The Early Years
How did Extreme Momentum get started? Long ago (I hate to think of how many years it’s been), when I was a boy in Beloit, WI, I chose to go as an Olympic runner for Halloween in 1983. I had a blue adidas track suit and a fake Olympic gold medal. Following the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, I would go running around the yard with my cool, digital Casio watch from my Grandpa in Japan (hey, it was the 80s) . It had a pacing feature that would beep every time my foot was supposed to strike the ground (talk about annoying, but it’s cool when you’re 10 years old). Despite my dream of Olympic glory, my real focus was baseball (and my bike).
My parents first got me a sparkly green Schwinn banana set with 16 inch wheels when I was just 5. Did it have training wheels? Hell, no! I enlisted my parents to hold the seat in back while I pedaled down the sidewalk. One day, I told my mom that I wanted to stop at the end of the block. There was no answer, so I stopped anyway. I turned around to look for my mom only to see her halfway down the block. What??!!! I had just pedaled half a block on my own. The rest is history. Next came the Huffy Desperado (with a banana seat and awesome coaster brake), then the Huffy Scout MTB (that stayed locked up outside a Beloit College dorm for 10 years), followed by a paceline of other bikes.
While I liked biking, baseball was my love. I had thousands of baseball cards and memorized hundreds of players’ statistics. Well, let’s just say I was better at organizing baseball cards than I was at playing baseball. I played Cub Scout softball for awhile, as well as Little League. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t cut out for hitting moving objects. My frustration with my play soon overcame my love for the game.
Later, in junior high, I went out for the track team. I mostly ran the 800 m, because I thought the 1600 m was too far (oh, how that’s funny years later). Once I got to high school, I decided to try the 3200 m and I got beat by a girl in my first race freshman year. After spending the season at 5’2″ and about 90 lbs, puberty finally started to hit. During my sophomore year, I decided to keep after the running thing and went out for cross country in the fall.
Running became a center piece of my life. For my first few years in high school, my mom was battling breast cancer. I found running outside to be a good outlet for all of the emotions I had running around inside. My mom encouraged me to keep running and I eventually made the varsity team. My mom tragically died in May 1990, but I just kept running with new vigor.
I won a couple of most improved awards and was even captain of the cross country team my senior year of high school. I kept getting faster and even was starting to flirt with the 5 minute/mile barrier during track in my senior year. What really amazed me were the phone calls from college coaches. Huh? I was a mediocre high school runner, who never thought I would be good enough to run at the college level. Well, I guess I never really understood what NCAA Division III meant.
After graduating from high school in 1992, I went to Beloit College in the fall with no idea what to expect by joining the cross country team. The first few practices were informal and I soon discovered the joys of partying without parents around. Our cross country team was very young and in all fairness wasn’t very good. We had one good runner, and that was about it. I really enjoyed running with the other guys, but I was also enjoying the partying a little too much. I would show up to some practices hung over. Our new life in college was affecting just about everyone, because most our team was on academic probation after mid-terms. That’s when we started to get our act together. The infamous “subterranean pond scum” of the Midwest Conference ended up finishing fourth at the conference meet even though we were picked to finish eighth. We had arrived.
During the spring of my freshman year, I really started to grow up. Although track wasn’t our main focus (we thought of it as training for cross country), I took it more seriously and saw myself gradually getting faster. That summer, Coach Copper gave us some significant mileage goals and wanted us to keep a training log. Huh? Wow, things were starting to get serious. I spent that summer in Madison and really discovered my love of running. Little did I know that the miles would start to pay off.
Our high placing at conference the previous season gave us a sense of mission. Even though we lost our top runner, Dan Costello, to graduation, we thought we could still do well. I shocked myself at Parkside early in the season by running 28:40, which was a full 2 minutes faster than I had the previous season. Unfortunately, we were still a fairly young, inexperienced team. My performances, as well as those of my teammates, were relatively inconsistent. This tend would continue our sophomore and junior years. Lots of fun out on the runs. No one got THAT much better and our team often finished mid-pack at conference. I also made the mistake of not running indoor track one year, because of my college girlfriend at the time. Dumb! Oh, how we make mistakes when we’re young.
I think we all had an epiphany our senior year of cross country. Maybe it was the realization that it was our last season of cross or maybe we had the right balance of talent and maturity. Either way, we were smoking. I’ll never forget the early season UW-Sheboygan Wombat Invite where we nearly beat St. Norbert’s–a much better team than us in the past–despite not having one of our best runners with us. Several of us on the team were consistently running sub-28s and I was running close to sub-27:30 (about what is needed to make all-conference). Our highpoint of the season was winning the WI Private College Championships as a team and placing several runners in the Top 10. We were jacked for the conference meet. We would have loved to won, but Grinnell and Montrose had much better teams. We ended up finishing third and winning the North Division. I ended up missing All Conference by one place, but was so happy with our team place that I really didn’t care.
A few weeks later I got dumped by my fiance over Thanksgiving. I was upset, but was running the Memphis Marathon with the guys about a week later. Boy, was I dumb, and I don’t just mean in getting engaged in college, but with running 26.2 miles too. We were pretty cocky. The temps were in the 70s and I didn’t drink any water really the first half of the race. 26 miles was nothing. Ha! I hit the first half at around 1:20 and blew up around 14. I’ll never forget a grabbing a bottle of Gatorade from his wife looking over at me as he passed and him saying, “It looks like you need this more than I do”. He was right. Somehow I managed to finish in 3:04 and qualified for Boston. I don’t remember much from the final few miles other than being escorted to the medical tent at the finish and adamantly refusing an IV and downing Endurox by the gallon. Oh, the 9 hour ride home hurt but we were all grinning ear to ear.
The 1996 track season was a little odd. We had a new head coach and we weren’t too happy about it. It’s a long story, but we handled it immaturely and at least can look back at it and laugh now. Interestingly, our new distance coach, Dave Eckburg, was just a year older than us and ended up becoming one of our best friends after college. It seemed like everyone was injured except for me and Joel. I had never run faster in my life and was propelled by the anger and frustration from my fiance dumping me. Thanks to Dave’s coaching I had a breakthrough performance at the indoor conference championship, nearly breaking the 16 min. barrier but earning All Conference for the first time in my collegiate career.
After our performances during indoor track, you would think that we were excited for the outdoor season. Well, sort of. Warren and I had decided to run the 100th Boston Marathon.