I like to think that when I make a promise, I keep a promise so this post represents a promise I made to the entire world via Face Book recently. Add to this is the fact that 67% of my devoted followers (yes, 2 people) actually asked for the story behind this picture so here it is.
I posted a picture of a relay team that included me the other day. I last remember seeing this news clipping over 20 years ago and had thought it was long lost. Until a few weeks ago when I discovered it while clearing out old files in our basement! This is not just any picture, a picture that was published in the Grand Blanc News mid-May, 1970. The relay team consisted of four senior class runners who combined their talents on that day to break three records for the Distance Medley Relay event. In a medley relay event each member of the team runs a different distance. On that day Scott Mitchell ran the 1/4 mile, Dick Hahn ran the 3/4 mile, Mike Pierce the mile, and I ran the 880 or half mile leg.
As the photo’s caption notes, we set three records on that sunny and very windy day in Davison Michigan. First was the record for the Davison Relays event, followed by a new Grand Blanc High School record, and most importantly new record for the State of Michigan High School runners! However, it was an “unofficial” State record because the event did not occur during a State finals event and the medley relay was not a regular competitive event recognized by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Nonetheless we were as proud as punch and happy to have set each of the records!
Behind The Scene
But that’s not what the story behind this photo is really about. I suppose I can take it all the way back to the mid to late 1950’s when as a very young kid I remember watching a long distance race held on an indoor track on TV. I am guessing it may have been the Millrose Games? Regardless, I vividly remember my dad explaining to me how important that is was for the runners to start their race slow so they can finish faster at the end. That point still remains as perhaps the very best coaching advice I have ever received! Too bad I forgot about it on race day in Davison. More about that later.
My leg of the race also started a week prior, at the first ever Genesee County HS Track Championships. I had been a 880 (half mile) runner my entire high school career. As a pudgy freshman I had struggled to break 2:20 for the half mile. Early in my senior year I was only a few seconds away from breaking the magic 2 minute mark. Then it happened! My final 880 race of my high school career, I ran a 1:59 and placed second in the county championships! What I remember most is that it seemed so easy! What took me so long to achieve this elusive goal?
At the Davison Relays meet a week later I was pegged to run the 880 leg of the medley team. Our team was stacked with super fast runners for each leg of the race. Mike Pierce who in the coming week would become State Champ in the Mile was capable of running about a 4:15 mile. Scott Mitchell was a very strong and speedy 50 second 440 (quarter mile) runner, and Dick Hahn was a proven 880 runner who was capable of running the half mile near the 1:52 mark. Dick would move up to the 3/4 mile for this relay. Then there was me, who ran a sub 2 minute half mile the previous week and it felt so easy!
I don’t recall if I ran the first or second leg of the relay, I do recall it was a warm, sunny, and very windy day that afternoon in Davison. Since my 1:59 performance seemed so easy to me the week prior, I was convinced I could run a much faster time if I simply took off at a very fast clip. The 880 is a two lap race that is subdivided into 4 x 220 segments or half laps. I remember my first lap as being very fast, somewhere around 52 seconds. I remember feeling strong and confident as I zoomed past the Start/Finish line completing my first lap!
Still feeling my strength and striding long around the curve, this was still “sort of” easy! It was not uncommon for me to run a 440 in 54-55 seconds as I did this as a part of my regular workouts each week, running as many as 8-12 repeats each session at that pace. So what if I had just ran my PR (personal record) for a 440?
Then came the long straight away, I was still kicking the pace, no slacking, I knew I could do it!. I crossed the 660 mark (3/4 of my total race distance) somewhere at about 74-75 seconds! I did not realize it for many years later but I was on pace at 3/4 my way through the 880 to run a 1:40! Surely that would have been a new National Record!
But it wasn’t to be that day.
It only took a few more strides past the 660 (3/4) mark when it happened! That same dreaded feeling a marathon runner runner experiences somewhere around mile 20 of the marathon, the moment when all life is sucked out of a runners body, the dreaded WALL!
Almost instantly my arms, legs, chest, and entire body felt paralyzed! Some how I managed to keep moving although it felt as it I was the subject of a slow motion film. Then to make matters worse, as I rounded my last turn the winds hit me and hit me hard! No less than a 40 mph gust! If I was still somehow managing to move, it surely had to be much slower now. It seemed to be taking forever to round the curve.
I did manage to run that last turn and hit the final short straight away (the start was in the middle of the straight away). I was simultaneously experience extreme agony and embarrassment. I had felt like I let my team down. That next exchange point in the relay could not come soon enough.
With only a few more slow motion strides to go, I could hear my coaches screaming at Dick Hahn to get up to the exchange line and take that baton away from me ASAP! And so he did, my toe could not have been more than an inch past the line which is actually before the official 880 distance, when Dick grabbed the baton and took off!
I was relieved my agony was over and nothing, absolutely nothing I could do to change the race. Where I had been running about 25 seconds for each 220, my last 220 split was closer to 50 seconds! I still managed to contribute a decent 880 split but nowhere near what I had hoped to do.
Each of my teammates ran outstanding legs of the relay and we did end up with several records that day. We stood on top of the podium, received the team trophy. Following the award presentation the photographer from the Grand Blanc News asked us to pose. Take a close look at the photo. Granted, it’s old and a bit faded, but look very closely. You will see I am smiling. If you have looked closely enough you will see the reason why! Hint: my good friend Dick Hahn was always a bit of a prankster.
Following the picture taking each member of the relay team insisted that I keep the trophy and take it home with me, forever. I instead insisted that it be placed in the trophy case of the school along with many others and envisioned the day long into the future when I could come back and revisit my memories.
Many years later, perhaps 20-25 years, I traveled to Flint to once again compete in The Crim 10 Mile Road Race. The night prior to the Crim I took my young daughters Bridgett and Alexis with me to see the Expo, enjoy a pasta meal. Later we visited the halls of GBHS to search out the trophy and tell my story behind the trophy to my girls. Well, the trophy was long gone, who knows for how long and who knows where. The story was never fully told until now. Now the entire planet has access to this story.
It really does not matter what the race distance is, the smartest advice any coach can provide is to start slow and save yourself do you can finish faster at the end. That same advice my Dad had provided to me nearly 60 years ago now.
I hope you enjoyed this story, learned a lesson, and I thank you for your time and interest.
Run Happy 🙂
PS: I met up with my coach many years later at a class reunion. We relived that race and Coach Stallcup confirmed that I had hit the 660 mark at 75 seconds. He had always issued meticulous split times of every runner the day following every meet. I wish I had kept the mimeographed copy of his report from the 1970 Davison Relays. Who knows, I did find the photo after 20+ years of being lost, someday that mimeographed report may surface too.
PS, PS: I still relive that race nearly every time I train on the track, always wondering…