Despite the almost 20 months’ difference in our ages, my sister was just one year behind me in school. When she got to 7th grade, she started participating in our high school’s programs in cross-country, basketball, and track. She’d always been blazingly fast, but it turned out that distance running also suited her well. I hadn’t considered cross-country (or track) to that point, even though I’d more than held my own in races as a kid. I had been a benchwarmer in basketball the previous year, possibly making the team only because I was one of the tallest in my class (I kept at it through my freshman year, when I finally got the message about my abilities–the coach asked me mid-year to start keeping stats for the team).
So, big brother played tag-along and tried out for cross-country that fall of 77. I remember how hard it was to run a mile non-stop at first, and then to try to have to do it again ten minutes later! Before too long, I was able to go 5K, though not with any great speed. I ran in meets but invariably finished toward the back end of the field. When the coach talked up a summer running program the following spring as a means to improve, I was definitely game.
I didn’t start in earnest until mid-June, after we’d returned from a vacation to DC and Williamsburg. Ever the over-protected and under-rebellious child, I ran laps around my yard, since my folks were uneasy about me running all around town by myself. We wound up claiming that 6 times around made a mile, though that was likely a generous estimate. Still, every single day through the rest of the summer, I was out there, putting in at least 18 and sometimes upwards of 36 laps. The routine changed once school started and practice resumed, but I still ran at least 3 miles daily until around Thanksgiving, when a bad chest cold laid me too low to keep on. That freshman year was by far my best season in cross-country, and I have to think those summer jaunts played a big part. I didn’t run nearly so much the following summers, and my performance regressed so much that I abandoned cross-country my senior year.
My strongest recollection from that one decent fall was a Saturday race, the Harrison County Invitational, held on a golf course outside Cynthiana, KY. It was a bright and sunny morning, but also COLD, particularly in the moments right before the race after I’d shed my sweats. I imagine I turned in an okay time, but it’s more the return trip on the bus that sticks in my mind. Nothing particularly notable happened; there was just a 14-year-old going back and forth between jawing with his friends and holding a transistor radio to his ear, trying to catch some tunes in advance of that evening’s AT40 show. (Looking at the Lexington’s weather history online, this meet and accompanying memory probably occurred the weekend following the countdown featured here.) Two songs invariably play inside my head when I think back on that mid-fall early afternoon as we were on our way back to Walton: “It’s A Laugh” by Hall and Oates, and this week’s track (#21, soon to peak at #18). Hearing Crystal sing about her insecurities makes me think not of my own at the time (whatever they were), but of the slant of the October sun, of windy back roads in Harrison and Grant Counties, and of learning the joys of jogging several miles. Despite the fact that I wasn’t very quick about it, I continued semi-regularly until a knee injury took me off the road for good, at age 42.
I owe every pleasure I derived from running over all those years to Amy–I never would have done it without you, Sis!