Revere Talking Minutemen, ’16-’17

August 22, 2016

Welcome to speech and debate in 2016-2017, Talking Minutemen. I’m posting this blog primarily for the benefit of those students in speech/debate who were not able to attend our “back to speech and debate” gathering at the Espinals on August 13, or who have joined us since then.

Right now we are looking at as many as 45 FINAL GRAPHICstudents in speech and debate this year. That’s great, and we want to let you know a little about what competition is like, who our coaches and student leaders are, and – a bit more – when we will start practices.

First a bit about me.  This is my ninth year coaching speech and debate and my fourth year with Revere. I was the guy who began the speech and debate program at Brecksville Broadview Heights back in 2008. I have coached dozens of state qualifiers and two students who have competed in the national speech and debate championships, including our president Anthony Pignataro.

If you’ve not done so already, look at a few web sites.  First, here is our web site:

Here is the state’s web site:

Here is the national web site:

You’ll learn a bit about how speech and debate works through viewing these web sites.

Next: We have a terrific set of student leaders for this year. They are:

  • Anthony Pignataro, senior, president and Lincoln Douglas debate
  • Megan Warburton, junior, vice president and Public Forum debate
  • Leah Espinal, junior, vice president and Congressional debate
  • Grace Cao, junior, secretary and Individual Event speaker
  • Melise Williams, sophomore, Individual Event captain
  • Troy Pierson, sophomore, Public Forum debate captain
  • Emily Albert, sophomore, Congressional debate captain

If you attended one of the many speech or debate camps, then we have worked with you and assigned you to a speech or debate category.  If you signed up at Frosh Fest, we are going to begin your 9th grade participation in speech by competing in one of five different individual events: Original Oratory, Declamation, Program Oral Interpretation, Informative Speaking, or International Extemporaneous speaking.

Also, we have FOUR assistant coaches this year.  You will hear more about these later in the academic year, but rest assured that we will have approximately one coach for each 8-9 students who are part of our program. One of my favorite sayings is P-P-P-P-P-P, for proper practice and preparation promotes perfect performance. We will be giving you every opportunity to improve your speaking and debating skills through practice.  Our practice sessions will be held on Wednesday evenings.  Watch for details.

Additionally, we have assistance from a great parent/booster organization, called Revere Speech and Debate Boosters (RSDB for short). They will help us by providing (among other things) judges for speech tournaments.  On average, we need to have one judge for every four students who compete on tournament Saturdays. You will hear more about this soon, but we want you to know that we will be asking each student (parent) to contribute $$$ for judging and to judge a few tournaments.  We will send that information to both you and your parents.

We will also be providing training for parent judges in October – On October 14, 15, and on October 26.  Details forthcoming.

By the way, you might want to share this web site with your parents if/when ask you about how important speech and debate might be to your future:

We do need three things from you. If you are a newcomer (first year in the program) please EMAIL the following to our Secretary Grace Cao, who’s email is:

They are:

  • A parent’s name and email address (with whom our RSDB can communicate)
  • Your cell phone number
  • Then, we need you to circle and save SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22 on your calendar. That is the first speech/debate tournament of the 2016-2017 season.  It is known as the Akron and Canton Districts NOVICE tournament, and it will be held at GlenOak School near Canton.  ALL FIRST YEAR COMPETITORS are encouraged to attend this tournament.

If you are signed up for Debate (Public Forum or Lincoln Douglas), you will be hearing from Anthony or Troy about “Debate School” beginning on September 14. This will be the first of three, one-hour education sessions where we will teach more details about debate and prepare you further for the season. The sessions will be on Wednesday, Sept. 14-21-28.

If you signed up at Frosh Fest, Captain Melise Williams will be in touch with you soon via email. We want to work with you to select an individual event, and begin to have you thinking about that first speech you give.

A couple of final things:

1)      Speech/debate is considered an “academic letter” activity at Revere  If you attend the Novice Tournament plus seven additional tournaments in the course of the you, and you attend practices regularly, you will be eligible to earn an academic “R” for speech/debate this year. So look at our calendar for the season (you can find it on the web site), and circle and save the Saturdays for competition. (Again, look at the calendar on the web site. Basically these are every Saturday beginning at the end of October, except for Holidays, from October 29 through January 28)

2)      Watch for SIGNS.  All returning speech/debate competitors PLUS those who attended summer camps and have committed to speech/debate will have signs up on their lockers soon.  NEWCOMERS – Your sign will go up on your locker as well, after you’ve attended a couple of practices and have committed to speech/debate for Revere.

Below are a few tips for 9th graders who are new to Revere High School, courtesy of our officers and your coach.  BE PREPARED when classes begin on Wednesday, August 24.

TIP 1 — WRITE IT DOWN: Research shows that when you use an assignment book and/or planner and write down your assignments, you have 40 percent better odds of completing them.

 TIP 2 – PRIORITIZE: What’s most important? What’s next in importance?  Always do what’s the most important first in your studies. The test on Friday should receive a lot more time/attention than a 10-point quiz coming up on Monday, for example.

TIP 3 – GET INVOLVED!  There are so many amazing clubs and activities at the high to join. Don’t do nothing.

TIP 4 — DON’T SLACK OFF! All your grades count toward your high school transcript when you apply for a college or university. What you do in your freshman year WILL SHOW UP with  all your other classes on application forms.

Speak With Room-Filling Energy,

Coach K.

Meetings and prep time!

May 11, 2016

_20160206_180559This is an update for nearly 50 different students at Revere High School and Revere Middle School who are interested in speech and debate.

We have a brief “planning meeting” for next year’s grade 9-12 students (classes of 2017-2018-2019 and 2020) on Thursday, May 12, beginning at 7 a.m. in Room 200 for returnees to the program for 2016-2017. We will have next year’s draft schedule (yea!), talk about the Revere Middle School summer camp (scheduled for June 20-24), and review some exciting upcoming event (such as Anthony Pignataro going to Nationals!)

If you are a Middle School student, about one-half of the slots have been taken for our Summer Camp, which will be June 20-24 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the High School.  Your $100 check reserves you a spot.  You can drop off the check in an envelope at the High School, or even drop it off at the Middle School and ask them to interoffice send it  to the High School. Make checks payable to Revere Speech and Debate Boosters.

If you are a returning speaker or debater, it is REALLY IMPORTANT that you improve your skills by attending a camp over the summer.  Below are links to a couple of web sites that will help you do just that:

If you haven’t seen it already, here is a link to my little video about upcoming activities.

Finally, remember these three dates:

STUDENT MEETING — Thursday, May 9, before classes (7 am) Room 200

AKRON ROUNDTABLE — Lunch period on Thursday, May 16 (I’ll have permission slips)

PARENT MEETING — Thursday, May 26, 7 pm in the Library. We need to have more parents involved to make the larger numbers of students work out OK for the program next year.

WAKE FOREST?  PRINCETON?  If you’ve heard these rumors, they are true. We are looking at trying to attend one or two “national circuit” tournaments next season.  Details to come soon.

Last year we proved “It Can Be Done” as we sent eight to the State Championships and one to Nationals.  This coming year, We Will Do It Better Still!

Coach K.

The road ahead for Revere Speech and Debate

March 7, 2016

Rather than give a speech at last night’s banquet where students and their parents are really anxious to get their awards, it’s better to just jot down a few thoughts about where we are going in speech and debate and share them with you on my blog.

This method comes with a request, especially to our speech/debate parents – with your involvement, Revere Speech & Debate has become a strong and thriving program.  But we can’t count on just a couple of parents, and we can’t count on just a couple of student leaders, to carry the ball. We can have a 35 to 45 student program in 2016-2017, but only if we have the parent support and student leadership to make it work.

A. PARENTS – The more you can do to boost what we are doing, the more time Coach Hayley and I (and other coaches whom we may add) will have to do what we most want to do – COACH. We will be going to a new practice system next year – working 1-2 nights a week for 1.5 to 2 hours beginning at 6 p.m. at the high school.  (Why?  It is more productive for the students that way.)

  1. We need judges. On average, we have to bring a judge for every 3.5 students we take to a speech and debate tournament.  We should plan for a minimum of 8-9 judges for each/every tournament next year, based upon trends.
  2. We need a regularly-meeting booster group. We could solicit businesses for support.  We could obtain judges from law firms and service organizations in Bath and Richfield. We could do so much more if 7-9 parents got together regularly, put their collective minds to work, and made more happen for speech and debate.

B.  PARENTS AND STUDENTS – It is also time for a few major improvements in our program next year:

  1. Let’s go National! There are tournaments in places such as Princeton and Yale.  We have some terrific debaters and speakers, and they would benefit a lot by competing against the very best in the nation.  Our students will see (and be seen) as the top-flight academic achievers that they are. We can, and should, grow by doing two national tournaments in the coming year, and aiming for more beyond that.
  2. Let’s look at Policy Debate – It’s a bit different. A big advantage in policy is that there is just one topic for an entire year. Perhaps we take a group of incoming ninth graders, assign them to policy, and grow the program using them (and their parents as judges) to begin this process.
  3. Let’s plan for how our students approach and prioritize speech/debate – We know that speech/debate is not the No. 1 extra-curricular for every competitor. So, a couple of student leaders and I are giving a lot of thought to having both “regular” and “reserve” squads for speech/debate next year. If a student has other priorities and only wants to compete for 4-5-6 tournaments, we can put them onto the “reserve” squad. Those who aim to compete in eight or more tournaments next year and who tell us that speech/debate is a high priority will end up on the “regular” squad.

C.  STUDENTS – Let’s look at doing a few more things as well:

  1. Raising our profile –– How to we make fellow students more aware of speech/debate and its many benefits?  How do we make sure your fellow students who would make great speakers and debaters get to our program?  Let Anthony or Megan or Leah or Grace know your thoughts about this.  Some of it is simple – put the words “speech and debate” on a letter jacket, for example.
  2. Pushing each other – We need to improve through preparation and practice. P-P-P-P-P-P.  The more time you put into it the better you will become. We could take 15 students to next year’s State Finals, if you’re willing to put in the effort to get there.
  3. Family – Let’s look a bit beyond the everyday irritations and stresses of high school. We all know the anchors that can drag us down. Let’s keep doing what we have done pretty well this year, regard each other as not just classmates, not just teammates, but as valued and cherished members of a family, a Revere Speech and Debate family. With help from student leadership, we can do this.

*    *     *     *     *

There are three additional “IOI” — Items of Interest, I wish to share with you.

One SURE WAY to improve in speech and debate is attend a summer camp.  One hundred percent of this year’s Revere State Qualifiers went to a camp last summer!  Here’s a link to some of the many camps, including ONLINE CAMPS (you don’t have to leave home for these) offered by the National Speech and Debate Association, NSDA:

summer camps

March 15 is WORLD SPEECH DAY.  There are a lot of activities aimed at heightening the value and importance of speech and debate on this date.  Take Action by clicking here to obtain more details:

world speech day

Finally, here is a link to a terrific contest where you can win acclaim (and admission to a camp) by producing a video about the value of Free Speech.  You can also see the ’16 – ’17 NSDA Policy Debate Topic by clicking here:

free speech and policy topic

MEDIA MEMO 2 — Why aren’t we “getting it” about Donald Trump’s primary successes?

March 2, 2016

trump reagan
Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky foreshadowed the 2016 Presidential election 40 years ago when writing the script for the movie “Network.” In the film, deranged anchorman Howard Beale gains great popularity by screaming, “I’m mad as well, and I’m not going to take it anymore” to the TV cameras.

Change the “I’m” to “we’re,” and you have a 12-word summation of the Donald Trump campaign.

By any assessment, America’s middle class is shrinking and in worse shape in 2016 than it was in 2012, 2008, or 2004 or even in 2000. One powerful question which propelled Ronald Reagan to the White House was this: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  It helped him win in 1980, and then the Reagan Revolution led to a 49-state landslide for the Great Communicator in 1984.

The answer from Trump supporters and opponents alike to Reagan’s 1980 question is a resounding NO. According to the Pew Research Center on social and demographic trends, the share of national income for the middle class fell from 62 percent in 1970 to 43 percent today.

Rasmussen Reports regularly asks this poll question:  Is America headed on the right track or the wrong track?  In the most recent poll, only 30% of respondents said it is on the right track.  Over the past four months, 63% to 67% have said our nation is on the wrong track.

The middle class saw as much as $4.6 trillion awarded to banks and financial institutions “too big to fail” in the 2008 Wall Street bailout, while the unemployment rate soared to 10 percent in Fall 2009. Next, the Obama Administration’s $800 million stimulus plan in 2009 did very little to stimulate the economy.  The promised “shovel ready” jobs rarely existed.

Younger boomers have suffered through the loss of careers and well-paying positions.  Millions liquidated IRAs just to stay afloat, and are now working at lower-wage jobs and are woefully underprepared for retirement

Military veterans and those in uniform still serving our country feel betrayed, not unlike their Vietnam predecessors. Iraq is far from secure, and there’s a feeling that the sacrifices which nearly 7,000 dead and 52,000 wounded Americans made in Afghanistan and Iraq have little value.

Gen Yers and older Millennials are saddled with nearly $1.4 trillion in college loan debt. Many of these younger adult members of our society are feeling scant hope for their future. They are settling for jobs they had as high school graduates or students. Higher-paying jobs and careers concomitant with the college diploma are rare or non-existent.

Additionally, many voters helped elect Barack Obama president believing that it would help improve racial relations in the country. Just the opposite has happened. A PBS NewsHour/Marist College survey this past fall confirms what many of us suspect: 58 percent of Americans say race relations were worse than just one year prior. Significantly, 76 percent of African Americans stated they and whites do NOT have equal opportunity in getting a job, and 87 percent of African Americans believe they do not have the same opportunity in equal justice.

Voters on both ends of the political spectrum feel betrayed and fooled. More than anything, “I’m mad as hell …” explains the popularity of Bernie Sanders as well. Look at the candidates who’ve dropped from the presidential campaign.  With one exception (Carly Fiorina), all are long-time elected office holders.

So – why are we so surprised when a candidate whose slogan is “Make America Great Again” does this well in the primary campaign?  Trump has already inoculated himself against the Political Media Complex, and the more they attack him, the more his popularity is destined to grow. (If you don’t know what the Political Media Complex is, refer to a column I wrote on in in September by linking here:)

What is really telling is a comparison of turnout in these primary elections so far.  On average, Republican primary elections are drawing an average of 24% MORE voters than they did in 2012. The New York Post attributes this to Trump. I’d rather call it the Howard Beale effect, which Trump has masterfully tapped into so far in the campaign.

LIAR, BUFFOON and FIEND: One or two?

One newspaper account called the candidate a “horrid-looking wretch” who was unfit for office. Other media accounts described him as filthy, a story teller, a despot, a liar, a thief, a braggart and a butcher, as well a liar, buffoon and fiend.

The candidate?  Abraham Lincoln.

Hurling powerful personal attacks against political candidates is nothing new, and it’s been happening since John Adams and Thomas Jefferson opposed each other for the presidency more than 200 years ago.

Those who think Trump winning the Republican nomination for president would destroy the party just don’t understand how the two-party system works in this nation. Sadly, this same system is also advancing a Democratic party candidate whom many voters don’t trust. In January, an ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that four out of every 10 DEMOCRATS or voters leaning Democrat say they do not trust Hillary Clinton, who will soon be the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. The actual number according to the poll is just 36 percent.

And remember – this is a poll of leaning Democratic voters.

So we are in real danger of the word “liar” becoming one of the most-used words in the 2016 presidential campaign. In light of the realities of raising huge amounts of campaign dollars (something at which Hillary Clinton excels) or spending huge amounts of campaign dollars (something Trump will continue to do), it is a tragic commentary on our two-party system if, in a nation of more than 320 million Americans, the “final two” candidates for President of the United States in 2016 are named Clinton and Trump.

As to the growing negativism on the campaign trail, look no further than Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Every day there are millions of posts from our fellow everyday citizens, saying the most evil and vile things imaginable about various candidates. What’s especially disturbing is the growing number of times when journalists have joined the fray, posting despicable comments about various candidates (most frequently Donald Trump). Every time, within hours the journalist is “forced” to take down the offending post and to apologize. We are rapidly losing civility in our society.

In her terrific 2011 book “The Influencing Machine,” National Public Radio On the Media managing editor Brooke Gladstone simply and eloquently details how the media impacts us.  This is her concluding line: We get the media we deserve.  Sadly, in 2016 it seems that we are getting the candidates we deserve as well.



Max Lucado is an author and pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. His blog, reprinted last week in The Washington Post, points out what many in our nation are now saying: A U.S. President should have much better deportment than what Donald Trump is showing on the campaign trail.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

He (Trump) routinely calls people “stupid” and “dummy.” One writer catalogued 64 occasions that he called someone “loser.” These were not off-line, backstage, overheard, not-to-be-repeated comments. They were publicly and intentionally tweeted, recorded and presented.

Lucado is right. He writes that Trump would not pass the “decency interview” he established for his three daughters when guys came calling to date them. He’s not fit to govern, in this pastor’s eyes.

Of course tens of millions of people are disagreeing with Lucado, as expressed in public opinion polls and at the ballot box. Personally, the only solace I’m seeing so far in the 2016 presidential campaign is that I have a still higher calling than that of a U.S. citizen/voter. I belong to a heavenly kingdom, and when I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior it means that his place as Lord is far more important than the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Romans 13 calls on believers of Christ to be obedient to government authority. If those “final two” candidates for president in 2016 end up being Trump and Clinton, then God is planning for some pruning of our nation. That’s not a pretty thought, but it is about the only explanation that makes sense.

SOURCES: son-for-record-republican-voter-turnout-trump/

B-E-L-I-E-V-E … and blessed

February 9, 2016

Sometimes life crawls by at what seems like a snail’s pace.  Other times, it flies by faster than the fastest fighter jet. The last few days have been the latter.

On Saturday, I was honored to take 13 students from Revere High School to the Akron District Littles tournament – a qualifier event for the Ohio High School Speech League State Championships.  Only nine of the 13 were real competitors.  The other four are “warm bodies,” or students who agreed to compete to help more students from Revere and other schools in the Akron district qualify for states.

This is a challenging tournament.  On average, only two of every seven competitors advance to States.  Revere’s students practiced and prepared ceaselessly last week.  (So did their coach; my mileage log has me going to the high school seven times, twice a day on two days.) One of my points of emphasis on year was P-P-P-P-P-P, proper practice and preparation promotes perfect performance.

It’s a nice encouragement, but perfection is nearly impossible.  So in notes written to each competitor, which I gave to them as they got on the bus on Saturday morning just before 7 a.m., I encouraged them all to give “practically perfect” performances in speech and debate.

Did they ever!

Revere had four State Qualifiers – junior Anthony Pignataro in Lincoln Douglas debate, sophomore Leah Espinal and Megan Warburton in Public Forum debate, and freshman Melise Williams in Informative speaking.  Another freshman, Victoria Liu, finished just one place away from being an Alternate State Qualifier in informative speaking.  For a growing program that has 20 newcomers and only five returnees with experience, this is phenomenal.

But there’s more.

At the Akron district, our co-chair made repeated request for more Public Forum debate teams, Revere entered a “warm body” duo in this event.  One of them, senior Megan Travers, had health issues and had left actively competing after just one tournament this season.  The other, senior president Drew Espinal, had never competed in a round of public forum debate in his life.  Megan had been in Public Forum more than two years ago.  Megan Warburton and Leah Espinal loaned them cases. We didn’t have high expectations: We were helping out the Akron district, and thought that Megan and Drew might win one or two rounds.  Sure enough, they lost round one of the six-round tournament.

Then, something clicked with these two, and they began to rock.  They won, and won again, and won still again.  In round five, they opposed a 4-0 team, and emerged victorious yet again. They ended up with four victories – good enough to qualify for States as a debate team – before withdrawing after round five due to Megan’s work  schedule.  Drew had previously filed a form to represent Revere in Congressional Debate, so their performance doesn’t “count” for qualifying purposes.   But Drew and Megan’s outstanding debating proved the point I’ve been telling my speakers and debaters, that sign on President Ronald Reagan’s desk – IT CAN BE DONE.


Three of our qualifiers:  L to R: Leah Espinal, Megan Warburton, Anthony Pignataro

One more person from Akron is going to States in Humorous Interpretation and in Informative Speaking thanks to our other “warm bodies.” So, all in all it was a very satisfying tournament for a small but absolutely amazing bunch of good, talented, hard-working students at Revere. They are all winners, but in particular I’ve never seen two sophomores as outstanding in PF Debate as Leah Espinal and Megan Warburton, and never had a freshman who is as coachable as Melise Williams.  I’m blessed to be able to work with this terrific group of students.  Here’s a link to our program’s web site:

So Sunday, I’m resting up and devoting only about four hours to emails and communication to our State-bound speech and debate contingent, which will travel 230 miles to Cincinnati for the OHSSL State Championships on March 4-5.

Then yesterday, I was fortunate to be a combination tour-guide and discussant with five visiting journalists from India.  They are in Cleveland as part of a U.S. State Department program. The Cleveland Council on World Affairs, an outstanding non-profit that promotes education, citizen diplomacy, and public dialogue on international issues, is hosting these journalists.  Here’s a link to this organization:

We began with a stop and an hour-long chat in the Liberal Arts area of Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro campus.  My colleague Professor Neeta Chandra provided an ample supply of refreshments and beverages to our visitors, and we discussed the mission, vision, and challenges of teaching at a community college.  A couple of the journalists quizzed me about the future of journalism in the United States, and we had a fascinating discussion about the future of newspapers, hyper-local news, and other aspects of the profession.

From there, the visiting journalists went to Tri-C’s Advanced Technology Training Center, where we met with Workforce and Economic Development Director Nancy Feighan and her staff.  The journalists got to see several of our manufacturing and trade skills areas, and finished there seeing a couple of high school robotics teams in action.

visiting journalists
Finally, our visitors camped out for a while at the Center for Creative Arts at the Metro campus.  We got a brief look at some production studios, and they concluded by sitting in on a newswriting class which my colleague Tammi Kennedy teaches.  It was a well-done overview of Tri-C, and I’m happy about at how well Neeta, Nancy, and Tammi represented our college.  Special thanks to Katie Ferman, program officer at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, for reaching out to Tri-C and including us on this itinerary.

Later today I meet with Phil King (the real Dr. Phil, as he helps so many students succeed), principal at Revere High School, as we discuss details about taking eight of our student to Cincinnati for three days.

Zoom  …  I have been operating on over-drive for the last few days, and I’m on sabbatical.

*    *    *    *   *

Imagine a 29-year-old guy who has suddenly hit the wall of failure at a high rate of speed.  He’s been fired from a very prestigious job in the U.S. Senate. He’s doing through a divorce, and he doesn’t even have a place to live.  He doesn’t know if he should continue his future in Alaska, where he moved with his ex-wife three years earlier, or his hometown of Cleveland.  What will happen next?

That’s an easy story for me to complete.  Because the 29-year old was me … 30 years ago, in 1986.

Soon we begin Lent, a 46-day period leading up to Easter during which some Christian faiths call for self-denial, repentance and atonement. Lent has a special meaning for me, because Jesus picked me up on the trash heap of life 30 years ago, dusted me off, and put me on a much better path than I ever could have imaged or deserved.

Simple suggestion for you – if you believe in God, why not spend Lent by devoting 10 to 15 minutes every day to reading God’s word, the Holy Bible? There are thousands of Bible reading plans out there. Here’s a link to the plan I’m following from my church, Cuyahoga Valley Church.

Come back soon for a story about a great athlete who showed the world selflessness, determination and excellence in the face of unbelievable adversity – Jesse Owens.

Thanks for reading.

The Ecstasy and the Agony

October 28, 2015

When it comes to feats of athleticism, a guy pushing 60 shouldn’t try to compete against a guy in his early ‘20s. Even if it is just against himself.

For each of the past two years, I have trained for and successfully completed a half-marathon.  My time in the 2013 Towpath Trilogy half was about 1:56, more than respectable. I didn’t do quite as well in April 2014 on a different course, but — still — at about 2:04, it was a very good showing.

Both times I trained fairly well.  I had the benefit of a terrific partner in Michael Murray in 2013.  Mike’s now gone on to training and running in marathons.

john half cropped

Kerezy running a half marathon in 2013

Both times, I devoted time and put in the necessary miles running prior to the event. Both times, I alternated between “performance” runs and off days in the training regime. Sure I had minor aches and pains in the process, but that comes with chronological age.

Then this year, somehow I got a crazy notion that perhaps I could do as well in a half marathon as I had when I ran my first such race. That was back in 1978.  Jimmy Carter was president. Gas was 65 cents a gallon, and three loaves of bread cost one dollar. We hadn’t heard of Three Mile Island or Iranian hostages yet.  Saturday Night Live’s line-up featured Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain and Gilda Radner.

One big benefit I had going for me this year was knowledge.  I had picked up a tremendously helpful book, Be a Better Runner, by Sally Edwards, Carl Foster and Roy Wallack. The three authors are perhaps the most knowledgeable people around about every conceivable aspect of running training. In fact, this trio has competed in dozens of marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathon events. I read the book and followed their recommendations as best I could.

I put in the miles.  My log indicates that I either ran or (on some off days) did elliptical training that totaled 178 miles between August 16 and October 8, my last “good run” day before the October 11 half-marathon.  I exceeded 10 miles twice in the training and had about eight more runs of 7 to 9 miles.

I ate better than I have in many years. Following the advice in the book, more vegetables and fruits found their way into my diet. Monounsaturated fats became a favorite, as did fish. I didn’t get rid of the unhealthy foods as much as I’d liked though.

My lovely wife Kathy warned me not to overdo it. When I confided with her that I was aiming for a time of around 1:50 to 1:55, she tempered my enthusiasm. But she supported me with better food and a lot of prayers and well wishes.

So, at 8 a.m. on October 11, there I was at the starting line at Brandywine Ski Resort.  Bib No. 2136 adorned my shorts.  Ready to rumble!

There is some chess involved in running races nowadays, due to the huge number of competitors.  There were only about 300 runners when I did my first event, a Crawfordsville (IN) Jaycees Half Marathon, in 1978.  There were about 2,000 half marathon competitors on the trail that day – and the Towpath Trail is a lot more narrow than the county roads around Ladoga that I ran on back in the ‘70s.  I chose to not go full speed for the first 1.5 to 2 miles, letting the crowd space out, and then to settle into a good stride after then. My first mile time was 9:30, and I completed the second mile at 18:15. I was feeling better as the race progressed, and I gradually picked up the pace.

I got comfortable as miles 4 and 5 went by, finding a steady running rhythm that matched my training runs. Music helped a lot. There were no Sony Walkman or Apple iPod devices back in 1978! I was also on a “home” course – the same Towpath Trail I had used for longer runs in my training, and nearly the same course I ran in 2013.

When I hit the halfway point in the run, the stopwatch read 57:05.  That was faster than my time at the halfway point in 2013! The hard work and preparation prior to the race seemed to be paying off. Thoughts of a 1:55 or better finish entered in my head.

That stopwatch time bolstered my confidence as the other runners and I passed an orange cone which marked the turnaround. I swung counterclockwise around the marker, feeling strong and sure that I had a good physical and mental state for the finish.

But with minutes of the turnaround, all was lost. Shortly after the turn, I began feeling a steady shooting pain, emanating from my upper right leg and penetrating into my lower back. It was powerful. It was non-stop. It was far worse than anything I had encountered in the nine weeks of running leading up to the half marathon. The pain was even worse than anything I’d ever felt before in running. It was agony.

I slowed down, but the pain persisted.  I stopped and walked. The pain got worse.  I trotted slowly.  The pain lessened (or so it seemed) but it was still there, still searing down my back and upper right leg with each and every step. I stopped and stretched the leg. I poured some water down my leg and back. I tried resuming the race. The pain just got progressively worse.

In my life, I’ve probably run 50-plus road races of varying distances. I’ve raced in Alaska and Indiana. I ran a 5K and a 10K race in Washington DC and Northern Virginia. I’ve run the Revco 10K (that was its name before it became the Cleveland Marathon/Half Marathon etc.) the Bees 5K, and more short- distance races than I can remember.

I never dropped out of a race … until October 11. There was no way I could finish. I left the course near Station Road in Brecksville. I was a little less than five miles from the finish line, but the checkered flag might as well have been on the moon. Only with great help from the race’s support team, employees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, was I able to get to the paramedics at the race, and then to my car for the most disappointing ride home in years.

Today, more than two weeks later, I’m still hobbling around. The diagnosis – sciatica, more precisely, inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It is NOT a simple-to-treat condition.

NEXT:  Lessons learned

Throwback Thursday – August 1978

October 22, 2015

(NOTE: This story appeared in the Crawfordsville Journal-Review in August 1978. Coming soon: an explanation about why I’m posting it.)

SOMEWHERE IN SOUTHEASTERN MONTGOMERY COUNTY – I still don’t know how I got conned into this.

It started three weeks ago when I was in Bloomington to see two college classmates run in the Monroe-Morgan 10-mile race. They’d heard about the Crawfordsville Jaycees holding a first-ever marathon and half marathon, and soon I had talked myself into running the 13.1 mile half marathon Sunday if they would, too.

john 1978

The author in ’78

People at Wabash had little faith in my ability to finish the race. Andy Anderson kept asking me if my affairs were in order and if my last will and testament was written. Brenda Amstutz merely questioned my sanity. Both Anderson and Amstutz placed friendly wagers on my run.

They weren’t the only ones either. They merely led the list of unfaithful. Fred Ford, Herman Haffner and Mike Reidy, who all planned to run the half marathon, had their doubts about me finishing the course alive. Even Don Sperry, who is about as nice as they come, had misgivings about my effort.

So I had no choice but to run.  I developed a training schedule and practice as hard as any hopelessly out of shape and overweight man in his early ‘20s should. I missed days, ran too few miles, and found myself more worried about the race as the day approached.

Of course my college friends never made it to the starring line: One took off to Maryland and the other stayed in Fort Wayne. Only the unbelievers were in the race with me to see what would happen.

The first half of the course was manageable. I ran with two late 20-ish men and we moved along in the middle of the 300-plus field.

We reached the 6.5 mile turnaround point on Ladoga Road where a burning ache appeared in my side. Then my legs changed to lead, and every step was like lifting concrete off the road. My breath went from a slow pant to a hoarse, rasping noise that would have scared rabbits from the neighboring farms.

I struggled on to eight miles, the furthest I had ever gone in training, and told my two running mates to leave me behind. In short order, Haffner, Sprerry and about 50 other runners passed my body, now half-walking, half-crawling to the finish line.

My legs went from lead to jelly, melting away with every step. Each breath came with great effort; my heart thumped like a jackhammer, and the hot sun wilted my willpower.  The winding, hilly course seemed to zap my already-waning strength.

It was useless. I walked. I ran – barely. I stopped. I walked some more. I couldn’t go on. “I won’t make it,” I thought. “They’ll have to carry me away.”

Somehow I reached the last aid station.  Just 2.5 miles to go! I drank some lemonade, dumped two glasses of water of my tiring body, and somewhere discovered the stamina to keep going.

Larry Grimes joined me for the last 1.5 miles. I completed the course in 152:20, just behind Haffner.

The feeling at the finish was terrific. I placed 236 out of about 300 runners, but that didn’t bother me. I made it, and Anderson and Amstutz will be providing me with a lunch and some liquid refreshment for my efforts.

I felt even better 15 minutes after my finish, when Mike Reidy came into the chute. I’d even managed to beat out one of my unbelievers!

Now that I’ve got blisters all over my feet and I’m looking for a pair of crutches, I can boast that I did it – and vow to never try it again.  Those guys and girls that can run 13.1 or 26.2 miles can keep their sore feet and aching bones.

When is next year’s marathon, Jaycees?  Sign me up.


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