I decided a while ago to never tell my walk-on cross country story unless I had a lot to drink because I felt it was an embarrassment. Since I had a lot to drink over the weekend and attempted it, I realize that trying to tell a story when you are that far gone, one cannot tell the story effectively. File that under Catch-22, I guess.
I was an above-average runner most of my young life. I have some impressive sounding accomplishments in my Knight Strider days. But when it came to the time that matters I was decidedly mid-pack. I lettered all 4 years in all 3 running sports. But my best finish was 25th at States in XC, and I was mainly doing the 2 mile relay in my last 2 years in anything past regionals. I was not good enough to get any college attention above the coach at HJC giving me his card. Thus, I was determined to go where I wanted for school based on other factors and I followed a bit of family tradition going to Penn State. With an incoming freshman class of thousands and being that main school in one of the bigger states for cross country I now wonder if there were 100 kids stepping on campus with more of a right to try and walk on than me. But I still had some hope that I would find something and would turn into someone that could compete.
I had to go up for placement testing at some point during the summer and along with my mother went to see Coach Groves. I had a line about not being able to run off campus during high school (due to the tragic story of Paul Condon) and he wound up letting me know that had a 2 mile race for folks trying to walk on. He agreed to let me run and gave me advice to introduce myself to a weight room. I found out later from a kid who was in the geography department that Coach Groves had a soft spot for walk-ons so that's the only way I can figure he even gave me the chance. At some point, however, I got my dates mixed up and I showed up where I thought was the right place on the right day and it was the meeting for athletes who had actually successfully made their respective teams. I sat through and then went back to Coach Groves yet again and asked to have another chance. He agreed, telling me to come to practice the next week on a Tuesday. Soft spot for walk-ons, for sure.
I was told to meet at the track, which I took to meant the outdoor track. I was there for about 10 minutes when a van pulled up and folks in official gear get out. It didn't take me long to realize it was the basketball team (It was hard to miss Phil 'Sweet Pea' Williams from Thomas Johnson high school) and I literally ran away. I figured out it was the indoor track and by the time I got there I was almost half an hour late. One of the assistant coaches asked me 'what do you do' and I misunderstood and replied 'push-ups?' thinking he was about to dole out some punishment for tardiness. I think he was asking me what event I did, maybe if I was a track guy there to stay in shape for the future season. Anyway, the universe was repeatedly telling me to give up and I was too stupid to notice.
The practice was something like simple like 3 x mile repeats and we ran down to the park where they took place. The instructions went something like 'anyone who runs 4:20 should be running x, all the rest of you--shrug.' Maybe it wasn't quite that bad but that's how it came across to me. I had run 4:50 a couple of times and never really focused on that event, but if I had I am of the opinion that I could have maybe broken 4:40 if I had a really good day. If you McMillian my 800 pr (open) of 2:07 it sorta would back this up. Still not anywhere close to everyone else that was doing repeats. I think I managed to hang with the rear of the pack for the first one, past 800 meters for the second, but fading fast. The third one I was in the weeds. I went home and can't remember ever being that tired. And I used to come from indoor meets where I ran 4 events and would get Charley Horses from putting so much effort into the races.
Maybe I should have become acquainted with a weight room. Oh, well.