It had gone well last summer, so Michael Gleeson and Alex Bussan met again in Cary-Grove High School’s parking lot, ready for another go.
The recent C-G graduates, who are both 18, squeezed through the fence – sometimes coach doesn’t leave it open – and trotted alongside the changing white lines of their black canvas.
The two are nothing alike, at first glance, but they’re here, together, long enough to see glimpses of them dashing on the track beyond the stands and the shacks in the fading light of day, when nobody else is around.
Gleeson, the shorter and more outspoken one, has been running competitively since his freshman year. Bussan, tall and meticulous, began when he was 7. They both started running for the Trojans’ track team four years ago. Gleeson joined because his football coach said so, and Bussan joined for his love of the sport, and because he was “a little faster than the kids on the playground.”
When they run, Bussan is the one who listens to the serene soundtrack of nature – cicadas buzzing, wind blowing, birds chirping – while Gleeson has his headphones in, listening to his running soundtrack.
In high school, they ran the same events, but Gleeson loves long distance. Bussan hates it – he’s a sprinter. Bussan’s also the one who has battled injuries each year. Gleeson was hurt only last season – a result of inclement weather pushing runners indoors onto wooden start lines and lanes of tile.
Today, they run to make up for time lost to injuries in the spring. Gleeson is running with hopes of walking on to the University of Missouri’s track team and being successful in his ROTC program. Bussan is running to stay in shape at Indiana University, to fight the freshman 15.
And so, three nights a week at 8 o’clock, two buddies who have nearly nothing in common come here – to their old high school’s track. As the sun lies to sleep and the rush of the day softens to a whisper, they stretch and get loose, catching up on what happened since last time.
Then, together, they run.
Gleeson, who panted on a steel bench and swatted at mosquitoes alongside the track, packed up after a night of running Monday.
“We never got to peak,” he said about his last track season, which ended two months ago.
Gleeson and Bussan were teammates for all four years of high school, but the two didn’t come together as friends until junior year, when they stood out as two of the team’s best runners, which carried into their senior year after state appearances.
They soon realized they had more in common than they thought, and that’s when they began running at night – to improve for senior year after a coach’s afternoon track camp. Senior year was tougher, though, because of the injuries.
“That was a problem with a lot of our team,” said Bussan, who stood beside Gleeson, hands on his sides.
Track wore on Bussan’s body throughout high school – he worked through back and hip flexor troubles – but he was surprised when it finally wore on Gleeson’s body earlier this year.
After falling to shin splints and a rolled ankle during the season, Gleeson had to adjust his training regimen. He wore an ankle brace, which matched Bussan’s shin sleeves, on the track. Although teammates had suffered stress fractures and shin splints, Gleeson and Bussan were usually the only guys on the team who strapped up supports.
“People would say we look like bionic runners,” Bussan said.
Before his injuries, Gleeson ran nearly every day since last August, which explains why the two runners are back at the track Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. By the time both men are off to college, Gleeson will bump his running schedule from three days a week to five, to prepare for ROTC, while Bussan’s running days will decrease as he’ll drop dreams of running track at a Division I level.
They have different friends and don’t meet often, but they’re together on running nights, when the day is cooler and calmer. They could run in the mornings, with their old teammates and their coach. But they don’t.
“It’s peaceful,” Bussan said. “You don’t always get that during the day.”
“You do your own thing out here,” Gleeson said. “You don’t have to worry about anyone else interrupting you or bugging you.”
Bussan and Gleeson run at night because they’re people who like to run alone – and together.