This weekend trip had a dual purpose: not only was I here to run another few races, but it was also my 20 year high school reunion. Man, just saying that makes me sound old! It was over half my life ago that I roamed the halls of Fairfield Prep, It has been decades since my teammates blazed through that Wickham Park 5K course to a dominating victory in the CIAC State Open Championship. My four years at Prep, running for our cross country and track teams, are largely responsible for the man I am today. It was there that I developed from a depressed and miserable child, gaining the confidence, courage and strength that have carried me so far since. It was there that I found my faith, my foundation and myself. I entered those double doors for the first time empty and lonely. I walked out of them four years later a new man: a ‘man for others’ molded by the values of our Jesuit education.
So much has changed since then, yet so much remains the same. Gone is my childish innocence: I’d lived a fairly sheltered life. Much of the turmoil and strife I’d learned about were only in textbooks; conflicts that seemed only academic… not real. Now it’s different. I’ve survived terrorism, battled corruption, and faced some of humanities darkest manifestations. Yet those four years taught me the most important lesson of all: there is more that unites us, than that divides us. Although the most powerful displays of that lesson were years in my future, it was here that I first discovered hope for humanity and our future.
In those days, running was central to my life. Although I didn’t exactly enjoy it for the first ten months, during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year I fell in love. The freedom of self-propulsion, the physical and psychological benefits of the sport, and the human bonds that it formed… running defined my life and my growth. I’d lost that passion for a while… but in recent years I’ve picked up where I left off. Running is once again central to my life. In some ways, right now, it’s almost all I have left. So, yes, I was excited to be back. I was excited to reconnect with old faces and places. I’m not sure what life will bring in the years that come, but I know the strength and values that my time at Prep developed will guide me through it. This weekend, I’d celebrate the 20 year roller coaster ride that my life has been in the best way possible: running with some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
A few years back, the folks at JB Sports split the half marathon and 5K to different days. Soon after the Lucas Challenge was born: Lucas being the Fairfield University mascot. This year, to increase the chances of ideal racing weather, the race was moved forward two weeks from late June. I was fired up when I heard that… although not because I cared about the race weather. More importantly, now race weekend was reunion weekend. I wasn’t going to be able to fly back to CT twice in June, now I didn’t need to. Lucas Challenge here I come! But wait… there’s more. For the first time this year, Prep decided to host a 5K fun run as part of reunion weekend. Would it be possible to do both? The Fairfield Road Races 5K was at Jennings Beach at 8am. One hour later on campus the Prep run would begin. Since it was only two miles away… it was possible! So I challenged my cross country teammates to the first annual “Jesuit Challenge”: dual 5Ks on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.
Out of my group, Vin was the only other one crazy enough to accept that challenge. Another younger Prep alum and cross country superstar also joined the fun. On a very hot and humid Saturday morning, the three of us lined up with the crowd by Jennings Beach ready to take on the first 5K. This was a good sized race with some solid runners: there was prize money on the line. I knew I wasn’t going to be running a super fast time in the half (too many hills), so I decided to make this first 5K my hardest push for the weekend. I’ve been hurting recently, so I knew that a PR wasn’t likely… but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to give it a go. I started off strong. My first half mile was right on schedule at about 5:40 pace, but I struggled a bit from there, slowing to just over 6 minute pace for the remainder. With the heat today, I used the water stops to dump some cold water on my head. It was a short race, so I wasn’t worried about hydration. As I knew I was running slower than I’d hoped, the time clocks at the mile markers were a bit disheartening but definitely convenient and helped keep me from getting lazy. 20 years ago, my track PR at Prep was 18:15. In cross country, my best performance was a 19:07. Today, I’d come in at right around that mark with a 19:04, good enough for second in my age group.
With one down and one to go, Vin and I hopped in the car and drove to Prep (time was a little too tight to jog there). Here there was a decidedly more relaxed vibe, and a much smaller crowd of about 100 runners and walkers, including a handful of mid 90’s cross country guys and a lot of the current runners. No bells and whistles, no pressure… just a fun run. Ready, set… the megaphone horn failed. OK, let’s try that again. Ready, set, go! We were off, immediately starting with a nice uphill. Did I mention how much I hate hills? It took me a while to get in my groove, and even when I did I wasn’t going all out for this run. I’d enjoy it. This was a nice little tour of campus, allowing me to see just how much had changed in the 20 years I’d been gone. Some things, like the universities crumby gravel track still remained. 2.9 miles later, ending with another uphill, I hit the finish. Now the fun part: reconnecting with fellow Prep runners over a nicely catered breakfast. I’d be spending a lot of time in the quad today: Tonight I’d be back for the 20 year reunion dinner! Much has has changed since then. My love of alma mater and running never will!