Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Friday, October 26, 2018

Roll Tide

To the Concord High School Crimson Tide boys' cross-country team on the eve of the Division I State Championship meet:

First, a special shout-out to the seniors. Not just because this is your last D-1 race, but because of the extraordinary work you've put in for four years. No, more than four. When I was a Concord kid, there was no such thing as middle-school cross country. We ran the first cross-country races of our lives as freshmen, if not later. Some of us -- I wasn't one of them -- had done track as Rundlett 7th-and 8th-graders. At the time, there was no such thing as "middle school" anyway; Rundlett was grade 7-8-9 school, but we had the chance to trek up South Fruit Street at 3 p.m. to be part of varsity sports teams. In the fall of 1984, there was only one freshman besides me on the cross-country team. He was my best friend, and he only signed up because I talked him into it, just as my mother had talked me into it just before the first practice in August. His name was Rick Bragg. I believe you're all familiar with his son Eben.

The point being, you've been working hard for more years than anyone in my generation did, and harder than we ever did at all points. I thought I trained pretty hard in the off-season to get the results I did. My first race resulted in a 21:06 and I got myself under 16 minutes by the end of my senior year (granted, in a road race). But I know what you guys have been up to, and there's no comparison. It's colossal stuff, a thing of beauty, really.

The running community is small, and while at times that seems like a liability, it's in fact a strength. Forrest, your dad was a few years older than me, and after the Bill Luti Race in 1987, which I ran in 27:24, he not only encouraged me during the race but gave me some pointers afterward. He was a tough bastard then and nobody anyone with any sense would mess with now, but more than that, he had a heart of gold, and it was obvious how much he cared about excellence and enjoyed seeing others succeed. (For the record, he ran that one in 26-something after passing me near the top of the hill on Clinton Street. He told me afterward, "always run the whole hill as hard as you start up it." Obviously, I never forgot his words.)

We had a heartbreaking loss to Pinkerton Academy at the D-1 meet that fall (then called the Class L meet), but came back to win the Meet of Champions the next week. As hard as it is to believe, no Concord team replicated that feat until 30 years had passed. I'm guessing you remember that experience, and I do too, because I watched it from Colorado on the Internet.

I kept running after high school. I was a flop in college, but in some ways that was a blessing because it left me with unfinished business, so I picked it up again in my twenties. I missed the Olympic Trials qualifying time in the marathon by a couple minutes, and I had a fantastic time putting everything into the attempt. You can't fake training or determination; you either out-train, out-battle and in some cases out-think the opposition, or they will beat you. No such thing as luck when you're 3K into the race, hurting, and wondering if you have it in you to push harder than the guys around you. It's supposed to be nasty, nasty tomorrow. Good; those situations are the ones in which the best-prepared, hardest-working teams succeed, because the fact that you have worked so much harder than everyone else doesn't just make you fitter, it makes you hungrier, too.

I've stayed involved with running to a far greater extent than I would have dreamed when I was a youngster. I've had the chance to write for running magazines and interview people like Ritz and Deena Kastor and Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn. I often see some of those characters on the trails in Boulder, too. And after all of it, nothing gets me more excited than high-school championship racing. Elite track and field has become a sordid festival of doping scandals and cynicism. High-school running is the last bastion of anything resembling purity.

I love the camaraderie and respect you all show your rivals from other teams. If the Internet had existed in 1988, I don't know what would have happened. Yet here you guys are giving each other earnest props on YouTube every week. I was friends with the top guys from some of the other teams, because that's just how cross-country is. There's no room for chest-thumping and posturing when you know the other runners have paid their dues and have to deal with the same challenges and discomfort that are unique to fall competition. Track is actually pretty easy; you lock into a pace and while it inevitably hurts, it's more an autopilot type of hurt. In cross, you're never really comfortable. There's always some kind of crap from the opening steps you might not have been counting on. You have to adjust. I've seen how you do that out there, both within and between races. You have a once-in-a-generation coach who knows more about every aspect of running excellence than almost every coach I can think of who is twice BlIng's age. I can see how he's aimed this season in particular at the endgame -- the New Englands and the two weeks before it.

Concord is a special place for me and always will be. Being able to be a part of your season from afar, and past seasons too, has been a real thrill. I hope to see great things when I'm out there on Saturday morning at Derryfield in the rain. There's no place I'd rather be.

Kevin Beck
CHS 1988

P.S. Your team would have absolutely crushed ours on our absolute best day. Don't pay attention to old guys who yammer about how much harder Derryfield was back in the day. They're lying and crying in their beers.





Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Two things in the world of road racing that suck right now

Those two things are 1) me, and 2) everything else.

I'll start with "everything else" to give myself a better chance of finishing the post without throwing my laptop out the window into the rain, which is predicted to last until sometime next May.

I planned to do a 15K on Sunday, October 7 in Denver as a fitness gauge. (I have to point out that labeling a race a "fitness gauge" is pointless, given that every race is technically such a thing, but then distance running itself is a pointless chore, absent unlikely emergencies). I had penciled this event into the calendar two weeks earlier, but chose not to register until Friday afternoon despite the inevitable final-week increase in the entry fee, because these days I can't be certain that I won't have become injured or quit running until the last possible minute.

When I registered, I failed to notice an advisory stating that there would be no event-morning bib pick-up. Maybe if I'd seen such a policy for an event shorter than a marathon, I would have noticed, but for whatever reason -- and I'd say a basic lack of proper cognitive function fits -- I didn't. When, however, I looked at the site to get directions to the start at 10 p.m. the following night, less than then hours before the 7:50 a.m. start, I saw that I had missed the Saturday "expo," and that I was apparently out of luck.

I poked around the event website to see if I had a useful alternative to sitting at home the next morning and complaining. In truth, I didn't really care that I would likely miss the event, which is a different problem, and one that seems to not be abating. I did, however, about having spent $82.48 -- $74 plus an $8.48 "convenience fee" that is convenient for no one besides the grifters who sweep it into their accounts -- on something I apparently wouldn't get to experience. I got hold of a nameless event official on Facebook, who deserves props for responding apace, and who told me I could get an "emergency bib" the next morning at the start. (He or she was also sweet enough to remind me that the notice about the event having no event-day pick-up was quite prominent on the website.)