I didn’t know it until later, but my fueling was off. Way off.
The Corporate Challenge Half was on May 16, 2015. The night before, I didn’t sleep soundly; the best sleep of the night was from about 9:20 to 11:00. But I didn’t get out of bed until 5:30. I figured that was as late as I could push it. And it turned out to be too late, too close.
I weighed in at 139.6 pounds. Not bad, but that is still 5.2 more pounds than I want to be carrying around. Every once in a while I remember that Quenton Cassidy in “Once a Runner” by John L. Parker, Jr. has a shirt that says, “Gaunt is beautiful.” I can’t forget that. I think that would be a cool shirt to wear, to own.
I rolled out of bed, and I took my clothes downstairs to get dressed, so I wouldn’t disturb M; and I started on a cup of Folgers instant coffee with a little sugar. By the time I was dressed and had downed a bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal, with 1 Tbsp of vanilla-ice-cream-flavored whey and 1 Tbsp of peanut butter, it was 6:00. Time to be in the car and on my way, whey, weight, wait. I was late. I microwaved my rocket fuel, 10 ounces of brewed coffee with another tablespoon of Folgers Instant in it. And I started working on that. I felt full and didn’t want to drink it. Strangely, I wasn’t enjoying it.
The Corporate Challenge Half is about a 20 minute trip from my house. The sun was rising, and it was beautiful. That’s one of the things that I like about this time of year, the sunrises are early. I got off 69 at 135th, and I was heartened to see the bumper-sticker-emblazoned cars and sport yutes, declaring unreservedly that they were part of the running tribe. We understood things about each other. We made our introductions and identified ourselves with numbers like 13.1 and 26.2. There was a 39, too. I knew I was in the right place, going the right way.
Then, I imagined that there really was a runner’s tribe, defining itself in this sub-urban jungle, this modern-day dystopia. We are a hearty people, scratching (sweating) out an existence between asphalt streets and parking lots, fast-food-restaurants, and navigating with our friendly gee-pee-esses, riding our trusty SUV-steeds. We meet early in the morning to see how fast we can run, and we pay big money so that we don’t have to worry about traffic for a little while and can just be with some people who run our speed.
I was waking up. Maybe the coffee was working. And I had a vision of my consciousness, my awareness, my alertness as a rock skipping across the river of life, up and down. Splash, splash, splash, plunk. I think of Kid Fears by the Indigo Girls when I have this vision, and the high-hat onamonapia-ing the sound of the splashes of the rock before ominously stopping. Sunk.
Skipping stones, we know the price now. Any sin will do. How much farther if you can spin? How much farther if you are smooth? (Splash. Splash. Splash. Splash-splash, plunk.) Are you on fire? From the years? What would you give for your kid fears? What would replace the rent with the stars above? Replace the need with love? Replace the anger with the tide? Replace the ones (the ones, the ones, the ones) that you love? Michael Stipe of R.E.M. sings the third part on this song. He’s like a bag-pipe under a soprano and alto saxophone. Perfect.
And this remains… The wages of sin is death. Any sin will do.
I recently watched Glory, the movie about the first African-American regiment (the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers) in the Civil War featuring Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, who both do stellar jobs. I had watched it when it came out, when I was in college. I liked it better this time. I was not so jaded; I made allowances for the director and some of the actors; I suspended my condescension. On this morning, I recalled a scene where a group of African-American school children are on display for the self-satisfied, northern abolitionists, singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and the lyric “land where my fathers died” is a true-foreshadowing. And I recalled the scene as the men prepare themselves for the climactic battle, a suicidal charge against a fortified position. And they know that few of them will survive. But they are willing to do it. And why? They will show that they are men, human beings, on even footing, created equal.
“LORD! LORD!” they sing and hum around the campfire. Everyone joins on the chorus, and one man sings the verses. And when the Spirit moves, they speak about why they are there and what they are about to do. And they say what it means. And hands are clapping and voices are humming. It’s a real spiritual, touching the deepest foundation and meaning. They are preparing for battle, and they are preparing to die.
When I think about slavery, I think about exploitation. And then I think I am hardly better than a white, landed southerner with an investment in slaves. Only my investment is in my car, and my conceit is that I must have a car, and I must put gasoline (fossil fuels) in it because it’s the only way I can make it in this world, this time, this place. But I also think that I am wrong. I think I am lazy, and I know that I am wasting a precious gift, an irreplaceable resource. And I hope my children will forgive me; because I am going to need their forgiveness. This is all going to come crashing down around our ears, long before we are safely in our graves.
But everyone else is doing it. At least, everyone who I fight during my commute to and from work each day. Contestants in a suicidal race. Synchronicity II
And here is how we get it wrong. We think the land belongs to us. And we have forgotten that we are made of mud, dirt, ashes. And we have forgotten that all (ALL) flesh is grass. But the grass that we grow is not just sunshine, earth, and rain. No. It is fertilizer synthesized from crude oil, and it is harvested by combines running diesel. We are dinosaur-people. Our (American) dream is to own a home and mow the yard it sits on. This dream is not Eden, not a Sabbath (rest); it is an illusion and it requires work, the sweat of our brows. And our fatal-flaw is we think that we own the land, that we can make Mother Nature, Mother Earth do our bidding. But she is a free soul. Born free, she will die free.
Maybe I am no worse than Thomas Jefferson, who freed his slaves in his will. Maybe my next car will be a bike.
I wondered if runners could have a ritual for preparing for a race like the soldiers in Glory prepared for battle. I wondered if our tribe could have a ritual that went from packet pick-up and the health expo, to the last shake out run or the Western Australian, a pasta dinner, and a campfire spiritual. Connect the points. See the constellation. [Indigo Girls] Say what you mean. And prepare yourself for tomorrow, when you will leave it all on the race course. No regrets. And then, after the race, the celebration and condolences.
But today was not that day for me. I would not be leaving it all on the course; there was too much in my head, too many governors on my body. I had a bum right knee and IT band, a twinge in my left foot. Maybe someday. Maybe when I was ready to qualify for Boston. Today I was running to finish, to complete the race, to run 13.1 miles.
Who am I today? Not Mr. Hyde this morning. Not a well-practiced chemistry experiment. Not a guitar that is strung tight, tuned, and ready to rip. But a dad, husband, and IT architect. I am a child of God who happens to be a gifted runner. I am wondering if my left foot, just at the third toe, will ping at me (and it did), and I’m wondering what that could possibly be. I am wondering what kind of chronic injury that could be. What can sooth it? Can I make it go away?
As soon as I got out of the car, I got in line for the porta-potty, and deposited another #2 there. I was full of coffee and empty of shit. At least I thought I was empty.
It had been a long time since I had completed a race or run this far. My last longish run had been back on December 14, 2014. A 12.86 mile jaunt that left me feeling like I had run a race. I was sore (really sore) for several days afterward. More sore than I should have been. That was when I knew something was wrong. Really wrong. After that I spent a lot of time on the elliptical, and eventually went to see the chiropractor, my shaman. Before then, a run in the mid-to-upper teens had been unremarkable. But today’s race was anxiety inducing, a run into unremembered territory. I was not trained; I was training. I was not fired up. I was simply going to run the distance with whatever I had in the tank.
Waiting for the start of the race, I chose a piece of curb near the corral and worked on this for a bit. When I looked up and around, there were some of my friends from work, gathering before the run. We chatted for a while, compared levels of fitness, wished each other luck, and then were called into the corral at about 5 minutes before 7:00. Standing there, it was getting late. Three minutes after seven o’clock, I was wondering out loud what the hold up could be. We weren’t listening closely enough, but the guy next to me said “They just said we are going to start in about three minutes.” Oh.
This morning I was especially aware of all the different people. I was trying to imagine their stories. Some people were hobbling to the start line, bandaged and reinforced at weak points. There was the girl in the corrals who was trying to get up near the front, and her friends from work were encouraging her. “Go on up there!” There was the guy who wears the dinosaur shorts, which I can only assume are PJs. I’ve seen those shorts before. There’s the too-skinny, too-long-legged guy who blows me away, running somewhere in the high one-twenties. There were the women and men who are beautiful but not fast, who I admire and want to be, who are seemingly comfortable and at home in their skin, wholly inhabiting their bodies. There was the guy who has male-pattern baldness and long curly hair that covers his neck, the hair (salt and pepper now) flowing behind him like a mini-cape, wicking away the sweat.
And looking at these people, these members of my tribe, it’s hard to tell how fast they can run. I guess that’s why we race. The most beautiful are often the mediocre; and some of the freaks are fast. Freakishly fast.
Finally the race started, and I ran with my friend for a while before he begged off the pace, and I said I was going to go chase somebody. I didn’t take any water from the stations, because I was carrying 20 ounces of weak-coffee in sugar water and a little salt. I kind of forgot to drink, and it was really hot, which was not a good combination. Like I said, my fueling was off.
I ran pretty strong the whole way. I started too fast and could not sustain that pace, but, after slowing down, I also wasn’t getting passed too badly. My wife and BJ, a friend from work, came out to cheer me, and since the course is an out and back, they both saw me two times. Four cheers! BJ said, “You’re the first person I’ve seen who’s smiling.” I said, “That’s because this is a training run for me.” I was smiling; I was happy. My knee was only bothering me a little, and I knew I was pushing the pace from my splits. I felt pretty good.
Near the end of the race, in mile 12, I had to stop for a #2. I was running behind a brunette. She had come up behind me, and I had decided to challenge myself to stay on her shoulder. I was in a trance, watching her hams work. We had traded the lead a couple of times, but I was red-lining, because I began to feel that unmistakable urge to squat. I faded behind her and decided it was not worth holding it in. I ducked off the trail, and 2:00 later I was back. So. That whole fueling plan did not work. Must have eaten a little late. And drank too much coffee.
Back in the race, I fell in behind another lady and (with some shame) drafted her. There was a fairly stiff wind coming out of the south, and there was a good stretch right into it. We were closing on the finish line, and I was searching for mile marker 13. I’d seen every other mile marker, with my watch buzzing just before them. But I never saw 13, and instead I knew we were nearing the finish as I watched the runners in front of me curl back into a parking lot. I knew the finish line was somewhere in those buildings. I should have checked my watch. Duh.
As I turned onto the final straight-away, I said, “Game over.” And I just cruised in, not trying to beat anybody. I let the lady who I’d been drafting pull away. That was the right thing to do. We were not competitors or colleagues. We had simply been near each other for a little while. It was a coincidence that we were finishing at nearly the same time, it was not a competition.
I wound up with a 1:41, and I figured that was OK. I was thinking I could get a 1:44 (at an 8:00 / mile pace) on a training effort, so I figured I had raced at least a little out there. I have thought that my half pace could be roughly calculated on my weight, and after I figured my #2 break had cost me 2:00, and I started the race at 139 pounds, it is not surprising that I got a 1:41. It seems to me that the easiest way to improve my time is to lose some weight. Still it has been hard for me to push below 140.
I keep thinking about that sign: Worst Parade Ever. And I want to do something about it. I want to get a bag of smarties and throw them to the spectators. I want them to remember me and think that running is not only challenging, but also a fun, whimsical thing to do. I want to put the following lyrics from “Live Like That” by the Sidewalk Prophets on the back of my shirt. Perhaps they will inspire whoever is running behind me.
Am I proof that you are who I say you are? That grace could really change a heart? Do I live like your love is true?
People pass and even if they don’t know my name, is there evidence that I’ve been changed? When they see me do they see you?
I want to live (and run and eat and drive and die) like that.