Young Tom McCormack, of Mullingar, Ireland, faced a tough decision coming out of high school in the early 1970s. He had to decide which running powerhouse school in the United States he would attend. The four minute, eight second miler was one of the best prep runners in the country and narrowed down his college offers to three: the University of Arkansas, Washington State University, and East Tennessee State University.
The rest is running history, McCormack picked ETSU on account of knowing another fellow Irish harrier who attended the school, and fell under the tutelage of legendary running coach Dave. E. Walker.
Walker quickly bumped up McCormack’s weekly mileage total from around 45 to upwards of 100. With no “junk” miles in the training regime, McCormack and the others found themselves competing for their spots every day of the week. They often hit an average of 5:30 for each mile, and still found themselves behind the man would go on to win the 1974 Boston Marathon, Neil Cusack.
“He was strong as a horse,” McCormack said of Cusack, the 1972 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cross country individual champion. But McCormack was no slouch himself, qualifying for the championships in 1973 and 1976.
When the championships were in Spokane, Washington, McCormack said he started just down from America’s running icon, Oregon’s Steve Prefontaine. McCormack was used to racing with the best runners on the planet, his teammates.
Some of the staple runs the Bucaneers engaged in frequently included getting dropped off five miles past the crest of hill on Dry Creek Road, and racing back to campus, or cruising back from Jonesborough on the hilly country roads.
For faster the even quicker stuff, the Bucs would do many of their miles at the Veterans’ Affairs campus, where they would do both “long sides” and “short sides”, which were named after the length of the intervals.
With this “best of the best” training mentality in place, McCormack injured frequently and had to take time off in the midst of his running successes. This has been the trend with his running over the years. He said he’ll train and run well, then fade for a little while, then come back just as strong.
The kick he’s on now, though, would have to be considered running well. The speedy 60-year-old has been shredding national-caliber competition. At the U.S.A. Track & Field Masters 5k Cross Country Championships in New Jersey on Oct. 20, to which he traveled with his wife, Teresa, McCormack won the day by over a full minute, crossing the line in 17:17, despite not being considered a contender in the pre-race write up.
Nov. 17’s USATF’s 12k Road Racing Championships proved even better for McCormack, as he finished first in 43:04 to earn his second 60-plus national championship title in a month. The accolades didn’t end there. His time was a new American record, an honor McCormack called “wonderful.”
With his successes in place, McCormack, a retired police officer and firefighter, was recently asked to join groups like the Atlanta Track Club, which would pay for his race and travel fees. He said he declined the team offer because he had done that for so many years, and likes the individual aspect of it all now. His training hasn’t changed since college in the sense that all his miles are quality, at around six minutes each, but the volume has dropped to around 40 miles per week, which is all he needs to stay quick and uninjured.
He has big goals in mind as he goes forward. For starters, he’s taking the next month or so off from racing to train for the USA Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships in Boston, where he’s aiming to medal in the 800, 1,500, and 3,000-meter runs. After the indoor season, he’s eying the 5k, 8k, and 10k distances on the roads, hungry for more national championships and records.comments powered by Disqus