Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chapter 8: Mountain Road

Beads of Sweat is a work of fiction about a high school cross country team's quest for a championship.  To access previous chapters click on the "Fiction" tab at the top of the page.

The early signs looked auspicious.  Although he would never say it to them, most of the group seemed to have their acts together.  As far as he could tell, at least eighty percent did the summer training.   Good thing too because it only took him about two weeks, one day per man, to devise the plan.  The framework was basically the same, but each runner got his own individualized program.  He handed them out in mid-June.  So, now, thirteen weeks later the fruits of his labor began to bud.

            Their August fitness created an urge to push them too much too soon.  He had to resist.  They already had a good base down; he certainly didn’t have to punish them with five/eight doubles.  They seemed hungry, chomping at the bit, still pissed from last year, and for that very reason he kept the reins tight.  He would cutback on both miles and intensity—just a tad—over the next mesocycle.  He had to keep the fruit from spoiling on the vine, and he was especially concerned about Spidestrom.  Unlike last year, he was running up front on everything.  He knew he went to Quicksilver, but damn what were they doing there—trying to peak the kids for their first scrimmage?

            A hundred thoughts about his team ran through Hartman’s mind as he ran the Mountain.  Mountain Road.  A long switchbacking run that started on asphalt and turned to gravel, all the while climbing in elevation.  Hartman, of course, ran it first.  He had to make sure the Mountain was still long and tough.  Whenever the team held camp at Starkfield State (once every three years or so), Hartman would drive them out to The Mountain for a strength run.  It issued a good hamstring workout on the way up and a good quad workout on the way down.  Most importantly to Hartman, it provided a hell of a mental challenge.  Four miles straight up without much relief will test not only the leg but also the psychical strength.  The charge upward was always a memorable run for the boys.  They would often talk about it throughout the cross season and into indoors, and alumni would come back telling of how Mountain Road inspired them to run the Mount Washington Road Race.  Hartman always made sure his current runners loitered nearby when an alum came back to espouse the virtues of his training and workouts.  It also helped to have younger brothers of former runners.  Jenkins was such a runner this year as his older brother Bill graduated half a decade ago.  The younger Jenkins had more talent than Bill, but Hartman avoided comparisons between siblings, especially when talking to those siblings.  So when Jenks would nag him persistently about Bill’s times and records for particular courses or workouts, Hartman’s curt reply was always “ask your brother.”  Jenkins knew Hartman had his older brother’s time for The Mountain.  A meticulous and obsessive keeper of times and distances, the coach stockpiled volumes upon volumes of neatly ordered records in his basement.  He could simply pull down a binder from one of the shelves and tell any particular runner the splits he ran for any particular workout or any particular race from freshman to senior year.  The team knew he’d be keeping the numbers for this one too. 

They pulled into a grassless dusty space at the base of Mountain Road at quarter of eight (he made them wakeup an hour early for this one).  They filed out of the van and dreamily stretched and talked.  The week was both ending and catching up to them, and they tried to conflate the cephalic excitement and bodily lethargy into a concoction that would get them up this 570 foot-over-four miles climb.  They weren’t even thinking about the return trip.  

            Hartman sent them up the road in two groups.  The underclassmen got a ten minute head start before he sent out the varsity.  Hartman had brought along his bike and loitered another five minutes at the base of the road with Pereira who was driving the van to the summit to setup an impromptu water station.  Some of the guys thought that Hartman should be running with them—that taking a bike was the easy way—but Torres reminded them that cycling up a mountain was harder than running up one. 

            The coach caught up with the varsity crew in no time.  They had split themselves into two subgroups: Coetaine, Torres, Smith, and Galiozzi lagged behind Jenkins, Hammond, Kimihara and Spidestrom.  Hartman got in Torres’ ear.  Coetaine, Smitty, and Gales could hear him, but he focused his comments on Torres.

            -What are you doing with your arms?
            Just a huff-huff-huff from Torres.
            -Start using your arms.  You arms are what get you up mountains.

            Torres and Galiozzi too shook out their arms and started pumping.  Hartman left them to chase after the foxes.  He came up on them one by one.  They were about halfway up the hill and strung out like clothes on a line.  He came across Buck and Lee first.

            -I know you guys are hurting.  Don’t even think about running.  One step in front of the other.
            -How much further, Lee asked.
            Next he saw Sellberg alone on an island.
            -That’s the way Sellberg.  Good form.  Keep using those arms.
            -Yes Coach.

            Hartman admired Sellberg’s loyalty.  Very early on the bluebird gave him the impression that he’d jump on a grenade for his teammates.

            -Now catch up with Paws and Wallan.
            -Yes Coach.

            Paws and Wallan were duking it out for honors as first one up Mountain Road.  He shifted down a few gears on his bike and just watched them before hairpinning back down to check on the others.  As he passed them he didn’t say anything; instead he sprayed water from his bottle at them.  Some of them shouted at him; others opened their arms and mouths.  Once Hartman passed them all, he came up on them again. 

            -Come on now.  This is where the going gets tough.  This is where champions are made.  For every other hill you run this season, you’ll say nothing is as bad as Mountain Road.  Now get up this bastard!

            The upperclassmen loved hearing him swear and they responded by gritting their teeth and picking up the pace.  Their hamstrings were on fire, but they pushed hard.  They took long breaths and short strides.

            At the apex, Pereira waited with clipboard.  He had drawn a line across the dirtroad indicating the endpoint.  As each runner passed, Pereira yelled his time and jotted it down on his clipboard.  Wallan made it to the end first with Paws a few meters behind.  Next came Jenkins, Spidestrom, and Hammond.  Kimihara pushed passed Sellberg and then came the rest of them all strung out.  Buck and Lee were the last ones up.  Hartman was riding beside them.

            -You guys made it.  That’s not easy.  Aren’t you glad you didn’t walk?
            They were too exhausted to retort. 

            He gave the guys a few minutes to exchange war stories before telling them they had to run back down.  A couple of them grimaced.  Hartman told them that they had only worked half of their legs, the back half, and now they had to work the front half.  His harriers couldn’t deny that going uphill was almost exclusively a hamstring workout, so they begrudgingly headed down the mountain.  Hartman would bike it all the way, and he instructed Pereira to pickup various groups at various mileage spots.  “Give the three frosh a mile.  Let Paws and the rest of the jv go another one.  Pickup the rest of the guys after three.  The seniors will go all the way down.”

            Hartman rode that last mile with the seniors.  All the while telling them of the great things they could accomplish this season.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

It's getting exciting. I can't wait for the first race!

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