Sunday, December 5, 2010

History Part 2: High School, Year 1 (2000-2001)

Moving up to the High School level introduced a variety of important changes.  For cross country, freshmen started with the 1.5 mile race, though eventually everyone moved up to 3 mile and 5K races.  Nearly all races were held at Sunken Meadow, a state park with one of the toughest courses around.  Training distances were longer, workouts were harder.  Additionally, running became a year round activity with cross country in the fall, winter track during the cold days, and spring track at the end of the year.  The 3200m (~2 miles) became the longest track event, and in general, we ran in more meets throughout the year.

Practice for the cross country season actually started a week before school.  I remember practice being early in the morning, though not as early as I run these days.  I still remember our first practice.  It was raining and we ran two perimeters around the HS athletic fields for a warm-up.  It ended up being close to 1.5 miles total, a far cry for the 0.5 mile warm up we did in Middle School.  That first day we stayed on the school grounds but in the future, we ventured out onto the roads for runs, also a relatively new experience.

I never could have guessed that many years later, the roads would become my domain.  Back then, the whole concept of running on roads was still quite new.  Time has faded much of my memory of the past.  I do know that I ran in quite a few 1.5 mile races, and roughly average in most of the races.  The 1.5 mile course at Sunken Meadow included one hill, known as Snake Hill.  It turned sharply to the right as it ascended at a rather unforgiving sharp angle.  The surface was mainly dirt with some wood chips.  Immediately after the crest, one hits a very, very sharp downhill.  I remember flying down that hill many times, dodging rocks and other runners.  Somehow, I never did fall in 4 years of running down that thing.

Times elude me, so I can't say how well I did in that regard.  However, there is one rather vivid experience I do have.  Invitational races were run on Saturdays, and that was when the 5K course was run.  In one of the last races of the year, somehow I, a lowly freshman got thrown into the Varsity 5K race.  I don't remember exactly why, but it happened.  We not only ran up Snake Hill, but also Cardiac Hill, a ~300m uphill with bad footing and 3 sections of varying incline right smack in the middle of the race after a less impressive but nonetheless long shallow, taxing hill.

To this day, it was probably my worst race in history.  The field was small and way too fast for me.  I stayed up with the other runners as best I could but completely blew up after about a mile and really, really struggled the rest of the way.  If I didn't finish last, it was probably pretty damn close.  My time was probably in the mid to high 20's...24, 25 or 26 minutes.  I remember having horrible cramps all through my midsection and questioning why I even ran the race.  Though a very humbling moment, I never really let it discourage me.

I did not run winter track my freshman year.  I had a back issue and didn't think I could handle running year round.  Yet another time when I wish "fast Dan" could tell "High School Dan" to suck it up and run harder, but you can't change the past.  I was at least a team manager and got to see how winter track works, with the smaller 200m indoor track.

After consulting some old records, I've discovered that my freshman year in Spring Track was the first time I broke 6:00 for the mile.  By the end of my Freshman year, I was running 5:42 in the mile.  I was also introduced to the 3200m race, an 8 lap race on the outdoor 400m track.  I hated that race, and still don't like it.  The Baltimore Road Runners Club actually hold track races in the summer and the 3200m was an option at one; I have yet to do it.

In dual meets, where two schools race against each other, events happen quickly, one right after the other.  So anytime I ran the 3200m, it was always a mere 20-30 minutes after having run an all out mile.  I always focused all my effort on the mile and just gave whatever I had left for the 3200.  Lets just say it made an already painful race even more painful.  Of course these experiences served me well to toughen me up and help shape the runner that I am today.  I was still under the working assumption that I was supposed to feel absolutely terrible during both races and that there was no holding back in either of them.  My first 3200m time was my best at 12:30.  That's a 6:15/mile pace.  The fact that I just ran an entire marathon at 6:18 pace completely blows my mind.  If someone told me immediately after that race that I would run almost that pace for 26.2 miles someday, I probably would have punched that person in the face and called them a moron.

After the end of freshman year, I became more used to the High School way of doing things.  I remember we focused a lot on speedwork.  Since my times continued to improve so well, I quickly learned just how important speedwork is to improving.  Of course, in hindsight, I think we needed a higher base of mileage also.  Regardless, those gut busting workouts stuck with me and still play a very important part in my training today.  I can also say that I still hate them just as much as I did back then!

Stay tuned for the next parts of the series.  I do finally have an order hashed out:

2001-2002 Part 3: High School, Year 2: Making a name for myself
2002-2003 Part 4: High School, Year 3: Trying to get better
2003-2004 Part 5: High School, Year 4: The final year, and goals left unfinished

2004-7/4/1007: Part 6: College, Years 1-3: The Dark Ages
7/5/2007-11/13/2009: Part 7: The Come Back
11/14/2009-Present: Part 8: The "Fast Dan" era