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

Mon, 8 Dec 2003 20:35:24 -0500

November to Remember

RUNNING COMMENTARY 496

My old home state of Iowa hosted the NCAA Cross-Country Championships this year. This never would have happened when I was in college there. Then again, neither could I have run in the meet as it's designed today.

I wasn't in Waterloo/Cedar Falls for this race. But my brother Mike and my sister's husband Elliott Evans were.

Mike volunteered to work at the meet. Elliott went as a fan, and especially to cheer the one runner in the field from his and my old school, Drake.

Elliott once ran NCAA Cross-Country meets too, but might not have gotten there under the current setup. Qualifying through the regional meets is very tough now.

A qualifying round wasn't needed in my day. The NCAA meet welcomed anyone who wanted to run, and fewer than 200 did.

My cross-country distance wasn't the current 10K for men. It was four miles, but still twice as far as the longest track race of that era. The meet had a permanent site, Michigan State, probably because no other school wanted to host these minor championships.

Drake Coach Bob Karnes told our team when the 1963 season began, "If you win the conference title, this will earn you a trip to the Nationals." We won, and he made good on his promise.

Drake never flew to meets. We took cars.

Our plan was to leave Des Moines two days before the Monday race. My plan for that Friday afternoon was to do laundry, then take an easy run.

The news that shook the world came to me in the most mundane of settings: an off-campus laundromat, where a radio shouted to be heard over the spinning of washers and dryers.

All background noise seemed to vanish with, "We interrupt this program for a news bulletin from Dallas..." America would all but stand still the next few days to absorb the shock.

"It's hard to think of something so unimportant as running today, but I had to run out some of my bottled-up emotions," read my diary at a time when I only wrote a one-sentence comment each day. The biggest news event of my life, then or since, yet I never mentioned it by name in the diary. My day-by-day notes from that period read as if I didn't notice or care what had happened.

-- Saturday the 23rd: "They postponed the race one day."

-- Sunday the 24th: "We're really leaving [for Michigan] this time."

-- Monday the 25th (the national day of mourning): "Run relaxed and fast all the way -- even if I'm last, which I very well could be for awhile."

-- Tuesday the 26th. "Very interesting race, this NCAA, even if I was buried in 119th [of 165 finishers]."

The details of that running weekend are so hazy that I must check the diary to fill the memory gaps. But even 40 years later I remember the smallest details of the big events from that late November. I cared so much about them that the race ahead was an escape from hard reality.

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