“Hey man, droogie don’t crash here”
— the prophet david robert jones
I’m starting to think the key is not caring.
I’m 65 years old. I’ve been running since Shorter was a big deal. And these days I struggle to uncork 14:30 miles. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get any faster.
It’s been driving me nuts. And then I realized the secret.
So here I am, in the Sheehan School of Running. An hour a day. My Fancy Garmin Watch has a setting that allows me to book a reservation at the House of Hadd. One hour, with five minutes in zone 1, followed by 50 minutes in zone 2, followed by another five minutes in zone 1, followed by chocolate milk. Sort of like a Calvin and Hobbes outing without Suzy. No worries about pace; just stay in the zone.
I’m now on the third day, and I think this is it, this is how I go out. No pressure, no expectations. Just me and the burrowing owls and a freakishly large raven who likely will kill me on the third lap one day. If I go a few days without a post, please check the ominous nest made out of railroad ties in the stands of the SCC football field, next to the track we’re no longer allowed to use because it’s “not safe.”
Mo broke her thumb and can’t ride her bike, which led her to the SCC gym for working out, which led me back to the mile loop around campus. It’s ridiculously beautiful, a vista that goes on forever, a water fountain and a portapot the baseball team allows me to use as long as I don’t get caught. Isn’t that really all you need in a run?
And so that’s where you can find me these days. I dutifully run at the whims of the Garmin. It will be a fun science experiment. I’ve tried everything to try to find some semblance of speed again. Maybe the key is to stop trying. I’m on my third day; so far the average pace has been 14:19, 14:33 and 14:13. I’m wondering if a consistent hour a day will allow me to get faster. But then I realize: I really don’t care. Running and Being, Dr. Sheehan said. I’m OK just being. Playing for an hour.
There’s a sign on the course today with a bee warning. I pass by it every mile, wondering if the bees realize they are not allowed to go past the warning tape. I edited a story last week that was sympathetic to the plight of bees, so I’m hoping I’m in their good graces. Worst case scenario: “Elderly jogger dies in bee attack” makes an OK headline. Better than “Elderly jogger dies from accidentally drinking urine after peeing in Big Gulp cup and leaving it in cupholder”, which is much too long for newspaper purposes.
I have somehow ended up in an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift for the first time in my life even though I still work on morning newspapers, which says all you need to know about the state of American journalism. So for the first time, I am an Evening Runner. I start around 6 p.m., just in time to get in a few laps before the sun fades behind Camelback. I’m guessing this will be fantastic in a few months when it’s 120 degrees or so. But I like it for now. A chance to exorcise the demons after a day of editing the plight of the world; a peaceful transition between work and Hallmark movies. (spoiler alert: she chooses her small hometown and the guy with the precocious kid rather than returning to the Big City.)
I’m listening to Bowie (I’m running on a long stretch of empty Salt River/Maricopa Indian Community land, so loud music helps drown out the pack of wild dogs coming at me from the distance), so I don’t hear it for a while. Or maybe I’m hallucinating. But there’s music. Not Spiders from Mars music, but classical. I’m thinking I’m haunted by the Ghost of GeeDee, who I didn’t even realize had passed to the other side, so I ignore it. But on the next lap, same thing. And then again.
Mo finally saunters out from the gym, carrying a bunch of grapefruits. People around here are desperate to unload their grapefruits. Mo says her cousin told her that if you have to buy grapefruits, it means you don’t have any friends. So now Mo has friends I suppose, if you draw faces on the grapefruits and give them jaunty hats. When I turn off Bowie, I hear it in the background. Music.
We track down the source: The Scottsdale Community College Performing Band is, well, performing. I suspect that’s how they got the name. We park and listen for a while. They are on the little outdoor stage outside the band room, playing an odd assortment of songs, none of which are Bowie. It’s fine, although a bit hard to dance to, which I am grateful for given that West Texas Baptist boys don’t dance, and my ITBS always acts up for a year or so after a run.
And then the conductor says the next selection, “Children’s March” by Percy Grainger, will prominently feature the bassoon, which is a little too close to the oboe for my comfort zone, so we leave. A fine outing.
I remember what I love about running. You’re sitting at home, minding your own business. Then you drag your butt out, because that’s what you do. And down the path, before you know it, you find something magical. Bees, music, improvement, grace.
You never know until you go looking.
So that’s what I’m going to do. One 14:30 at a time. I’m slow. I don’t care.