What’s Wrong With These Kids? Part I

I get questions. Seriously. People actually ask for my opinion. If you are not shocked by this I can assure you that my brothers, sister and parents are. I give them my opinion pretty much all the time on all sort of things. I don’t think they have asked for my opinion once in 38 years. I can’t really blame them – I’m the kid that stuck a Battleship game piece up my nose during the awesome 1980 Wimbeldon final between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. I’m still paying that one off. I was four years old! It fit. What’s the problem? The problem was getting it out. The whole family went for the hospital visit. No 4th set tiebreaker for the Bennett Family. No epic 5th set battle for the Bennett Family. No DVR back then either. Again, I was 4. We need to move on…as a family.

So, occasionally I get questions – mostly about running – How should I train for a marathon – what should I be having my 11 year old do – how much speed work is too much speed work – how long should a long run be – when did you start losing your hair?

One question that I get more than the others has to do with the quality of high school distance running. Why are these kids running so fast? Or, if you were like me and raced during the Dark Ages of US distance running – the 1990’s – then the question is one laced with a little bitterness – What’s Wrong With These Kids?

I figured it was time to at least attempt to answer this question, and a great question it is. I have to first say that I hold the right to add to this list as I see fit. I write off the top of my head. Which means I often leave things out and I tend to ramble. So, for the safety of your eyes I have decided to break this into 2 parts – #’s 1-5 and #’s 6-11. I imagine that this list will seem sufficient to me as I publish it and will seem lacking after I read it again a few days later. Let’s simply consider this a list as opposed to the list of reasons why I believe kids are so much faster and faster in such greater numbers than at any other time in US history.

We had way better music in the 90’s though. Like, way, way, way better.

Without further ado, I give you 1-5…

#1 – The Internet – The fact that teens can read about, hear about and watch other teens racing from around the country is in my estimation the most significant reason for….ready….I have a great word….ready….the RUNAISSANCE! Seeing is often believing and seeing a kid from New Jersey or Illinios run 8:45 for 3200 means the kid from California needs to get out the door and hit the trails if he believed 8:50 was going to get the job done. Reading about that State Meet 8:45 race 6 weeks later in Track and Field News while relaxing on the beach on July 4th did not have the same effect. Thank you Flotrack, Dyestat, Milesplit and Runnerspace! (And thank you Track & Field News for treating our sport like it was a legitimate sport and not just an activity to lose weight like some magazines did in the 90’s)

#2 – NXN – Man oh man did we have some great runs when I was in HS about a mythical national championship for XC. The Harrier Magazine and its US Top 25 list edited by Marc Bloom was the closest thing we had to that imaginary race we prayed for. We’d talk trash about Mead HS of WA and York HS of IL, and wonder aloud and angrily why someone didn’t put together a TEAM championship like Foot Locker had done for individuals. Enter Nike. This would have been #1 on this list (which is not in order of importance) but I realize that much of the press and coverage and build up in terms of excitement for NXN is done online. The quality of HS teams on the Boys and Girls side has risen dramatically in the last 10 years. NXN is to blame (if your team is falling behind) or to be commended (if your team has moved ahead) for being an integral part of that rise in quality.

#3 – NBIN and NBON These meets have been around longer than NXN. The New Balance Indoor and Outdoor National Championships have become the Track & Field meet of the season. In the past, like ancient history 1980’s, there were a series of Invitationals around the country where the elite of the elite HS runners competed in June. They have for the most part disappeared. The NBON and NBIN have now given a date, time and place for the elite athletes to have their showdown. If you get enough studs together you can make some real noise. Ask Oppenheimer.

#4 – Coaches that listened to Pearl Jam – If you ran during the 90’s there are a couple of traits that you picked up. One, you listened to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Two, you ran slow but thought you were good. Three, you developed an inferiority complex about runners from the 70’s and early 80’s. Four, you went to college and got tired of Americans sucking on the world scene. Five, you eventually learned that you did not work hard enough in HS. Six, you realized that you could coach kids to work harder than you did and not make all the mistakes that the guys in the 70’s and 80’s made. Seven, you have an affinity for making lists.

#5 – Bob Kennedy He kept the light on when all around him the night was creeping in. Thank you BK. If you don’t know who he is shame on you. If you do but really don’t then take the time to learn. You can’t truly be great in this sport at any level if you are not a fan and a knowledgeable fan at that.

That does it for PART I. Click here to read PART II of What’s Wrong With These Kids

 

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