race, I detected a dull burning sensation under each of my big toes, but it wasn’t painful enough to slow me down. After I’d crossed the finish line and started walking off my victory, I noticed a distinct feeling of wetness inside my borrowed spikes. Must be sweat, was my initial thought.

Like a fool, I hadn’t worn socks to the meet that day. Running barefoot in my own shoes hadn’t been a problem, but these were someone else’s shoes and they fit tighter. The resulting blisters under each of my big toe joints had popped and begun bleeding heavily as successive layers of skin were worn away during the race.

The pain was sharp, but after applying some aerosol antibiotic with lidocaine, followed by an application of aerosol Nu-Skin, my only concern was how soon I’d be able to resume training. The district semi-finals would be held in the next two or three weeks and it would be my last chance to push the school 2-Mile record back even further. Even if I failed to qualify for the state finals, I wanted badly to top my own new record time.

At the semi-finals, I tied for 2nd Place with a finishing time of 10:09.6. There was some controversy when another competitor and I tangled up our feet during the last half of the final lap, resulting in me stumbling without falling and the other runner taking a tumble onto the track. I was in place, running directly behind him, when I decided to switch into my full sprinter’s pace and get around in front of him.

Trouble was, he decided to make the same move at that exact moment to get himself out in front of the lead runner. Though tripping him was unintentional on my part, I could hear the other runners behind me calling out “Oh, that’s bullshit!” and encouraging the fallen runner, who was immediately back up on his feet and in pursuit, to “get him!”.

With each of us sprinting that final 200 meters, he and I tied for 2nd Place with a time of 10:09.6 . The lead runner won the race with a 10:06.7. That near three second difference in times doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider all three of us were in a full sprint at the conclusion. When the lead runner crossed the finish line, he was a full fifty yards ahead of us.

When I reached the State Finals, I was the only member of my Track & Field team to do so. Running in that race for a huge stadium crowd was an adrenalin rush unlike any I’d ever felt before, but, having seen the qualifying times of the other 2-Milers, I was under no illusions that I was going come close to winning. I ran a 10:36 that day and still got lapped by what seemed like a third of the other runners. The winning time that day was a 9:13.

But I didn’t care. I’d won medals and ribbons whenever they’d been available. I’d set the school record for the 2-Mile Run back a full 35 seconds and, in the process, qualified for the State Finals. I also won the Varsity Track & Field Most Improved award that year, which was a nice capper to the year-and-a-half I’d been running towards all the other goals I’d set for myself.

Eight or nine years later, my 2-Mile record was broken. I think the high school kid who broke the news to me expected me to react with disappointment or something, but I just shrugged. By that time, especially after spending several years on active duty in the U.S. Army, high school was already a distant memory for me. 

While I didn’t know the kid who topped my fastest time, I did know that he obviously wanted that school record badly enough to work for it even harder than I had. Because I could identify with the goal, I had to respect his effort, as well as his success.

And, anyway, records are meant to be broken.