When indoor track rolled around in the winter of 1974, our track team moved over to an elementary building called Davis School five blocks from the high school. There we engaged in an intense series of proprioceptive exercises under the guidance of our coach Trent Richards. We hopped and bounded, did strength workouts and generally built up our bodies for distance training. In some ways, those workouts were a throwback to gym tactics of 40 years before. In other ways, they were filled with foresight, as Trent was progressive in his knowledge and interest in sports physiology.
Years later through Trent I met the world’s best middle distance runner at the time, Sebastian Coe. He was trained by his father Peter Coe, and articles about their approach emphasized how much preparatory training they did before starting the running portion of his program. Sure enough, Coe did many of the exercises Trent had us doing that winter of 1974.
We were relieved that winter that our training involved less running in the hallways of St. Charles (Thompson) High School. During January, we’d do interval workouts on those tile floors and it was dangerous as heck. We’d start upstairs at the south end of the building, tear down the dusty hallways to the stairs at the far end of the building, run down at full tilt, then sprint back to finish as the base of the stairs at the south end of the building. It was insane and exhausting work. We did it because there was no indoor track available to us.
That meant it was treat to run on actual indoor tracks when the season started. I recall feeling free and strong that winter thanks to our bounding workouts. That first indoor race at the West Aurora track I ran a 4:35 mile, at that point the fieldhouse record.
When outdoor season came around during my senior year, I tried my best to help the team win meets every week. Typically that would involve running the two-mile to start the meet. Then I’d go high jump and triple jump. I set a school record at 40’4″ in the triple jump. I high jumped six feet. At the end of the meet I ran the mile. On a couple occasions, I won all four events.
That schedule was fun, in its way. It made me feel important, which for a kid in perpetual need of affirmation and self-esteem, worked wonders.
In truth, it wasn’t helping me become a better runner. Lacking the focus on how to actually improve my mile and two-mile times, such as breaking the races down into splits to hit, I kept running the same times week after week. For example, I ran a 4:29 mile six weeks in a row. Nothing worse. Nothing better. At the county meet, I took the field out in 2:10 at the half, hoping to improve my time. The pack came by me at the 3/4 mark to finish in 4:24. I ran 4:29. Again. I ran the same exact time at the district meet in an attempt to go downstate. The state qualifying standard was 4:29, which I equalled, but finished seventh, one place out of qualifying. My best two-mile time wound up 9:58. I ran faster than that at the two-mile mark of dozens of cross country meets. I had a mental block.
Missing state again hurt quite a bit. It doubly hurt because the Kaneland track team for whom I would have competed had we not moved to St. Charles won the Illinois Class A state meet that year. My former classmates Ron Ackerman, Jim Bishop, Larry Will, Mark Claypool and others all won individual state titles or made All-state. They were a dominating bunch, that Kaneland team. They even won the mile relay too. How such a small school developed such a collective of top-level talent is a credit to its coach Bruce Peterson. He was a hard man, but his athletes did great things. To this day I wonder if I’d have run faster in track as a Kaneland Knight than I did as a St. Charles Saint. I would not have needed to do all that high jumping or triple-jumping, because there were athletes far better than I competing in those events. Maybe I’d still have tried. It’s a fault of mine.
Watching the Kaneland team crush it at Eastern Illinois made me jealous, I’ll admit. My friends and I got sunburned in the May heat and piled into our cars to drive home. On the way, I noticed a carload of former Kaneland classmates driving back the same road. The car filled with girls I knew, and we laughed and waved. Then someone started flashing us, and the fun began.
So many body parts were pressed against car windows that day it defies description. Breasts and balls, butts and wankers. We laughed so hard it was difficult to keep the car on the road. The girls were great sports about it. They definitely got as much laughter out of the situation as we did. Suns out, buns out. We were all just kids having fun with body parts.
Along the way, we must have stopped to get food, or else I somehow followed up with one of the girls to get her phone number. I set up a date for the following weekend. We met up to go to a movie. I chose a brash bit of comedy called Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty. It was all about sex.
I’ll describe my date not from my own perspective, but through the words of one of the other women in the car that day, who turned out to be a lifelong friend of mine. She collected my artwork, and I patronized her flower shop. Every Christmas, I’d buy “Flowers for a Year” for my wife. Each month I’d pick out flower arrangements with that friend and we’d catch up and tell stories. She had the same birthday as my wife, and they were similarly built. Funny thing is, I knew what her breasts looked like because I’d seen them plastered against the car window years before. She knew a few things about me too. Such are the sweet contradictions of high school antics and lifelong friendships.
Anyway, I finally confessed to that lifelong woman friend that I’d gone out with a girl that was also in the car that day. “Well,” she said quietly. “That must have been nice. She’s the prettiest woman I’ve ever known.”
She was, that. So while I never made it downstate in track, there was sweet consolation in securing that date for some parking time out in the cornfields. I learned that young women sometimes wander outside their social circles for adventure in life.
High school was over then. We all graduated and got spit out the other side of scholastic life. The next steps were ours to choose. It was time to run head-on into life.