In the fall of 1987, I was just a new kid on the Cross Country team at Boca Ciega High School, wanting to make some friends and get in shape for Soccer season. After a freshman year at St. Petersburg Catholic where I ran Cross Country and recorded a 19:something 3 mile time, I was not considered a top runner. Growing up I had run dozens of recreational races with my dad and I enjoyed the sport but I hadn’t thought about being competitive. That was about to change. Our top runner, Steve, was a senior who also played soccer so I paid close attention to how he trained. I wanted to make the Soccer team so if I could emulate his training, maybe I’d have a better chance.
By the fall of 1989, I was one of the best Cross Country runners in the state, cranking out 70 mile weeks and tearing up Cross Country courses with a ferocious competitive drive. How did that happen?!
Legendary Coach, Jack Daniels says there are four main factors to running success:
Ability: The God-given talent for the sport.
Motivation: How bad do you want it? What sacrifices will you make to become competitive?
Opportunity: Available time and training resources like good places to run.
I can honestly say that while I arrived with some amount of talent for the sport and had the opportunity to train, I was lacking in motivation and direction. Fortunately, those gaps got filled by some fantastic people.
Training every day with Steve Wilcox was a challenge. It was a race or competition EVERY DAY! Track sessions, distance runs, or goofing around before practice. We sometimes had competitions before practice at the High Jump pit. Why on earth would a few distance runners try to beat each other in High Jump? Because Steve challenged us! Why would we sprint to a bridge in the middle of a long run? Steve Wilcox. Why did we keep track of times for the run back from Gulfport Beach? Because we wanted to beat Steve’s time.
The other motivation and support came from my family. My dad was a dedicated runner and supported my training. He always attended meets and ran around to various spots on the course to get splits and yell encouragement. My mom came out to many meets and although she didn’t understand my fascination with running in circles, she supported me anyway. She also supported my nutritional needs at home which were quite large. I always had good options at home and she took pride in serving healthy meals. Breakfast was ready for me before school every day, lunch was packed and we had nutritious dinners. I was fueled well! Mom frequently reminded me about what to eat so I could run fast.
Coaches take athletes with various levels of motivation, try to rev it up some and steer the energy in the right direction. It’s really a lot like being a backseat driver. They can advise the driver about how hard to hit the gas pedal, when to brake, when to turn and how fast to drive but they can’t actually do it themselves. Pretty frustrating! I had some good backseat drivers.
Coach Mayes- If you want to know the correct way to do any athletic moves in Track and Field or Football; ask Coach Mayes. He knows correct running form, correct hand-off technique for relays, correct long jump form and just about every aspect of every event. My running form was a typical distance runner, long, loping stride. He taught me to shift form and sprint at the end of a race rather than just try to go faster with distance runner form.
Coach Ingram- Know your times, and work the formulas. It’s not surprising that a math teacher would rely on numbers to tell you how to race and train. Coach Ingram paid attention to race times, split times, track interval session times and other statistics to paint a picture of training. He also took a holistic approach to training, including push-ups, dips, pull-ups, ab work and flexibility. I went home sore from finger tips to the bottoms of my feet!
Coach Joe- When I first met Joe at a 5K race in June of 1988, I told him I just wanted to train a little bit through the summer to get ready for Cross Country Season. Little did I know that “a little” is not part of Joe’s training plan. Ever. I logged 40-50 miles per week with one track session weekly and frequent beach races. I learned the truth that Cross Country races are NOT won in October and November. They are won in July and August. Miles and relentless training is what it takes to win.
Last week, I was inducted into the Boca Ciega High School Athletic Hall of Fame. It was a humbling experience mainly because I played only a small role in my own success! I showed up with a fair amount of athletic talent through no effort of my own. I had a family that supported and encouraged me. Coaches took that lump of clay and molded me into a pretty darn good runner. I got to go along for the ride doing something I truly enjoy- running! What a good deal.
Here are some pictures from the event. This was a special time to see some friends I hadn’t seen in years. This was a very nice, individual honor but it took a team to earn it.