Run from Wrigley Field!
Did you ever wonder how one act, one event, one spontaneous unplanned action in your life, could change the direction of your life for good? And you may not have realized it at the time but only years later you look back and it is became crystal clear?
Well that happened to me on a sunny, hot day in the summer of 1982.
Six minutes flat in 7th grade
In my younger days, I never really considered myself a runner. Fast forward about 40 years or so, now with 16 Marathons completed under my belt, I think I am runner,…. buuutttt the verdict might still be out.
In junior high school, I liked running and I was usually among the top two or three back in Lincoln Jr. High when we’d run the mile, or the mile and half, by running around the block two or three times respectively.
I think the first time I ran a timed mile, it was in the 7th grade and I was right around 6 minutes flat.
For experienced runners who talk to non-runners, it seems EVERYONE, and I mean EVERYONE, ran a 6 minute mile back in 6th or 7th grade……but no, seriously I DID run a 6 minute mile in 7th grade. They did not have Garmins back in the day, so I will just have to trust that Coach Ken Belza measured the route and measured it correctly.
At that time, the mile or mile and a half, was a run we had to do once or twice a year in gym class. I believe it might have also been one of five or six activities that were part of an annual fitness test. Being very strong in the mile and sit-ups, I usually tested and scored well overall.
Helen St. John Award
In high school, for the fitness tests, I would place among the top two or three point scorers. I believe the test back then included, a 300 meter shuttle run, push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups and the mile run and possibly the standing broad jump. Since I did well in gym class I was awarded the runner-up, or alternate winner of the Helen St. John award. East Leyden would award a winner and runner up for every subject to the senior class.
Pretty much, it meant that I was the second best student in gym class, so I had that going for me. The winner of the Helen St. John award for Phys Ed. that year was one of my best friends at the time, Paul Schmugge. Getting the alternate or runner-up award was, as my 8th grade Football Coach, Coach Tony Comiso used to say, “kind of like, kissing your sister”. ”It is nice, but it does not mean much.” I did not even get my picture in the year book. It was the following year that they included the runners-up in the yearbook. Go figure.
In any event, I loved gym class, and did well.
I always seemed to have the ability to run hard and fast, and run hard and fast longer. My favorite sport has always been basketball. I fared pretty well, not because I could shoot, as I was not much of a shooter, but because I could get out and run and jump. I relied heavily on out-quicking, out-jumping, out-running, or out-hustling my opponents.
Through my hard work freshman year, I was selected to play on the East Leyden Eagles varsity basketball team as a sophomore. I was the last guy on the team. While it was an honor to be moved up to the varsity as an underclassman, I did not get much playing time and as a result, that probably set me back and negatively impacted my confidence that year. I think I might have seen about ten minutes of total action in four games that entire season on the varsity. I did play in all the Jr. Varsity games that were typically played on Saturday mornings and I held my own pretty well, even managing to score 14 points in game twice that year.
East Leyden Eagles and Schiller Park Braves
That following summer, I worked and as a result did not make all the required basketball team workouts. Also, that following year, East and West Leyden merged their sports programs so as a result, the number of players trying to make the varsity team more than doubled. Given that there were not many graduating seniors, and a lot of juniors going into their senior year from both East and West, I was a long shot to make the team. At some point, it seemed as though the handwriting was on the wall as Coach Goodman seemed enamored with double the talent pool, and all the newcomers from West. I stopped attending the practices, and basically walked away quietly. To this day, I regret doing this.
Probably what I regret even more, was not going out my senior year for the team. By then I had honed many of my offensive skills, my confidence was high, and even Coach Goodman noticed the difference while I had him for gym teacher as a junior. He especially liked when I pinned an opponent’s layup on the backboard in a pickup game in gym class. While I was a long shot to make the team as a junior, I was probably a lock to make the team as a senior.
While I did not play on the varsity basketball team my junior and senior years in high school, I did lace em up for the infamous Whitey Lyster and the Schiller Park Braves basketball team. Year in, and year out, the Braves were comprised of sort of the “best of the rest” players that did not make varsity, or the best players that might not have been favorites of Coach Norm Goodman of Leyden.
Through the years, the Schiller Park Braves had some very talented players and the two years I played were no different. The Braves played mostly park district teams and church league teams. My junior year, led by Mike DiNunno and Al Cazzato, we went 17-3 and my senior year lead by my very good friend Paul Schmugge, we went undefeated and had with a record of 21-0. That year, it never seemed to be a matter of if we were going to win, but how much we were going to win by. I think there were three games in which the point differential was less than a ten point margin. I started all season and was sort of slashing small forward. I averaged right around ten points a game and probably eight or nine rebounds per game. Whitey was famous for assigning nicknames, and mine was “Spring Legs” Posmer! I could elevate back then, and I was one of two players on the Braves, me at 6’2” and Dave McMillan who was 6’8”, who could dunk.
We had fun those years, maybe too much fun on occasion. As much fun as I had, I always wonder how I would have done had I played on varsity my senior year. Into my early to mid-20’s I could hold my own in park district leagues going up against D3, and on rare occasions, D2 college players.
Around my junior year in HS, it was apparent that my days of playing organized, official team sports, was coming to an end. Having been involved in team sports since I was around nine years old playing baseball, to stay active I started lifting weights and running a little bit more. As I mentioned I enjoyed running but the farthest I had run in any one run might have been around 2-1/2 miles. At that time, that distance seemed far. Only crazy people ran further.
I became one of those crazy people on a whim and my life changed forever.
In the summer of 1982, four friends of mine; Tony Renna, Ken Arnswald, Marcus Rothmeyer, Dominic LiGrecci and I went to a Cubs game around mid-July. Dominic drove us all to Cumberland Avenue and Addison Street. From there we took a bus straight east all the way to Wrigley Field. At the time, I did not know the exact distance but it was pretty far, at least 45-50 minutes on the bus. Addison Street is a main east-west thoroughfare in the city and heavily travelled. It was a sunny and very warm summer day.
I really could not tell you who the Cubs played or whether or not they won the game. What I can tell you is that we had a great time as we always did when we went to Cubs games back in the day. The “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field is one of my all-time favorite places to be during baseball season in the summer. I have loved the Cubs since I was about 8 years old. I remember running home from school in the spring and fall, to catch the end of the games on my small black-and-white TV that I got for Christmas just to watch the games. I also remember shedding a tear or two…….. or a couple thousand in total when the lost. They lost a lot back then.
Times were different back then. At a pretty early age, my friends and I were making our way to Cubs games without adult supervision. I would say we started doing this when I was in Jr high, possibly, 12 or 13 years old. We would walk about ½ mile to the bus station in front of the White Hen on Lawrence Avenue where we would catch the 80W bus. That bus would loop around Schiller Park then head east on Irving Park road to Neenah. From there we would transfer to another bus that would shoot straight east down Irving. We would get off at Irving and Clark Street then walk about four blocks to Wrigley. In those days, tickets were pretty easy to get, and we’d either sit in the outfield bleacher seats or 1st grandstand section.
When the Cubs game let out, the day we all went down, there were long lines to board the buses, so we had decided we would jog or run a couple blocks west to avoid the long lines and catch a bus back west. I cannot recall if we decided how far west, but once I started running, it really did not matter.
I took off running and did not look back.
About two blocks into the run I took off my T-shirt. I was running in jeans and probably a pair of basketball shoes, converse canvas, I would imagine, so not really running attire. One by one, I started picking off the north-south cross streets; Racine, Damen, Ashland, Western, etc. I remember crossing over the river near Gordon Technical High School and feeling pretty good, so at that point the last thing on my mind was stopping. As I mentioned the longest run I had run prior might have been 2-1/2 miles. I would guess about 3 miles into the run, I fell into a pretty nice groove. It might have been my first “runners high” experience. The best way for me to describe it is that you are transformed and you no longer feel any of the physical aspects of the running, and it feels as though you are floating and that you can run forever. I think the only physical thing I felt were sweat beads rolling off the tip of my nose. I remember someone keeping pace with me the whole way. It was my reflection in the store front windows that kept me company for those nine plus miles.
The thought of pace never entered my mind. The thought of distance never entered my mind. The thought of stopping never entered my mind. I was in a different time and space.
I was running and it sure felt fine.
Pulaski, Cicero, Central Avenue, I breezed past. I do not remember stopping much if at all so green lights were working in my favor. Once I past Central, I realized I was almost back to the car. By now I was about seven miles in but it really did not matter. I just kept running. At times I thought, so this must be what it feels like to be Frank Shorter entering Olympic Stadium. As I was nearing Cumberland Avenue, I did consider running all the way home. At Cumberland, I was over nine miles. I decided to stop because I did not want the others to have to look for me after they arrived to the car.
I was transformed. I was a different person. I was a distance runner and it felt amazing.
Once back at the car, there was not much I could do except wait. I decided to walk back a few blocks east to a Hot Dog stand at the corner of Forest Preserve Drive and Addison. I had a few sweaty bucks on me, so I grabbed a Chicago style dog and fries and a grape pop and waited. After about 20 minutes or so, I saw my friend Tony approaching running down Addison and shortly after I saw Dominic. They too had made the entire 9.26 miles down Addison. We regrouped at the car and we were all smiles knowing we had run that distance.
After about 20 minutes, Marcus and Ken were still no-shows, so we decided to leave. To this day Marcus and Ken are still mad at us. Apparently, they all thought we’d jump on the bus a few blocks from Wrigley and all take the bus together. For some reason, either they did not have enough money, or they did not have their shirts, they could not even ride the bus, so as it turns out, they wound up walking the entire way home which tacked on about 3.5 miles to the 9.26.
They were not happy about that, but it makes for a great story years later.
After that day, I started thinking about the Marathon distance and that it would be possible someday. I set the goal back then when I was about 15 years old to run my first Marathon by the time I was 30. That did not happen. I ran my first when I was 39 y.o. but it was on that special summer day in 1982 when tackling the Marathon distance became real.
It was a #goodtimesnoodlesalad day!
Thanks for reading.