Let's Roll
by Greg Hitchcock 12.17.01

Let's Roll. It is hard to imagine that Neil Young would be the one to put to music what may well be the anthem of our time (you can hear it at NPR). While some people have suffered heavily and others have done heavy lifting in response, the vast majority of us have gone on with our lives.

This includes the running world—we continue to run. On a high note there has been some fine running taking place in the U.S. among the younger set. With much delight I watched the Footlocker National High School Cross Country Championships on Fox Sports Net on Wednesday. This is the type of event that we dreamed of in my day in high school, and actually having television coverage (which was excellent) was beyond our realm of thought.

Also delightful was that this was the first televised event I watched with my new 20/20 vision following LASIK surgery a few hours before. The painless and quick nature of this type of procedure makes one think that Leonard "Bones" McCoy is just around the corner. Get tired in a race, and give yourself a "hypo" (oh, some people already do that). I'll settle for no more fogged glasses on morning runs.

Back to the races. Amber Trotter from the small northern California city of Ukiah demolished the national field, running 16:24 on the 5k course. (On a personal note, Ukiah is where I set my road 10k best when Amber was three years old.) She took 31 seconds off the course record and was 40 seconds ahead of second place. She is a runner to watch over the next few years.

On the boys side, it was one of the best races in the history of the event. Tim Moore of Michigan edged Bobby Lockhart of Virginia by one second with a time of 14:50, with four more runners under 15:00 on the Disneyworld golf course. The last time a kid from Michigan edged a kid from Virginia was, well, last year when distance sensation Dathan Ritzenheim (14:35) beat super-miler Alan Webb (14:55). The not-mentioned-as-often but top runner Ryan Hall from Big Bear Lake, California was third in 14:59.

Those three—Hall, Ritzenheim and Webb—had amazing senior track seasons. More than amazing. Off-the-charts. They all went off to college and had a reunion on November 19 where they joined the mass of great talent that is the NCAA national cross country championships. Ritzenheim came in fourth—an excellent effort—to be part of the winning team from the University of Colorado. Hall was a minute-thirty back as a non-scorer for Stanford, which finished second by a single point. This is the type of performance one expects from a college freshman getting used to the longer 10k courses full of so many good runners. Webb, who had won the Big 10 title on an 8k course, acquitted himself very well with an 11th place finish for the University of Michigan, :27 behind Ritz and :49 behind the winner, Kenyan Boaz Chboiywo running for Eastern Michigan. Webb's range, from 47-second 400-meter man to 3:53 miler to very competitive 10k runner is remarkable.

September 11 was a cloud over the autumn in many ways. The attack eclipsed the tragedy of eight University of Wyoming cross country runners killed by a drunk driver a few days later. If you can find a copy of the November 26, 2001 Sports Illustrated article by S.L. Price describing this smaller tragedy and the aftermath, it is well worth reading. A passage from the article describes us all:

"No one who knows a distance runner can be surprised: Although the crash crippled the Wyoming cross-country team, leaving it with only three members—four shy of the official minimum for competition—there was little thought of suspending the season. Everyone knew the team had to go on, not for rah-rah reasons but because to those who endure the miles, running is no pastime or hobby or, God knows, a path to making money as a pro athlete. Running is who they are. Running is how they talk to and about themselves. After the first ugly hours of that Sunday morning, after the who and the how many had finally been confirmed, Greg Schabron and his former teammate Chris Jons, the Cowboy's captain, drove to the Happy Jack trails above Laramie and raced in silence through the paths of the forest."

"Runners run," Jons says "It's how we deal with stress. It's where we talk with God. Whenever something goes wrong, runners run."

May you keep running this winter.