skinny legs

legs they come
And faces go
Just like old Toyotas
— the prophet lyle lovett

We haven’t even made it to the track when Mo calls it. “Floater.”

Floater is Mo’s term for gazelles, those runners whose feet never seem to touch the ground. And she’s right. The runner is in lane 1. Sports bra and short shorts. Screaming neon green flats.

She’s running 800 repeats at an insanely fast pace. 400 alone, and then the second 400 paced by a guy who is also a gazelle. She’s unrelenting. 800, ridiculously short break, 800, break. I’m guessing she’s been at it a while when we arrive. She continues through my entire 40 minutes or so. I’ve never seen her here before. Another in the long line of peeps who seem to be showing up here from parts unknown to escape the weather, I suppose.

I was bummed to see that the Dartmouth track team isn’t coming this year for spring break. Florida. Like there are any proper cactus in Florida. So I take solace in sharing the track with this person. I wonder what her story is. I bet it’s a fast one. Another national-class runner who I’ll read about after the world’s? “blah blah, who spent February training on the Scottsdale track in the proximity of an exceedingly slow elderly gentleman, set a new U.S. record today …” I hope she mentions me at the ESPYs.

The Sprint Guy shows up around the usual time. It’s a disaster. He says hello to me, apparently unaware that my rules require no conversation. He’s a nice guy, but once you say hello, then what’s next?

The answer comes as I come by a couple of laps later. “Nice weather,” he says. This is SO unacceptable. I nod in agreement, determined not to speak.

Today was a breakthrough of sorts. I ran hard yesterday, and up till now I’ve just walked on the following day. But I was able to get in a decent trot today. 13:10 average, which is by far my fastest day-after pushing day yet. Maybe I’m adjusting. Or maybe it was the intimidation of being on the track with someone so fast. Or the rage of a sprinter chatting me up. Whatever the case, it felt really, really good. It will be interesting to see if I’m back up to speed tomorrow. Here’s hoping.

Mo, ever the rebel, finds a seat in the bleachers for the last mile. There’s a closed sign, but she says the handicap ramp has none, so she considers it a loophole. I spend the last few laps working out a speech to keep her out of jail. I’m going to miss her.

As I finish up the daily 5K, the fast woman has changed to trainers and taken off on a long cooldown run on the dirt road by the track. The 100 Meter Guy is still setting up his camera stuff. He has an elaborate system, with a wheel and a tripod and a camera and a remote control and two bags worth of god knows what. What does a 30-year-old 100 meter guy do? Are there charity 100 meter runs on the weekend? How is he competing that requires such painstaking camera work and brutal training? What’s his story. I don’t know, because I can’t talk to him. Rules are rules. But damn, he’s fast. 100 meter guys from two lines away are breathtaking. Although chatty.

And then, as we walk off, the unthinkable happens. “Bye,” he says. This can mean only one thing. I can never come back to the track again. I have my limits. I say the only thing I can think of: “Bye.” This is why they call me a master of conversation.

We head for home. My legs are tired, but not TOO tired. I’ve gone two days in a row. I’m getting faster. I’m happy. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Maybe …

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Roger and me

“Today’s the day,” he says. “The four minute mile.”

Roger just died, so he’s hanging out with me. He’s tired of heaven (gold roads and no cinder) and wants to be back on the track. I guess mine’s as good as any.

It’s a cool day, slight breeze, feels fast. He says I should do it. I MUST do it. Four-minute mile. He can live it again one more time, vicariously through me.

I am skeptical. A four-minute mile seems a bit ambitious. I have no spikes. My track is metric. And I’m lazy and slow. Roger is undeterred.

“Four minutes,” he insists. “Unlikely,” I reply.

“You can do it,” he tells me. “Did you know more people have climbed Mt. Everest than have run four minutes?” I’m not sure if he’s thought this line of reasoning as an incentive through entirely. But it was maybe the greatest run of all time, and he’s never asked anything of me before. It’s worth a try.

We line up at the SCC track. There are only a few people here to witness the event. Three football players are running drills on the grass we’re not allowed to go on. A fast guy is running 400s in lane 1. I have chosen lane 9 for my feat. Or my feet. Since four laps in lane 1 isn’t a mile anyhow, I figure 9 is as good a place as any.

We count down, the imaginary gun sounds, and we’re off. There are no spectators, but Roger says it doesn’t matter. “The spectators fail to understand — and how can they know — the mental agony through which an athlete must pass before he can give his maximum effort,” he tells me. I try to remember this as I come through the first lap. I’m in trouble. I’m already breathing too hard. My lungs are burning, my head is screaming what the hell. We head into the second lap.

I mention that I’m only  a quarter of the way in and death is already imminent. “The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win,” he replies. I had no idea driving was allowed in the mile. This explains how he was able to do it so quickly.

I finish the second lap with my lungs on fire. Note to self: Avoid the jalapeño GU before extreme exertion. The third lap looms. I desperately want to quit. “It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ,” he says. I’m thinking it’s way easier for him, given that he’s dead now and and appears to be trying to take me with him. But I look for the next gear.

Lap three lasts an eternity. The world is a blur. I’m no longer able to think rationally. I’ve never hurt this intensely. My mind flashes to Cassidy in “Once A Runner,” but all I come up with is David singing “I Think I Love You.”  400 to go. Roger says I can do it. “However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then…even thought impossible,” he assures me. I grit my teeth and push for the last turn. Onward to the impossible.

Between gasps, I ask him what the finish was like for that first sub-4. “Those last few seconds seemed never-ending,” he says. “The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead as a haven of peace, after the struggle. The arms of the world were waiting to receive me if only I reached the tape without slackening my speed. If I faltered, there would be no arms to hold me and the world would be a cold, forbidding place, because I had been so close. I leapt at the tape like a man taking his last spring to save himself from the chasm that threatens to engulf him.” If I wanted a cold, forbidding place, I’d live in Michigan. I kick it up a gear, one last battle against the pain.

After forever, the blessed finish line approaches. The chasm engulfs me. I hit the stop button as I throw myself across the line, gasping for the oxygen that has suddenly been drained from the track.

I look down at my watch. I haven’t dared peek at it till now, not wanting to know my splits. All or nothing, I figure. Did we do it? Did I finally shatter the four-minute barrier?

Almost. 12:48.7. Sooooo close.

I trot around the track, cooling down, trying to process. So painful to push that hard and then fall short by only eight minutes and 50 seconds.

But Roger seems OK with it. “Failure is as exciting to watch as success, provided the effort is absolutely genuine and complete,” he says.

And that makes it all worthwhile. My effort was absolutely genuine and complete. You line up, you give it your best, you go get a Frosty afterward. That’s all you can do.

We all have our four minute mile. Or maybe our Everest. Maybe the numbers aren’t that important. You just gotta keep climbing.

RIP, Sir Roger. You’ll always be my favorite James Bond …


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one tough goalie

Whack, thump. Whack, thump. Whack, thump.

He was out again today. Old guy. Fantastic calves. Soccer shirt. Locked in an endless game with an underpass wall that refuses to let him score.

I see him there a lot. I wish I knew his story. I wish I could give him a game. Mostly, I wish I had his calves. Whack, thump. Whack, thump.

40:26 mad dog 5k, new course record.


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i don’t rumpus enough

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!” 
— the prophet Sendak

I have a horrible confession. I have become obsessed with v02 max.

I have no idea what vo2 max is. Maximum amount of oxygen that can be used during intense exercise blah blah fluffy zzzz. But as I’ve worried that not enough oxygen is my problem with running, that seems like a Useful Number.

My Garmeeeeen computes it at no extra charge, but I’m skeptical. How can a watch know what my oxygen usage is? But then I’ve never understood how Panda Express knows which fortune is mine (you suck! yes, you!) so I suppose there must be a way.

My watch says my vo2 max is 36. It then adds diplomatically that that’s in the top 40 percent for my age and gender. Which I’m thinking works out to me having the worst vo2 max for anybody who’s actually upright and conscious. Not that I’m always upright and conscious when running.

On the bright side, it’s gone up in the last year, which maybe means I’m showing improvement, and the Garmeeeen isn’t just making stuff up.

Today felt better again. 41:03 (13:14-137) mad dog, which is both a mad dog record and only a second slower than my best race in the YoF. And it didn’t feel too hard, so maybe.

Today’s lesson: When you’re running through the middle of a pro frisbee golf tournament, don’t helpfully pick up a frisbee and trot it over to the owner. I’m guessing they’ll be aiming for me tomorrow.

What’s the number to watch when running? Time? Splits? Average heart rate? vo2 max? Beats me. I’m just running a little below the spot where I burst into flames and hoping for the best.

I guess the bottom line is just run. Avoid frisbees. And never forget there’s always time for  a little wild rumpus …


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may he turn 21 on the base at Fort Bliss

you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button.
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe… just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe
— the prophet anna nalick

Maybe. And maybe isn’t bad at all.

It’s a Wednesday on the mad dog. A storm came through last night, so everything is wet and crisp and new. If I were a dog, I’d run around peeing everywhere. But I’m not, so I only pee in a few places. Civility.

I’m maybe a couple of weeks into The Great Gluten-Free Experiment of 2018. There’s an outside chance that it could be what’s causing my woes. Upside: Ability to breathe again. Downside: No doughnuts. I’m thinking breathing is way overrated, but I guess we’ll see.

A few days ago, I accidentally discovered that taking the last bridge before the mad dog turn creates a loop course that is EXACTLY 3.1 miles long. I’m not much on signs, but this would seem to be a sign for sure. The actual sign is “No vehicles allowed on the grass,” but I figure there’s room for interpretation.

This is my second time to run this course. I realized over the weekend that all my track times are bogus, because the Garmeeeeen sucks at measuring curves, and the track tends to have many curves. So I throw out the record book and start over.

At the start line, I find out the punch line to the old joke “How many Army guys does it take to do a sit-up?” The answer being four of them. A guy is apparently undergoing his testing under the watchful eye of three fellow Army peeps. He knocks out 75 without too much effort. Army strong indeed. I’m almost certain I could do one. OK, maybe not. This leaves me exhausted before I even start.

It’s a good run. My breathing really does feel better. I run easy, making it almost a mile before strolling, beating my previous record by almost a mile.

The pro frisbee golf tournament (sue me, whamo-o. it will always be frisbee golf to me) is underway, but these guys are good so I don’t get beaned by any frisbees.

Uneventful otherwise. Just a fun run on a new course I’m pretty sure I will wear out before I’m done. HR is never too high, and the whole outing is easy. 41:58  (13:32-134), which will be the new standard.

Is the gluten thing the answer? I guess it depends on what the question was. But for the first time in a long time, I’m hopeful. Just breathe.

Maybe. And maybe isn’t bad at all.

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life is funny, part 378

We file into the little room and wait. There’s a big platter of the Good Cookies, so we figure this is a bad sign. Obviously a ploy to soften the blow from what we fear this meeting to be: that our operation is being shut down.

The writing has been on the wall for a day or so now. A meeting called with the head of news operations for the entire company with no explanation. It has to be really bad news.

We wait in terrified silence.

The boss walks in. She hits the powerpoint start button. Up on the wall flashes …

The results of a survey we took last October.

The meeting we had dreaded turns out to be nothing more than a review of what people thought was good and bad about the company in the past year.

She says she wants to know how the company can make us happier.

I’m thinking for starters maybe say in advance that the meeting you’re calling ISN’T to lay us off.

We sit for an hour contentedly pretending to pay attention, and then it’s over. I live to edit another day. I walk out into the sunlight. It’s the Best Day Ever.

I still have a job. And I have a cookie.

Life is funny …


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i see lights in a fat city

Here we go again
another round of blues
— the prophet colvin

I know only three absolute truths:

  1. It’s always darkest before the dawn. OK, I don’t know this to be true at all. I work nights, and it’s always fairly light by noon. But still.
  2. Aránzazu Isabel María “Arantxa” Sánchez Vicario is a great name for a tennis player, although it would take a long time to sign autographs.
  3. When you get a message late Sunday night saying there will be a mandatory meeting of an unspecified nature on Tuesday followed by another mandatory meeting on Wednesday, it’s a Bad Sign.

I know, I know. What’s to worry about? Print journalism has never been in better financial shape. This must be a meeting to congratulate us and announce our $1,000 bonuses as part of the tax revision, right?

I’ve been to this meeting twice before. Despite my Southern Baptist upbringing, I’ve become fairly adept at the Layoff Mambo. But what I learned from the first two rounds is that the uncertainty is the hardest part. I’m off today. So I have the entire day to  wait and worry and halfheartedly look through the job ads for possible employment as a gerbil wrangler, the only real skill I have in life other than writing tortured puns in headlines.

I entertain the notion that maybe this isn’t what the meeting will be about. It’s the same notion I entertained the last two times. There are no atheists in foxholes, they say. But if the grenade lands next to you, I suppose it doesn’t matter much what your religious beliefs are.

What to do?


Running is the thing they will never be able to take from me. I have a closetful of shoes, an imagination full of adventures, a body that is increasingly slow but still fielding the excitement of a puppy who desperately has to pee.

I go to the Mad Dog, because, dammit it’s the Mad Dog. In hard times, you cling to what you love. It’s a glorious day, warm and sunny. There’s a Pro Disc Golf tournament going on. Pro Disc Golf? This could be a promising career if the gerbil wrangling thing falls through.

It’s an hour of forgetting my worries and dodging frisbees. You turn on the autopilot, turn off the brain. Shawn Colvin sings as we run along.

Several miles ago
I set down my angels’ shoes
On a lost highway
For a better view 

I’m on a metaphorical lost highway. I have no idea where we’ll go for a better view. But I have a best friend and a cat and five guitars and a Garmin in an embarrassing color. What more do you need?

I revel in the weariness of the miles. I am so tired of worrying. I will never tire of running.

I finish up and do my 35,000th google search for the day to see if there’s news. There’s not. No news is not good news.

I go home and eat macaroni and cheese. I need all the comfort I can get.

I read a column a couple of days ago by the brilliant writer Frank Bruni. He’s going blind, and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. One eye has gone out completely, some kind of weird eye stroke and there’s reason to believe it will happen to the other eye as well. Every day he wakes up, terrified to open his eyes. But in the column, he quotes the filmmaker Joseph Lovett, who made a documentary about sinking into glaucoma. He told Bruni his best counsel was this:

“You cannot spend your life preparing for future losses.”

What better life advice could you get? So I’ll try not to. If this is the end of my life as a journalist, that’s OK. The gerbils need me. Tomorrow, I’ll go to my meeting. Then I’ll come home and pull on my shoes. The trail will say hello. We’ll celebrate life, and the joy that can’t be found at a desk in a newsroom realizing the world never wanted to be saved in the first place.

“The truth will set you free,” David Foster Wallace once said, “but not until it is finished with you.”

I will find the truth on that one-hour run.  I hope it’s never finished with me. That’s a lot more important than a job, even if the cat who prefers the fancy cat food would disagree.

Of course, if tomorrow’s meeting really IS to congratulate us on a job well done and to hand out bonuses, never mind. Yay journalism.

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

I’m sleeping in for sure.

We had our bitter cheer
And sweet sorrow
We lost a lot today
We’ll get it back tomorrow …

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