My First Race…And Then Yours


My recent experience at the VERT-Sasquatch Trail race jogged my memory back to my first ever race, which took place the summer of 1995 before my freshman year of high school.  At that point I would have been running with my future XC teammates for a few weeks, my first distance running of any kind, ever.  What kept me coming back, despite all the aches and pains I was experiencing on a daily basis, was the camaraderie I was developing with the guys.  It mattered to them how I was running and they never failed be a source of encouragement and knowledge about a sport completely new to me and a far cry from hockey, the sport I grew up playing.

The race itself was part of the Wickham Park Summer XC Series, a once a week race of 2.6 miles.  Wickham Park hosts the Connecticut State XC Championships and is widely regarded as one of the toughest courses in the states.  What a way to be initiated into the world of racing…Arriving at the course, I met our coach for the first time, Tom Butterfield.  Coach Butterfield was of indeterminate age, other than “old,” and was somewhat of a master’s legend, at least locally.  Throughout my high school running career I would love, hate, idolize, and be thoroughly confused by this man.  He was a tremendous influence and never one to mince words.  When we met, he sized me up, taking notice of my Nike sneakers that said “cross-trainers” on them, and informed me I’d need to get real running sneakers, and racing flats.  Here I’d been thinking what could be better for cross country than cross trainers?  Oops.  Here’s a great article on Coach B summarizing his 50 amazing years of coaching, and a picture.

I was informed we would need to “warm up” before the race.  During the warm up I had two questions echoing through my head: “Why are we running before running?” and “Why are we running so DAMN FAST?”  I can’t say I’ve ever really come around to warming up before a race, though I do recognize I should have…many years ago now.

As for the race itself, well all I can remember of that is that it hurt, a lot.  I had no clue about pacing, the hills seemed monstrous, and it was hot.  I knew though that not only had I found a sport that I wanted to get much better at, I had found a sport with great people and teammates.  Each of the guys I went to the race with, and my coach, were there waiting at the finish line for me, cheering and encouraging me up the long final hill.  It didn’t take away the exhausted, drained feeling I had, but it sure made me feel good anyway.  After each race of the series Coach Butterfield sent copies of the race results from the local newspaper to us (this was before the days of coolrunning.com) along with handwritten notes.  Sometimes the notes were encouraging, sometimes they reminded me I could run faster, but they were always personal.  I still have many of them.  I left that day eager for my next opportunity to race, to prove myself against other runners and against the clock, next time in real racing shoes.

I’m hoping to put together some sort of compendium, anthology, or collection of similar stories of first race experiences.  I would love to see more stories like in the comments, whether in long or short form.  If you’d like to submit something short in the comments and follow it up with something longer, let me know!  I can’t wait to read about your experiences!

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One Response to “My First Race…And Then Yours”

  1. Josh Weekley Says:

    My first road race is not a “pride” moment. I had just finished my Freshman year of track, and I decided to do a local 10K. It was the Parkersburg 10K in Parkersburg, WV. Not being well-versed in proper night-before feeding, I ate a pound of honey roasted peanuts. I wasn’t feeling exceptional before the race, and being inexperienced at this kind of distance, I took off at a faster than necessary pace. Shortly into the 2nd mile, I really started to not feel well, and I had to stop and walk a bit. This continued for the remainder of the race – run, walk, run, walk. I recall being passed by a couple of older runners who commented “hey, we’re passing a couple young guys.” I had another guy with me that was not a distance runner, and he was in the same boat as me: out too fast and ill-prepared. In the end, I finished 365th of 372 runners in the event with a time exceeding 1 hour and 5 minutes. Upon finishing the race, I made another rookie mistake. I quickly downed a couple cups of RC Cola, and then made my way up to the bleachers. Shortly thereafter, I threw up a pound of honey roasted peanuts. Fortunately, I did learn a bit, and my 2nd race a month later was 15 minutes faster.

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