How a redheaded nobody almost conquered a national champ…
I want you to kick off your running shoes, put your feet up, grab a cold drink and read this absolutely true story. In the fall of 1969, thousands of High School cross country runners across America took part in a series of competitions called National Postal’s. The young harriers would run two or three miles on their school track and then mail in the times to a central location, which would publish the times and declare a national champion.
The fastest freshman (15:14 for three miles at 14 yearsold) was a tall, good looking, phenomenon from a school near mine. His name was Gordon MacMitchell and he ran with an effortless stride that made a gazelle look like a pregnant hippo with a hangover. Where did he get all this talent? Later we would find out that in 1941, his daddy, Leslie MacMitchell, held the world indoor record for the mile at 4:07.4! Damn, no wonder this kid is so good! My dad was a pudgy shot putt coach with a pipe in his mouth! Life’s not fair! The New York Times predicted that MacMitchell would be the first man to break four minutes in the mile. Unfortunately, World War two got in the way and Leslie never ran faster.
Fast forward 28 years... two weeks before our school championships. Since Gordon was the fastest freshman in the nation, there could be little doubt he would win, right? WRONG!
A few miles away, at a high school that was not in our league, a boy named Steve Miller was a freshman football player. Steve wasn’t very good at his sport but was constantly trying to improve by pumping weights at his home. Luckily for my school, Steve’s parents moved to our city and two weeks before the league cross country meet, Steve Miller joined our team.
Steve was what I call a ‘specimen’. He had a prominent chin and flaming red hair. His body was muscular and frankly looked like a Greek statue. A young Kirk Douglas comes to mind. Steve ran with machine-like strength, quite the opposite of MacMitchell’s silky fluidness. But he had talent. Steve had run a mile, in tennis shoes, on a dirt track, in 4:50, with no training!
Steve Miller looked so mature and strong that my brother Dana, also a freshman, thought he was a senior or maybe an assistant coach! Soon Steve was working out under the seasoned eyes of our legendary coach, Loren Lansberry, who’d lead many national champions. A man not given to hyperbole, he said of Steve, “I don’t want to blow smoke, but I think we have something really special here.”
On the morning of the big race the runners were greeted with a picture-perfect, afternoon in sunny California. But the cross country course was another matter. The rocky and scared dirt road wound its way through fields of dry yellow grass, rattlesnakes and hills. None of the twisted route seemed to be level. Many years later, Brit, Nick Rose, Olympian and World Cross bronze medalist, likened the course more suitable to motorcycles than runners.
Our two freshman heroes made their way to the start along with dozens of other young hopefuls. The course was 2.2 miles with the first mile uphill. As the gun went off, Steve Miller sprinted and kept sprinting until he had a 100 metre lead on MacMitchell at the mile mark! Steve had gone out fast but could he last? The last 800 meters was all uphill! Steve still had a good lead as he started up the last hill but Gordon was closing. And then it happened, Miller hit a wall with 100 meters left. At first he was jogging, then staggering and when MacMitchell passed him with five meters left, Steve actually started running backwards! Yes, he was running in reverse, a phenomenon that I think probably occurs right before death.
Steve Miller did manage to cross the line and with the help of two teammates, slowly walked around in a daze. He looked like a man who’d dined with the Grim Reaper. I’ll never forget his eyes. They were lifeless, like a doll’s eyes. Steve was never the same runner after that day. He ran a 4:10 mile when he was 17 years-old but then quit running altogether. He had joined a religious cult who convinced him the world was going to end in five years so he’d better get ready. Steve had said he was looking forward to running in heaven – he’d already run in his own private hell!
Mysterious Coach Carvey lives in the USA and has never actually been seen by anyone. Investigate him further at: www.carveyrunningtips.com