By Mike Smith
There’s gold in them thar hills…
Well maybe not gold, but there was certainly a little magic in our little section of New Hampshire. With beautiful fall weather reminding us how much we love this time of the year, a golden tone shone through the scarlet and auburn leaves at the high school in little New Ipswich. While in previous years it might not have seemed like much, however with the sport of distance running having been back burnered for seemingly an eternity, it very much was something. And something in 2020. Something indeed quite special.
As meet director, course manager, coach, and all my official duties, I often miss the “magic” that’s happening on the course. Yes, I see almost all of it. But while most spectators are watching the racing unfold, I look for the wrinkles that might lead to a bad experience for the athletes and fans alike, making sure the details aren’t overlooked. No one wants there to be interference between spectator and observer, athletes on differing loops of the course or simply the anything can go wrong type of scenarios that occupy the largest volume of my brain function at events I host. The experience matters for both the athletes, visiting coaches and fans of the sport.
But it was easy, maybe not to see the magic going on, but simply to feel it. After six months of kids not getting to do what they have been doing in many cases for almost half their lives, there was an energy emitting from a simple gathering and competition that in previous years would have felt like an unimportant stop on the road to a season. I’ve never felt this sort of excitement; the “buzz”, if you will, surrounding a dual meet. Especially when you consider the meet hosted three teams that don’t have a standing rivalry and don’t usually see each other during the regular season.
And that buzz wasn’t restricted to the athletes either. The spectators, those true fans of distance running, were feeling the glow as well. I had many parents, visiting parents included, seeking me out to thank me for hosting, and every conversation included something about how good it was to be back. They thanked me for the opportunity for their child to get back some semblance of normalcy, something they had been missing since March.
And our conversations as coaches was one of relief and gratitude. The season, one we have been looking forward to for so long, keeping our fingers crossed as moves to open the state and schools progress, has finally gotten underway. We all know it wouldn’t take much to upset the apple cart, but at least we’ve taken that step forward and can see a future in this fall.
My own athletes were feeling it too. With parents often eager to seep up their athletes as soon as they can so they can head off and get their weekend plans underway, usually many of my kids “evaporate” before I can conclude my meet management duties. But last night the kids (and parents) hung around, glowing in their performances and the comfort of their teammates. No rush to get onto other things. Enjoying the moment that has seemed so long in coming.
Yes, the place was vibing.
And, to be fair, there was some “gold” in the performances as well. The boys course record that had stood for 7 years went down. In 2013, D3 champ and MOC runner-up Tim Fafard and 2014 MOC third placer Dom Repucci of Hopkinton went hammer and tong the whole way, running 16:24. This year off a moderately paced first half, Torin Kindopp and Landen Vaillancourt both dipped under that. Not to mention the 20:06 time thrown down this year, is the fourth fastest girls time on the course ever. Half my girls team ran PRs in the first meet of the season.
So it was more than just racing going on over the wooded trails and grassy fields of Mascenic. There was an aura many of the participants and spectators alike had not felt in a long time.
And it felt good.