Monday, August 10, 2009

On Running, Running Commentary and Staggering to the Finishline

Carolyn loves to run. She has since high school 30 years ago. I, on the other hand, decidedly do not enjoy running. I have since high school 40 years ago.

Carolyn ran track in high school with a degree of success. I ran track in high school—well enough to qualify for the state meet in 1 event as a junior and in 3 events as a senior. I even declined an invitation from my college’s track coach to run track (he wanted me to switch from the 440 to the 880—no way!).
When we met, I let Carolyn sweet talk, convince, coerce (take your pick) me into running with her. She’s not real fast but she can run forever. She has had a love affair with running for all of these 30 years. On the other hand, I hadn’t run since 1969 but I plodded along with her, trying to keep up and not be a “wuss”.

I even got to the point where I could plod my way for 5K and where my “base” run was about 2 miles. Not real good for a “serious” runner, but not bad for a 50-something trying to get back in a little bit of shape and not “look bad” to my “life’s partner”. I mean, I got so that I would check out running routes from my hotel on my weekly business trips.

When I say running, it’s only in the “technical” sense. My idea of a run was a 12 minute per mile pace. Old fart pace. Plodding, snail-like. I had to measure my breathing, maintain constant internal “monitoring” of heart and respiration. If I went anaerobic, I was dead (figuratively). My ability to recuperate and keep running was minimal at best. (By the way, I discovered that a slow version of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” is a great “metronome” for pacing. You just keep the same turn-over rate and vary stride length slightly to speed up or slow down). That’s a far cry from 50 second quarters when I was 17.

But, I got used to it. Even kind of enjoyed it. What I enjoyed was slimming down a bit and having more energy and knowing that I could go out and put in a couple of miles before or after work.

So I ran for about 6 months. We even entered a 5K just to see if I could do it (winning was defined as finishing it in that 12 minute pace or better). I was so slow that the winners in my age group could have done a 10k in the time it took me to do 5K. Then 6 months later I had double hernia surgery followed by an angioplasty and it was about 4 months after that before I started running again—starting all over again.

We’ve got some really good running routes where we live. We just have to leave the apartment, cross a major street at the light and we’re a couple of blocks away from one of the biggest butt-kicking hills you’ve ever seen. It’s about 6/10s of a mile bottom to top and a 10% grade all the way up (real slow “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy”). Then it levels off followed by what we call the “escalator” for the last 200 yards that’s even steeper to what we call “X” because there used to be an “X” painted across the center stripe at the crest. This whole route we call “Walt’s Mountain” because it took me so long to “master” it—be able to go up it all the way, recuperate, go on to X then back down again. All told, it’s about a 2 ½ mile route.

Anyway, I started to slowly get back in shape. And the following October we entered another 5K. We’re in the parking lot stretching and getting ready to walk over to check-in. Another runner, a guy about my age with the scrawny, muscley legged look of a serious runner combined with matching running shorts and top and a pair of new really pricey shoes stopped and looked over at me. Then he said, “I’ve never seen that before. Getting ready for a race and smoking a cigarette at the same time!” I laughed and said, “Yep, and I’ll have another one just as soon as the run is over.”

So the run/race begins. I’m plodding along, feeling comfortable. Running a good pace. “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” playing in my head, keeping me on pace. Carolyn’s running next to me and we’re about a mile into the run when she says, “I’m going to speed up to try and get a good time, OK?” “’K, bye,” I gasped. And she increases her turn rate and starts to pull away. After about a half mile, I can’t see her anymore which is too bad because I love to see Carolyn run. She’s definitely not some girley-girl runner. She’s smooth. She looks and moves like an athlete.
Now this 5K was a combination walk/run with the runners starting 5 minutes ahead of the walkers. I’m not the last of the runners by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve even managed to pass a few (and obviously I’ve been passed too but not by too many—slow runners start at the back of the pack you know).

But now I’m hearing footsteps. I peek over my left shoulder. I see pink. The Energizer Bunny? No, it’s a lady. Dressed from top to bottom in a pink jogging suit. About to pass me. Walking. Shit.

She pulls even. But doesn’t pass. “What! Is she toying with me?” I ask myself.

“Good morning!” she says, full of energy. “Good morning”, I manage to grunt.

“I entered this because today is my birthday,” she comments. (“Oh God,” I tell myself, “She wants to talk.”) “My whole family’s here,” she informs me. “That’s great,” I gasp.

She’s walking along, moving easy, stepping it out and swinging her arms (she’s also probably 15 years younger than me).

“Oh, there they are!” she exclaims, waving and smiling, “have a good run! Bye!” And she accelerates past me like I’m standing still swinging over to the side of the street to the waves and high-fives of 2 sons and her husband, then keeps on going slowly leaving me in her dust.

By now, I’m 2/3s of the way through the 5K—a little over 2 miles into it. Ahead of me is a father and son. The son is about 12-13 and dad is around 40. Dad has on cut-off jeans and low cut tennies. The kid has on baggy shorts and ragged running shoes. Both have sweatshirts tied around their waists. They run. Then slow and walk. Then run some more followed by more walking. I’m constantly running and barely catching up. Finally the Dad motions for the kid to go on ahead and stops running altogether. He quickly falls behind. The kid continues to run and walk.

I come abreast of him. He wants to quit. I can tell because I’d just as soon quit too, but I’m not going to let Carolyn see me walk or let her have bragging rights. I know it’s only about a half mile to go. I gasp out to the kid—“Hey come on, you can do this. Keep going, you’re doing great.” He maintains his jog just ahead of me. We’re doing the final corner with the finish about a quarter mile ahead. I was going to accelerate and “kick” from here to the finish but decide to keep this young guy going.

“You can do it!” I tell him. “Keep up with me!” And I stretch out just a bit, picking up speed. “Go, go, go”, I manage to gasp out encouraging him. He looks over his shoulder and picks up his pace. He crosses the finish in that gangling gait that kids his age have.

(That's me in 1969 running a 440 in high school!)
I kind of smile to myself as I cruise across the finish. I know I could have taken the little crapperhead. Carolyn’s just past the finish, grinning at me. Like I’m some sort of hero. My time is 3 minutes faster than the last 5K I ran and Carolyn’s is about 4 minutes faster than mine.

Now for the treat. We get our t-shirts! $20 entry gets you the treat of a 5K run and a t-shirt. Then walk back to the car, open it up, reach inside and get a cigarette.

“Ahhhhhhh, that’s good.”

Now we’ll go home and listen to Bill Cosby’s monologue “Track & Field—Mile Relay”—my favorite all time Cosby (or any other comedian) monologue.

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