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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Going back to the start

Yesterday left me waxing nostalgic for several reasons.  High school teammate Bridget Coon got married, meaning that a portion of "the fam" (aka the late 90's/early 2000's Penfield XC/Track teams) was brought back together in celebration (congrats Bridget and Rick!).  The McQuaid Invitational was also held on a cold, windy, muddy day, which lead me to recall my first memorable cross country race.  And, five weeks out from the NYC marathon, I was setting out for my longest training run (part of which included some terrain I often trained on back in the day), which gave me plenty of time to think about these things.

So, this all brought me back to the fall of 1996, where I got my start in running.  I was entering the seventh grade as a shy, nerdy little 11 year old.  The previous spring, after running a relatively fast (for a sixth grader) gym class mile, a gym teacher had urged me to think about cross country the next fall.  I didn't totally understand what cross country was, but when we had fall sports interest sign up day, I had written my name and address on the cross country sheet.  Given this was 1996, though, I was involved in travel soccer all summer (everyone who was anyone played soccer, after all), and had originally turned in my sports papers with my intent to try out for the soccer team checked.  In August, though, I received a letter from Penfield's head XC/track coach Dave Hennessey-something along the lines of, "I saw that you had marked that you were interested in cross country, I hope that you still want to run, we'd really like to have you".  After a summer of dealing with a less-than-stellar, way too competitive, way too nasty to be dealing with 11 year old girls soccer coach, the tone of the letter was a breath of fresh air.  My mother, likely tired of dealing with a soccer program that expected its middle schoolers to be future Peles, gently encouraged me towards cross country.  "He sounds nice," she'd said, "I think you should run cross country."  Soon enough, we were calling the school to switch my chosen sport.  The first day of school was also the first day of modified XC practice. Not knowing that I had to take the bus from the middle school to the high school for practice, I ended up stranded at the middle school, calling my mother from the office nearly in tears.  She brought me to the high school, and together we found Hennessey, who was nothing but understanding and kind towards my late arrival and confusion- the exact opposite of my soccer experiences, to the relief of both of us.  The first day of practice involved a mile run on the track.  I ran with many of the boys, without stopping, which drew praise from Hennessey, and, likely based upon his years of coaching experience, a prediction that I'd do well with the sport.

Which brings me to the McQuaid Invitational of 1996.  I'm sure I had run at a few league meets prior to that, but McQuaid was my first invitational race, and thus my first memorable XC meet.  I was a few days shy of my 12th birthday, and the day was pretty similar to what runners faced yesterday- cold, wet, and windy.  The modified girls' race was towards the end of the meet, meaning that Genessee Valley Park had been converted to a mud pit by the thousands of spikes that had been pounding the grass course the entire day.  I lined up with several hundred other girls, and, well, I didn't know anything else at the time but to just run as hard as I could.  I think I fell into the mud at one point, and in the end, finished the 1.5 mile race in 27th place (don't ask me my place at any other middle school race; but this one sticks in my mind).  I remember how excited I was to get one of the fancier, triple level ribbons for my effort.  The conditions of the race were cross country at its rawest, and I loved it.  From then on, there was no looking back, no question that this would be my sport for time to come.  With the toil of competition came fun, camaraderie, and lasting friendships (something I needed at the time), as evidenced by Bridget's wedding last night, where got together and caught up without missing a beat despite years and miles and different life experiences (Courtney had been hiking the Pacific Rim Trail, Michelle had just gotten back from a trip west as well, Megan bought a house, and Hennessey's still leading the Penfield charge).

With this all on my mind, I made it through my 22 miler more comfortably than expected yesterday (minus the stop at the one very, very clutch port-a-potty at mile 17- thank you, random apartment complex with random small park with random port-a-potty in the midst of nothing but residential houses on Winton Rd).  I decided to brave running down into and up out of Panorama Valley twice (once on Empire, once on Panorama Trail/Penfield Rd).  Neither of the longer climbs, to my surprise, seemed that bad, which was encouraging to my hill-challenged self heading into NYC.  In true form, though, thanks to the fact that I was reveling in the glow of the miracle port-a-potty, I missed one of my planned turns and ended up looping aimlessly around a neighborhood, adding a couple miles to the route.  22 miles in and still almost 3 miles from home, I ended up calling Dave to come rescue me.  This ended up being a good decision, because I still needed to store up my energy for some awesome wedding dance moves to celebrate later that night :).  But for now, it's time to go glue myself to the trainer and work some of this soreness out of the legs before enjoying some football later (did I mention the fact that Bridget and Rick had a Bills theme to their wedding?  Completely awesome).

Who doesn't love embarrassing pictures of themselves in high school?   Hard to believe I  didn't have more boyfriends back then, I know.

One of the reasons Henn keeps coming back to coaching...


  1. Loved the photo of the truck! Back in my day, we called Dave "Captain Fantasy" and we really didn't know what to make of him, except that he was the epitome of a nerdy coach. But we quickly grew to enjoy having him as our leader. Just saw that he is now the winningest HS XC coach in the country -- I was on his very first Penfield team in 76... Regards and keep up the good running! Bill Heinrich, Herndon VA

  2. I love that! I can only imagine Hennessey in his early days. It's so funny, he's had such an effect on so many people throughout the years-even now, I'll sometimes mention to people that have some affiliation with Penfield that I ran xc/track, and they'll know Henn. Even my program director in college ran for him! Thanks for the comment!