The significance of the humble Pie Race in the grander Olympic scheme of things was that if Shorter was going to try to break the record set by a student, Kevin Prest, in 1975 (21:54), he was going to have to run hard. Only Shorter knew whether he could, and he wasn't saying. Someone looking for clues, however, might have noted his remarkably high spirits when he arrived at the old school.
An aura of dignity bordering occasionally on hauteur surrounds Shorter at most public occasions. He does not suffer fools gladly. His brown eyes flash and his slender hawklike nose fairly quivers with a disdain that keeps even the dimmest wits at bay. Yet on this visit, his first to Mount Hermon since 1968 when he was a junior at Yale, he was at ease and apparently enjoying himself. He and his wife Louise and their 7-month-old baby, Alex, wandered the campus, took meals with the students in the cafeteria-style dining hall and talked with whoever approached them. At first the students held back, trying politely not to stare, but at the same time sizing Shorter up with furtive glances. Eventually they gave up and gawked. At lunch on the day of the race, a table was reserved for the cross-country teams and the Shorters to share. Frank talked about training as it was in his day ("We warmed up, ran five miles and showered"); asked questions about the prep school cross-country championships held a week earlier, in which the Northfield Mount Hermon girls' team had won; and cracked them up with a story of Row he had once brushed his teeth after lights-out with his acne medicine.
The traditional starting time for the Pie Race is 3:55 p.m., following the last class of the day. In late November that means a great many runners finish in darkness. This year, to accommodate television and still photographers, the last class of the day was canceled and the race was rescheduled to begin at 3:30. As the Mount Hermon Brass Ensemble played Walton's Fanfare and Mouret's Rondeau (better known now as the Masterpiece Theater music), the host of runners—406 of the student body of 1,130 had entered—lined up at the south end of a large playing field, shivering in the late afternoon chill.
With Axel Forslund's gun they were off, a mass of color streaming past a background of bare sugar maples and a gray stone chapel on a hill; past Crossley Hall, where Shorter recalled having warmed his pies on a radiator when he was a student; past the tennis courts and Shadow Lake, where the hockey team used to play before it got an indoor rink and its own Zamboni. On a winding drive leading downhill toward the school's main gate, about three-quarters of a mile into the race, Shorter took the lead. Out the gate they went, onto a two-lane highway for a few hundred yards, then off again onto Turners Falls Road, a dirt lane through school property, with barren winter woods on one side and fields of corn stubble on the other.
At the halfway point Shorter was flying and the pack was far behind. The runners made a left turn at Day's Corner, 2.7 miles out, around a pile of rusty farm machinery and onto North Cross Road, past a goat tethered in a side yard, past a colorless, weatherbeaten scarecrow and some beehives.
At 3� miles the course turned left again and started up Overtoun Hill, a steep, quarter-mile pull, dotted with white frame faculty houses. Shorter said later, "I liked that hill." From the top of the hill, with its view of the river and rolling wooded hills to the horizon, it was down to the playing field, around its south end and through a corridor of cheering onlookers to the finish line at the flagpole. With his 20:54 clocking, Shorter had cut a full minute from Prest's record, and he was beaming. He posed for pictures with his pie, and he posed with the second-and third-place finishers and their pies. "Just like old times," he said. He signed autographs until the cold began to penetrate; and then he went into the gym and signed some more. "I really ran hard for the first time in a long time, and it felt good the whole way," he said.
The first time Shorter ran the Pie Race was in 1963, when he was a 16-year-old sophomore at Mount Hermon. He had never run in competition run before. Skiing, football and baseball were his sports that year, according to The Gateway, the school yearbook. He says he started that race in about 50th place and gradually worked his way up through the field until, at the finish, he was seventh. Ahead of him were the five-man cross-country team and one cross-country skier. "That was what got me interested in running," he says. "That and the fact I was getting my rear end kicked all over the place playing football."
It is accepted as gospel in running circles that the Great Running Boom in this country was born with Shorter's victory in the Olympic Marathon in Munich in 1972. Perhaps. But it appears that a good case could be made that it really began with a seventh place in a pie race on a November afternoon in Massachusetts in 1963.