Any time the idea of me... running...comes up, I hearken back to my most glorious and torturous endeavor in running shoes:
- 1982 District 8AAA Track Meet, Crossett, Arkansas
Quick back story... after completing my junior season in basketball, I had two choices for 6th period:
Wanting to add some bulk to my 6'2", 140 pound frame, I chose weightlifting. Approximately three times a week, we capped off our workouts with a three-mile run along the "Nature Trail" on our high school's campus. Coach Kerry Fortner would blow the whistle and off we would go---myself and 15-20 other Fighting Billies. I was the first to finish each of the initial two runs, prompting an inquiry from Coach Fortner.
-Fletcher... are you taking any shortcuts out there in the woods?
-Then why are you finishing two or three minutes ahead of the others?
-I don't know Coach...I just want to hurry up and finish.
The next time we had to run, I had company out in the woods. About a mile into the run, there was Coach Gooden, our head football and track coach, peering from behind a tree.
-That's odd. Why is Coach Gooden out here?
A little deeper into the run, on the way back in, I saw Coach Fortner hiding behind a tree...
Again, I thought:
-What's Coach Fortner doing out here in the woods?
The run was complete after a trip around the pond located directly in front of our school. When I arrived at the "finish line", both Coach Gooden and Coach Fortner were waiting for me.
-Yes, Coach Gooden?
-Did you cut any corners?
-No sir... You saw me
-After you ran past me... did you cut through somewhere else?
-You're coming to track practice tomorrow... we have a meet Friday, the last one before the District meet. I'm going to have you run the mile and two-mile, okay.
I had never run track in my life. I owned two pairs of tennis shoes... including the adidas Stan Smith's used on my nature run. The next day, with rain pouring down, the track team practiced inside the gym. Coach Gooden wanted me to run 40 laps around the court, which I promptly started when he told me to hit it... still wearing those Stan Smiths.
-You can't run in those shoes... don't you have any running shoes?
-No sir... I've got my basketball shoes and these.
(Brad Walker)-Yes, Coach?
-Let Fletcher borrow your shoes tomorrow at the track meet.
-Okay Coach... What will I wear?
-Share them... Y'all are in different events.
While running those 40 laps, I had a Stan Smith blowout. Directly underneath the ball of my right foot, while turning the corner at the baseline, "FLOPPPPP FLOPPPP FLOPPPPP". Seeing as the Fletcher's weren't exactly the Rockefeller's, this was going to be a problem in terms of shoe-wear for the common man, i.e., me.
I had told my parents the day before that I was joining the track team... and now I get to hit them with the news that my almost-new Stan Smith's had gone from two pieces of status symbol to three pieces of leathery-trash. Since Cockrell's Shoe Store on the Square closed at 5pm, I didn't have time to shop for replacements, so the next day... I laced up our school-provided Pony leather basketball shoes and headed to school.
At high noon, the boys and girls track teams boarded a school bus, bound for McGehee High School for the final attempt at qualifying for the District Track Meet.
It didn't really hit me until boarding the bus that the track team featured some of Monticello High School's finest women. Nancy Lee. Samantha Cross. Cindy Ritter. And they were wearing shorts.
We arrived in McGehee... bounded off the bus and commenced to stretch. At least I tried to duplicate what others were doing. Truly, I had no clue what I was doing, facing, and trying to accomplish other than avoiding total embarrassment in front of Nancy, Samantha and Cindy.
Nearly an hour or so into the meet, the call came for the participants in the 1-Mile Run to gather on the infield. I unlaced my high-tops, grabbed Brad's beige Brooks, threw them on and...
Crap, meet shorts.
Butterflies were in full flutter... again, I was totally clueless what to do. This would be the first time I had ever run on a track. And I had to do it four times? Sometime between the start of the race and 5:15 later, I finished in a timely fashion to secure a spot in the field for next week's Disctrict Track Meet! Great!
Wait... there's more? Yeah... the next to last event of the day, the 2-mile. See above, repeat, but add four more laps. Again, it was a successful enough trek to warrant a slot in the 2-Mile in the District Track Meet.
I was so concerned about running the wrong way, bumping into a fellow runner, stopping after the wrong lap, etc., that I didn't have time to pay attention to the girls. If the Daily Racing Form had handicapped the race, it would have noted that I was running with Blinders on for the first time.
With less than a week to prepare for the District Track meet, I poured myself into training. Yes... five days of "training"... not exactly a proper portion of time to get the body in tune for such a grueling endeavor.
or... Meet Day, whatever you call it.
By now, I had convinced my folks that I couldn't run my two events in high-tops and Brad really wanted to wear his shoes the entire day while we were in Crossett. So, I had my first pair of Running Shoes... a blue pair of Brooks. Very chic.
In Crossett, track and field was actually a sport they took seriously, hence the Eagles serving as hosts for the big Meet. The conditions were nearly perfect for the established distance runner, like myself. Temperatures in the afternoon were in the upper 40's, dropping to the high 30's at night.
The 1-Mile run, as is custom, came around the midway mark of the meet. My goal, according to Coach Gooden, was to place somewhere in the top 5 and get some points for the Billie thinclads. My fellow junior classmate in the event, Robert Martin, had been a trackster since junior high school. Standing 5'5", Robert had to take many more strides than others, but that just made him work a little harder and smarter (he's a doctor/country singer now).
The starter fires the pistol, and 16 runners take off for the four-lap race. I'm feeling pretty froggy about a half-mile into the trip and decide to open it up a little bit. Three-fourths of the way through, I totally regretted the earlier decision. The bear climbed out of the tree in the backside far turn and landed squarely on my back... dragging me from second to third... to fourth... to fifth... to sixth... to seventh. This was NOT how I mapped this out! I started sprinting... eventually moving back into sixth... fifth... and finally catching Robert for fourth... we hit the finish line at the exact same time, tying for fourth, each garnering points for the Billies! They don't make duplicate ribbons... and me being a magnanimous type of guy, I told Coach Gooden to give Robert the 4th place prize, I would gladly take 5th.
I know! What a guy!
Throughout the day, I spent most of my idle time chatting with the fella's... Sam Elliott, Brad, John Jackson... but always finding time to locate Nancy Lee.
Oh, Nancy. She was a senior... and had been my crush since the 6th grade. Her little sister, Martha, was also a cutie... but there was only one Nancy Lee. Granted, I had a serious girlfriend in Amy Attebury whom I absolutely was head over heels for---but come on... I was 16! Hormones, Testosterone... the tank was full!
Nancy was a hurdler and middle distance runner... long legs. Long, brown hair blowing in the wind like a supermodel swimsuit shoot. I had to impress Nancy... just maybe... If I performed on the cinders in a way to catch her attention... I gave myself a chance, even if she never would have.
Again... 16 participants lined up along the start line for the next-to-last event of the meet.
Exhaling puffs of fog in the near-freezing temperature, my body ached in anticipation of the next 11 minutes of action. Reluctantly crouched at the starting line. Engines, thumping and pumping in time... I WAS going the distance. For me. For the Billies. For Nancy.
The race was underway... sixteen pairs of spindly legs, clip-clopping along the track, hoping to avoid being the "rabbit". I knew that much: Don't Rush To The Lead. Save Energy. For only my second time to run the event, I was playing it pretty smart early on. Nestled among a pack of five runners, 30 yards behind the front-runner, I had a good feeling I would produce points yet again.
Then... the pack started to disassemble. One by one, my competitors fell off the pace. With three laps to go, I was a lone wolf, all by myself in second place---a half lap behind the leader.
And that's when my teammates rallied. I didn't even think they were paying attention---but here they came---running along with me on the infield:
-Come On Fletcher!! Catch Him!!
-You Got This!! Pick It Up!
Even Nancy was a part of the cheerleading. Granted, having played football and basketball my sophomore and junior years, I was used to seeing Nancy as a cheerleader---but now, she was cheering specifically for me.
-Run, Tim!! Don't Give Up!
Nancy, there was no way in hell I was going to give up.
The bell sounded. The leader was starting his final lap! I was 100 plus yards behind. So I did what every one in my new Brooks would have done.
I ran like my ass was on fire.
Hearing Sam, John, Brad, Samantha, Cindy... and Nancy screaming for me to finish the drill.
By the final turn, I could have tackled the leader, a fellow junior, albeit from Crossett. Heading into the homestretch, he knew something was going on because the crowd rose to their feet in anticipation of a frenzied finish.
Glancing over his right shoulder, he saw nothing but wild, blonde hair, and flailing arms. My body was giving out but my legs kept churning. I was absolutely gassed.
I passed him with 50 yards to go.
And that's all I had. He slipped past my outside shoulder with 20 yards to go and hit the string first. I finished second with a time of 10:56. Bent over at the waist, gazing at the Brooks that carried my feet to this wonderful feat, my head was buzzing. White noise from dehydration and fatigue. But I heard a voice.
She was running toward me.
This was it! I was going to get a congratulatory kiss and hug from Nancy Lee. Her arms were outstretched. I mustered the strength to stand up... opening my arms for the eventual embrace.
-Tim!! That was Incredible!! That... was... great.
She patted my back... and was gone. What happened? Where was the kiss? The hug?
Sam Elliott was right behind her, stepping toward me with his hand out-stretched.
-Sam... (gasp... gasp... gasp)... What happened? Nancy Lee was right here (gasp... gasp... gasp)
-Fletch! HA!!! You have snot ALL OVER YOUR FACE... IT'S FROZEN TO YOUR FACE!!!
So. My only chance to get up close and personal with Nancy Lee was ruined by nasal excrement.
From the penthouse to the outhouse, in the blink of an eye... Or wipe of the nose.
I finished 11th at the State Meet the next week.
There was no cheering throng in the infield.
There was no snot.
There was no Nancy.
Just a boy humbled by better athletes. In a way, a much more productive outcome.
So, Nancy... You missed out. Aly has replaced you. And thanks to soaring temperatures forecast for Saturday, there will be no chance of snot.
But I wouldn't wager against a little vomit.