“You just had a bad day. Keep practicing. Nothing is as easy as eating noodles.”
— the prophet ha jin
“You just had a bad day. Keep practicing. Nothing is as easy as eating noodles.”
— the prophet ha jin
mo: Hey, there’s a hole in the back of my Ani shirt!!!
me: Oh, no. How did that happen?
mo: Oh. That’s just from the bike crash. Never mind.
And that old time feeling
goes sneaking down the hall
Like an old gray cat in winter,
keeping close to the wall
— the prophet guy clark
You’re bumming about the day’s run. Uncle Hal has relegated it to a 14:30 pace, which meant saguaros were passing you at Usery the whole time.
And tomorrow is a gumbo 10K at 10:30 pace, which is way too fast and means you will either surely die or suffer the wrath of a “You Did Not Follow My Plan” Message of Shame.
You’re obsessed with running. It’s all that matters.
Until it isn’t.
You suddenly find yourself at the vet’s office. Something is very wrong with the Baby Kat. There seem to be three scenarios: One not so bad, one bad, and one very, very bad.
Suddenly, you are not obsessed with running in the least.
You wait. You hold hands. You try not to cry.
You think about how it’s sort of like being at the finish line waiting for someone. You know there’s suffering involved, but not how much. Will they make it? Are they stuck on the course? How long will it be? Will anyone notice if you sneak a bagel? Can you do anything without torturing a metaphor?
The suspense is terrifying. You pretend not to be nervous. It doesn’t work. You wait some more.
You remember that first day when she was barely born. The way she latched onto your shirt even though her eyes weren’t open. The way her claws dug into your heart and you knew it would be hers forever. The time she caught the hummingbird and then let it go. The road trips to Texas. The way she always sat just close enough to be aloof. That purr. This can’t be the end. And if it is, why did you waste all that time running when you could have been annoying her instead?
The vet comes in. It was the not so bad one. She says she’ll give you some morphine to take home, which sounds fantastic until you realize it’s for the cat. A week or so and hopefully everything will be OK.
You take her home. She lies down in the usual spot and gives you the “why the hell are you staring at me?” look. You eat pad thai and check the forecast for tomorrow.
You go back to being obsessed with running. 10:30 pace? What is Uncle Hal thinking? Maybe the cat won’t notice that you dipped into the morphine to make it through the last mile. That old time feeling …
Well, sure. I was curious. Would those new Nike shoes make me faster?
They were touted as being significantly better than the competition. A Fancy Pants Patent (US No. 3783750) protected the technology from interlopers, whatever an interloper is. And they Just Looked Fast.
They were pricey, yes, but then all good things are. Except maybe bananas. How can bananas be so cheap?
I drank the Kool-Aid, or possibly Gatorade, and tried them on. They felt OK. Maybe a little narrow for my feet, but built for speed. I couldn’t wait to try them out. So I didn’t wait.
A lot of the biggest names in running were wearing them. And I could see why. They were fast. Really fast. Throw away the shoes I had been running in fast. I was hooked.
You can’t compete with Nike. You can either run in them or lose. I managed to do both. But they’re my favorite shoes of all time.
Of course, that was 1979, and I guess shoes have changed a little since then. But returning to these guys after 40 years is like going home to the Pink Floyd “Dark Side” album, minus the brownies. I bet I could run faster with brownies. It was a time when shoes were just shoes and running was just running and DMSO horse liniment was the most exotic illegal drug you could obtain. Get off my lawn, damn kids.
Carbon plates? ZoomX foam? Meh. I prefer waffles for breakfast.
In this time of introspection.
On the eve of my election,
I say to my reflection
God, please spare me more rejection.
— the prophet folds
They’re standing at the corner, the starting line of the Gumbo 5K, although I assume I’m the only person on the planet who actually knows where the Gumbo 5K course is, and I’m not telling unless I’m waterboarded, and these guys look like they probably know how to waterboard, so I stay in the car.
They’re just standing there in their fatigues. Hats, pants tucked into beige boots. Work clothes. One of them holds a clipboard. The other studies his phone. I sit.
Uncle Hal has me signed up for a tempo run today and I’m in no hurry to suffer, so I wait. And so do they.
A few minutes later, a car pulls up next to me. Two more Army peeps step out. Same uniforms, same low-key demeanor. They walk up to the other guys, and they all stand there.
And then they stand some more.
And some more.
All eyes look up the course. In the horizon I see a guy sprinting toward us. Black shirt, black shorts, screaming yellow ARMY logo on both. He streaks toward the finish. The guy with the phone moves to the corner. As the runner throws himself across the finish line with his last gasp, the phone guy says simply, “14 flat.”
The runner hunches over, that hands on knees please god don’t let me puke on the boots of my commanding officer kind of stance. He stays in that position for maybe a minute. The guy with the clipboard writes something down. And then they all walk to the car and leave. That’s it.
I google the times for the Army Basic Training test. It appears to be 16:36 or better for a 2 mile run. This guy must have crushed it. They say in the description that you need to be that fast for “combat readiness.” I’m guessing if people were shooting at me, I could go sub 8. And then I think about the ton of gear you carry, and then I think about the danger, and then I think about how far removed the Bird Park is from the battlefields of Afghanistan. I remember for the millionth time how much these guys sacrifice so that I can go out for my daily jaunt.
I mosey out of the car and start my own little time trial, which suddenly seems totally insignificant. Uncle Hal yells at me for sloppy pacing, but nobody shoots at me. Funny how time trials are relative.
I hope the soldier stays safe. I hope he goes sub-14 someday. I hope he never gets waterboarded. I hope they don’t tell anyone about the Gumbo 5K course.
■ No spikes longer than 1/4 inch are allowed.
■ No gum or sunflower seeds are allowed.
■ No tobacco products are allowed.
■ No food or drinks are allowed.
■ No unaccompanied penguins are allowed.
■ No wheeled vehicles are allowed.
■ No scooters are allowed.
■ No running in the first four lanes is allowed.
■ AND DESPITE ALL THIS, THEY ALLOW YOU TO RUN ALL THE 400 METER INTERVALS UNCLE HAL CAN FORCE UPON YOU!!!!!!! AS LONG AS THEY’RE BANNING STUFF, WHY CAN’T THEY BAN STUFF THAT TRIES TO KILL YOU???
■ Also, the course is very confusing and it’s easy to get lost.
And that is why I hate the Coronado track’s rules.
Now if you will excuse me, I must step out to smoke a sunflower-seed ceegar with my penguin.
“Are you running the marathon?” he asks. I know this conversation will not go well.
Mo and I are standing next to a Phoenix/Mesa Marathon sign on the way back from Usery, shooting a photo. It’s for our friend Gwen, who came last year for the race but decided to sit this one out in light of the pressure of the Muskrat Mile. We are both missing a shoe. It’s that kind of day.
The guy is running with a companion. They stop in front of us and wait for me to answer. I formulate a response in my head, which comes out as this: “No.”
Well, you should shoot a photo of HIM, he says, pointing to his running companion. “He’s running the course FOUR TIMES!”
I think he goes on to explain the whole zzzz 100 mile thing, clearly a superhuman feat unimaginable to mere mortals. I’m not really listening. He pauses and waits.
I try to formulate a response. I know what I’m supposed to say. “OH MY GOD FOUR MARATHONS IN A ROW YOU ARE THE COOLEST PERSON ON THE PLANET THAT’S SO INCREDIBLE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LET ME HAVE YOUR BABY.”
What I WANT to say is, “ummmm, why?”
It’s not like there aren’t enough ultras around here. If you want to run a hundred, run a hundred. Isn’t the point of a race to run that race as quickly as possible? Do guys ever show up for a 5k and run 3 5ks in advance so they can breathlessly report they actually ran a 20k?
It’s not like the roads are closed a day early. Why go through all of this just to run a slow marathon? Do you need validation? I just read a Janis Joplin biography in which her whole life revolved around proving herself and being loved and doing a lot of heroin. Is this guy doing a lot of heroin? Isn’t that on the IOC list of banned drugs?
Ummmm, huh. I say. So you’re going to finish 75 just in time for the start? “Yes!!!” the friend exclaims, impressed that the dense fellow finally understands the magnitude of this endeavor.
I want to tell him I know too well that it’s all relative. A guy is currently running from Mouse to Mouse, Disneyland to Disney World, as we speak. What about Big’s Backyard? Across the Years? The Sri run? Go 3,100 miles around a half-mile loop and then we’ll chat. Don’t they know that 200 is the new 100? Does anyone even get excited about a hundred miler these days? And isn’t it all relative? Isn’t a perfect mile more of an accomplishment than an OK 100? (As it turns out, Rupp ran the half here the next day in 1:01 and change. He apparently didn’t need to run 13.1 multiple times to make his race a worthwhile effort.)
I think about the shot putters at the track yesterday. They just show up and put shots. Or something. They’re really cool guys. I don’t know if they’re world class or community college class. All I know is they have fun and they seem happy. And they don’t much care what I think.
But maybe these guys are having fun, too. I’m just not sure I want to pretend to be impressed. It’s just running.
I formulate my response at last. “Huh. Well, good luck!”
Clearly disappointed with my lack of enthusiasm, they head off into the sunset, and then I suppose the sunrise, in search of another audience.
Mo and I go back to trying to shoot a photo with a lack of proper footwear.
We watch the debate and I eat ice cream. FOUR TIMES!!!!! Please tell me you’re impressed.
I’m a crabby old man. I should have been a shot putter.