Forty years after my 1984 engagement as an essentially ‘full-time runner,’ I got interested in triathlon and started competing in Sprint and Olympic distance events. I quickly learned that the most awkward part of triathlons are the transitions, those moments when you’re changing gear and switching from swim to bike and bike to run. Some people navigate those passages with ease. Others, especially those of us with ADHD or other distracting mindsets, find it that much harder to smooth through transitions.
Such was the case with the life transition I was going through in the spring of 1985. That winter, I’d asked my girlfriend Linda to become my fiance. We asked her parents to host the reception in their Addison backyard, and met with the pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to plan the wedding. I purchased her wedding ring through a high school friend that worked for a local jeweler. He secured a nice diamond and built the ring according to her design.
It wasn’t a huge ring, but neither was it tiny. Linda was happy that we were finally on our way to marriage, and I was figuring out what to do next for an income. The job managing the Norris Sports Complex was winding up in May with the advent of spring, and I’d begun searching for a full-time job in the tri-cities of St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia.
Some close friends introduced me to a guy named Bruce that worked for the regional district of the Boy Scouts of America. They were looking for a District Executive, and my buddy Bob had worked for them years before. It was worth talking it through. But I was also concentrating on my sponsorship from the Running Unlimited store. By that spring, I’d used the holdover fitness from the previous year and the training I’d done all winter on the indoor track at the Sports Complex to race a few times. I started off the year with a slow 26:30 in the Shamrock Shuffle but the weather was again freezing cold. Then in April, I broke 20:00 in a four-mile race and felt fantastic. It felt like I was on my way to a good year.
After another late-night effort at 5K on the track at North Central College where I almost broke 15:00 (and ran about 14:30 for three miles) I competed in a big event called the Rundo in Chicago. But struggling with the effects of a heavy cold from the previous week, I stumbled along to a 33:08 and wanted to swear off running forever. It’s never any fun to have a bad race.
But I was still racing for the Running Unlimited squad, and wanted to redeem myself. So I entered the Elgin 10-mile, an epic race rife with sets of steep hills over the first eight miles. My goal in the race was always to finish in the Top Ten, but it wasn’t easy to do. Most of the Fox Valley’s top runners showed up at the race, and usually a couple much tougher “ringers” who took the pace out fast.Such was the case that morning, but I hung on through the eight-mile mark and finished hard on the last two miles that wound through the north part of downtown Elgin and closed with a final mile in which you could see the Finish banner from a mile away. My time was 53:36, the second-fastest 10-mile in my career.
Then I found work. Sometime in early June, I signed on to work for the Boy Scouts of America. “You’ll love it,” my newfound friend and training partner Bruce told me. “The summers are pretty easy, and in the fall and winter you recruit kids and help raise money.”
“And by the way,” he told me. “I told them you’d run in the Boy Scout 10K in June.”
I showed up to race and wasn’t feeling at all excited about running that morning. It was hot and humid, and the race didn’t even start until 9:00 a.m. The sun beat down and my head hurt a bit. But Bruce had talked me up among the other Scout executives so there was quite a bit of pressure going into the event. I led for four miles before grabbing my side with a terrible stitch. It took me eleven minutes to finish the last two miles and some jerkwad plodder passed me up for the win. I walked around after the race disgusted by the whole experience. To make matters worse, one of the execs walked by and muttered a snarky comment about my being a “big star” as he passed. It certainly didn’t set a good tone going into the job. I watched him walk away with his fat frame and blurted an insult under my breath. Most people have no idea what it takes to achieve and maintain race fitness, or to perform at a top-level every time you step on the tarmac.
The prep for the wedding was occupying much of my brainpower anyway. I was excited about the wedding, but starting a new job at the same time was tough. The job required that we buy a full Boy Scout uniform to wear at council events and I frankly felt ridiculous in the thing. We all looked like grownups playing at child’s games. That was a factor I hadn’t counted on. The immersion into an entirely different culture. But I did like the blue jacket and requisite grey slacks we wore for formal events and wished we could wear that all the time. So the transition to working for the Boy Scouts was for me…a little rough.
Then in late June, it was time for me to defend my 10K title at the Community Classic in Geneva. The previous year I’d triumphed in a course record 31:52, and though I’d run that early 19:56 for four miles in mid-April and the 53:36 10-mile in late May, my brain and body weren’t in sync for the start of the Geneva race at all. I was not fooling myself. I knew that I was not going to win that day.
Atrio of fast-looking dudes showed up to run, and I knew that my competitive Mink Factor was low at best. I just didn’t have the fight within me, nor the feeling of fitness required to beat any of them. I stood on the line with that tiny #1 on my chest and tried to escalate my hopes and quell my fears. But it was not to be.
The race ended predictably, with me nearly jogging home in 34:10. Adding insult to injury, some nerdy kid from Kaneland that broke my freshman record in the mile passed me with a mile to go. I could barely move my legs after that. But considering all the changes in my life that first half of 1985, and the fact that I was getting married a week later, it makes total sense that I was not the hard man that I wanted that morning.
A week later, we got married in a beautiful ceremony at the church. For the groomsmen, I purchased a set of Nike Air Pegasus in silver and gray to wear with the silver tuxedos we all sported at the wedding. I used the Running Unlimited discount on the shoes, and it was a fun look suggested by my bride Linda.
The wedding reception was held outside and it was gorgeous weather. We gathered under the massive tents rented by my in-laws, and a quartet from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played as guests arrived. My sister-in-law Diane Mues had just earned a spot as a violist in the symphony. There was much cause for celebration all around. We danced until midnight and Linda and I were driven up to a nice hotel. But my Best Man forgot to bring my change of clothes bag along. I had nothing to wear to breakfast the next morning but the tux. We made do.
And so began our journey through life together. That entire day I was impressed with Linda’s grace and composure in the face of so much social attention. People from all sections of our lives showed up for the wedding, including a few of my Luther College buddies who dragged me out of bed at 9:00 the night before to take me out drinking. I’d planned on getting plenty of rest and being ready for the wedding, but “the boys” were having none of that. We partied at the Mill Race Inn Gazebo, and I sat with a close friend Randy Steinheimer, whose wife Debbie was with him the night I met Linda four years before. He doled out some marriage advice and I tried to listen carefully.
I was lightheaded and hungover during the wedding ceremony, but was careful not to lock my knees and faint forward as a friend had done a few years before. He’d whacked his head on the altar and bled all over his white tuxedo. I felt so bad for him that day, but the key to life is learning from the mistakes of others, and also your own.
There were a lot of mistakes yet to come in life. I knew that much for sure. Now that I was one-half of a married couple, I wanted to try my best to keep those mistakes to a minimum, or else keep them to myself. Yet what one learns about marriage is that it doesn’t really work that way. Every good thing or bad thing you do affects the other person somehow, or someday. That’s a whole different dynamic than the lonely, self-absorbed life of a committed distance runner. I was realizing that the real transition in life was just beginning. It was my hope not to stumble along the way. But that’s yet another lesson one learns about life on many fronts. We all stumble sometimes. It’s how you pull yourself together and get back on your feet to keep going that really matters. To everyone.