Allen’s Road To Boston – The Background

Me running in a meet in Raleigh, circa 1985.

Me running in a meet in Raleigh, circa 1985.

On my home office wall hangs a poster advertising an indoor track meet at the University of North Carolina. Dated February 23,  1985, this poster accurately depicts the state of track and field at the university at that time – in a word, sad.  Despite advertising an indoor meet, the poster’s only photos depict an outdoor meet, including a photo of the javelin competition – obviously not an event you’d want to hold indoors. Carolina’s track coach at the time had been a former middle-distance star and although once an elite runner, his formidable running prowess did not transition well to coaching. The Carolina track program floundered under his tutelage. Of all the Carolina track and field posters I could have held onto, I kept this one because 1) I had my best collegiate race ever in this meet and 2) as a reminder of the sad state of the program at the time.

But it was this environment  that allowed an only slightly-better-than-average high school runner like myself to pursue the dream of running big-time, Division I, track. During my high school days, I ran relatively well in the 3200 meters (2 miles) – my only in-conference loss my senior year came at the hands, or more accurately at the feet, of North Carolina high school legend and mile state champion, Reggie Littlejohn. But I never ran fast enough , never breaking 10:20, to actually get recruited. Only tiny Winthrop University invited me to try out for their cross-country team. Since I was a better student than I was a runner and as I had always been a Tarheel sports fan, I applied, and was accepted, to the University of North Carolina. My high school track coach contacted Carolina’s coach who agreed to let me try out for the team.  He kept me on the team when, during a do-or-die 800 meter time-trial to determine who made the team, I beat several of the freshman middle distance recruits.  Don’t let this accomplishment fool you into believing I was a good collegiate runner – far from it.  I just happened to peak early – note the mediocre PR’s below. 

My freshman year, I posted PR’s of 2:00 in the 800 meters (I never did manage to break the 2-minute barrier despite going under 2:01 on a couple of occasions, including the time-trial discussed earlier), 10:05 in the 3200 meters, 16:06 in the 5k, and a 26:29 in a cross-country 8k. And while these times might be good enough to win a lot of high school track or cross-country meets, they only served to establish me as a mediocre-at-best Division I runner on a mediocre-at-best Division I team. When I finished the year with a lackluster GPA hovering around 2.4, my father informed me that he wasn’t sending me to school to run track. If I wanted to continue to receive parental funding, I would be forced to retire from running and to instead focus on studying. So my running days looked to be over…

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