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ftm2013

July 4th, 2013: The Fast Track Mile, presented by the Wabash Valley Road Runners.  

It started many years ago as the Mayor’s Cup Mile…

To this point I have never believed there ever was an actual cup. I expect I never saw it because every year I ran it the winner had happily hauled it off long before I finished.

Two summers after I graduated from high school I ran the inaugural 1982 Mayor’s Cup Mile, straight down Wabash Avenue, from 3rd to 14th (streets, that is, not race results).

It felt like a high-speed gauntlet, and it seemed that as we ran we were on a sort of display, flanked on both sides by spectators and storefronts.  The competition was serious, with serious runners coming from all over the place – every high school in the area and even beyond; college runners, too. And no-kidding grown-ups who ran to stay in shape. It was fast and exhilarating.

I was anxious to compete. It wasn’t like high school now; for the first time I was independent of a team, of any external obligation to perform well; it was just me.  I was free to do it or not, and it felt like a new sort of competition. It was a new sort of responsibility, too – I was responsible only to myself this time. It felt like some sort of new freedom.

Well, almost.

Ok. The whole truth is this:

I actually had this peculiar “independence” experience my first summer after graduating from West Vigo High School. My running-hunting-BB gun wars-adventurizing buddy, Mark and I ran a race – a 5k, I think – from somewhere downtown to Deming Park. While I don’t remember much detail, the one key detail remains vivid in my mind: Mr. Phillips, my elementary school principal in West Terre Haute FROM THE LATE 1960’S beat me.

I was stunned. But I was also incredibly impressed.

My respect for him was always strong. And it had been violently intensified during second grade when, after catching me and a couple of other boys throwing erasers at Melody Dillingham – twice – and he told us to get in his office NOW (which of course, was way too close to Mrs. McDermott’s classroom anyway, just around the corner practically). He yelled and slammed the world’s largest paddle on his desk to emphasize each – word – as – he – declared – our – lives – would – be – snuffed – out – in – a – blazing – instant – of – hard – wooden – pain. I can still feel the heat of fear that we were consumed in as we sat petrified in his office, crying, or going in our pants, or both. I won’t name names, but as I remember, they’re spelled R-o-b-b-y-C-o-o-p-e-r  and  D-e-n-n-i-s-M-o-r-g-a-n.

I’m sure they’ll let me know.

(I have said this before: if I could possibly find Melody now I would apologize to her. Perhaps, at least sometimes, justice lies in lingering regret. I am sorry, Melody.)

Anyway, I respected Mr. Phillips immensely even then.

Then years later, he doubled-down on the whole respect phenomenon by smoking me in this race. He instantly transformed into a hero for this naïve and perhaps formerly a bit arrogant college student.

– – –

So came July 1982 and the Mayor’s Cup Mile. Over the three decades  – exactly, I should note – since then, I have run it – now the Fast Track Mile – several times. My best time (that I know of) was achieved in 1993, when I ran a 5:34-something.

But I consider that my best race came in 2001, because two particular people were there: my 5 month-old son, Jace, perched happily in his baby backpack and again my friend Mark, who ran it with me.

(In the end, Mark was gracious and ran right along with me. Not far from the finish line, I said, “Come on!” and we kicked it up. He let me take third – in our age group – I believe, because he appreciated the one-thousand miles I drove to get there; I’m pretty sure there was no other reasonable way I could have beat him. You’re a good and loyal friend, Mark.)

– – –

I didn’t reach 5-anything last year, but that’s not what was on my mind.

Jace, then 11, ran it with me. Again I was running on a team – the most significant team I have ever been on, and it was a different kind of competition; not anything like high school. For the first time I was not only the leader of this team, but I had a special sort of external obligation to perform well, and it is far more than just running well.

Jace finishing the FastTrack Mile

We saw so many people at the start I recognized from my growing up and living years in Terre Haute, and to be on the starting line with my son was an experience of fulfillment; there was a sense of having come full circle, and it was gratifying.

Jace took off fast, as I thought he might. Though he was inexperienced, he was enthusiastic. He got a little burned out after the high-speed start, and we had to walk briefly a couple of times. But as those last few blocks neared and the finish line came clearly into view, I said, “Ok, Jace. See it? It’s time. Let’s go. You can do it!”

And man, did he.

He took off like a shot and finished about ten yards ahead me. It was beautiful. And my wife shot the picture to prove it.

– – – This year my friend Mark’s daughter, Annie, and another friend, Paul’s (who is, himself, a top-shelf runner and first-place finisher in his age group in the Fast Track Mile) son, Justin are the WVRR scholarship recipients, and we are very proud of them. Ask A Hoosier.com is again proud to promote the Fast Track Mile.

Go, Annie and Justin, go.

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