This past weekend I traveled to Decorah, Iowa to watch the conference cross country championship held at Luther College, my alma mater. I joined two long-ago teammates, Paul Mullen and Dani Fjelstad, to have dinner on Friday night and watch the meet on Saturday morning. We were joined at dinner by our former coach Bob Naslund, for whom the college fieldhouse will be named after its renovation.
At dinner, we talked about old times and shared some classic tales of competitions won and lost. We also talked about how things have changed about Luther and college running over the years. Our school is no longer the dominant conference powerhouse in cross country or track and field. There are a host of reasons for that and proposed cures in terms of recruiting and such, but that does not mean there are not good things happening for Luther College runners. The cross country and track directors Steve and Yarrow Pasche do an excellent job coaching runners and have success every year. This is no “alumni complaint” about things not being what they used to be. Quite the opposite.
While us old guys and gals are proud of our era, we also recognize that things were not perfect in those days. This weekend, we discussed how often we overtrained or ran too hard, or too often. We lamented some of the unnecessary injuries that resulted from those tactics.
It’s a fact of the sport injuries and bad luck come to everyone. Just this week, one of Luther’s top women tore her ACL during a pre-race skit. She attended the race in a full leg brace. I walked over to console her and relate that I’ve been through that injury and come back strong. I could see the competitor in her aching to run that day. The fact of the matter is that in running, shit happens.
The other truth about running is that times do change. It was odd for us long-graduated Luther guys to watch the Wartburg teams sweep the top spots at the conference meet. Their pack in both the men’s and women’s race was deep and impressive. I don’t doubt that our 1978 team that placed second at nationals could give them a run if we were to transport forward in time, but kudos to the Warts for assembling a program worthy of a #1 national ranking. Whatever they’re doing appears to be working.
My Luther teammates and I were wondering if Wartburg would be able to match the feat that we achieved by sweeping the Top 5 places in the conference meet back in 1975. They didn’t, but they came darn close.
The most impressive performance of the day came from a runner representing Loras College. Kassie Parker ran to a half-mile victory with a time of 20:43.0 over 6000 meters. She appeared to be flying in the home stretch. Though she’s a Division III runner, I predict that we’ll hear about her competing for national teams in a few years.
Though the Luther women’s team was wracked by late-season injuries, they ran well as a pack and coach Yarrow Pasche was pleased with their effort. The program grew from the two first women to run cross country at Luther my freshman year to a team that embraces the sport with enthusiasm and good numbers. That’s really what the sport is about for most runners.
Later, at the cross country picnic following the race, we met with Luther parents (still younger than us!) and some recent alumni runners. It is interesting to move amongst those people and realize that it was our parents mingling together 40+ years ago. They were just as happy that their young men and women were competing in a positive fashion and growing in life.
It’s still a beautiful sport and always will be. When the gun goes off and a hundred or so runners go running across a green field on a fall day, there is no place in the world, or in time, that I’d rather be.