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’80s flashback weekend

October 31, 2008

Cross-country races make me nostalgic in a way that other races don’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve been running in them nearly every fall since 1985; maybe it’s because ten of those seasons were spent amidst the foliage for which New England is famous. And maybe it’s because cross-country stirs up emotions more effectively than, say, track races. Nothing in the world of distance running is quite as exciting or scary as galloping through the countryside in very close proximity to many, many others of similar speed.

The thrill and fear of the pack were imprinted upon me at a young age. That’s partly because a lot of junior high and high school races consisted of a start across an open field followed by a long, narrow trail into the woods. In other words, you had to go out fast to avoid getting trapped behind dozens of runners. I never had much sprinting speed and considered these races cruel for penalizing me so severely right from the gun.

The old sights and sounds seemed even less distant than usual at the Bellevue Community College Invitational on October 18th. On the drive over to Lake Sammamish State Park, my “New Wave Hits of the ’80s, Vol. 11” CD helped set a retrospective mood. In a big country, dreams stay with you….

A minute into the race, the course narrows to a width of about three runners. I’m behind about 15 rows of them. Yes, this is what it had been like in junior high, except that I’m now surrounded by masters runners. I start to pick them off, glad to have more time for moving up than in the old days. David White-Espin, John O’Hearn, Carl Winter. There sure are a lot of them. Paul Abdalla, Kevin McGinnis. Mike Bailey — not a master, but older than me, I think. Why are my splits getting unrealistically fast? Finally, in the last mile, Tony Young and fellow submaster Ben Sauvage. Uh-oh, Ben is outkicking me — another achingly familiar sensation. Well, at least I’m closer to him this time than I was last time.

I left the race feeling satisfied that I had recovered well from my slower-than-advisable start. I was patient, focused on passing one guy at a time, and maintained the fastest pace that my fitness would allow. On the whole, I suppose I’ve learned a thing or two since 7th grade. Now if I could just learn the words to 99 Luftballons….

The day after the race, I was at a house-warming party. A woman watching over a young daughter looked familiar. “Do I know you?” I asked. “Are you from Vermont?” she replied. It was Andrea Eells (now Korry), the #4 runner on the 1987 Rutland High School women’s cross-country team. I hadn’t seen her since she graduated, but, 20 years and three kids later, she looks more or less the same.

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