Hot and Cold Running Peter

This week I am going to write about more of my athletic endeavours from the dim and distant past, from the last millennium, from when my tummy was flat and my hair was brown and curly, from when ….

I have described what a life changing experience it was for me to go to high school. While my parents had been, and continued to be, liberal, my separate school environment had been pretty restrictive. Now, however, surrounded by people who thought differently from me, I began to push to expand my horizons and grow my world. So I decided that I would try out for organized extramural sports. I looked at the football team, but decided that my 136 pounds of lean, sinewy adolescent would probably not survive too many tackles.

I decided to try out for the cross country team. After all, I had everything I needed, gym shorts, t shirts, sweat pants, sweat shirt, running shoes, socks and a limber young body a). I went to the Boy’s Gym after school and made my case. The coaches didn’t laugh at me, just told me to get changed. Again, there were several smart, talented dedicated coaches who had already taught all day and yet still had enough left in the tank to give us good coaching and guidance for several hours after school.

A bit of background on Cross Country Running, for the curious. Like track athletes, cross country runners run a set distance in direct competition with other runners. However, unlike track athletes who compete in the spring or summer on a carefully groomed track, cross country athletes run …um.. cross country. No carefully tended track for us, Nope, we compete on uneven golf courses and at conservation areas, Grandma Moses primitive, Mother Nature at her most feral. These meets are always held in the afternoon, did I mention that they are usually in the fall? Also, IIRC, it didn’t count as a true cross country meet unless it rained and/or snowed.  The placing numbers (i.e. 1st, 2nd etc.) of the first four runners for each school are added together to determine the winner, and the team with the lowest score won.

After I had changed, I was directed to a grassy area, where I met the rest of the boy’s team. I encountered some newbies, like me, but also some veterans. We did some warmup exercises b) and set out for the road course. In order to build up our speed and endurance, we would run on the street. We had two measured routes, one being 4 miles long and the other measuring 6.c) Line abreast, we would start off down West Street North, turning right onto North Street East d), down to Bay Street e), hang a left and off we went out to Fitton’s Side Road and to and fro until we came back up North Street East past the golf course. There we were confronted with…The Hill.

Struggling up this monstrosity, I kept thinking of “the little engine that could”. After I had crested it, there was a gently undulating upwards continuation of North Street East until you reached West Street North. Hanging a left onto West Street North, I saw the invisible Finish Line, 400 metres distant. To set the stage for this next episode, I was puffing and panting, sweating and groaning. However, I had to run past the pickup area for the out of town students. There was a classmate of mine who had voiced the opinion that “jocks” were coddled and superfluous to the real world. There was also a cute classmate of mine who could disarm me with one glance. Both were waiting for the bus. Both would watch me as I staggered past them.

I tried to arrange my protesting body into some semblance of order, fixed a look on my face which I hoped was more pleasure than pain and proceeded. I wanted to show HIM that I was a stalwart, hardworking athlete in excellent physical shape. I wanted to show HER that I was “suitable for mating” f). In the event, I was able to finish my run with most of my dignity intact, and off I went to the showers. Now at that time, the showers in the O.D.C.& V.I. boy’s gym needed assistance to run hot water. The toilets had to be flushing for the water to be delivered hot to the bathers, and as a result, a t shirt would be tied around the handles of the various toilets. (Privately, I always thought that the water was meant to be delivered cold, to cool down those raging teenage hormones.)

After some training, we started the competitive season. There would be one meet a week, either close to Orillia or close to Barrie. g) We would leave school during the day, jump on a school bus and off we would go. Funny, we never talked very much about the upcoming meet. We talked about school and life and would do silly things. I remember once we were passing a car on the highway. One of my teammates got out of his seat and walked up the aisle, “passing” the car on foot. We all thought it was very funny. (We, of course, were an immature bunch of high school kids!)

While we were excused from class for purposes of attending the meet, we had to go to our earlier classes. Thus it was that one fine morning I was in Phys-Ed. We were playing flag football and I fell. As I landed on my knees, I felt a sharp pain in my back. A classmate had fallen and accidentally kneed me in the small of the back. I got up and felt fine. The meet went well, but I had pain in my back when I awoke the next day. I went to the doctor and got my first prescription ever, for “Darvon”. I had to take one a day.

I had a meet one afternoon, so I took one when I got up, I decided to take another about an hour before the meet. I remember the starting gun going off, but that’s about it for some time.

I must digress here,. Going to a cross country meet, I would wear my sweatshirt and sweatpants over my shorts and t shirt. I would take off my sweats on the bus and leave them there, to stay at least dry, if not necessarily warm. After running my race, I would retire to the bus, don my sweats and wait for the chance to have a hot shower and put on some dry clothes. Other teammates would join me as we sheltered from the wind and the rain. Simcoe County h) has prime farmland, I know, I usually brought about 3 ounces of it home. Having run my race on this particular day, I picked up a magazine and began to read. Two of my teammates came and sat behind me. They started to laugh. Innocently, I asked them what was so funny. To my eventual chagrin, they told me.

While I had started off all well and good, (albeit in a haze), as I neared the finish line, apparently I began to swear and scream and wave my arms around. I don’t remember crossing the finish line or getting on the bus or even putting on my sweats. My first conscious thought afterwards was selecting a magazine to read.. Unusually, I had brought three magazines to choose from. My two teammates smirked at me all the way home and I’m sure that my brush with “doping” got spread around. Two things were in my favour. This was before drug testing, and secondly, I never finished high enough at a meet that I would have merited testing anyway.

I’m finishing off this segment with a few diverse anecdotes.

One year, I decided that I would run 12 miles a day, every day. I would run 6 miles in the morning and 6 miles in the evening. I would have accomplished this feat, except one morning I took a wrong turn. Dressed in shorts and a tank top, my standard running outfit the entire year, I came up the stairs from my basement bedroom and turned left, into the kitchen at Chez Montreuil, rather than going out the front door. As I came through the door, I looked to my right and saw my Dad, drinking coffee and undoubtedly savouring the calm before the storm, the temporarily quiet house. He asked me where I was going. I bit off a snappy answer and confessed that I was going running. He looked over his glasses at me and, in a dangerously low voice said “Go downstairs and go back to bed. It’s Christmas morning!” Admitting defeat, I returned to bed. The string had been broken.

Later that day, at Christmas dinner, Dad offered his second son a glass of wine. I looked at him piously and told him that I was “in training”. His reaction was not what I had foreseen. Not only did Dad make me break my string of consecutive days running, he also wound up making me break training!

I really have to thank the veterans, guys who held school and even provincial records and had accomplished much during their tenure at O.D., as we affectionately referred to our school. They led by example, always the first ones ready to run, always quietly doing what was asked of them, always happy to give advice on technique, to make nervous newbies feel welcome on the team. So much of what I picked up playing organized sports became useful to me in my career, the concepts of teamwork, cooperation, dedication and plain old hard work. I owe you all so much.

My back, injured so long ago playing flag football in Phys-Ed, continues to give me trouble from time to time. I no longer take Darvon, which is probably just as well.

Several of my old cross country teammates are Facebook friends ™ of mine. After all, as we all agree, once you have sat together soaked, muddy and shivering on a frigid school bus, there is an unbreakable bond. So Doug, Neil and Lawrence, this column is dedicated to you. Thanks for all the memories.

Now many years ago, I happened to take my daughter to visit my old school, so she could see where her old man had been educated. Sadly, the sight of my Grade 9 locker did not stir her as much as I had hoped. She wasn’t even impressed by the visit to the Boy’s Gym, scene of so many heroic basketball feats by her father. However, I could impress her by showing her “The Boot”. After a number of years of competition, O.D.C. & V.I. had accrued enough points that they could permanently keep this sought after trophy. I eagerly pointed it out to her in the trophy case and explained my role in our ultimate victory. She looked at it, looked at me and said “Dad, it’s a painted wooden shoe!”

See you soon

  1. a) I did too!
  2. b) One of them involved holding my hand vertically over my head and kicking it with my foot. I sure am glad that I am sitting as I type this.
  3. c) As I got into things, I would run the 6 mile course before school and again after.
  4. d) Past my dear grandmother’s house. I made the mistake of stopping by there one night after school and letting her give me “a snack”. Pancakes, ice cream, tea, a grilled cheese sandwich, she sent me home stuffed to the gills. I walked across Orillia, got home at 6:30 ….and found dinner waiting for me on the table. I managed to finish my dinner under the loving gaze of my mother, but I was so full that it was 8 P.M. before I was hungry again.
  5. e) Not THAT Bay Street, although during the first few runs after a slack summer, it may as well have been.
  6. f) I had been reading “The Naked Ape”. As an aside, despite my adoration, I never summoned up the nerve to approach her about dating me. Her family moved out of town the next summer, and early the following school year, a classmate of mine told me that this young woman had told her that she thought that I was cute! As Homer Simpson would say “D’oh!”
  7. g) Orillia and Barrie have always been fierce rivals, especially in high school sports. The cross country teams vied for a trophy called “The Boot”, a Dutch clog mounted on a base. It will resurface at the end of this column. It now resides in the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame
  8. h) The county in which both Orillia and Barrie are located.

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