Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chapter 39: Starkfield State Invitational

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  This chapter tells of the boys' first big invitational.


In his mind's eye, he circled this date on the team calendar.  Every since he typed it up on his old Smith Corona, he marked the day as the first true test on the schedule.  His veteran status made him sententious enough to know that the odds were pretty good that at least one of his men would be down or that something unexpected would happen: teacher strike, family tragedy, no bus pickup.  He just didn't think that Jenkins would be his foible.  He placed his chips on the Coetaine card and early on it looked like he was in the money but as he full well knew things could change on a dime, especially with a group of teenage boys.  Coaches couldn't control freak injuries (contrary to popular belief he felt they could at least partially control other types of injuries, overuse injuries, for example) but they could control the training.  Hartman brought them into this meet ready to dance.  He even eliminated a late week track workout so the boys would have something they hadn't had all year: fresh legs. They were by no means peaking for this race, that wouldn't come until Championship season, but the coach intended to use this performance as an assessment of the team current fitness level and as an instrument to inform him for the planning and adjusting for the team's next mesocycle.
In August he had told his boys to pay attention and that their legs would remember the course. It was the last run of camp, a controlled progression in which they got to see and feel and smell the course two times over. Now he'd see if his instructions were followed.
He debated but broke his team in two. The upperclassmen would run the D1 Varsity Race and his bluebirds the Freshmen Race. Paws might be ready to run varsity but Hartman thought it might do him and the others some good if they didn't get their butts handed to them, for once, by guys three or four years older than them. Might also be good for the older boys to see their guys hold their own against competitors in the same weight class. From warmup to cooldown Pereira was in charge of the pfb's; as always Hartman held the reins of the varsity squad.

09:20:00 AM Frosh Boys
09:40:00 AM Frosh Girls
10:00:00 AM D1 JV Boys
10:20:00 AM D1 JV Girls
10:40:00 AM D1 Varsity Boys
11:00:00 AM D1 Varsity Girls
11:20:00 AM D2 JV Boys
11:40:00 AM D2 JV Girls
12:00:00 PM D2 Varsity Boys
12:20:00 PM D2 Varsity Girls

-Your other job, Hartman told Pereira, is to keep him away from him...and Paul...the best you can.
But it was too late. Impossible to keep Mr. Hammond from barreling on up to him with extended bear claw.
-Good to see you Mitch.
-How are you Paul?
-I hope my boy runs fast enough for you today.
-He'll do fine.
Pereira saved Hartman by introducing himself. The latter caught Pereira's eye, gave him a wink and a pat on the back, and removed himself from the tercet. He had to go reiterate to Jenkins for the twentieth time that he wasn't racing today.
-But Coach I could win this meet. The team could win this meet. The team needs me.
-Would you rather win a meet now or in November? The ankle's getting better. Let's not jeopardize it on this uneven terrain. What you will do is act like a leader. You'll warmup with the varsity, set an A.B. tone, and make sure they're ready to go. Once they're racing, you'll be out on the course offering encouragement.
-Oh great. I'm a cheerleader.
-Or you can wait in the van.
Hartman told him how to do. Opened a window into how he thinks. Frosh race starts at 9:20. Watch that race and yell at your teammates. Start your stretching as soon as they finish. Make sure the bluebirds do a cooldown. Tell them they did a good job but only if they did. Take them with you as you warmup the varsity. Ask them questions about the course. Make sure the varsity listens to the answers. They could learn something. Now remember it's a fifteen-twenty minute jog that starts slow and finishes with a light sweat. After the warmup it should be no later than 10:25-10:30. Keep an eye on your watch. At this point dynamic stretches only. Leave them alone just before the race. Make sure they put on their spikes and unis and go to the bathroom. On the line at final call for a couple hard striders.

The frosh race was short. Only 2.2 miles. One big loop that crossed a wooden bridge. Not exactly spectator friendly. In the 5K race a coach could camp out at .4, sprint across the footbridge to see his harriers at 1.8, then hoof it back to the final straightaway. Hartman would only see his freshmen at the start and finish. They ran well. Paws led the charge, elbowing three guys out of his line in the first quarter mile. Gales witnessed it and bragged to those around him that he taught him that. In the end Paws took fourth, Sellberg seventeenth, Lee thirty-ninth, and Buck forty-fourth.

On his way to the line, Mr. Hammond took his son by the ulna.
-Remember what we talked about.
-Yessir, eyes averted.
-Good. Now go get 'em. Show 'em who's boss.
Paul sprinted away to catch up with his teammates. He had to break into their already formed huddle. Though he wasn't ready, Jenkins was speaking with vigor.
-...We know this course. We ran it at camp. We kicked its ass after a tough week. Twice. Remember that? Your legs will.
-Let's go. Let's go.
-We're a team. You don't need my legs to win this meet. No excuses. Run hard. Run tough. Never die easy. Jackets on three. One. Two. Three.
-Jackets!
Hartman heard the primordial “Jackets” from one hundred ten yards away. Jenkins, he thought, had done his job. Two minutes later, a swarm of athletes set out straight for the dirtroad. He galloped out and over a small berm as he wanted to be as far down the opening straightaway as possible. The first Yellowjacket he saw was Spider, who positioned himself in the top ten. He was always a fast starter. Right behind him were Smith and to his chagrin Coetaine. Torres streaked by three seconds later then came Hamz, Kimihara, and later Wallan. Hartman said nothing as his harriers passed. Experience told him that trying to yell instructions into a crowded mass in the first half-mile of a race was an exercise in futility. Fifty meters down the road, however, he head Paul Sr. screaming at his only son.
-Get up there Paul! Get up there!
This advice ran contrary to what Hartman and Hamz had discussed in their prerace planning. The coach shook his head, spat, and made his way to his next viewpoint.
At 1.8 he saw what he was hoping not to see. Hammond had made a wild move and positioned himself way in front of Spidestrom and right at the back of the small lead pack of five. Hartman wondered how much energy he wasted in this uncouth move and hoped he had enough stamina and endurance to hang on. The plan was for Paul to sit for the first two then drop the hammer in the last mile. He always ran his best when he started conservatively and worked his way through the field. It's the only time he ran with any type of confidence. Now all that had gone to shit. The kid ran scared, looking back, hoping no one would come along and eat him up, hoping his dad would see him while he was still up front. Hartman could see the terror in the boy's face.
-Alright now Paul. Be cool. Stick like glue. Like glue.
When Hartman saw him next the adhesive had lost its stick. He'd be giving his best effort but still doing the skeleton dance. Etched into his mind an audio imprint of Hammond's father screaming mercilessly at his son. Go! Go! Go! What's wrong with you? Go! Go! Go! Don't you dare quit on me! Move it. Move it. Before it's too late. The imprint returned to him at odd times for the rest of the long weekend. It led him to an old story he read years and years ago. He found a copy in one of the filing cabinets in the basement and intended to give Paul a copy come Monday.
Despite Hamz's blowup, the team raced well and with the exception of Hamz they raced smart. Each man has his own style and each ran well in his style. Hartman let them be individuals through October and early November but once championship season started they were expected to adopt a singular team strategy. And the troops knew that if the general didn't trust you, you weren't running in the big ones. So for this meet Spider could start as fast as he wanted and Kimihara could be an even Steven. They were young and Hartman wanted them to learn about their bodies in ways inherent and intrinsic to them. Hammond learned in a slightly different way today.

Starkfield State Invitational Team Results: Top 5
1. Springfield
2. Woodbury
3. Norman
4. Norwood
5. Drexel Hill

Individual Results for Springfield

1. Franklin Torres    16:07
2. Adam Spidestrom    16:28
3. Reggie Smith       16:41
4. Hideo Kimihara      17:10
5. Malcolm Galiozzi   17:35
6. Paul Hammond       17:37
7. Sam Coetaine       18:01
8. Peter Wallan       18:29

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