Following each cross country season, Kaneland coach Rich Born put together a results booklet containing training advice, inspirational quotes and––after my freshman year––a cover comprised of newspaper stories about our success. I remember feeling a great sense of pride and accomplishment on receiving that booklet, which I’ve kept all these years because it marked the official beginning of my running career.
Looking through the booklet these days, I see that my initial 3-mile times were in the neighborhood of 18:00 to start the season. Far more Varsity meets in those days were held at distances from 2.56 to 2.75 miles. My best effort of the year overall was a 10:40 two-mile at the LIttle Seven Sophomore Conference meet, where we took second to Plainfield.
Building on successes like these was the goal going into the season in 1972. While we were a small school of 750 total students, Coach Born noted in several cases that we’d begun to beat teams from much larger schools.
I recall the excitement in the locker room after a headline in the Dekalb Chronicle declared, “Night Juggernaut rolls over Trojans.” These days a headline like that would generate snarky laughter in the locker room. But that day, a teammate asked, “What’s a juggernaut?” That led to a vocabulary lesson, in which we learned what a juggernaut is. It felt good to learn that we were building a reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
So yes, despite my late summer grumpiness at being called skinny by everyone I knew, I arrived on campus for the August 28 opening cross country workouts with a high degree of anticipation and excitement. I loved the feeling of joining those teammates again.The early years of the Kaneland program had been built on the shoulders of its top runner Fred Bateman. We’d followed in his footsteps as a young team and had success at both the soph and varsity levels. Now it was our turn to carry on and build on that tradition. We set high goals for ourselves, yet all goals are achieved by increments. So it was that we took to hard training.
One of the measures of potential success were the times we posted for the Campus Perimeter. We’d start on the track and head west to the grass along Meredith Road, then turn south in a long, arcing path around the ring of trees surrounding the south end of campus. I wrote about this experience in the illustrated article I published in Runner’s World in the late 1990s. It read, “A rut in the grass. That was our training loop in high school. Every scrawny tree was a checkpoint in a perimeter around the campus, carved out of cornfields.”
I wasn’t the fastest guy on that perimeter loop. My teammates Kirk Kresse, Bill Creamean, Jim Fay and Merid Dates all bested me. But the confidence it gave us all to run under 4:10 for that loop was enough to set us up for other successes, to prepare for race pace knowing you had even more in the tank if necessary. For the kick, especially. Not only could we feel the improvement, now we could see it. Right there. In Black and White. It told us, “You’re faster now.”
And yes, I got my recollected facts wrong in the Runner’s World article. The goal was for the Top Five to break 4:10 for the perimeter. But it doesn’t change the sense of accomplishment.
Most cross country runners recall a similar test of endurance and speed in their own programs. It might be a hill they climbed, as we did at Johnson’s Mound. Or a specific track workout that resulted in a team breakthrough. Almost any kind of test will work if it challenges runners to go beyond what they think they can do and prove that there’s something more there, if they give it everything they’ve got
In fifty years of running, there have been many such moments and tests. I’m grateful for them all. There’s nothing else like success in running to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something real.