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Spring training in snowbound Aspen

Tim WilloughbyAspen Times Weekly
Willoughby collectionThe 1965 Aspen High School track team outside the Red Brick Building, without snow!
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Colorado high school track and field is an outdoor sport, but not always in Aspen. Training begins when basketball ends, long before the snow has melted. I joined generations of Aspen youth in overcoming the challenges and disadvantages of spring training in the shadow of the mountains.From the late 1950s to the late 60s the high school was in the Red Brick Building on Hallam Street. After the late-50s addition of three classrooms and a gym, training took place there. The basketball court, a few feet short of regulation length, required about 20 square-corner laps to run a mile. In pre-metric days the longest event was the mile, so distance runners and others doing warm-up laps at a consistent curving speed logged 25 laps to complete that distance. Four trips around an outside track are not too monotonous; 25 inside a gym, if you can keep count, border on boredom. Yawn!Sprinters met an equally hard challenge. Their starting blocks were secured through holes that had been drilled into the floor near the stage at the corner of the gym. After a quick start, it was necessary put on the brakes in order to avoid crashing into the rapidly approaching wall at the other end of the gym. Crunch!One year we convinced our coach to let us use the school hallway for sprints. The combined hall lengths were at least double the gym length, but when the addition had been constructed the new hallway and the old one did not line up. We would sprint one length, slow for the connecting bends, and then dash the final stretch to the gym entrance.The older hallway consisted of a noisy wood floor. No one ever ran in the hallway during school hours. In addition to the percussive effects, everything including the trophy cases along the walls vibrated with each footstep. Quiet, please!Fortunately there is such a thing as an indoor shot put: a thick rubber sphere filled with small lead pellets. Although the shot put did not crack the gym floor when it landed, 12 pounds reverberated like, well, 12 pounds. Thud!Barney Bishop became a dedicated pole-vaulter. By the time he reached high school he was not going to yield half of track season practice to snow. He created a vaulting box, normally buried in the ground, constructed from wood lined with sheet metal. The box, set on the gym floor, was secured by cable to eyehooks that were screwed into holes originally intended to secure volleyball standards. A vaulter at full speed would stretch the cable when the pole was planted, adding excitement to the vault, but the box worked. There was one minor problem: There were only enough soft mats for a landing after the vault. If he didnt make it to the crossbar, he landed on the gym floor. Ouch!The first track meet each year was in Grand Junction. It was always a shock to find ourselves outside with green grass and trees. Running on a track with track shoes rather than gym shoes felt odd the first time. Normally, the 220-yard dash is run by starting on a quarter-mile curve and ending in the straight section of the track. Grand Junction had a straight 220-yard dash. As a sprinter having dashed only 90 feet indoors I remember looking down that long stretch thinking I would never make it that far. Wow!Hurdles were just hurdles. At Aspen High we practiced by running over only one hurdle repeatedly. Timing was out of the question.Aspen faced its own hurdles competing against the lowlanders. Practice at 8,000 feet above sea level occurred indoors often into May. Our secret advantage lay in those high-altitude workouts. Phew!

Tim Willoughbys family story parallels Aspens. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at redmtn@schat.net.Yore Aspen is a regular feature of the Aspen Times Weekly.


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