I STARTED RUNNING I had a close friend and training partner named John.
He was a year behind me in school but was born to run. While I ran twice
a day to improve and compete, he flew on several runs a week. And even
when he was just beginning, he could stride effortlessly. We ran the roads
around our homes in Concord, New Hampshire and worked our way into the
top ten on the Concord High School cross-country team (photo, below).
The best thing about a running partner is having someone to talk to, and
over the years we discussed many things, like the day we spent ten miles
trying to figure out ways to carry reservoirs of water on our bodies.
(No, we didnt invent the CamelBak
hydration system.) And there were all those miles spent gabbing about
Naturally, we would challenge each other regularly, sprinting, setting
times to try to beat, trying to run more days in
a row. So it wasnt too unusual one snowy January day for John
to bet me a dollar that I couldnt run the Fisk Road loop (a six-miler)
clad only in shorts, T-shirt, shoes and socks. There was a foot of snow
on the ground already and a major blizzard going on.
Id bragged that I could run in any weather in shorts so John was
just trying to make me eat my words. Instead, I hit the road with John
screaming, Youll never make it! out his door.
My theory was simple. I figured that if I ran fast enough, Id keep
my body plenty hot. I charged down Pine Street at 5-minute-mile pace and
quickly warmed up enough that the snow striking my chest and face immediately
melted. It was exhilarating running in the deep snow. My feet landing
ever so softly flattening the snow with a crunching sound. Otherwise it
was dead quiet save for the sound of my breathing. Best, there were no
cars and I could pace right down the center of the road.
I was determined to show John up and win the buck. But I wasnt worried
at all about survival. Shoot, if things got really bad, I could always
knock on someones door and ask to come in and warm up a bit. It
might be a little embarrassing but I could handle it. I visualized a horribly
humid day in July and kept jamming.
In no time I was past halfway and climbing Fisk hill, the tough part of
the loop. I leaned into the hill, shortened my stride, pumped my arms
faster and worked the climb. Cresting the hill, I noticed that my longish
hair was frozen and that my fingers were numb.
The stretch home was a gradual downhill for about two miles. I envisioned
Johns face when I knocked on his door and demanded, Pay up.
I thought he might accuse me of cheating but realized hed have kept
track of the elapsed time and would know Id gone the distance. My
fingers were stiff with cold now. My feet were starting to lose feeling
and my ears ached. But I had less than a couple miles to cover; too close
Suddenly from behind came a beep. Then another. I looked back and saw
a guy in a car so I moved over to let him pass. But he didnt want
to go by. He pulled up next to me and I realized it was a friend of the
family who had recognized me. Now he was insisting that I get in his car.
I resisted but he made it clear he wasnt fooling around. So I got
in the toasty warm car and he drove me home lecturing me about how stupid
I was all the way. John was delighted Id failed.
I am when we won the New England High School Boy's Cross Country Championships.