When I was in high school, the South Carroll Invitational was the largest cross-country meet of the season. Teams from three states gathered on our home course.
At the end of the school day, I simply walked down to the locker room, got dressed, and stepped into a fall running festival.
Earlier in the day, my teachers didn’t know I wasn’t paying attention in class. My nerves wouldn’t let me think about anything other than the meet.
I’ve always loved the color of sports, and when I stepped outside, it was fun seeing the abundance of color moving around the school grounds. Our team gathered at a corner of the building, and watched with fascination.
Our coach was distracted with the workings of the meet, so we were pretty much left to ourselves. We warmed up in a cluster, trying our best to calm one another.
We jogged passed the starting line. A new stadium, not so new anymore, stands over the spot now. But back then, the area behind the school was vacant ground, except for the baseball field, which was exactly where it is today.
Before all three of the South Carroll Invitational races I ran, I had glorious dreams. I imagined I would have a break-out race, cheered on by a loyal crowd. I saw myself running with the leaders, far ahead of runners who usually beat me.
At the start, there was a short downhill section, so the race began with a stampede. Most high school runners start too fast, and I wasn’t any smarter than the others. I surged from the beginning, until my body reminded me it was a three mile race.
We ran in a circle behind the school before running two long loops around a large cornfield. Each loop began with a hard climb, followed by a stretch of gradual decent. By my senior year, I knew every square foot of ground we passed over.
The dreams I had before each race never really came true, but I was beginning to think big, and that always precedes the actual doing.
Whenever I’m in the area these days, I try to stop by South Carroll High School. I park my car and walk around.
When I’m there, it still feels like 1978. Every detail is familiar.
I start by walking a lap around the track, remembering where our team would cluster during meets. I relive races in my mind.
When I leave the track, I walk behind the school, thinking about conversations I had and the people I had them with. I remember a black brick that seems out of place among all the red ones, and I remember looking out of a classroom window and wondering how it go there.
When I walk the old cross-country course, I smell the same smells, feel the touch of the same breeze and hear the rustling of the same trees.
It’s hard for me to comprehend the time that’s gone by. I know how long ago it was, and yet something in my heart makes it feel like yesterday.
There are times when I’m afraid I’ll forget what happened there. My walks give me the chance to reclaim the memories and memorialize the place where my running journey started.
I just published a new book – IN THE DISTANCE: Why we struggle through the demands of running, and how it leads us to peace. Many of my high school memories are chronicled there.
The book is much like a running autobiography, starting with my childhood, moving through my fears and struggles, and offering the clarity I’ve gained in recent years.
I’d like to think people will enjoy reading it. I want readers will feel the warmth of heartfelt stories, and gain some direction from whatever wisdom I can offer. And yet, there’s this nagging thought in the back of my mind that the book might be a selfish endeavor, something just for me.
I’m proud of the book. I like how the cover foreshadows the stories inside. I like the old pictures, and how the pages move toward a man who’s satisfied with where life led him.
The happiest people I know are those who do the things that bring them joy. Of those people, the most content are the people who find joy in helping others. For them, pleasure and charity come together to create a meaningful life.
The pursuit of happiness doesn’t have to be selfish. Find what you love and share it.