Leading off today:
It took awhile to understand, but a cross country meet in 1993 reminded me to not let first impressions be lasting impressions.
On an otherwise unmemorable November day in Newark, I watched the Saratoga Springs girls team obliterate the Class A field at the NYSPHSAA championships. Erin Davis, Tobey Kearns and Erin Karl crossed the line comfortably in front of the rest of the pack -- Davis was first by 400 meters -- as the Blue Streaks easily outdistanced Bay Shore, 19 to 87, for the title.
The three were joined in short order by the rest of their teammates, and a noisy -- but certainly not obnoxious -- celebration ensued outside the chutes.
From 20 or 30 yards away there was a sudden shout from one of their coaches: "Knock that crap off and go warm down."
That was at a time of more than just casual debate in the New York running community. Saratoga was a week away from its fifth of 10 straight Federation championships, but the critics pointed to the demanding regimen and wondered -- often out loud and sometimes recklessly -- whether the coaches' vision of proper training was in the best interest of the girls.
That single admonishment on that one day helped me decide for awhile whose side I was taking in that debate.
Of course, time taught me I was wrong. Linda and Art Kranick now have more than three decades of results confirming they most certainly know what they are doing. Yes, there have been injuries and defections over the years, but the program is hardly alone in that respect. And they can proudly point to a long list of team achievements and a lengthy roster of runners who have gone on to all levels of college competition.
They demand a lot of their runners, but it works.
I mention that story because of an episode recounted by Marc Bloom in "Amazing Racers," his recently released book about the cross country program at Fayetteville-Manlius, which has become the standard of scholastic excellence nationally. F-M has qualified both its boys and girls teams for the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals for 11 straight years, and the girls have won the championship a staggering 11 times since 2006 -- often by mind-boggling margins.
Bloom and coach Bill Aris spoke recently at a book signing in nearby DeWitt and one of them responded to a question from the audience by confirming that the story about "the video" was indeed part of the book.
I know a fair amount about F-M, having seen the team run a few times and documented results from big meets in my blogs on this website, but this incident regarding a video was new to me.
As Bloom explained in vivid detail in his 10th book, F-M absolutely crushed the collective psyche of every girls team scheduled to compete that weekend in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 without even setting foot on the course for what would be a 69-point victory over the next-best team.
As part of one of the several pre-meet events for the qualifiers, Nike Cross Nationals organizers asked each team to create short videos that would give the audience a taste of their home turf and perhaps some insight into the competitors' personalities.
Here's Bloom's recollection of what transpired:
"When the F-M girls' video came on, this is what the audience was treated to:
"Athletes in sleek matching black uniforms from head to toe. A thundering shock-and-awe score. Running in unison. Running fast. Running through a snow storm. Running in rain through deep puddles. Running in darkness. Running up and over hills. No letup. No expression. No talking.
Bloom said the collective reaction of the room was stunned silence.
"One hundred and ninety-two girls were shaking in their new Nikes. It was so intimidating that some girls coaches were angry and said so. Other coaches thought the video was a 'fake.' This brinkmanship further separated F-M from the crowd, frustrating a running community under siege from something they could not understand. Little girls presented like warriors -- anarchy!"
You can view the video here.
"'It was Machiavellian, beautiful,' said Aris. 'All for psychological effect.'"
If that episode from 2008 is the lasting impression that the attendees have of the Fayetteville-Manlius program, then they've missed out on a lot in the past decade. Given unprecedented access to Aris supplemented by interviews with dozens of past runners, Bloom presents readers a deeper look into key contributors and defining moments in F-M's startling success.
Digging deeper than newspaper features can go in 2,500 words or TV profiles in 120 seconds, Bloom fleshes out the