First Things First gives viewers an inside look at elite athletes training in Flagstaff while eating hamburgers and answering questions at the same time.
- ABOUT US
First Things First gives viewers an inside look at elite athletes training in Flagstaff while eating hamburgers and answering questions at the same time.
A detailed look into the Boston Marathon course and how to run the course to get the best out of yourself on race day. Guest blog by coach Brendon O’Leary.
Marukami starts by telling his life story through the lens of running but gives us insight on what makes one our greatest novelists tick.
Wanted to extend a quick thank you to all the Citwits who took a second during International Women’s Day to donate to our fundraiser for Girls Gotta Run.
Every once in a while, you’ll lace ‘em up and have a day where everything just clicks. Your stride is effortless, your concentration on point, you can easily lock into the zone and just fly. If you’re lucky, that day will be a race day. And if you’re really lucky, the stars will align and you’ll be blessed with perfect weather, a fast course, and quality competition.
Those are the days for something special — but only if you make the decision to go for it.
Todd Williams had one of those days at the Gate River Run in 1995. Looking back, 1995 was actually one of those years. By season’s end, Williams would place 9th at World Cross Country and run PRs of 27:31 for 10,000m and 13:19 for 5,000m. His crowning achievement, though, was a still-standing American Record of 42:22 for the win at Gate River.
Only one year earlier, such a season didn’t quite seem possible. He was out with a sacral stress fracture riding a stationary hand bike 10 hours a week, because any other activity would strain the injury and further extend recovery time.
But in the months before Gate River, Williams had been healthy and training consistently. In the 10 weeks before the race, he averaged 100 miles per week. He even logged 106 miles the week of the race, bringing into question the notion that a taper is necessary for top performance. When you’re on, you’re on. Might as well roll with it rather than changing things up.
What’s more shocking, though, is his long run each week — or, rather, lack thereof. During that same time frame, the longest single run was 12 miles, which he did twice. Most weeks had 10-11 miles as the “long” run, if we can even call it that. It has to make you think: how necessary is the weekly long run? Just asking the question is on the level of blasphemy here in the U.S. Everyone is an experiment of one, but if you can manage to run most of your miles fast (like Williams), then maybe you can forgo the long run — as long as you’re getting in a high level of overall mileage.
Todd Williams knew he was fit after logging a series of oft-repeated staple workouts. The first was 10 sets of a 380m hill while the second was a hard 5 mile run at 4:45 pace. The third workout was one he’d learned from the Kenyans of the day, a descending ladder of 1600-1200-800-400 with 3 minutes rest between each rep. When he split 4:05, 3:03, 2:00, and :56, Williams knew he was ready to blast.
There’s an interesting lesson to be learned from this training. If you want to race well, then you need to run fast often — sometimes really fast — while maintaining a high overall volume of mileage. But in-season, those long individual runs may not be necessary.
If you’ve ever run Gate River — or even seen the course map — you know it’s not as flat and easy as one might think the Florida coast would be. There are two bridges, one just after the first mile and one long grinder between 8 and 9. Hot, humid, and windy coastal Florida weather often increases the challenge.
But in 1995, the stars aligned. The morning was cool and clear, the wind calm. Williams entered the race fit as f– well, suffice it to say he was feeling fast.
“My motto,” Williams said in an interview with Gary Cohen, “was to hammer and see where the cards fall.” That’s an old school approach that honors the legacy of a classic race like Gate River.
Hammer he did, blazing a 4:23 first mile. The bridge early on may cost runners up to 30 seconds over the course of the second mile, so getting out hard was a necessity.
By 5k he was at 13:47; he later came through 10k at 28:07. This split — in a non-paced, solo road effort — was less than 30 second slower than his fastest track 10,000m at the time. And that was with another 5k and a monster hill to go.
At the finish, first place in an American Record 42:22, Williams was only about 8 seconds off of Paul Tergat’s world record at the time. That’s lofty company to be in.
To be able to average 4:30 pace on a course like Gate’s is an absolutely absurd accomplishment. In the history of the iconic event, only three other men have even broken 43:00 — one of them was an EPO cheat and another was named Meb.
In fact, 42:22 remains one of the more untouchable American distance records, made all the more astounding since it was set during the distance doldrums of the 1990s. But that’s what happens when you mix consistent, hard training with a day where everything clicks.
And when one of those days grabs you, you have to have the courage to go for it.
We decided to raise some money for Girls Gotta Run on International Women’s Day. It’s simple and donating can help a young woman in Ethiopia.
It’s international women’s day, so it’s time to recognize the hurdles overcome, and celebrate the women that are continuing to blaze a path forward.
Would you watch a running event over the course of a month where athletes raced distances from 5K to the marathon three to four times/week for 4 weeks?
At the 2018 Tokyo Marathon, 9 Japanese runners ran sub-2:10 with 6 of them placing top 10. How is the country beating USA at developing top marathoners?
We have unveiled our first CITIUS MAG summer 2018 t-shirt design to keep you looking fresh even when the temperatures start to rise.
CITIUS MAG Track Club t-shirts are now available for pre-order. Rep your favorite running website wherever you go and support the site.
We are happy to announce that we’ve partnered with Running Warehouse to offer members of the CITIUS MAG Track Club 15% off to their products.
I haven’t been able to get Maurice Ravel’s Bolero out of my head for the last ten or so days.
There are a lot of reasons we like sports. Many times they merely act as a distraction from the weight of the world. It’s certainly been that way for me over the last two weeks, which have been very difficult for me personally, both physically and emotionally, as I deal with a series of family issues. Sitting back and watching track meets or the Winter Olympics has allowed me to decompress. Usually, though, it’s more than that which draws us to the action.
The most popular sports draw their popularity from tribalism, the belongingness to a particular group. This is absolutely true for soccer on a global basis and for football, basketball, and baseball in the USA. The act of supporting a team and opposing the other teams is what those sports are all about. It is the reason that four college football teams averaged a home attendance over 100,000 last year. It’s also the reason why fans of opposing teams can sometimes clash violently.
Fans of individual-based sports in general and track and field in particular don’t tend to find our interest based on tribalism. While we might cheer for certain athletes based on their national or collegiate affiliation, we very often just like seeing athletes perform on a high level. We are in it for a different kind of experience.
Look back at the 2012 Olympic men’s 800 meter final. You probably were cheering for the Americans, Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds. Neither won a medal, but the race is probably seared into your memory as a transcendent experience. Kenya’s David Rudisha ran a stunning world record of 1:40.91. It was one of the greatest performances of all time, something well beyond what we thought possible.
Which brings me back around to Ravel’s Bolero. For some reason I’ve always been more fascinated with the Winter Olympics than their summer counterparts. I’m going to guess that’s because I’ve almost always seen the Summer Olympics as a really big track meet muddied up with a bunch of other stuff I don’t care about, but it may also be because the first two Olympics I remember were both winter games, since there was little US hubbub surrounding the 1980 summer games in Moscow.
I’ve never been a fan of judged sports, but in 1984 you watched what the network was showing you, tape delayed or not, because there wasn’t any other option and the relatively slow pace of the news cycle meant you didn’t yet know what had happened. I was 12 when ABC broadcast the winter games from Sarajevo and whatever they put on screen sure beat doing homework or going to bed. So I watched the ice dancing that year.
I remember the British duo of Torvill and Dean and their gold medal performance set to Bolero. I was transfixed. I don’t know diddley-squat about ice dancing, now or then, but even my 12-year-old self instinctively knew that I was seeing something special. It is considered ice dancing’s greatest performance ever, one of the immortal moments of the Olympics.
The Olympics at their best are a blend of the tribal and the transcendent. Who we cheer for is highly dependent on the nation they represent, but there are also ample opportunities for the kinds of things you instantly realize you and the rest of the world will never see again.
College track has much of this, albeit on a much lower level. Everyone has an allegiance to a college and that drives quite a bit of our interest. Still, we recognize a great athletic accomplishment when we see one, and appreciating those accomplishments no matter who achieves them is part of being a track fan.
Handing out the medals for the best in college track…
Gold – NEC Women’s Championship
Is there anything better than a conference meet that comes down to the 4×400? The Northeast Conference women’s championship matched up four-time defending champions Sacred Heart against LIU Brooklyn. LIU held a 99-74 lead with three events remaining, only to see it vanish in the 5k as Sacred Heart went 1-3-4-7. LIU gave up another point to Sacred Heart in the distance medley, meaning they led by a score of 103-102 going into the concluding 4×400. Workhorse sprinter Shantae McDonald gave the LIU Blackbirds a big third leg that more or less sealed the win.
Silver – Martha Bissah
The sophomore at Norfolk State had a hand in 46 of her Spartans’ 70 points at the MEAC Championships. She won the 800, mile, and 3000, and ran on the winning distance medley and third-place 4×400.
Bronze – GNAC Women’s Championship
This meet was even closer than the NEC. Central Washington trailed Seattle Pacific by three points going into the 3000 meters and appeared to pull ahead by virtue of a third-place finish…but SPU’s Mary Charleson won the slow heat by over 23 seconds and actually bumped CWU’s runner in the fast heat to fourth. That plus a SPU seventh meant CWU trailed by six going into the 4×400. CWU overtook the lead halfway through that relay, then had to hold off a furious finish by Simon Fraser. SPU took fifth, which meant the meet was a tie.
The top meets of the upcoming weekend are rated from one to three dip finishes for sheer watchability…
Three Dips: Every Conference Championship Meet
Conference championship meets ROCK. Doesn’t matter if it’s the SEC or the lowest level of Division III, they’re all a blast. Not only does every race and every field event matter, every scoring place in every event matters. Two weeks ago I was the PA announcer for the championship meet of one of the NAIA’s less competitive conferences, and it was a blast. The athletes were running less for themselves and more for each other, and for me that’s the best thing I can ever watch.
So if there’s a meet near you, go. Just go. Set aside time on Saturday or Sunday and get there. Doesn’t matter if it’s Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA, junior college, or USports, just go and soak it all in.
That said, if you’re going to be that guy who just sits on your couch and watches a meet on TV or the internet and aren’t intensely following your particular college, the SEC Championships is the meet to watch. It’s not just that it offers up the highest level of competition, it’s that the team championship is likely to be close and unpredictable.
This is actually the title of the film, and, shockingly, it gets worse from there.
Lugosi was the pre-WWII horror film star best known for portraying Count Dracula in the classic 1931 film. His roles became ever more limited as time went on, and by 1952 he was doing movies like this one.
The IMDB description merely says Two goofy entertainers meet a mad scientist on a jungle island. Lugosi is the mad scientist, of course, and the two “entertainers” are doing obvious ripoffs of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I’ve long thought that Lewis was the single most annoying person ever put on camera, but I now know that he has been supplanted only by A GUY DOING A BAD IMPRESSION OF JERRY LEWIS. Egad.
This film was reportedly shot in nine days, and it shows. It’s the work of a director known as William “One Shot” Beaudine, so dubbed because of his reluctance to ever shoot a second take.
The two “entertainers” are stranded on a South Pacific island and are rescued by a local tribe. One of the “entertainers” falls in love with a pretty young member of the tribe, but there’s a mad scientist (Lugosi) running evil experiments on the island and he wants the young woman too. Lugosi hits him with a syringe full of growth hormone which turns him into a gorilla, and it gets worse from there.
Bad dialogue, bad acting, bad filming, bad plot – what more could you want? Wonderfully awful.
Enjoy the conference meets, everyone!
Now that you’re injured, you have a boatload of free time. But how do you spend it all? From training and everything that went along with it to binging…
If you’re from the Great Lakes region, you maybe familiar with indoor marathons held during the winter season. Here’s the story of the first indoor marathon
What happens when you drop one of the toughest New Yorkers in Ethiopia to document the country’s running culture? Jason Suarez has his boots on the ground.
“If my story has any lessons, it should be that being the first gay runner in your world means you won’t be the last.” – David Melly
A race report of Tim Cummings and Stephen Kersh racing each other for the first time since college. It also marked Stephen’s first race in five months.
We have decided to unveil the three designs of the CITIUS MAG Track Club singlets and put them up for a vote for which kit we will rock in 2018.
While some people chose to let go of their watch and run free on occasion, some of us feel an incredible emotional attachment to our GPS watch.
We’re pleased to announce that we’ve partnered with The Run SMART Project to provide personalized training for runners of all levels.
Any relationship produces ephemera, and flings with watches are no different. What happens when a runner takes some time to rock a naked wrist?
I’ve mentioned that I’ve wanted to get back into running. It’s always the same thing, “Yeah I want to start running again but it’s just SO hard.”
As we approach the first birthday of CITIUS MAG, we wanted to create a formal way for loyal readers to support us, if they so choose.
10 questions of track and field trivia to get you thinking critically about the sport but also learning something new. Tweet us your scores.
Coogan’s Bar shares the same block as the Armory and its walls are covered in track and field decorum. It’s closing in May.
Our loyal readers and followers sent in some of their resolutions for 2018 including one of our writers vying for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier.
In our current epoch of rap music, it can feel as if every single day is “Comeback Season” (or COMEBACK SZN, or CMBK SZN, or some other variation of dropping vowels, consonants, etc). This is silly to me for a few reasons. The most clear being the thought that a single day can constitute a season. A season is god damn season. We have four of them. I’m using “We” in the universal way because we are all bound by seasons because we exist on the same time-space continuum. So when I’m scrolling through Instagram and see my peers shouting CMBK SZN day after day, I want to slap them with a calendar and shout back “JULIUS CAESAR DIDN’T DIE SO YOU COULD DISRESPECT HIS SEASONS”.
The other reason, and perhaps the more fascinating, CMBK SZN is dumb as hell is the majority people claiming it’s their comeback never had a chance of failing. It’s mainly used by people who have experienced incredible success while entertaining a zero-chance possibility of ever returning to a place where a comeback is necessary.
Also, Can we agree it was Aubrey “Drake” Graham who started this phenomena? It seems like it was Drake. It had to have been Drake. 100% Aubrey Graham.
Drake saying he is having a comeback season is like Matt Centrowitz claiming it’s his comeback season after winning an Olympic Gold. Something I have no proof of, but something I’ve never been so sure of in my life.
Ok, so the gist is no one can see who really enjoys a comeback season because of all the noise from people who hold a false narrative of oppression and failure. I believe two people in the world of running enjoyed a true “Comeback Season”.
In 2016, Sara Hall dropped out of the Olympic Marathon Trials. Her chance at making her first Olympic team vanished. I also dropped out of the Olympic Marathon Trials, but I wasn’t that devastated because I had a bunch of friends there and my focus immediately shifted to tacos and Coronas. I’m sure she was devastated because she had an honest shot at making the team. We were at different places in our life, and that was fine.
Sara Hall needed a comeback season in 2017. She delivered one with a personal bests in the half marathon, marathon, and a national championship in the marathon.
Her 69:37 performance at the Copenhagen Half Marathon set her up nicely for a 2:27:21 marathon personal best at the Frankfurt Marathon. To cap off her legitimate CMBK SZN, she dominated the U.S Marathon Championships while taking the victory earlier this month.
THIS *CLAP EMOJI* WAS *CLAP EMOJI* A *CLAP EMOJI* COMEBACK
This may seem like a stretch, and it probably is, but I think CD had a 2017 Comeback Season. After a year where he missed the start of the Olympic Marathon Trials due to injury and then couldn’t get into the shape he needed to be in to truly compete at the 10,000-meter Trials, one of our brightest talents was facing some hardships. This is the part of the story where he holes himself up in a room, literally takes out his degree from Stanford, hangs in on the wall, and creates an algorithm for success in 2017.
His formula worked – delivering personal bests at the New York City Half Marathon (61:12) and then guiding him to a 2:12:50 marathon debut (2nd American) at the Chicago Marathon. Chris showed he has a future in the marathon and formulas. Hell yeah, Chris.
I hope I showed not everyone can equally experience a Comeback Season. You cannot have a Comeback Season after one or two bad races. No – you have to suffer through a year of shit to deserve a Citius Comeback Season Award Tour Award. I apologize to Sara and Chris if I made their 2016 year out to be worse than it was. Because, in reality, it was probably a great year filled with family, friends, and all that nice stuff. We probably attribute too much “success” to running, but whatever. We can tackle that in 2018.
Come on a little running tour with Syracuse’s Kevin James in Pennsylvania as we explore some of the best Christmas lights.
Ryan Sterner decided to try and eat President Donald Trump’s dinner of two Big Macs, two Filet-O-Fish and a chocolate shake from McDonalds before running.
If the best runners in the country got together on one track for a progression run, who would last the longest? We’ll find out on Friday.
Scott Milling, a former runner at York and Notre Dame, shares his favorite memories of legendary York cross country coach Joe Newton.
The final installment of the HOKA NAZ ELITE documentary “183.4” is live! The documentary follows the team’s journey as they prepare for several marathons.
I haven’t come within 10 miles of running the marathon distance. I have, however, spent the last month of my life basically bathing in the marathon culture. I was at the finish line of the New York City Marathon when Shalane did the damn thing. And I spent last weekend hobnobbing around Sacramento for the 35th California International Marathon with a press credential hanging around my neck granting me more access than I rightfully deserved.
From the outside looking in, the whole point of a marathon for most people was to just finish. If that’s the case, then a marathon was only a few steps removed from being a hot dog eating contest. There had to be more.
When I got to the starting line of the CIM it was still dark, not yet 6 AM. The PA was blaring Imagine Dragons at a skull-shattering volume, but no one seemed to mind.
I caught whiffs of conversations — stories of preparation or lack thereof. There were runners sitting on the curb, applying what my nose positively identified as Icy Hot, or some other menthol knock-off. But Icy Hot wasn’t the only goo. I saw runners rubbing various shmears and semi-solids into any nook or cranny that carried even a scintilla of a doubt about its ability to stay chafe-free. I’m positive most of the product names ended in GLIDE. Overall, the atmosphere was jovial. Selfie sticks and chuckling and groups in matching t-shirts abound.
The only place where things felt panicked, maybe even desperate, was near the port-o-potties.
In New York, I heard rumors of the Verrazano Bridge running yellow with urine by the time the 50,000 some runners clear the area. In Sacramento, the announcer repeatedly warned people to please respect the neighbors and keep their pre-race ones and twos in the port-o-potties.
I imagine the warning provided a chicken and egg type moment for some of the more refined folks. Had the thought of skipping the line and shitting in someone’s yard occurred to them before the announcer made them privy to the practice?
My assignment for the race was to sit in the elite women’s lead van and observe. We had the back doors swung wide open for maximum visibility and relied on bungee cords stretched within an inch of their lives to keep them ajar.
The marathon doesn’t really get interesting until the element of disaster knocks on the door. This starts to happen at roughly mile ten. And since both men and women started at the same time, the women’s lead van was a perfect vantage point for the back-of-the-pack men’s race (also, Sara Hall was the only female runner we saw that day, as she ended up winning by over two whole minutes).
Now, I’ve seen folks having bad races before: someone maybe 30 seconds behind at the end of a steeplechase or having a little lie down at the end of a 10K. But nothing compares to the face of a marathoner having a bad day. Waking up in the middle of mile 16 and realizing that you, covered in salt, mouth like a dried sponge, still have ten miles to go is probably something not too far off from a religious experience.
We passed runners with sullen, lifeless faces, the skin around their eyes a bright pink that gave the impression of a freshly powdered corpse. I watched one guy try to suck whatever he could out of a GU packet and then nearly vomit it back up. Around mile 20 we passed a man covered in his own filth. Later we learned he had shit his pants at mile eight and went on to run somewhere around 2:16. A pretty decent trade-off, if you ask me.
We passed the runners who called it quits. Some sitting on the curb holding an ailing body part, others walking with their hands on their hips, looking for answers in the pavement beneath their feet. When we went by our driver apologized for not being able to pick them up, but assured them that the “meat wagon” was coming.
Other people we passed were having far more impressive outings. There were runners who, at mile 20, looked like they had just started their engines. They had the wide-eyed look of an animal in a trap, probably hungry, probably closer to death than they knew but running with a ravenous energy in an attempt to jump-start their depleted limbs.
And then there was the finish line.
Some people were jubilant, but most just kind of stopped running — like Forrest Gump in the end zone. They had vacant looks on their faces, stood bleary and blinking, coming to terms with the trauma they had just inflicted on their bodies.
At the end of it all, while we CITIUS boys were making our way back to the elite athlete area, I looked at them and without a hint of irony said, “I’m tired.”
We sat around drinking coffee in the cafeteria as the elite runners started to filter in. Limping, wet, perhaps in shock, we greeted a handful of them, spoke earnestly with the ones we knew and congratulated anyone that approached our table.
I couldn’t pretend to understand what they went through. A washed-up runner cursing his cramped calves after a 5K fun run, and a woman who can’t walk up stairs because she brought her body to the brink and continued to burn are two completely different things.
I now understand the fundamental difference between running marathons and running anything shorter. There didn’t look to be anything inherently fun about running a marathon. Stringing together a good training block can be fun. But the fun really isn’t in the 20 mile long runs or the solo workouts in the pitch black morning. The fun is filling in those consecutive days in the running log, maybe enjoying a beer afterward and feeling like you earned it.
Any fun you were probably having wears off somewhere between a week before the race and right before the gun goes off. I saw the faces of every elite athlete before the start. Existential dread could be one way to describe it, a duck on the pond could be another.
A lot of fuss was made about the bathrooms in the elite staging area. These 100 or so elite athletes were all fawning over the 20 pristine port-o-potties they had to themselves. If you’re engaging in a supposedly fun activity but the best thing you can say about it is that the bathrooms were great, maybe you should reconsider your definition of fun.
The entertainment value of a marathon — the crux of this entire thing — is best compared, I think, to the episode of Seinfeld called “The Dealership.”
Do you remember? This is the episode where Kramer and some poor schmuck of a salesman see how far they can take the car before it runs out of gas.
In the beginning, the car salesman doesn’t understand what Kramer is doing. He’s nervous. Agitated, even.
“How low are you gonna go?”
“Oh, I’ve been below the slash a number of times. This is nothing. Just put it out of your mind.”
Eventually, the car salesman comes around, screaming that he’s never felt so alive, that they can’t stop now, that they need to see how far this thing goes on empty. To him, it was life-changing.
That’s the only reasonable answer I could come up with. The fun isn’t in the act itself but seeing what you can find on your way to the bottom of the well. Maybe it’s a gear you never knew existed. Maybe it’s a dark place where you question every decision you ever made. But in the end, if you make it to the end, you’ll have accomplished something. Was it fun? Was it worth it? I guess that’s for you to decide.
After the race, I hung around Sacramento waiting for my flight, feeling inadequate. All around me people had just participated in a facet of the running world that I was only partner to. It was a self-imposed exile, I suppose, as nothing is stopping me from running a marathon other than thinking that I might die if I tried. But slowly, over the hours waiting for my plane, I made up my mind. I became Kramer’s car salesman: bearing witness to this crazed phenomenon, I desperately wanted to partake and see, finally, how far I could go before the needle breaks off.
by Andrew Boyd Hutchinson
Publication on January 16, 2018 (pre-order available from Amazon.com)
How can cross country have a history? It’s such a simple sport. We race from here to there, regardless of what footing or obstacles are in the way. It has to be as old as humanity itself. And if you believed that, as I did before reading this book, you would be wrong.
Cross country running in the way that we now know it came from a game called “hares and hounds”, a sort of a reverse anthropomorphism of the upper-class foxhunt, played by young men at England’s schools and universities in the 19th century. That is where Hutchinson’s book begins, and from there it goes on a wild run over hill and dale. It follows the development of the sport from quirky intramurals to university and club teams and national and international competition, as it spread out over the globe.
Books exist to trace the history of running, and of track and field, and of marathoning, but until now none have traced the history of cross country. Hutchinson did a massive amount of research to unearth stories of long-forgotten athletes and races that illustrate the colorful history of a sport that still defies standardization, and he covers every part of it that you can think of (plus plenty you won’t until you read it).
First-time author Hutchinson avoids the potential pitfall in an extensive work like this, a presentation that is encyclopedic rather than narrative. Fittingly for a book about cross country it’s long. It is organized by decades with a deep look at a feature race in each chapter. If there’s a criticism, it’s that the broad scope of the book allowed Hutchinson to occasionally miss minor details that would give a broader understanding (example: a runner identified merely as “E.A. Montague” is in fact Aubrey Montague, whose letters to his mother from the 1924 Olympics narrate Chariots of Fire). The book is best consumed like one of those epic Ken Burns documentaries: one episode at a time.
The book has not yet hit the market and won’t until a few weeks after Christmas, but pre-order is available. If the runner on your shopping list is willing to wait a few weeks (even if that runner is you), I heartily recommend this book as a gift for fans of every stripe.
I asked Hutchinson a few questions about his efforts.
Squire: This was a massive effort of research and writing. What inspired you to take it on?
Hutchinson: In 2012 I was in my fourth year as a high school history teacher (simultaneously pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts at Stanford where they needed an “undiscovered topic of personal interest” for my dissertation), and I was coaching a team of 60 cross-country athletes for the school.
In November that year, as I was preparing the team yearbook for our cross-country season, I wanted to include some sport history for context. Couldn’t find anything definitive. A few hobbyist’s websites, Wikipedia had about three total sentences (a stub! It even mentioned cross-country in the Olympics, which was new info to me, and sounded awesome), and a few really enticing PDFs on the LA87 site.
I was shocked. I had grown up reading the “Illustrated History of Football” and the like, but figured every major sport had to have a volume sitting on the library shelf. There wasn’t one for cross-country. So I decided to take time away from teaching, use my savings to live frugally, start at Stanford’s library, and become the expert needed to write the story myself. What transpired over the course of the next few years was this book, and candidly, now seeing how much time and effort was needed for research, I know why it never happened before.
I wrote it chronologically, and each decade seemed more extensive than the last. Many Friday evenings and weekend afternoons were sacrificed spent writing, and I eventually came back to teaching…Supplementing that job working the front desk at a local gym at 5 in the morning so I could spend a few hours before school writing without being disturbed too much. There were a lot of 12 hour days, but the outcome was absolutely worth it.
Squire: You said you were surprised to discover that cross country had once been in the Olympics. What were some of the bigger “gee, I didn’t know that” moments in research? And what were the most epic races that you never knew had taken place?
Hutchinson: I quickly learned that USA Track and Field (and therefore most reputable bodies along with them) had erroneously recorded the first U.S. Cross Country National Championship as being in 1890. This has been the result of Spalding’s Sports Almanac a short time after the turn of the century, and they unknowingly wiped out seven years of official championships prior to that year. It wasn’t until I started at that year of the championship and discovered in news articles that it was the seventh year of running it that it caused me to go back and verify.
That time period also had some gaps in the championship record, which were the result of a lawsuit between the organization that hosted the “Team” national championship in the spring, and the New York Athletic Club, which hosted the “Individual” championship in the fall. The end result destroyed both iterations of the event and it disappeared in the 1890s for awhile. Very reminiscent of the talk about Foot Locker and NXN by today’s audience, although there have been no lawsuits… just further proof that history always repeats itself.
One race-related nugget uncovered was the secret success of Emil Zatopek as a cross-country runner, which had been almost completely forgotten up until a few years ago. His appearance at the “Cross de L’Humanité” in France saw upwards of 70,000 spectators, and Zatopek didn’t always win! (The biggest shock of all). His appearance in XC, along with Kip Keino and Jim Ryun also running 10K XC during their prime were surprising tidbits that had been overlooked before.
Squire: These days runners tend to specialize even more than they used to, but almost no one specializes in cross country. Was there a runner you discovered who was dominant in cross country but otherwise very little-known?
Hutchinson: Pat Porter fit this profile. Here was a guy who ran NCAA DII for Adams State, came up at a time with the Salazars and the Herb Lindsays and the Craig Virgins and absolutely DOMINATED cross-country. For nearly 20 years he was a podium finisher domestically, and internationally did well despite facing raw African talent and very good European talent. No one else came close.
These days you’ve got Chris Derrick, Garrett Heath, and to a lesser extent Joe Gray and Max King— guys who train in the mud and trails and throw down on the tracks and roads occasionally, but aren’t winning major marathons or Olympic medals.
The U.S. women have done better to preserve the ideology that cross-country is a worthy competition tool to find stardom elsewhere. Molly Huddle, Jenny Simpson, Shalane Flanagan have shown this, as did the Deena Kastors and Lynn Jennings of yesteryear.
Squire: I hear all kinds of gimmicks thrown around for bringing the elite international side of cross country back to prominence, but to me the essential and timeless parts of cross country are team competition and a difficult course. Do you have any thoughts or ideas?
Hutchinson: Winter Olympic inclusion.
The IAAF is in favor, but the IOC maintains any sport for consideration must be practiced on “snow or ice”.
Instead of creating an exception, the IAAF really ought to bring cross-country to a three-race “tour” of Norway, Iceland, or Switzerland in the traditional winter and spring months to officially sanction a 10K national team permit series (to supplement their current one). With drug testing and sponsorship to finance, it would meet all necessary criteria for Olympic inclusion that way, and would allow African nations to be better represented at the Winter Games.
Thelma Wright of Canada agrees (she sits on the IAAF XC panel), and is pushing hard for Vancouver to host NACAC (or Pan-Am) XC first, then Worlds eventually, so it can be done.
With World XC every two years now, the insertion of an Olympic XC event would catapult the sport back into the spotlight.
Moreover, professional athletics could also benefit from an all-discipline sports standing, that factors trail and road performance alongside track monetary purses. That way athletes would have more of an incentive to compete in a range of races to earn coveted prizes.
There is a lot that COULD be done, but many of the necessary actors to make it happen already have their hands full.
Squire: Cross country is a sport in which the venue has as much or more personality as the competitors. After writing this book, is there a course that you’ve never been to that you really want to run on?
Hutchinson: Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland. Or racing Wimbledon Common [London], as I’ve visited but never competed there.
Squire: Final question: if you could go back in time and watch just one race which appears in your book, which one would it be?
Hutchinson: Pre and Lindgren in 1969 at the first PAC-8 XC Conference Champ. The best race Garry Hill ever saw (editor of Track and Field News). Would’ve been amazing to see live.
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