The increasingly parochial observations of a casual runner in his fifties. Was "serious" about "the sport" until personal and sociocultural inevitabilities prevailed.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Concord High teams pull off an unprecedented double

In accordance with making this space what it is at the expense of uncluttered information, I have to describe how, in brilliant stepwise fashion, I dismantled my chances of watching the making of some modest history in Manchester, N.H. last weekend.

A few weeks ago, I decided on something resembling an extremely thoughtful impulse to travel to New Hampshire to see the state divisional championship meets, which were held on Saturday, and the statewide Meet of Champions, set for this Saturday at Mine Falls Park in Nashua. Coming to Concord and staying with my favorite couple -- and I'll be damned if that phrase doesn't look unavoidably creepy -- has been an annual tradition for me for a long time, but the last three years I've been here every fall while managing to either not stay around long enough for the prep championship races (2017) or skip them despite being less than 20 miles away because they weather sucked (2018). My nephew is in his first season of cross-country at a D-2 school, so I had a dash of extra incentive to be there this year.

The first way in which I started ejaculating obstacles into the path leading to my watching the races that started at 10:00 yesterday morning at Derryfield Park was by choosing a red-eye flight. That was okay and nothing unusual, but this time I failed to account for my take-off and landing dates being different despite thinking that I had. I didn't mind the idea of landing at 1 a.m. on Friday, driving the 75 or so minutes to Concord, waking up, and having a day to get everything together before spending an entire day watching races and then going to (or staying for) the annual Halloween party my hosts (who are not into Eyes Wide Shut shit, if only for lack of wealth and status) were staging. I was less happy to see that I had scheduled myself to land in Boston at 1:00 on Saturday morning, leaving me barely enough time for a nap at my hosts' even if everything about my Turo rental went smoothly. It did not, which this time was only in small part my error, so I didn't make it to Concord until almost 7:00 a.m.

By itself, this would not have canceled my showing up, as long as someone else drove. But I had gotten an e-mail from my sister late the night before explaining that my nephew had rolled his ankle and was unlikely to line up. Also, it had started raining, like it always does within seconds of my arriving in Concord. I'm sure you'll forgive me for taking all of this in during a drizzly dawn after eighteen hours in transit -- the Denver end of the trip wound up taking unnecessarily long when I again chose economy over convenience to a dipshit degree -- and deciding to not watch the Concord teams I had picked to finish first and second race, or watch one of the top 25 or so teams in the nation (a D-2 school) compete separately.

The state divisional meets are held in the same park on a course either very similar to (according to some of the crustier local dipshits) or virtually identical to (in my opinion) the one I ran on myself a few times in the mid- to late 1980s, often to putrid effect. When I was coaching at a D-2 school 20 years ago, the course had been changed slightly to allow runners to use a softer route than a paved road down the hill from the two-mile mark, and they also took out a couple of trivial benches in the second mile. If the course is faster, it can't be by more than a few seconds. The dudes who claim that the course is faster are exactly the kind of people who would have been expected to make exactly this kind of claim 30 years ago, and all you really have to do to indirectly confirm this is look at the depth of 3200-meter times statewide every spring. 10:00 flat used to be good enough for top-10 in the state in some years in the 1980s and beyond. Some of the improvement is owed to the state's population rising by about 25 percent, but it's not complicated -- there are middle-school programs all over the state now and kids are simply fitter, all else the same, if they start running sooner. That is really a separate topic, and one I enjoy digging into because it's a pure-numbers exploration and tends to justify my keeping this pile of shit going (I mean the blog, not my own ramshackle self generally).

Anyway, I started this post days ago and have gradually lost interest in completing it. I've been here four about four and a half days now and it's been an excellent trip in the sense that I have actually made plans to see people and enjoyed those meetings. Repeating an episode from May, I had lunch with one of my best childhood friends, someone who's probably about the most realistic and together person I know despite external factors that might lead a lot of people to unfairly judge him. That wouldn't matter to him, but it matters to me because I continually and automatically judge huge numbers of people on the basis of all sorts of real and imagined shit but can easily be swayed into collegiality by a simple conversation. My hesitancy in this area is related far less to believing things will go badly than to the simple fact that my default condition is to engage as little as possible with supposedly deeper realities. None of my or anyone's ranting about the things I tend to rant about is likely to change anything. I think I may have convinced the City of Boulder to fix the fucked-up intersection near my home that no one likes, especially the stream of half-awake people in wheelchairs trying to get to the even worse parking lot of the shopping center yonder or back to the long-term care facility where they live. I have continual reminders of how easy my life is right now and how my only problem is the perception I should be doing more with it.

So about those races last Saturday. Until this year, the Concord boys and Concord girls had never won state divisional titles (D-1, called Class L in my day) in the same season. Now, those teams will defend titles in 2020. In the fall of 1986, my junior season, the girls' won largely on the strength of the often-unpleasant but amorous philanderer I dated for my entire junior year. We came in second to Pinkerton Academy despite going in as reasonably strong favorites, in large part because I underperformed. I kind of wish the depth in those days had really been what it is today, because I probably would have been wise enough to quit competitive running right after if not before graduating and thus found a different pursuit in which to amass ample, ongoing evidence of my own galactic failure and written endlessly and repetitively about that shit for the rest of my life instead of this shit.

Concord might have been considered a co-favorite in the boys' race last weekend, but I expected Londonderry to beat them. Perhaps the reason they didn't is two of their best kids chasing Keene's Jake Velasquez, who wound up running one of the fastest times ever at Derryfield Park (15:32), through a sub-5:00 opening uphill mile, a burst of extravagance that cost them a lot of places in the last kilometer. You can watch the race here. Concord ran a nearly flawless race and I am overjoyed for them, and not just because of the automatic alumnus factor.

When I was cajoled into running cross-country in the late summer of 1984, I knew absolutely nothing about running at all. I also wouldn't really know anyone on the team, because in those days Concord High was a 10-11-12 school and Rundlett Middle School was 7-8-9, meaning I would only see my new teammates at practices and meets. Not embracing this prospect, I enlisted my bestie at the time, Rick Bragg, to run as well. He happily agreed, and beat me every race that year, winding up as the team's seventh man. My best time that year on our home course was 19:31, about three minutes faster than I would eventually run there. Rick never beat me again, although if he's trained in the summer like I did I'm sure he would have. I have spent a lot of time as a meet spectator unnecessarily wondering if I was a shitty captain along with a douchebag who managed to get sick at the end of every season and record even worse performances than my illness justified, but one thing I did that might have let us win the 1987 Meet of Champions was showing up at Rick's house more and more that summer "inviting" him to run. He was always happy to and was extremely tough out there.

Rick married one of our classmates, also a cross-country runner at Concord, and their children have both become runners. Their son Eben is a junior, and as you can see, he's the one that led them to the title last week. I know this is overplaying chaos theory, maybe, but if I hadn't made Rick run, first to simply get him on the team and then to try to gently force him to excel, there might be a kid named Eben walking the halls of CHS and going somewhere other than cross-country practice every afternoon, with no one aware of his latent talent. Of course, that's already true of a slew of kids -- some on other sports teams and some smoking weed on the State Hospital grounds across Pleasant Street from the high school.

The girls (results) were expected to finish second behind Bishop Guertin. I believed they would win because they have all the characteristics of a team that is likely to overperform: Very young (almost all 9th- and 10th-graders) and a tight, fluid top seven. BG has the top two runners in D-1 and maybe the state, but their lack of depth rendered the squad more precarious than many apparently believed.

You can look at the D-2 and D-3 results on Lancer Timing, but I can spare you the drama and myself the typing by stating that no one will beat the Coe-Brown boys on Sunday in Nashua at the Meet of Champions. That course runs about 3 percent faster than Derryfield, turning a 16:00 into a 15:30 or so and 20:00 into a 19:20-ish. I would expect Coe-Brown to rack up a top-5 average of about 15:40-15:45 if the course is dry on Saturday (although it's supposed to pour all day Thursday, so that's probably out the window). The race for second is likely to be a four-team battle. Oyster River ran exceptionally well on Saturday, but I sense based mainly on inscrutable guesswork that they put a lot more into making a go at Coe-Brown than they will this weekend.

Londonderry seems to consist of speedsters rather than climbers or sloggers, so a flat course plus a more reserved strategy could put them ahead of Concord again. Velasquez could run 15:10 at Mine Falls Park in good conditions and is unlikely to be beaten, but whether their 4 and 5 make an impact has been a season-long question.

Coe-Brown has more on its plate than the formality of beating all of the teams in New Hampshire. They'll be trying to beat Bishop Hendricken of Rhode Island at the New Englands (BH is probably a stronger team, but Coe-Brown beat them at the Manchester Invitational in September) and then it's off to the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast race in New York State. They have only one senior on their team and will be inflicting an even more devastating level of excellence on their opponents next year than this one, which probably qualifies as getting way too far ahead of myself.


1. Coe-Brown
2. Londonderry
3. Concord
4. Keene
5. Oyster River

As for the girls, Souhegan out of D-2 seems to have a definite edge. They took the top three places at the divisional meet, and even if one or two of them falters slightly, all three will probably land in the top 12. I think the Concord girls will land about 15 points out of first and maybe 10 ahead of third. I have picked BG for third, but Coe-Brown's girls have yet to really put it all together, and that entire program is about being ready at the right time.

1. Souhegan
2. Concord
3. BG
4. Coe-Brown
5. Exeter

As for other stuff, well, the Halloween Party was fun. I was about out on my feet for lack of sleep, leaving me little mental energy to engage in the kind of quiet existential angst I tend to favor in such situations.

The origins of two of these costumes are obvious; 
the other is a tribute to the late Penny Marshall.

Troy has never been drunk in his life. This is just him being normal.

Guess which one is a real-life hair stylist and which is a cop.

I've been exploring the woods near my old house a few miles from here, and appreciating the fact that the land, even particular trees, looks almost exactly the same as it did when I was 8 and great at getting almost lost in the same woods. Meanwhile, people move in and out and houses get built on spots where I used to go sledding and set cans of WD-40 on fire with a future game warden. Who speaks for the environment these days? I miss Rosie like crazy, but it's admittedly easier doing a lot of my renegade woodsy trespassing stuff without an overly friendly animal harshing my mellow.

Apple Hill Farm, which set up shop in 1978, the same year my family
 moved into a new log cabin straight ahead through the woods at the
bottom of this considerable incline, one of my high-school favorites.

I had a close encounter with two bear cubs on this remnant of a
logging road about 30 years ago. I may see what they're up to these days.

I had designs on running a race while I was here or at least hitting the track to get a sea-level read on my fitness level, because why not. But my left hamstring has been bothering me off and on for a couple of weeks now, and such a venture would probably lead to the kind of needless disappointment and rage that I can choose to avoid. I still have four days left. I have been keeping up my pace of work without going crazy about it, despite half-solidified notions that I should stop trying to amass money I don't really need (I will admit that being a non-parent seems like a life hack -- if you have simple interests, are happy to live on the cheapest processed foods available, and no other human mouths to feed, you can pay your way through life with relative ease if you have a single marketable skill. I don't know if what I do qualifies, but I get paid for it.

The kind of reflection I have when coming "home" -- and it's not, really; most of the people I knew have moved away and a lot of their parents are dead. This is precisely what anyone who grew up anywhere and is pushing 50 should expect, but it's a more poignant consideration when I'm driving around in my rental car or parking it in strange places and getting quirky looks from locals who most likely assume I'm a Masshole from the plates. My favorite is remembering how my parents and everyone else called Massachusetts types "flatlanders" when I was a kid. Downtown Concord is less than 300' above sea level; the mountains might as well be in New Brunswick. Well, closer than that. But it's enough to just buzz through the forests within easy reach. I have tried to recreate 1980s conditions and not rely on my cell phone to pinpoint my location, which serves to hammer home how different the world is. I have moved around so much and lives so often in chaos that global changes to how civilization operates, while not escaping my notice, were often been relegated to background noise as I put basic survival at the top of my priority list, not that it ever seemed that way.

Harper, my mom's very listless 5-month old Golden.

In the same spirit, I would love to ditch every website I insist on splattering with photos and brain-sharts and just keep this place as a means of loosely updating, entertaining and confounding my friends. Instagram is tame enough, but I'm tired of all the goddamn ads imploring me to sign up to reach out and fuck someone, this time a single runner, next time single senior, maybe a single version of Gina Gershon from the late 1990s, or now, if they fully catch on to me. It's a pleasant distraction, but so is a 30-year-long heroin haze if you can manage your life in the meantime. I have been making more progress on my novel than I have in a long time, and really, even if it winds up the unpublished heap of overstated boringness I expect, I will be able to say that I finished a legitimate long-term project. I haven't had many of those -- I certainly don't regret not having kids, but it certainly gives people something worthy to focus on -- and the few things I feel like I've dug into, I've not seen though to the end. I realize that this is just life and everyone is mercurial about their interests, but being a lifelong goal-oriented person who is basically just living out his days in a benign social coma, I'm not entirely comfortable with it. I admit it's a pleasant problem to have compared to practically anything else.

Finally, I am planning to go to Europe, probably London, next spring. I have never really traveled except within the U.S., and often like to joke that the only foreign countries I've visited are Canada, where I used to spend a great deal of time, and Mississippi, which is not on my vacation list at the moment. In successfully applying for a passport, I confirmed that the U.S. Department of State still has people working there besides Mike Pompeo and whatever other hapless fuckstick gets trotted out to pressers to stammer shit he and everyone else knows is a lie, because I even got my birth certificate back. Anyway, that's a goal of sorts, I guess. But first is watching the New Hampshire Meet of Champions, which my team managed to win in 1987. The Concord boys went 30 years before their next win at that event, and now they'll be trying to win their third in a row. I need to give Rick some shit and see if he wants to go running.


  1. Will you look for a balding, half Bolivian young man at Nashua? Would love to visit for a bit. S

    1. As much as I love cultural anthropology, of the four things I know about it, I don't think I'm quite good enough to tell Bolivian from half-Bolivian. I guess I'm supposed to look for traces of cocaine under the nostril area instead of what amounts to a fine white beard, but this comes from Mr. Ryerson's class at Rundlett Junior Middle School, so I may have to rely on other aspects of detective work.

      Can't wait to see you!