Teenaged summer experiences enhanced my love of summer in two major ways:
I discovered my two favourite sports, and I became an athlete.
1) Summer sex
Oops! This part of my post was rated “too hot” even by summer standards, and is hidden from public view.
Only a collage of yearbook photos remains.
The photos may be blurred, but the memories of those hot summer days and—especially—the soft Toronto summer nights—will not fade away.
The Boys of Summer
2) Summer running
My first summer of running track was not very serious: it was 1976, and I remember doing laughably easy workouts like 6 x 200m at the Northview track with some of my George S. Henry teammates.
But by the end of my grade 12 year, the summer of 1977, I was training in a more disciplined way. By the following summer, after I graduated from grade 13 at age 19, I had become a nationally competitive runner. I earned a spot on Canada’s 1978 Commonwealth Games team and placed 5th in the 3,000m at the Games in Edmonton. I also ran 4:19 for 1,500m at an international junior dual meet in Montreal.
Ever since then, my memories of summer have been inextricably bound up with running: the fresh-but-already-hot morning tempo runs on the golf course with Dave Reed, the scorching workouts on the outdoor track at York University, and the humid sufferfests of fateful evening races at the Mooney’s Bay track in Ottawa, where many national team selections and national champions were determined.
My very first track 10,000m was done on that track on one of the hottest nights of 1983. It was only an Ontario Championships meet, but though I had been running 32-something for 10Ks on the road all season, I had to prove I could do it on the track so Athletics Canada (then the CTFA) would send me to Norway for an international women’s 10,000m race in September. I led a small field of masochistic women right from the gun, eventually lapping everyone to finish in a time of 32:38. I couldn’t have done it without the friends who poured water from the steeplechase pit on me every lap. In those days it was illegal to hand out water in track races; women were also forbidden to wear tops that exposed any skin on their midriff. Amazing!
Even now, I love running in warm weather, when it all seems smoother and easier, when sweat slickly covers my entire body. I’d rather run in the pine-scented shade of Mundy Park than under a hot sun, but I miss the track workouts with my clubmates that I used to do… My torn ACL and destroyed knee cartilage, and my coach George Gluppe’s death, brought an end to that part of my running life.
Becoming an athlete: the Canada Fitness Tests
I’ve probably written elsewhere in this blog about how I got my start in running. My grade 11 gym teacher persuaded me to join George Gluppe’s girls’ cross country team in the fall of 1975 after I ran 7¾ laps in the 12-minute fitness test on no training other than some jogging in gym class. I was joining a team that won everything right up to the Ontario Championships—so even though it was painful at first, it was easy for me to get hooked on the thrill of winning and then running itself.
Yet that 1975 cross country season wasn’t my first experience of athletic success. A special accomplishment in junior high hinted at my running talent and my burning competitive nature.
When I was 13 and in grade 8, all of Canada’s students were being tested by a program called the Canada Fitness Tests. We had to complete six events, and the goal was to strive for a bronze, silver, or gold level in each event. If you achieved the gold level in every event, you earned the Award of Excellence. All of the standards were calculated based on gender, age, and, for one event, height. We had to do a 300-yard run, a 50-yard dash, a shuttle run with six 180° turns, a standing broad jump, situps (as many as we could do in a minute), and an arm hang on a bar in full chin-up position. We trained for the tests in PE for a few weeks and were allowed to try the tests more than once.
At that time, I was a studious bookworm, a viola/piano player, and a total non-athlete. I dreaded team sports in PE—there was always the humiliation of being chosen close-to-last for teams and the boredom of standing around while the game went on with very little participation from me.
Yet I had good natural speed and some fitness from my casual bike rides. I achieved the gold level in four of the six tests with relative ease. I had trouble with the standing broad jump because my legs weren’t strong. However, that test was adjusted for height, and since I was short I didn’t have to jump very far. After a few tries, I succeeded in reaching the gold standard.
My nemesis, as was the case for every girl in my class, was the flexed arm hang. We had to stay above the bar in the hanging position for a full minute to get the gold level. On my first try, with great difficulty, I stayed up for 15 seconds. That was better than most girls could do; some of them fell to the mat immediately after the gym teacher let go. But it was nowhere close to the full minute I had to achieve!
I was determined to do it. For about two weeks, I practiced the flexed arm hang multiple times a day. Our neighbours had monkey bars so I could train at home as well as at school. And I succeeded! With iron willpower and trembling arms, I stayed up for a full minute at our last-chance testing session.
I was very proud of getting the Award of Excellence—few students in the school, even the most athletic ones, were able to do this. I probably got badges or medals, but it was the certificate shown below that I was able to find. This achievement marked the first time that I ever imagined “athlete” to be a potential part of my self-identity.
My rapid improvement in the flexed arm hang also illustrates one of the key principles of training that I’ve always believed in: specificity of training!