I’m about to get back on the road, and the paths, and the fields, and all other surfaces. Yep, get back to running. For about two years now, I have been restricting my aerobic activity to hard indoor biking – sort of like spinning.
I like it a lot, and go full bore on the bike.
But I am getting back to running – today. I hope my left knee can hold out. I wonder though if I have finally done it in. There is only so much pounding and ligament damage a joint can take.
I started to get serious about running when I was a sophomore in high school. When I was a freshman, I played football – and I would see the cross country runners striding past and I thought that must be something very tiring, running all those miles.
You see, the plan was for me – or at least this is how I had it planned – is that I would be a wide receiver in football, a point guard in basketball, and run the 330 yard low hurdles in track.
And I would be super good at all of it.
That didn’t really work out. None of it.
I left football behind my freshman year. I ran cross country as a sophomore.
I stopped playing basketball after my sophomore year.
By my junior year, I was running three seasons.
And here I reflect to way back in those running days – the early days.
I think back to the old time and the “Old School” home cross country course – the one that was used in the 1970s and in the early 1980s.
I think the course was about 2.6 miles long. Scott Faust (OA ’78) still holds the course record. In that that course will most likely never be used again, he may hold the record for all time.
My main running event was the half mile in outdoor track, and the 1000 yard in indoor track, but I was a decent cross country runner. As a senior, I was a co-captain of the squad along with my buddy and classmate, Mike “Gike” Gallagher.
By the way, more than 30 years later, Mike is as serious a runner as ever, completing marathons and running other road races.
You know, I think my best time on the OA course was about 10 seconds slower than Scott Faust’s record.
Now, as for the "Old School" OA course, we’re going back to when the Tigers played their home football games at Frothingham Park.
And back then, as I suspect was the case throughout Massachusetts high school cross country, the Hockomock League had dual meets – with one school competing against one other school. Everyone ran together in the dual meets– girls and guys.
There were two ways to start the race on the home Tiger course.
We had our dual meets on weekday afternoons, which sometimes coincided with an OA JV or freshman home football game.
If there was no football game going on, we started on the Sheridan Street side of the park on the line parallel with the goal posts – some of us under the goal posts, some of us to one side of the goal posts, and some of us on the other side of the goal posts.
When the race started, we ran down the field and under the other goal posts, and then banked a right and out to Park Street.
If there was a football game on the field, we started, on the track, at the top of the straightaway up by Sheridan Street – near the scoreboard. We ran east and when we got to the end of the straightaway, we took that right and went out to Park Street.
Was there a police officer on duty to steer traffic away from us runners? Heck, no. Just keep your wits about you and don’t get hit.
We then ran down Sheridan Street to Lincoln Street, and there turned left and headed west and up toward the Town Pool (yep, I said “up,” from Sheridan up Lincoln Street to the Town Pool is a gradual incline – but you might not notice it in a car).
A police officer at the intersection of Sheridan and Lincoln Street?
Heck, no. Just keep your wits about you and don’t get hit.
You turned right on to the road that went into the Town Pool. After running maybe 50 or 60 yards, you banged a left on to a path that snaked behind the Lutheran Church. When you got behind the church you looked for that opening in the woods to your right.
Take that right and go down a twisting rocky path that descended gradually for about 70 yards and which brought you out to the bike path behind the pool. Then you ran along this circuitous path through the woods; such was the frequency of curves that a runner could be 40 yards in front of you, and trees would obstruct your view of that runner.
This path behind the pool wound for a half mile or so.
Then past the Itty Biddy Pool on your right and on to the gravel parking lot next to the major section of the Town Pool with its docks and beaches and three swimming sections.
Then on to the worst part of the course. Just awful.
The Town Pool Hill.
You had to run up the entire and steep thing – and it hurt.
At the top of the hill, shouting encouragement would be our coach, John Barney. Actually, Mr. Barney was the coach of the team for my sophomore and junior year – but not when I was a senior. Mr. Barney was a very good coach – a winning coach.
Mr. Barney drove an orange colored VW Bug; it might have been a Super Beetle. He would stand at the top of the hill, and exhort the OA runners on to better performance, and then he would jump in his VW and blow past us, the car engine roaring – and drive to the park where he would be among those recording the finish.
And back to the runners – which were and are also referred to, in cross country parlance, as "harriers."
Once over the top of the Town Pool Hill it was that slight downhill back toward Sheridan Street – and back along the same path that we took on the way out.
So, as with the start of the race – the finish had two versions – both dependent on whether there was a football game going on.
If there was no game, we harriers ran into the park and then ran under the goal posts on the east end of the field and then on to the finish line under the goal posts on the other end of the field.
If there were guys in pads and helmets playing on the field, then when you entered the park, you turned left onto the straightaway of the track on the Park Street side of Frothingham.
The finish was at the top of the straightaway below the bank up near Sheridan Street.
Hundreds of OA runners have raced over this course, many, many times.
As always, thank you for permitting me this look back.