1987 World Cross Country Bound
My first ever race was a cross country race and through a long and arduous career I always wanted to compete at least once in the World Champs. I competed in the trial race in 1979 in Atlanta finishing 16th and in 1984 at the meadowlands again finishing 16th. Top nine make the men’s squad.
By 1987 I had spent a decade with athletics as the center of my life and I knew this was reaching and perhaps past its apex. I was now 31, married, we were soon to become homeowners, the gypsy runner was settling in with just a few more opportunities available, looking back in wonder at the whirlwind of a charmed life.
I was now a college coach at the University of Lowell and enrolled in classes toward finishing my undergraduate degree in American Studies. It was a bit strange being back in Lowell, haunting. I had also begun running for a local running club in Lowell my years of sponsorship with a shoe company club having come to an ignominious end.
I had begun coaching the Women’s Cross Country and Track Teams in the Fall of 1986 and I pointed my running efforts at the International Cross-Country Trials race to be held in February in Dallas TX. I had finished off 1986 running the New England Cross Country Championships and a few local road races.
The highlight for 1986 was a come from behind, 6th place finish at Boston in 2:14:50. This was the first Boston with prize money and my last Boston as a racer.
Coaching was enjoyable but challenging, I ran some with the team and fit my runs in around classes and commuting daily from Hopkinton MA to Lowell. As winter set in I kept my focus on the trials. I ran some indoor races and road races nothing spectacular. On my regular evening runs usually a 6 miler before stopping at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and snack for the ride back to Hopkinton, I took to leaping over garbage cans and fences and visualizing cross country.
I had to fund my own trip to Dallas as my local running club didn’t have the funds and were only interested in the little local Grand Prix Circuit anyway. I just figured I would represent Lowell having come full circle from my High School days in the city.
When I arrived in Dallas I was happy to see old New England friends Coach Bob Sevene and fellow competitor through many running wars, Dan Dillon. Also, Lynn Jennings, Leslie Welch, writer Joe Concannon from the Globe and Tommy Leonard temporarily re-located to Texas. Good Karma.
At a pre-race gathering I exchanged pleasantries with some of the stalwarts of USA Cross Country, Porter, Eyestone, Plasencia etc. I was left feeling a bit like the ancient marathoner at age 31 perhaps they were wondering what I was doing there. It played on my mind a bit but also, I was becoming locked in, locked and loaded.
We ran over the course, typical Texas Cross Country. We were to run up the sides of hills, irrigation ditches likely and leap over makeshift barriers. It was still a hard run if not inspiring.
I remember at the pre-ace we were told about the drug testing and I worried about the Advil I had taken. Seems laughable to me now what a naïve dim wit I could be.
As I remember the race went out rather fast and I laid back a bit off the leaders. I felt good the entire way and with Tommy, Joe, Sev and Lynn Jennings urging me on I finally made a Cross Team finishing 6th.
My drug tester escort followed me around, I was packed and ready to head straight to the airport as soon as I could pee and he had agreed to drive me. They had some Coors Silver Bullets in the drug test tent and I asked if it was OK to drink them as I knew I would be peeing instantly with a couple of those bullets in me. I got the green light.
After taking care of business, we headed to the airport. I had to coach a meet the next day at Holy Cross. I was still in my muddy running gear when I got to the airport with Silver Bullets sloshing around inside me. I went to the restroom put on some civvies and caught my flight. I did it, I made the friggin team, holy cow.
I had only made one other USA team against the USSR in Outdoor Track in 1982 running the 10,000. I had been offered a spot on the Pan Am Team in 1979 but declined not wanting to run the marathon in July in Puerto Rico.
The World Cross Country was six weeks away in Warsaw Poland. I was also invited to compete in a second race the famous Cinque Mulini five mills race in Milan Italy a week after the Worlds. Our managers for the Men’s Team were old friends Dave Martin and Joe Vigil. Lance Harter was there for the women. That was the first time I had met Lance, saw him again for the first time in 30 years at the T&F Trials in Eugene where he was conducting a coaching seminar with Bob Larsen MC’d by Mike Fanelli.
The weeks passed quickly running was going well then shortly before leaving I began to fall apart. Sciatica and plantar fascia two injuries that had plagued me since high school, dogged me. We were told to bring food with us as the supply in Warsaw was not reliable. Really, how much food you gonna pack for a week in Poland?
When we first arrived, and were collecting our baggage at the airport I chatted with a manager for the Japanese Team a JAAF Official who I had met on one of my sojourns to Japan. He mistook me for the team manager and couldn’t believe I was still running! I wanted to say, “hey, I finished 6th at Boston last year, don’t you follow results?” then I realized no one cares who finished 6th anywhere.
Warsaw in March 1987 was a drab place despite the history, between hobbling about on my sore plantar visiting concentration camps and then getting physically ill probably with some strange bug or the food I was miserable. My roommate George Nicholas abandoned me after I was retching all night. The team called a meeting and relegated me to the last starting position in the cue. Runners started front to back generally on order of finish at the trial race. I was planning to run regardless if I had to crawl through it.
The morning of the race I got my plantar taped, the therapist on our trip was great and an immense help to me. We went out to the horse race venue and raced nearly 300 strong in the Men’s Senior Race. I was engulfed the entire race, legs churning, mud, cursing obstacles that got bigger every lap it was war and I was in the trenches.
I ran poorly and the USA Men were ninth not a good showing. The women and Juniors ran much better including a few future stars, Todd Williams and Marc Davis.
The next day some of us left for Rome and then on to Formia: https://kimberlysullivan.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/the-most-beautiful-track-in-italy-in-formia/
a lovely training center south of Rome. I recovered well that week by the Mediterranean running twice most days in the lovely hills overlooking the sea. I also did a two mile time trial at the track one day with Marc Davis and Mark Mastilair runners on the Junior team pacing me for most of it. When I had arrived at the track they were banging out quarters in under 60 seconds. I also heard a bit about the training regimen at Stanford under Brooks Johnson from Mastilair, yowser.
We also spotted Jamila Kratochlikova Women’s 400M WR Holder at the track running intervals, double yowser.
I was hoping to redeem myself somewhat with a good race at Cinque and I did finishing 34th. I was 4th place for our team and we finished third behind Kenya and Italy.
I look back fondly now on this entire two weeks experience it was interesting and exciting to be around other athletes all younger and of course Dave Martin and Joe Vigil who I enjoyed good conversation with at breakfast or in the evenings with a glass of vino.
My fitness came along and just a few weeks after returning I ran 28:29 at Penn Relays finishing third in my second-best time ever. So, I had a Nationals and Olympic Trials qualifier in the 10,000.
It ain’t over yet.