After winning the Run for the Money 10k in Arlington Heights, I turned my sights to another 10k, the Frank Lloyd Wright Run in Oak Park. That week I caught up to a guy while training in Lincoln Park. “Interesting finish with a guy named Mike tonight. One of those solid types who was cruising, chopping along at 6:50 pace in the dark., listening to his Walkman. He said several times, ‘That’s the thing about you guys, you don’t know what kind of pain it takes to just get down to that level,” meaning 31:40 or so. Hah, if he only knew. And when I told him I was running ten a day he exhorted me, “Ten a day? Really?’ To which I explained that I averaged ten a day. He was exonerative. “Your body needs time to recover, those muscles need rest and sleep.” And I concluded, “Indeed.”
Because I likely was still pushing it too hard. But that taste of victory at Run for the Money had me thinking about winning other races.
Yet that week a revelation also came about. I met and talked with my former Philadelphia Van Kampen associate Tom. “My intuitions turned out good in terms of my feelings toward Philly offices and my duties there,” I wrote. “Remember the frustration. Remember the confused efforts, the bittersweet paychecks, the constant justification of outlooks and jousting on where our work should go––and now that crew is seeing the light of my introspection. A new, new man on top.”
Tom was the one that warned me things weren’t going well in marketing when I worked in Philly. While the whole move out there caused a great upheaval in my life, at least after talking to Tom I knew that I wasn’t crazy in my suspicions about the aims and conduct of the department where I worked. It was a small consolation to realize that I’d been right, but I did feel vindicated in some way.
Later that day, I sat down to write in my journal and felt a peculiar aloneness in my state. I don’t know if it was my quote or something I stole from reading Ayn Ran, but I penned a phrase in my journal after hearing the observations about leaving Van Kampen. “Better to take a risk and bear the brunt of pure action than to live in a quandary and bear no strength.”
The Fountainhead philosophy
If it was from The Fountainhead that I pulled that quote, I’ll have to forgive my twenty-five-year-old self for falling into that black-and-white version of reality. While that novel was written in 1943, its hard-ass philosophy still holds appeal to the determined and immature mind to this day. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is still popular with political conservatives who view rational compromise as a disease to be cured rather than a tactic of healthy consideration and growth.
As an online book description cooly notes: “The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Russian-American author Ayn Rand, her first major literary success. The novel’s protagonist, Howard Roark, is an intransigent young architect, who battles against conventional standards and refuses to compromise with an architectural establishment unwilling to accept innovation. Roark embodies what Rand believed to be the ideal man, and his struggle reflects Rand’s belief that individualism is superior to collectivism.”
As a distance runner, I was trying to win races. Other than sharing the pace at times, there wasn’t a ton of room for compromise in the sport. You either win or finish behind someone else. So it’s acceptable to leave others behind. At that age, I was trying to prove that I could persevere beyond all expectations and to hell with the rest of the world if they didn’t like it. That’s the whole point of a race. But that’s not how you can approach everything in life.
I had my troubles with collectivism, for certain. During workouts with the crew at the University of Illinois-Chicago track, I’d stalk around in a silent mood for the most part. That was sort of a passive-aggressive tactic, the silent treatment. It was no secret I wanted to beat everyone there, but not talking to those guys was clearly an asshole move. That’s now how I’d behaved back east in Paoli, and I’m not entirely sure why I acted like a sullen jerk for those first few workouts. Probably I was afraid of admitting how close to the edge of madness I was actually traveling. It wasn’t that running was all I had in this world, but it sometimes felt like it.
I finally did open up as time went by because I realized the guys and gals I ran among were great people and runners just trying to improve like me. Sadly, I didn’t choose to accept coaching counsel from Tom Brunick, the Athlete’s Feet shoe-testing guru who led those weekly workouts. I recall watching him review another runner’s workout journal and thinking that he’d consider me crazy if he read the things I wrote in mine. So, I kept to myself on that front, self-contained like a warped Howard Roark type, constructing the architecture of my running destiny.
Racing Frank Lloyd Wright
That said, the training I did leading up to the Frank Lloyd Wright race was solid, including a 70-mile week after the Run for the Money win and another 67-mile week that began with an 18-miler covered in 2:00:00. I ran that distance out in the country with my girlfriend Linda and her friends Randy and Debby, who rode their bikes along with me. My pace averaged 6:30-7:00 per mile, proving I’d not learned much from the training tactics of the Philly boys, who ran their long runs at a far more relaxed pace. But I was charged up with the cooler weather in early October. Still, I admitted in my journal, “Pretty tired by week’s end.”
The weather shifted to cool and rainy in mid-October. I loved that kind of atmosphere because it made me feel mean and focused. I figured if other runners hated the weather, loving it gave me an advantage. That’s where being a country-loving birder and citizen scientist schlepping around in the rain and mud comes in handy. It doesn’t bother me.
That’s how the day dawned the morning of October 23, 1983. I’d stayed with Linda the night before, so we drove down to Oak Park in the dark with rain spitting on the windshield of my Plymouth Arrow. I registered to race, then left her in the car to jog three miles to warm up on the wet streets. I felt strong and the cool, 55-degree air on my face made me feel eager alive. At the starting line, I glanced up and down the front group to see if I recognized anyone. They were all strangers to me, but some of them did look fit and fast. I stood on my tiptoes to look back at the madding crowd. There were 3,000 runners back there. I wanted to beat every last one of them.
The Wright pace
The gun went off and the front group formed quickly. I ran to the side at first to stay wide on the first few curves because the pavement was covered in puddles. I didn’t want to get my racing shoes soaked early on. At the mile mark, I felt super strong and did a short burst to test the rest of the field. No one came, so I took off.
From there, I raced through the streets of Oak Park with such focus it felt like every detail of the sodden day jumped out at me. I waved to people on the streets cheering us on and smiled at the kids. And then, from out of an alley it seemed, I was joined by a familiar figure running alongside me. For a moment, he seemed like a weird sort of vision or an apparition. Then I realized it was Ralph Van Kampen, the elder brother of Bob Van Kampen, the man that hired me for the graphic design job at his company. Ralph was the one that showed me around the loop in Chicago, pointing out his favorite architecture including a tour of The Rookery, whose origins sew together some of the greatest names in that city’s architectural history. “Designed by famous architectural partners Burnham and Root, the picturesque Rookery was originally completed in 1888. Adding to its impressive stature, Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the stunning two-story, sky-lit lobby in 1905. Meticulously renovated and maintained, The Rookery stands as one of the most highly recognized addresses in all of Chicago.”
Little did I know that my life’s journey would intersect with the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in many other ways over the years. That would include tours of the Robie House in Chicago, a vacation trip to visit the Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob residences in Pennsylvania, and multiple tours of the famous Taliesin home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin. I also cycled the Wright Stuff Century in southwestern Wisconsin several times but wound up crashing in 2012, breaking my collarbone going 40mph downhill when my Felt 4C developed bike wobble. I literally could have lost my head that day if I had not slid under a half-inch weaved metal cable between two concrete stanchions in the ditch.
All of that was far in the future. During the Frank Lloyd Wright Run in 1983, I only glanced at the Wright architecture featured along the route. That’s where my work friend Ralph ran alongside me for forty or fifty yards, cheering me on at the top of his lungs as his street shoes slapped on the asphalt and splatted through a puddle or two. I don’t recall if he lived in Oak Park or not, yet somehow his presence made me feel even greater that day. Ralph wasn’t a go-getter like his brother, but he was a refined man with a love of things done well, especially great architecture. As crazy as it sounds, we shared quite a moment that day.
As he tailed off behind me, I felt an even greater sense of purpose. I dwelled on what Bill Rodgers said about winning the New York City Marathon. During the race, he had a sense that he wanted to do everything right, even to the point of carrying his hands a certain way. SoI concentrated on my form and ran as relaxed and free as possible. Nothing was holding me back at that point except for the turns on the course and the wet surface of the roads. With a mile to go, knowing that I had it won, my stomach did act up a bit but as I wrote in my journal, “my legs never tired. Almost wish someone had gone with me.”
Always doubting myself
Finishing in first place for the second race in a row, I immediately wondered if I’d somehow chosen weak races where the big boys didn’t show up. Leave it to me to beat myself up for winning. Then again, I’d raced with purpose and intention, so there was no real need to apologize to myself or anyone else. I’d set my mind on victory and made it happen. While I wasn’t yet winning in the job hunt front, at least I was kicking ass in my avocation. Someday I hoped to transfer that excellence to other domains.
The race went so well, and it felt so memorable that if I’d called it quits right after that, I’d probably have been satisfied that season. For some runners, winning a race that large might constitute a lifetime of satisfaction. But the very next week, after dropping my training mileage a bit to rest up, I showed up to race the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K against 1500 people and took second place in 31:25. That race is held in open country, often with cornfields stripped of crops, so nothing is stopping the wind. Fortunately, it was a clear and sunny day with just a breeze from the northwest. The photograph was taken by a race photographer as I topped the hill near the finish line. That image is one of my favorite all-time pictures and one of the few I purchased from the official race photography company.
The first segments of the course form three sides of a six-mile square going South, East, and North. There are two tough, longish hills to climb at the four-mile mark. Then the course enters a park and winds around as if it’s lost the way. That winding mile seems to take forever compared to the previous four. That wayward course proved confusing to the lead runner that day. With no one leading us through the park he ran straight across a patch of grass when the actual course was supposed to follow an asphalt path around a flagpole. It wasn’t marked, but I kept to the path while yelling at him, but he couldn’t hear me because of the wind. All told, running the right path probably cost me 15-20 more yards of distance and time, and I was angry about that but had to be honest with myself as well: he was pulling away from me before we hit that section of the course.
At the finish, I weighed telling the course directors that the winner technically cut the course. At first, I said something while coming through the chute, then bit my tongue because it seemed petty to complain. He was the one that pressed the pace the whole way and frankly deserved the win. I don’t think I’d have reeled him in even if he hadn’t cut the course. Besides, winning by calling him a cheat would not have felt good at all. The Howard Roark in me wouldn’t stand for that. Plus I think it was an honest mistake.
Besides, the season was not yet over. I still had a few races to go.