1978 Penn Relays

This was my first trip to this world-famous track meet and my best opportunity to qualify for the Nationals, which would be held at UCLA in June. After a disappointing debut in the marathon at Boston in 1977, I decided to go back to running the kinds of events that would make me a better, more accomplished runner overall.

I only ran two collegiate outdoor seasons and had never run 10,000 meters on the track, but I had run a six-mile time trial in 28:42 at Boston College in 1977. My track workouts and races leading up to the Penn Relays were so-so. When I ran a 14:26 5k on a windy day at the U.Mass Relays, finishing 2nd, even one of my most ardent supporters – a friend and teammate – doubted my chances of bettering 29:10. Somehow, though, I thought I had a good chance. My workouts were not great but they were good solo efforts at a local high-school track, with a friend of mine occasionally showing up to hold a watch and record my splits (this was before the advent of the digital watch, so a chronometer was required.)

Coach Bill Squires of the GBTC and Boston State College (now U. Mass.-Boston) drove a small group of us to Philly in his huge station wagon, the “Squiremobile”. The Bo-State athletes urged me to ride shotgun with the coach, as they had heard all of his stories on previous trips and thought that I would enjoy a front-row seat. We arranged to meet at the Eliot Lounge (the former clubhouse for Boston runners presided over by Tommy Leonard) in Boston the morning of the race. I took the train from Lowell to Boston early that morning. We met at the Eliot and were off without a hitch. Squires talked non-stop; I never got past the first paragraph of my book. When I turned to look into the back seat, everyone was asleep. Coach had some interesting stories, assuming you could possibly follow them – his mind had the habit of flying ahead of his mouth and vice versa. Even though I only got 50% of what he said, that was more than most any other coach had to offer.

The trip proceeded in this fashion until I noticed Squires was scratching his head a lot and asking for a map. We were somewhere in Pennsylvania but no longer on the way to Philly. It was after 4 p.m. and I was scheduled to run at 6:30. “Don’t panic,” I told myself, but I was worried and anxious. I should have realized after hearing some of Squires’ stories for the second time that we had been on the road for quite a while.

We finally arrived about one hour before my race. I changed into my running gear in the car and went to get my number – only to be told I wasn’t entered. Panicking, I went off to find Squires. While I was looking for him there was an announcement that the college and open 10k races would be combined, which meant that I had just 15 minutes to try and get my number and warm up. Somehow, Squires got me a number while I warmed up easily and did some strides.

The field was huge – sixty-plus runners. Luckily, I lined up on the inside, but I was about 10 yards behind the start line. The gun sounded and we were off – for a few seconds, anyway. Bang! The second gunshot signaled a false start, with bodies flying everywhere. As we lined up again I was now stuck at the back, on the outside but not staggered. I was spotting everyone 15 yards. When we got underway, I made a strong move to get into a decent position where I could relax. I ran the first lap in lane three in 63 seconds and I heard Squires shouting to me to relax and get inside, which I did. I was now somewhere in the middle of the pack.

The race went by quickly (in comparison to the journey to Philly) and each lap I moved up, always having someone just in front to focus on. I did not hear many splits or even pay attention; I only heard a few shouts from Squires that seemed to indicate I was on pace and running well. On the last lap, I looked up and saw Charlie Maguire, a former NCAA six-mile champion whom I’d had a very close race with at Boston’s Freedom Trail race the previous year, being given the decision over him at the finish. I certainly did not want him to beat me here. I dug down and passed him for 8th place, finishing in 28:59 and obtaining my National qualifier.

The effort was a big boost for my confidence, although I wound up suffering from a plantar fascia problem for a few weeks afterward, having terrible cramps in my foot. We stayed at a hotel in New Jersey, where I slept on the floor and I enjoyed the rest of the relays before the return trip home on Saturday. This trip was a typical experience for a post-collegiate runner then, and probably still is for many of them today.