1978 Chasing a National 10k Qualifier

I began the year at Stinson Beach, Ca. My Lowell friend Ron Durand and I were continuing our cross country trip that started the previous June. We left Tacoma, Wash., which had been our home base since September, the day after Christmas. A good friend of mine from the University Of Lowell, a great high-jumper named Dave Goosens, had shared his apartment with us and given us a badly needed break from the road.

We drove the coast highway south from Oregon – a beautiful drive. We went to the University of Oregon in Eugene, where I ran on the Pre trail and did some laps of Hayward Field. I reflected often on the trip so far; I had lots of time for meditation and contemplation. For a time, I put my worries and concerns about what I would do when the trip ended behind me and just enjoyed each day. I trained diligently but without intensity – I had no competitions planned and was rarely motivated to push very hard on any given run. My main goal was to maintain my conditioning so that I’d be ready to step it up when I returned to Massachusetts and the urging of my GBTC teammates.

Our plan was to head south into Mexico, then across the south and finally push north up the coast to arrive in New England around mid-March.

A typical journal entry:

Jan. 10, 1978 – Big Sur, Ca.

Got up and went for a run. A bit tired because we stayed up until midnight in the Inn lounge watching a country group performing there who were actually pretty good. After running I washed up a bit and went into the Inn to use their men’s room to shave and wash. Some guy threw us out but I managed to get cleaned up pretty well. Afterwards we had breakfast and headed out along the ocean Blvd. We stopped for coffee and toast at a nice café and then stopped off for some bread & ice. We traveled along ocean Blvd. for awhile and saw Pelican’s and Sea Lions. We then went along Rte. 68 to Carmel because they charge money to take the more scenic route. In Carmel I checked out a great bookstore and shop area and then we went to the mission where we are now. I was very tired so I lay down and took a nap for an hour or so. I think Ron is kinda pissed off but the hell with that I’m tired and sleep is great. Ron went for a walk & when he came back we proceeded down Rte. 1 to Big Sur. We went for a run and had a meal in the van and are now sitting reading. We are parked at Andrew Molera State Park at Point Sur. Tomorrow on toward San Diego where we meet up with Wally Johnson our old Lowell friend.

Our trip proceeded in this fashion with some interesting adventures, a true-life learning experience not available at any college or university. I was a lonesome, poor, beat-up running bum and rather proud of it. We arrived back in Massachusetts on March 10 and met Vin Fleming and Dan Dillon in Falmouth for a weekend of training and delinquency. On one training run on the sand dunes of Truro, I noticed Dan Dillon’s extraordinary cross-country running ability for the first time. He immediately ran away from us in the heavy sand, barely slowing his pace at all. There were still giant snow piles everywhere from the “blizzard of ’78″ which had arrived in the Northeast while we were still in San Diego.

Ron and I headed back to Lowell to face an inscrutable future. Unfortunately, none of my previously hoped-for income-earning opportunities showed any sign of happening soon and I needed some kind of job. I moved back in with my parents and my brother Mike found a part-time job for me in a local shoe factory: menial work for minimum wage. It was fine in the short term, though the hours meant I would not be able to get to Boston very often for workouts with my mates. My immediate goal was a qualifying time for the National Track and Field meet in the 10,000 meters, which was 29:10. My previous best was a 28:42 in a six-mile time trial at Boston College in ’77. The Nationals would be in June at UCLA.

I began getting on the track at Dracut High School a barely adequate facility. A good friend who became known as “Stevie from Lowell” – no one could properly pronounce his last great Greek name – would come to the track and time me, recording my splits in a little memo book for me. I wondered sometimes if this were how the great Finns, East Germans, Russians, etc. did things.

I planned a series of meets and decided my best opportunity to qualify for the Nationals would be at the Penn Relays in April. These races went okay (see my training log) but not great. Doing solo workouts was tough. Somehow I pulled it together at Penn and qualified for Nationals with an 8th-place 28:58 (see below). John Treacy won in 27:55 and nearly lapped me. There were 60 runners in the field as they combined the college and open races. I hope to write a separate remembrance of this whole experience. This race helped to motivate me greatly, as it proved to me that my training efforts were paying off.

A few weeks after Penn a most fortuitous event occurred when I was offered a job in a running-shoe outlet in Hanover, Mass. The store’s proprietor, Sharpless Jones, would become a great friend and supporter. Tommy Leonard had pushed me onto him, and this fateful occurrence put me into a situation where I could both train and be gainfully employed by people who supported and understood my efforts. These two gentlemen and coach Bill Squires, along with my college coach (George Davis) and my GBTC teammates, made it happen for me, as did the later support (after I had proven myself somewhat) of New Balance and Reebok.

The summer and fall of ’78 I began to believe, and the next few years would bear fruit.