Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 07 Apr 2007 06:05:30 -0400

What High School Taught


(adapted from an article written recently for my high school's alumni newsletter)

School is meant to prepare us for a life's work. My high school in Iowa did that for me, though it took me a long time to reach my most satisfying job. Forty years, in fact.

At South Page I learned to be part of a distance-running team, and a most successful one at that. I learned that as valuable as a good coach and a sound training program are, teamwork has the most to do with success. Teammates pull and push each other to goals higher than any of them could reach alone.

The world little noted nor long remembered that South Page's first state championship came in the very first fall of our school's existence, 1959. This wasn't one of the big sports, football or basketball. We won in cross-country running.

Of that five-runner team, only one had ever run a cross-country race before that season (and I wasn't that one). The rest of us hadn't totaled 10 such races among us before the state meet in Ames.

Two runners had played a football game the night before. (I was on that team too, but coach Dean Roe knew where my loyalties lay, and he'd excused me from that game.) We were too na´ve to know we couldn't win a state title off so little experience, or rest, so we did.

Walt Stanton was our cross-country coach that season. He repeated a lesson that I'd learned earlier from Mr. Roe, and would relearn the next year from Chris Salberg.

I hope these coaches won't take offense at my calling them little schooled in the finer points of running training and racing. That didn't matter. They had far more important qualities.

One is expressed in the book (which led to the movie) Seabiscuit. An old racehorse trainer said, "A horse doesn't care how much you know until it knows how much you care."

The same is true for two-legged runners, especially young ones. These coaches cared, and we knew it. They were excited to stay after school to teach us the sports they loved, and we could tell.

By then I already knew that I wanted to grow up to coach runners someday. That day would be a long time coming.

I left high school intending to earn, at Drake University, my teaching-coaching credentials. Instead I veered off into journalism, which itself was a long and rewarding career. Much of the writing in magazine articles and books was a form of coaching, giving advice in print.

By 2001 I'd eased into semi-retirement from that work and had time to spare. When asked to teach running classes at the University of Oregon, I jumped at the chance. Later I began to coach teams of marathoners.

These last six years have been the best of my life. Here I can recall, and recycle, and repay the lessons learned at South Page High School -- from Walt Stanton, Dean Roe and my teammates. That is: bring excitement and caring to every training session and race, and it will be infectious.

(written as my two new classes began training at the university and the latest marathoners finished training for their race)

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