I ran my first race in the Armory. It was late 1970/early 1971. I was a freshman at Iona Prep. The race was a mile relay and I recall it being on a Saturday night because I remember that it was dark as we approached from 165th Street and Riverside.

I’m extremely near-sighted, a point that will become relevant. I wear contacts now, but when I wear glasses, as I did all the time from when I was 1 (really) until several years after law school, they are really, really thick. Traditional “Coke bottle” glasses. Once the school nurse asked me to read the eye-chart. I told I couldn’t see it. She said, “well, what’s the smallest letter you can make out.” I said not only couldn’t I make out a letter but the chart was not even a blur on the wall. And it freaks people out when I slide one of my contacts over to see really, really close; I can see things quite clearly between an inch and an inch-and-a-half from my eye.

Again, this will become relevant.

So I was the third or fourth guy on the relay. I did not, however, have a strap for my glasses — I’d get one later — so I thought it best to race without my glasses on, for fear that they would fall off. While that might have made sense in some contexts, it didn’t work here. Not because I fell or anything. But because when I got the baton we were well in last place. I could not see anyone else in the race. So I ran alone. Two laps. My time was just under 75 seconds. I never ran so slowly again. At least on the track. (My last quarter in high school, by contrast, was 25 seconds faster.)

What brings about this bout of nostalgia? Someone wrote an article in the Times about the Armory as it was. There’s a picture (I can’t post it directly) of what the “track” looked like in the early 80s. It was pretty much the same as it was in the early 70s, except that it was not used as a homeless shelter in my days. It accompanies the article, “Along A Fast Track, A Pause For Nostalgia” by Ken Belson.

I’ve mentioned that in those days it was just a big wooden floor with lines, a floor on which the Army Reserve parked its jeeps and trucks during the week. As now there was no place to warm up save for a small corral on the eastern end of the floor. You’d finish races down a short chute.

I became a good runner in the Armory, and I believe my last race there was the CHSAA (Catholic High School Athletic Association) Intersectionals in which I got third in the 600 and my coach, Bob Lavelle, nearly tossed my medal to me because he thought I had just let the first two guys get away because of reputations. He was right, and it’s a lesson I’ve not forgotten.

Another memory of the Armory was Matt Centrowitz. When I was a junior we’d sometimes be driven down in vans for training runs there, and Centrowitz, who was then a senior at Power Memorial (which no longer exists but was also the home of Lew Alcindor) was the best high school runner around. I was mesmerized by his form. Metronomic with arms hung low, he exuded strength, looking as though he could go on forever.

He’s now the coach at American University. Some years ago I came across a thread on LetsRun about him that led me to an article in a Washington newspaper that mentioned a run-in he had with one of his runners. And I recognized the name of the runner as that of one of the top runners in my class at Iona. He was our top mile/2-miler. (I ran the 440 and 880.) Shortly after that, as I was running in New Rochelle I came upon a guy and asked if I could run with him. He said sure, and then he said who he was, and I recognized the name and mentioned that I had been at high school with his dad.

Now, I see his dad often on the Nature Study/Twin Lakes trail. Mark’s put on a bit of weight and is just enjoying his running again after some years off. But I think it nice in the small-world to run with him now-and-then and wave to him on trails on which we ran together nearly 40 years ago.

And I posted that Times piece on Facebook, and another teammate, Lew, who is among the long-last “friends” I have on FB, wrote, “I can still smell that place when I think of it!” Lew and I were famous in high school.

A blind stick-pass is something that is largely foreign to American men Olympians, but it consists of the out-going runner in a relay not looking back and simply holding out his hand. It requires good timing. Lew and I were legs 2-3 or 3-4 on the mile relay, and we somehow got the idea of using a blind pass. No one uses that on mile relays. We didn’t care. We did it. And it worked. I knew when to start and when to throw my arm/hand out. Lew knew when how to get the baton in my hand. Did it save time? Who knows. We enjoyed doing it.

Advertisements