Whether from the wet and 40-degree April weather or from the impacts of overtraining, I picked up a nasty cold at the end of April, 1984. “Sore throat. Sore thighs. Tired. Dry air in room. Window open tonight,” I wrote on the 24th. I rested like crazy for a couple days and the weather turned hot, hitting 80 degrees on the 26th. I took a day off the next day, and biked easy on the 28th to rest my legs for a half-marathon the next day.
It was a long haul up to Lake Forest or some other North Shore town where the Lake County Marathon and Half Marathon started. The morning of the race, the symptoms of the cold were still fairly profound. I was coughing some, and snot still ran from the nose. But I’d committed to run the race because it was a relatively high-profile event for the running community. So I toed the line with my Running Unlimited kit and ran a 1:11:55 in cool temps of fifty degrees. That wasn’t a bad effort considering how sick I’d been leading up to the race.
Earlier that week, I’d revealed to my downtown lover that there was another woman in my life. “Had a long talk with (MM) about Linda,” I wrote in my journal. “I love her.” Looking at that note these many years later, I’m not sure to whom that confession of love was directed. In any case, I was trying to be honest with somebody, perhaps everybody, about our prospects together.
There is no doubt I had strong feelings for the woman downtown. We ran together in the park and made love rightr in the doorway when she came to visit one afternoon. Talk about hunger. She had it. I had it. And whenever we went out dancing the rest of the world seemed to fall away. One night we attended a concert and dancefest by the group Heavy Manners, a reggae-based group based in Chicago with an infectious hit song titled: “Under a Bad Moon.” The lyrics certainly nailed my equivocation to the wall.
“She thought love would be soft and tender
He thought love would mean sweet surrender
In her mind he was a romantic notion
In his mind she needed to prove her devotion
Then under a bad moon…he took her
Love is blind, I need to touch you
Love is invisible, c’mon let me hear you
He said ‘but you know how I feel baby….
She said, “Say it…”
I covered 60 miles the week following the half marathon. That included a 4 X 1 mile workout at the University of Illinois Chicago track with the “boys” who all gathered to work out under the guidance of coach Tom Brunick. That week we ran a 4:50, 4:45, 4:58 and 5:00 set. Brunick knew that we were running too fast and called upon all of us to slow our asses down. “Don’t leave your race on the track,” he yelled after that fast first mile.
The pace was likely my fault. I came there ready to run hard every week, and we were all competitive. The “boys” weren’t about to take a back seat. Over the weeks, I’d gotten to know Dave Casillas and Jim Whitnah, Larry Gnapp and a few others. They all ran at a tier just above me. Not the super-elite in the Chicago area, but slightly better runners than I.
We all seemed to swirl around in the racing and training circuit around Chicago. I’d even stumbled into doing a training session earlier that year with Hal Higdon and his son Kevin. They seemed like private people, so I kept my mouth shut for the most part. It was fun running with such a well-known figure as Hal, and I liked Kevin’s straightforward demeanor. And he was a better runner than I, as well.
Raising the race profile
But I was eager to raise my racing profile up a notch. By mid-May that year, I was aching to get to a track and test myself at 5K to see where my fitness really stood. After the fast five-miler in Arlington Heights, and the quick workouts in practice, I felt like a sub-15:00 5K was definitely within my reach.
So I showed up at North Central College on May 18th to run in one of the All-Comers meets. The track meet started in late afternoon, and there were dozens if not hundreds of athletes on hand. Many were either prepping for their national meets or trying to hit qualifying standards of one kind or another.
The meet dragged well into the evening. One of my female friends from the Van Kampen days showed up to root me one. She stayed a few hours but I told her that my race was not going to happen for some time. I don’t recall where Linda was that night, but she apparently couldn’t attend, perhaps because of a teaching obligation.
Finally, my female friend told me she was hungry and decided to go home for a while. She lived just a few miles down the road and told me that she’d be back. I couldn’t believe what dedication she was showing as a friend. But after all, we’d shared a bed together a year before, and we both loved each other in spirit, so I didn’t object to her support.
When the 800-meter race came around, I watched as one of the former North Central athletes was goaded into running by his former teammates. He’d shown up the meet in blue jean shorts, obviously not planning to run. But true to the North Central tradition, his teammates teased and pushed him to borrow a set of spikes and jump into a heat of the 800. He won it, blue jeans and all, tearing through a sub-1:55 as I recall, with barely any warmup.
We sat through multiple rounds of sprint races and the night wore on. I warmed up once or twice thinking the 5000 would come along soon, but no such luck. Hungry at last, I nibbled on some sort of crusty granola bar that I had in my bag. And waited, sitting in stands for the most part, wondering what the hell my life was really about. I mean, this was insane, right?
Racing Under a Mad Moon
Finally, at nearly midnight, the call was made for the 5000 meters. I looked up the track while warming up to spy none other than Jim Spivey pulling off his sweatpants. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be fast.”
I laced up the pure white Nike Zoom spikes with blue swooshes that I’d purchased a week before at Running Unlimited. They perfectly matched my blue and white racing kit. The runners were called to the line and I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Pop!” went the starting gun.
We raced through the first mile and I hit a split of 4:36. Right on target, I thought. I was fifteen runners back from the leaders, and probably 20+ yards behind, but running well. The weather was perfect, about sixty degrees and no wind. The rack of lights above the track were like bright moons casting alternately long and short shadows as we passed under each set of them. Running track races really is a form of controlled madness, I’ve long thought. But that night I was into it. “This is fun,” I thought to myself.
The other runners around me were just as excited. “C’mon,” one of them gushed as he elbowed past a slowing runner and moved into the second lane next to me. “We’re running fast!”
We passed through the two-mile mark at 9:17. To date, that was my fastest ever time at that split. Now I was really excited. The pace stayed quick and I ran through three miles in 14:14. That was definitely the fastest I’d ever covered three miles. The leaders were well ahead of me, by a half a lap. The winner was Spivey in about 14:00. But I did not care. I was raising my game on my own terms.
With half a lap to go, I did start to struggle a bit. But I came home in 14:47, a PR by almost fifteen seconds. Already in 1984, I’d run my fastest half marathon, quickest five-mile, and fastest track 5K. And it was only May.
I think going through three miles in 14:14 was my proudest accomplishment that night. My best 3-mile to that point in time was back in college when I ran a 14:37 for a solo win in a dual meet on a cinder track.
What a friend
Cooling down after the midnight 5K race, I came jogging around the track to find my blue-eyed woman friend waiting for me near the finish. She wore a big baggy sweater because it was cool outside. I came trotting ver and she threw her arms around my neck in a big hug. “Nice, jobbbb…” she whispered. “You ran great.” She’d indeed come back that Friday night and waited in the wings for my race to start and finish. At midnight. What a friend. What a woman.
We exchanged a friendly kiss and she held my hand kindly as I bent down to gather my sweats from the ground. We said goodnight and I thanked her earnestly for coming. Then I walked to my Plymouth Arrow to make the drive back to Linda’s place in Geneva, where I’d stay the night. It was hard to get to sleep that night after all the excitement of racing around that track at the fastest speeds I’d ever run. She was sound asleep when I got back to her place and she rolled over to ask, “How’d it go?”
“I set a PR,” I told her, and flopped my head on the pillow. I lay in bed with my heart still pounding in my chest. My life might have been confusing in many ways, but at that moment, the focus on running had paid off. I’d put in the work and produced the results. There’s no better feeling on earth.
It had good to have a friend witness the race. I was lucky perhaps to have all those women in my life. Despite how it might seem, I did not take any of them for granted. Still, the second half of the lyrics from the song Under a Mad Moon felt like a soundtrack for that time of my life.
“Mom told son that girls are a tangle
Dad tells daughters boys try an angle
Boys and girls collide in romantic notions
in her mind she needs to hear the word devotion
Then Under a Mad Moon, he took her
With invisible hands he took from her invisible nest
She said I’ll die before I hear a many say he loves me
He said “But you know how I feel baby,”
She said, “Say it.”