Originally posted, December 3, 2016.
reposted November 30, 2018
The NXN is tomorrow, December 1, 2018. It is one of my haunts, along with the Border Clash. I will not make it this year, but I will be watching it on www.runnerspace.com and commenting on the fine event. This is a piece I wrote 2 years ago on how the event moved me. I recently told a good friend that the NXN is the world series of high school cross country.
I stand by that statement.
I was flying from Orlando to Portland on Friday night. Saturday is the NXN 2016. It is one of the two major championship for high school boys and girls in cross country. For me, NXN is a wonderful testament to the team value in cross country.
It is also a time, for me, to consider the people who support cross country runners. I wanted to share my experience in cross country nearly forty years ago.
Nike, the goddess of victory, photo by Larry Eder
Dreams are my nightly companions. I dream, mostly, in color, and the sounds and smells of a life well experienced.
Now nearing end of my fifth decade, I find experiences that truly touch me, even relived in my dreams, make me wake up, breathless and, at times with a need to complete the dream cycles.
I know that they are dreams, and if I wake up prematurely, I can, many times, will myself back to sleep, to finish those moments from the life story that I am, and we all are, constructing.
In those moments when I am truly alive, I have found great happiness and great sadness. I have found fear, I have found admiration, and I have experienced love.
The night before my first Junior Varsity track race was full of fear. My dreams that night were of track races. One particularly played in my mind. A senior schoolmate battled an arch rival from the local public school powerhouse in Saint Louis county, Pattonville high school. As they battled over 800 meters, I was frightened to see how much my schools top 800 meter runner put of himself into the race. The grunts and anguished sounds at the end of the race startled me.
That race played over in my head dozens of times that night. Fast motion, slow motion, frozen action of the anguished runners played in my head. Funny thing? All of the Dream was in green! Everything. And it scared the hell out of me.
That next day, I ran my first two mile race, and was lapped twice by Paul Heck, the top runner from DeSmet. Come to think of it, my birds eye view of Paul gliding along that day, running 9:29, was spectacular. Paul actually lapped me three times. It would take me seven years to run under ten minutes for two miles, and by then, I had learnt how to look inside myself and make myself hurt.
My senior year in college was to be a fine year of running. I had built up to 120-130 miles a week over the summer, and ran twice day most days, sometimes three times. During that summer previous to my senior year, I spent those twelve weeks working in a cemetary; clearing dead flowers, digging some graves, and guarding the cemetary at night. The loop around the Cemetary was about a mile, on rocks, and I would get friends to join me for ten to twelve miles at night. There was a fartlek workout we would do, where we would run down the paths by the gravestones, trying to say all the names. On nights that we were truly brave, we would see how long we could run with the jack rabbits that inhabited the back lots. It was one of my favorite workouts. You could not stay up with rabbits as they would run one way for a while, then change direction. After five or six minutes, you would be exhausted. But, it was fun!
It was during my senior year in college that I won my first race. That was after eight years of racing. A 5.8 mile race in Quicksilver park in the New Almaden area of San Jose. The course was hilly and footing was ankle twisting. But, I had run it for several years.
I had gone out in the race, with a runner who, in high school had been nationally ranked at three miles. As we hit the first mile, a steep incline, we were running hard, and he went from running relaxed to gasping. Sensing the weakness, I pushed the pace and left him. On a course one has run many times, the turns, hills and footing become your friends. I remember thinking about how Frank Shorter broke the Munich marathon up, pushing real hard. I just kept pushing as hard as I could. I hit four miles, and I could not hear any footsteps. Our assistant coach was at 4.5 miles and hollared that I had a big lead. This whole winning thing was a new experience for me. I spent most of high school at the back of pack. That changed my junior and senior year. In college the runners were so much better, and I had to up my game. I have to admit that I liked the feeling of winning much, much more.
What I replay in my mind was that as I finished, my parents were at the finish line. They had just come from my brothers cross country race, which he also won, but did not know until the finish because some college guy was training in front of him.
After all the races my Mom and Dad had been to, I was really glad that they saw that one. They would see me, years later, see me take third in a marathon.
These past two years, I observed my mother go from an active women in her late seventies to loosing her health and dying at home, with my father always by her side. I was amazed at my mom’s acceptance as her body was ravaged by whatever took her life. I watched her life drain out until there was merely a loving gleam in her eyes. The last week, I would sit next to her, holding her hand, telling her I loved her and would miss her. I also witnessed my father, a rock of a man, take care of her each day, knowing that after 58 years of marriage and 62 years of a relationship, he was loosing the love of his life. My brother would read to mom and play her favorite music. Mom had given us a gift. After spending her entire life caring for all of us, she allowed us to care for her. My three sisters would visit and talk and help care for Mom. I watched the profound changes in all of us. My brother put it best. My mother was giving of herself until the end of her life.
I remembered all the times Mom watched me run. In the summer of 1974, she signed my running log daily, as I ran 12-16 miles a day preparing for fall cross country. She put up with weird eating habits and my friends and I soaked and smelly after runs. She had reveled in it. I only found out later in her life that she, like her mother, had been a fine athlete.
I missed her last breath.
But for a couple of hours we sat with her, knowing that she was leaving us, and wanting to be there. It was a profound experience for my family.
My dreams of my Mom are frequent. Her laugh, our long conversations on life, love and movies. I smile when I think about her comments on my father could make her laugh so hard after he had driven her just about crazy. I loved those moments, and so did my parents. I go to movies again, and if I nearly shut my eyes, can see her sitting one side of me, with Dad on the other. Most holidays over the past decade were spent seeing six or seven movies. It was just fun.
I will think of my Mom tomorrow at the Nike NXN, when I see all the parents, brothers and sisters, cheering on their favorite teams, which include their brothers and sisters.
I believe in the honor of the mud, rain and splattered uniforms post cross country races. Tomorrow is extra special.
In my dream tonight, Steve Prefontaine will be on the course, whispering from behind the trees, “are you doing your best?” In his Oregon hoodie, and gray sweats, the gray haired Prefontaine visits cross country courses far and wide, looking for the next, great cross country runner.
And then, my dream continues. This time, Mom is there. My Mom will smile, reminding me that she has a dry cotton T-shirt and hoodie for me, so I don’t get sick after my race from being wet with sweat. I give her a wet hug, something she was not fond of, but on this day, the day of my first victory, after so many miles, she gives me a hug in return.
And then, I wake up, and the cross country nationals are about to start.
Mud and honor.
Honor and mud.
No matter what Mother Nature provides, the NXN race will be an epic dream maker for many. And the memories of races run, fast and slow, are those memories of a life well run and well lived.