Peter – Keeping Track

This is the first of a multi part series about my high school track career. I hope that you find it both  informative and entertaining. Today I will give you a rundown on the mechanics of track and write about my first race and the aftermath.

What could possibly attract High School Boys to the sports of Track and Field?

A fairly successful cross country season had dovetailed into a highly successful basketball season. As the weather began to warm, I decided that I would join the track team a) so I went to the gym and signed up. Running appealed to me and I opted for the mile and half mile events b).While I had the white tee shirt and blue shorts of ODC&VI’s c) phys-ed program. As a member of the track team, I was issued with a navy blue tank top and white shorts. These, as well as socks and shoes, comprised my outfit when I was running the roads. Every day of the year, regardless of the weather, regardless of the temperature. I also bought a pair of spikes through OD. Now these are light shoes which have metal prongs screwed into the soleplates to give you added purchase when you are running on a track. The prongs, of course, are also referred to as “spikes”. The sentence “I need to buy spikes for my spikes.” were a warning about the madness which lurked beyond the hallowed halls of our high school.

The track itself was an oval, 440 yards long, covered in fine gravel and divided into 8 lanes. It was carefully tended and had a number of markings applied. Each lane was marked, as was a start/finish line in front of the stands and a start line for the 220 yard race, which was positioned on the opposite side of the track. There were also markings which showed legal baton exchange zones, for relay race purposes. The infield had javelin and discus areas, there was a shotput pad and a pit for long jump or hop-skip-jump d). A nearby shed contained hurdles and cushions for high jump and pole vault events. It was quite cleverly designed.

Now in certain events, like the 100 yard dash, you had to stay in your lane or face disqualification. In most other track events, you had to stay in your lane until you reached a certain mark, when you could then move to the inside track. In some events the starting marks would be “staggered”, in order to “even up” the distance run, as it was farther around the track on the outside lanes than it was on the “inside track”.

Now training for track events was involved. You might think that a “miler” e) would simply run a mile, rest for 20 minutes and run another mile. Repeat as necessary or until the street lights come on and the lad has to go home.

You would be wrong, however. One or two days a week, I would “hook up” with my old friend the road course. Coming up the hill, especially after a break, it would use my shoes to hiss “I missed you, did you miss me?”, or so it seemed. We would do stretches and weightlifting and an exercise some sadist dreamed up, called “wind sprints”. In this procedure, the victims, err athletes, would sprint 220 yards, then walk 220 yards and then do it again. And again. And again. The idea was to build both speed and endurance.

After a few weeks, we were ready for our first meet, which was held at Barrie North Collegiate, IIRC. I remember getting ready for my first race. I had trained and also read a book. The book, “On The Run From Dogs And People”, by Hal Higdon, was a really funny book about his adventures while jogging. I laughed so hard when I read it. Very, very funny book. Its use as a source of strategy and tactics for the budding “miler”? I will be charitable and say “Limited”.

So here I am at the starting line, in an unruly cluster of other contestants. My strategy? “Run fast.” Simple, ehh? So the starter fires the gun and I take off like he’s fired it AT me. My first lap was timed at 63 seconds. If I could sustain this time for the next three laps, I would run the measured mile in 4 minutes, 12 seconds. That, Loyal Reader, is a fast time , especially in 1969, in Barrie, Ontario. Operative phrases, of course, are “If I could sustain…” and “…next three laps…”. About 80 yards into the second lap, I began to feel like I was driving the wrong way on an expressway, as the “pack” flashed past me. In the event, I finished pretty far back, and heard snickers from some of the teenagers in attendance as I wobbled across the finish line. f)

I was pretty upset with myself. I showered when we got back to OD, changed and went home. Mrs Montreuil heard her Little Boy open the front door, came out and told me that my supper was in the oven. One look at my face was enough for her. She came up and hugged me and kissed me and called me one of her pet names for me g). Then she returned to the front room. I retrieved my heaping plate , which was either “roast beef and roasted potatoes” or “ham and scalloped potatoes”, two of my favourite meals. With the whole empty table to choose from, I sat at my usual seat and ate in silence.

I heard Dad come in. He made a coffee and watched me eat for a while, assessing my mood. He didn’t insult me by asking how my day had, he could read my face. Sitting beside me, in his usual place, he sipped his coffee, then asked me if that had been my first track race. I nodded gloomily, then realized that he had chosen that phrase to differentiate between my cross country experience and this new world which I had just entered.

He asked me if I had tried my hardest. I nodded again. Then he came up with one of his infuriatingly obvious, yet infuriatingly accurate observations. He sat back and said that people had a right to expect your best, but that absolutely no one ever had the right to expect more than your best. Then he put his hand on my shoulder, said “Lad, we’re proud of you.” He then rose and went back to the living room. While I chewed my wonderful dinner, I ruminated on my parents actions and words.

And, Loyal Reader, I began to feel better. Believe me, I entered OD the next morning in a much better frame of mind than I had left it in the night before. There was a track meet the following week to get ready for, after all.

Next week’s installment will include, inter alia, “the strange case of the disappearing track clothes”.

See you soon.

  1. a) Unlike most high school teams, the track team ensured that pretty much everyone who tried out got to be in the team picture. It was only during my second race, when I ran for 5 minutes and 25 seconds being rained on while a cold wind seemed to go through me and passing runners threw up wet gravel that hit my legs and stung, that I ruefully realized why.
  2. b) When I began my illustrious career, we used Imperial measurements, e.g. mile, 880 yards, 440 yards and so forth. Later we went over to the metric system.
  3. c) Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute, hereafter referred to as “OD”.I was sentenced to 5 years there and got no time off for good behaviour. As an aside, I competed in track and cross country and was involved in the basketball program every year I was there.
  4. d) An event where the contestant runs up to a “board”, hops, then skips then jumps. It was later renamed “the triple jump”, possibly because other teens would giggle when someone said that they competed in the hop-skip-jump.
  5. e) A contestant in the one mile race, “miler” was a jargony term adopted by by these fine young folk to distinguish themselves from less superior lifeforms such as sprinters. Notable examples of the breed include my friend Neil and indeed Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy himself.
  6. f) One disadvantage of track is that, unlike cross country, there is always an “appreciative” audience. Doesn’t matter what you do, they are there.
  7. g) As I type this, 50 years later, I am crying, remembering her amazing, yet typical,  display of love. As far as the “pet names” are concerned, I will tell Betty what they were. (The rest of you will have to wait for the movie 😉 )

2 Responses to “Peter – Keeping Track”

  1. Brian Emms Says:

    Thanks Pete, brought back memories….

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