50 Years of Runner: Let’s rock and roll

During the summer of 1978, I finally bought my first Rolling Stones record. I’d always been a Beatles guy, but of course I knew the Stones’ music, and my favorite songs were Tumbling Dice and Happy, on which Keith Richards took the lead vocal. The album Some Girls featured Mick Jagger weaseling his way through the disco hit Miss You. But it was the astoundingly intense song Shattered that I loved the best. I’d hang at the back of our training pack trading lyrics with fellow Luther runner Joel Redman who was just as odd and obsessed as me. We loved the way Mick sang these lyrics…

Laughter, joy, and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex
Look at me, I’m in tatters
I’m a shattered


Right behind the Stones on our running album track was brand new music by The Cars, whose song Just What I Needed captured the peripatetic nature of college love:

I don’t mind you comin’ here
And wastin’ all my time
‘Cause when you’re standin’ oh so near
I kinda lose my mind

It’s not the perfume that you wear
It’s not the ribbons in your hair
And I don’t mind you comin’ here
And wastin’ all my time

That music blasted from giant speakers set up near the starting line of the Luther Invitational. It launched us as a pack, but Augie proved even stronger that day.

Leading Luther’s Steve Corson and Paul Mullen next to Central’s Jerry Fitzsimmons at the Luther Invite.

In the third week of the season, capped by a 90-mile training week, I ran four miles the morning of the Grinnell Invitational, then raced the five miles at high noon in 25:53 for fifth overall. My roommate Dani Fjelstad won the race in 25:18, beating Jerry Fitzsimmons of Central College. My former roommate Paul Mullen took third, and I was barely outlasted for fourth by Central’s Brian Hantsbarger.

We were training right through those early season races. We’d run hard all week and show up ready to race whatever opponent we faced. I’d warm up, stand on the line and think, “Let’s rock and roll…”

Leading the pack at Grinnell behind Fjelstad of Luther and Fitzsimmons of Central College.

That Tuesday, September 26, we hosted Mankato State at the Luther course. During the day, the weather turned hot. The Mankato guys arrived from up north where the weather was much cooler when they left. They showed up in Decorah dressed in thick jerseys suited for much colder weather. Those poor guys suffered through that race. Fjelstad and I went 1st and 3rd in our first five-mile race of the season, 26:13 and 26:18. Their guys took second and fifth, but Luther swept the next five places for a 22-39 win. I remember feeling a bit bad for the Mankato team in their sweat-soaked winter jerseys.

That week I clocked in with 99 miles of training and racing. We traveled to Waverly, Iowa that Saturday, September 30, to run against Wartburg and St. Olaf in a triangular. Fjelstad chalked up his fifth straight win in 25:31 and I took third in 25:38 behind perennial St. Olaf All-American Mike Palmquist. I also noted in my journal that I “Beat Haugen”––St. Olaf’s other All-American runner. Paul Mullen finished right behind me in 25:53, and Tim Smith, Steve Corson, and Rob Serres packed up from 25:55 to 26:00. We beat Wartburg 15-50 and St. Olaf 23-35.

Placing in the top five consistently affirmed my confidence and inspired me to reach even greater fitness. We ran hard intervals between all those double-workout, high mileage days and traveled to the St. Olaf Invitational in Minnesota for yet another showdown with our Lutheran school rivals.

I was also growing stronger in love my girlfriend. We had a nice balance in time between her commitment to the Godspell show and my daily running schedule. We cherished time together because we were both busy and brought things for discussion every day.

But a strange thing happened one day coming out of the college union.

We were holding hands leaving the cafeteria and I was leading her through the passing crowd when I felt a hard tug on my hand and spun around to see her throw a cup of orange soda in the face of a track teammate of mine. Shocked and freaked at the same time, I looked at him and asked, “What happened?’

“He grabbed me,” she insisted. I looked at my teammate, who stood 6’3″ and weight a solid 190lbs of football muscle. He looked right in my eyes and I said, “Hey man, no trouble, okay?” The confrontation was compounded by the fact that there were just one-hundred black students attending Luther at that time.

We parted ways peacefully but she was incensed that I had not somehow chastised him. “Well, I didn’t see what happened,” I told her. “It might have been a mistake. I know him…he’s not one to do anything like that.” She was not satisfied by that response, but calmed down by the time we reached the dorm.

oThat weekend, she was flying back in a private place to visit her folks back in Barrington, Illinois. I rode with the team up to St. Olaf and ran a superb race on a hilly course, taking 8th overall behind Jim Ingold of LaCrosse, Mike Shockency of St. Cloud, Matt Haugen of St. Olaf, Paul Mausling of Macalester, Bob Pappas of Carleton, and my teammate Paul Mullen. We both swept around Steve Hahn of LaCrosse in the final straight to run 25:57 and 25:58 respectively. That was one of the finest joint sprints I’ve ever executed. Our final kick gave Luther the win over LaCrosse, 58 points to 60. Fjelstad had a bit of an off day for the first time all season, running 11th in 26:06, while freshman Rob Serres ran 26:10 and Steve Corson 26:20 for our top five. The total spread between our first and fifth man was just 23 seconds. Luther was now running with the elite teams in the Midwest.

A photo taken at the St. Olaf Invitational in the final week of September, 1978.

That weekend was the first two days I’d spend without my girlfriend since coming back from the RA Retreat in August. I went out birdwatching on Sunday morning and found a pair pileated woodpeckers and a merlin (falcon).

I wrote: (She’s) gone for the weekend. I’m a little lonely. I ran well today and have dorm duty, thus no one to share it with. 99 miles this week. I just want to stay healthy and run well. I miss her, although I sort of value the time alone. Her flight back is delayed.”

Something in me began to sense that while she and I were in love, it felt like a game between us. When she was back home in Illinois, she visited some slightly older guy and according to her report, he stripped down to nothing and paraded naked around the room. I couldn’t tell if she was upset by that or trying to make me feel jealous.

Jealousy had already entered our relationship. A few weeks earlier when I was hanging out at a bar on a Friday night with friends, a really cute classmate started up a conversation with me. In walked my girlfriend at that moment. She immediately barged in between us with her eyes flashing in a clear message to the other woman, “Leave my man alone.”

Back and forth it went. One day it felt like we were made to be together. The next day I wondered what she wanted from me. Then one night with some time on my own, I laid back to listen to the Some Girls album and the song Beast of Burden played. The lyrics struck a chord:

I’ll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad but it’s a-hurting
All I want for you to make love to me
I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ve walked for miles, my feet are hurting
All I want for you to make love to me

Am I hard enough?
Am I rough enough?
Am I rich enough?
I’m not too blind to see

Confident and strong as I was that fall, those were questions to which I did not know the answer, and probably never would.

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
This entry was posted in Christopher Cudworth, college, competition, cross country, mental health, running, sex and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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