It hadn’t been a great practice–despite the 75 degree weather at the end of October. Maybe it was too hot.
After a van ride from our Saint Ignatius College Prep campus to the lakefront’s 39th street parking lot, eleven members of ourWolfpack cross country team did a short warm up running south on the lakefront trail to 47th street. We stretched near the beach house at 41st Street/Oakwood beach. Then it was the workout: three times a mile at tempo pace, with one minute rest, on a measured grass course on the lakefront, then four 200-meter sprints.
The first tempo mile was good. But with each one, the pace slowed a little bit. Senior co-captain Jack Keelan ran 5:10, 5:12, then 5:19. We had planned for him to run four of them. “I’m getting slower each one,” he acknowledged. I told him three was enough. The pattern was pretty much the same for our other runners—each mile was a little bit slower. They seemed a little more energetic running the 200 meter sprints—but some of them were still dragging a little bit.
Maybe they were looking ahead to our big race Saturday at the Niles West sectional, the qualifying race for the state championship race on November 3rd in Peoria. They had just seemed a little bit reluctant to spend the effort to maintain the pace on their workout miles.
They went off on a cool down with assistant coach Steven Bugarin, with plans to meet back at the van for the trip back to campus.
Then the practice got a whole lot better.
When they got back to the van, there was a surprise visitor waiting for them: Mike Patton, class of 1981 and 1980 IHSA cross country state champion, had stopped in for a visit.
Patton also won the 3200 meter and finished third in the 1600 meter at the IHSA track championship meet in 1981. He went on to a stellar career at the University of Illinois, where he won the Big Ten steeplechase championship in 1985 and ran a 4:02.3 mile.
Shaking hands all around while energetically pounding boys on their backs, Patton told a few stories about his IHSA championship run in 1980; it wasn’t completely smooth sailing, and there were a few moments of suspense along the way. He seemed especially pleased when introduced to sophomore Joey Connelly, son of Patton’s Ignatius teammate Pete Connelly (Ignatius class of 1979) and grandson of Jim Connelly, who taught Patton mathematics at Ignatius. Then he passed out cards advertising his Youtube site where he has posted videos for his satirical campaign for U.S. President.
Patton apologized for the late arrival. He had wanted to watch the boys practice, but he had been stuck in traffic. “I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual track workout,” he said. He made plans to return to practice next week—and he would check his schedule to see if he could watch them race on Saturday, as well.