An Ode to Hereford
By: Jossi Fritz-Mauer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Once upon a time, I was a Montgomery County high school runner. Individually and collectively, my teammates and I started off our careers as a pretty terrible bunch of runners - and even that might be putting it charitably. But a core group of us had first the resolve, and then the dedication, to improve every year. By the time we were seniors, we felt as though we were on the precipice of a goal that had seemed impossibly far off when we were just wide-eyed freshmen: qualifying for the 4A State Cross Country Championship meet to be run at the famous Hereford course.

Senior year can be a magical time if you have the right mix of growing maturity and years of training under your belt. All season, we pushed each other to reach what we felt was our true potential. At night, we would dream of the Hereford hills. Come November, that dream became a reality as our entire team qualified. It was the first time in recent memory that a Montgomery Blair boy, let alone a whole team, had qualified for States. We exceeded most expectations, if not our hopes, by finishing seventh. Though most of us went on to run indoor and outdoor track to cap our senior years, November 10th felt like a culmination of sorts for our high school careers. We could all look back with great pride on a season and career that ended on a Hereford course worthy of being called a Championship.

I was one of my team's runners who went on to run in college, competing for perennial Division III powerhouse Haverford College. In almost all ways, college running was a step up when it came to intensity: the runners were better, the courses were longer, the training was more comprehensive. But for all that was gained in mileage, distance, and team depth, something was lost as well. Conference, Regional, and National Championship sites in college would rotate from one course to the next year-by-year, offering little chance for all-time comparisons between athletes of different eras. No matter what, end of season races will always carry a certain level of mystique with them given the importance of what is on the line. And yet, something felt amiss in the build-up to the championship racing season in college without that familiarity of terrain that came with the constancy of a Gaithersburg, a Rockville Civic Center, or - most of all - a Hereford. Worse still, there was a decided shift in emphasis throughout the season on lightning quick courses. When invitationals were chosen and peaked for based on the prospect of running as fast as possible, a season became nothing but weekend travels to manicured golf courses. Uneven footing, hilly landscapes, and anything that may have presented a challenge were all sacrificed to produce a favorable response to the question that was invariably asked: "So, how fast did you run in cross country?"

Fast? How fast did I run? We'd be afforded the opportunity to run fast all Winter and Spring -- that's what Indoor and Outdoor track were for. I didn't care about running fast -- I wanted something to test myself against besides just the stopwatch. I had made the step up to college, but there was a decided irony of becoming a man (legally anyway, even if I still had some growing up to do) but running courses that demanded little in the way of race maturity.

I yearned for the hallowed ground of Hereford. I am reminded of an old Irish proverb: that at a critical juncture in a young person's life, those close to him shouldn't give gifts, but rather a mountain to climb. Surely anyone who has seen the Dip would see the truth in that. To me, a state championship course was about more than just besting your competitors -- ultimately, it was about getting the best out of yourself. And what better test than a course where you were never allowed to settle in. The way I see it, the college running scene had it all wrong. Hills aren't hindrances to fast PRs, they are to be embraced. Take it from someone now starting their second decade of competitive running: course PRs come and go, but the experience of demanding excellence of yourself on a course worthy of your respect doesn't fade. At Hereford, punishment for youthful exuberance in the early stages was meted out with unflinching consequences by the second run up the Dip. The course didn't ask, but demanded, a mix of toughness and patience -- a blend that was hard to get right.

The running debates among my college team were endless, and high school exploits proved a popular subject. Too often I had to sit by while a former Illinois runner would recount the blazing speed of a contemporary's performance at their State meet at Detweiller Park. When the New Yorkers would trot out Van Cortlandt or the Philadelphians the storied Belmont Plateau or the New Jerseyans their precious Holmdel, I would hold my head just as high as any of them, and remind them that no less an authority than DyeStat had once called Hereford the most challenging three miles in the country.

Years have passed and life goes on. My college career ended, and once again my senior class went out on a high note, even if I was cheering from the sidelines this time around. A high school teammate is preparing for next month's Chicago marathon. Seasons come and go as the next generation takes to the starting line for another Bull Run Invitational this weekend. Hereford, though it remains true to its core, has seen changes as well. On the boys' side, the venerable 16:00 minute barrier has finally been surpassed, though it took nothing less than the Footlocker Champion to set the current course record.

And so it is that I find myself, nine years later, being drawn back to test myself against Hereford. This weekend, I'll run in the Reunion Run during this year's edition of the Bull Run Invitational, dressed in the same all-white uniform that I've worn for the last few years. I'm not the same runner I was back in 2001 -- many races, a lot of mileage, and a few injuries along the way have seen to that. But the task of taming the hills at Hereford remains as formidable as ever, and I am racing there again to see what I'm capable of. I can't wait.


Jossi Fritz-Mauer is a 2002 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School. He ran cross country and track all four years at Division III Haverford College, where he remains as an assistant coach. He works at a nonprofit in Philadelphia and remains an avid Moco running fan.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010
07:00:42 PM
very, very, very well written. your contribution is much appreciated!!!

Jacqui Young
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
07:53:59 PM
In loved your statement, PR's come and go, but the experience of demanding excellence of yourself on a course worthy of your respect doesn’t fade. I feel you're exactly right! It's rare when you come across a statement that just sits so well with you, and this is one of them.

Blazin that course
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
08:14:20 PM
Hey Jossi. Thanks for this article. It's beautiful. Maybe it'd make Pre proud. Look forward to seein ya there. Look out for your old team.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
10:24:28 PM
This article was excellently written. Probably one of the best articles I've read on Mocorunning.

Hereford Coach
Friday, September 24, 2010
06:55:05 AM
Thank you for eloquently expressing affection for our course. It is so much a part of our state's and our school's tradition. It is great to know that it also lives in the minds and hearts of athletes who have conquered it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010
11:56:12 PM
this isn't good

Sunday, September 26, 2010
02:11:06 PM
Great that you won the reunion race there after writing this article, too!

Susie Shaffer (BMC '74, MARRIED TO A 'FORD)
Monday, September 27, 2010
04:04:28 PM
This is lovely - beautifully written and full of wisdom.

Eric J. Smith
Friday, October 29, 2010
10:39:08 AM
Mr. Fritz-Mauer, Your ode to Hereford brings back memories to a Montgomery Blair graduate and cross country runner. Our team made the trip to Hereford in the Fall of 1963 and returned with the state championship. We took five of the first 15 spots, winning with a total of 50 points. What I remember most about the course was the pitch of the hills--incredibly tough going up but even more difficult retaining one's balance coming down. At least one of the state's best runners (Charles Messenger) of Kenwood High fell that day but still managed to place fourth.

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