By Bill Harris
Greetings, folks. This is my first President’s Column for the Carolina Godiva Track Club newsletter. You’ll be treated/subjected to eleven more of these, so I’ll do my best to engage you.
First off—I ask that next time you see president emeritus Anthony Corriveau, please thank him for his two-year stint serving the club as VP for one year and then as president for one year. It’s a sizeable commitment, but it’s one he made in order to support something he (and I) love: this club and our running community. As we move forward into 2018, our incoming club veep Heiko Rath will start searching for a successor to serve a two-year stint as club VP and then P. Finding someone for this role is honestly one of the hardest responsibilities of a new VP. Therefore, I’ll start the ball rolling for Heiko and ask you to consider taking a two-year turn at the helm. You’ll make some great connections and learn a lot about the club and about yourself.
If you haven’t met me, or have no idea who I am, this is for you. If you do know me, this column is also for you, as I hope you learn something interesting about me and why I agreed to take on this role.
I grew up in South Jersey (that’s a real state...trust me). Despite being a big kid, I didn’t like gym class and baseball was about my only athletic outlet. When they divided the kids up for activities, there always seemed to be two groups; I’ll call them the competent set and challenged set. I usually fell into the latter faction, playing the other challenged kids in the predetermined consolation bracket of flag football, lacrosse, tennis, or whatever random sport we were rotating through. The other striking memory I have from gym class is that damn Presidential Fitness test. Despite it having occurred in the early '90s, I remember running a 12:48 mile that first time and detesting it. Thanks to a late growth spurt, and making friends who played tennis, I was able to get that number down to 9:09 in my senior year as a 17 year old. Until about four years ago, that was the last time I’d run a mile, but that mile time is etched in my memory.
About five years ago, I signed up for my work league basketball team. I’m a terrible shooter, but I played a fair amount of pickup games in college and since I was taller than the average bear, I was content to get in the way of opponents and grab rebounds. Well, this wasn’t college anymore and I realized I was a late 30’s male who couldn’t get up and down a basketball court more than about three times before being completely gassed and having to come out. Something had to give. I wasn’t ready to accept middle age in this unfit state.
I told a fellow co-worker, Kevin Gauger, who is a runner and a Godiva member, that I was trying to do some running/walking around my neighborhood to improve my fitness, and he told me about Couch to 5K. I found podcasts from the British National Health Service, and I’d queue them up and run or walk when “Laura” (she has a fantastic voice) told me to. I live in a subdivision with a 0.8 mile loop. For the next 10 weeks I did 3-4 loops, 3 times a week--once in the driving rain at 10 at night because I knew if I gave myself a pass, I’d open the door to other excuses.
At the end, I was in much better shape, but with the program over, I didn’t have any more goals in sight. I’d still go run once or twice a week, and keep up the basketball games (I got more rebounds, but fixing my stamina didn’t fix my shooting), but I’d become stagnant. I don’t know if Kevin was wise to this, but he strongly suggested I sign up for a race. The 2012 Ales for Rail Trails 5K was my first road race. I started strong and died, just like you’d expect from a newbie, finishing with a time of 35:14. When Kevin asked me how it went, I said, “It seemed long,” to which he replied, “No...it was 3.1 miles. That’s how long it was supposed to be.” Smartass. Regardless, I had a number now. And a goal: to drop that time.
I signed up for a few more races that fall and winter, trying to get that number under 30:00, and eventually succeeded. I even gave the Winter Series New Year’s Day run a try that year and enjoyed it, but was still feeling like a fledgling who maybe didn’t belong. I showed up to Eno Equalizer as well, and was the über-slow guy on a team of strangers; still an "awkward-possum" feeling (that’s one of my wife’s new favorite phrases).
I took a stab at Summer Track next, and this is where I got hooked on Godiva for good. From what I gather, this isn’t a common occurrence, as most people have a love/hate feeling with track workouts. “It’s boring running in circles.” “400s are evil!” For me, though, I was still struggling with feeling like a plodding lummox amongst speed demons. Near the end of that first night, a club member came up to me, seeing I was completely gassed and out of it from running laps at speeds I didn’t think I was capable of, with the dastardly 5000m event finale looming. He asked, “Are you gonna run the 5K?”
“I think I’m gonna pass - I’m pretty tired and exhausted from all the previous events.”
“Come on out - I’ll run it with you.”
And he did. All 12½ laps. Didn’t have a care in the world that it was probably 6-8 minutes off his normal finishing time. He encouraged me, hung right there with me, and made me believe I could do it and survive. I filled out my Godiva membership form and mailed it in with my dues within a week.
I think it’s become more difficult to attract people to commit to joining any club nowadays, be it running or some other type. I started this column off with a request that you thank former president Anthony for his time and service to the club. I’m ending it with a second plea for you. When you see that newbie show up to one of our events—whether it’s Summer Track, Winter Series, Cross Country, Running Start, or one of our weekly club runs—be like that club member, William Schmitz, was to me. Engage them and encourage them if it looks like they need it. I think we’ve got a great welcoming atmosphere, but we can get comfortable and migrate into our cliques; it’s human nature. Get to know the new guy or gal and show them why Carolina Godiva Track Club is something they want to be a part of, for reasons that go beyond running. It’s what attracted me.