I belong to XSport, a fitness club with two locations within 5 miles of my house, one in Batavia where I live and one in St. Charles, just up the road.
The St. Charles location is on Randall Road, one of the big thoroughfares that connects Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles. I’ve lived in all three towns over the last four decades. I attended high school in St. Charles and was the top runner on the cross country team and competed in the mile, two-mile, high jump and triple jump in track.
That was back in the 1970s. And this morning as I trotted out to start a 6-mile run it struck me that I was about to run down Dean Street, the road that links the former high school campus (now a middle school) to Leroy Oakes Forest Preserve where we ran our cross country meets.
When you’ve lived in an area as long as I have, there is a tendency to let those memories slip away. It’s not really functional to dwell on the past that much. So what if you drive the same roads, or run and ride the same. It’s where you live. Move on in life.
Three summers ago a fellow distance runner from St. Charles came back to visit his parents who still live here. We went for a long bike ride with friends and the old stories about coaches and training routes and races all came to life. That’s fun.
But at one point during the ride he turned to us and said, “So it’s weird. You guys still, like, live here…”
Yes we do, we all laughed. My two best training friends competed on the same track and cross country teams in high school. One of them ran with me in college too. After college we kept racing and those guys took up cycling too. I don’t know why I didn’t back then. Too busy running I guess.
So as I ran down Dean Street east toward the high school it occurred to me that I was wading through these thoughts about time and treasured friendships. We’d all run that mile stretch from Randall back and forth to the high school so many times. I was sixteen years old when we met.
Heading all the way into town I turned north on Route 31. I thought about what an insane little group of airheads we were, and wondered why some of us never got hit by passing cars. I guess there was enough common sense to survive. That was about it.
Cutting through Wildrose Springs I arrived through a shortcut at the driveway of my senior year girlfriend’s house. The new owners have done all kinds of nice things to expand the place. Still I can recall making out with her in that driveway with the windows cracked on my car. Her father once came past and pounded on the window. “Time to head in,” he told his daughter. She was a great kisser, that girl.
Turning west on Crane Road there is a series of rolling hills. On my bike they require concentration to maintain speed and use the last hill to shoot up the next one. Running these hills is a little less glamorous. You set your pace and plod up the best you can.
For a mile the scenery is country beautiful. Big homes and long driveways. It was all farms back when I ran that route in training after college. It was 10 miles round trip from my home in St. Charles to Crane Road and back.
There was good reason to run that route. The Randall Road Hill. It climbs for half a mile and covers 200 vertical meters. Not steep, but it keeps you honest in either direction.
I passed the school where my mother taught elementary education for 20+ years. She passed away in 2005. She had me visit the school many times over the years to talk to her children about birds and biology and art.
Halfway up the Dean Street hill sits the house of a longtime birding friend named Paul. He’s in his late 80s now and I have not seen him for years. He was also athletic director while I was an athlete in high school. Later he hired me to run the Norris Sports Complex indoor track, soccer, basketball and volleyball facility. I loved that part-time job. There are still many people from those years that I see running and walking in the Tri-Cities. Most of them are slower these days of course. But they’re still at it.
Same can be said for me. Yet I was happy to average in the high 8:00 per mile range on that hilly run through personal history. It reminds you that while life has its ups and downs, if you keep going there’s always something new to see, and new ways to think about times past.