days of naze
An obnoxiously large
(101k .wav) audio greeting
from the Author.
|February 14, 1999
The Longest Mile
I accidentally unearthed a demon.
But was it really an accident?
Sometimes I catch a spark. If this little piece of light and heat cannot be ignored, I fan it and feed it. And over the years this spark-catching has served me pretty well. It's how I found music making, the allure of a well designed game, and this little place that you come to visit.
But sometimes the spark burns.
I wanted victory. I wanted to compete and win the admiration of my team mates and opponents. I wanted to run and have people think "whoa, that little guy can fly". I knew that I could do it. I believed.
And that was the problem. After weeks of grueling road training, sore muscles, shin splints, and a terrible cold from the long miles in the rain, I was faced with two terrible truths: 1) I wasn't keeping up with my longer-legged team mates and 2) I didn't like long-distance running all that much.
And yet I kept coming back to it. I had this idea in my head. I am good enough. I can do this. Just try harder, dammit. Don't fuck up.
I hung on through 2 seasons of bringing up the rear in Class C mile races and the occasional long jump foray. Maybe I needed a longer race where the turtle can beat the rabbit.
In the 3rd and final mile of the training run around 2 segments of the lake, I knew I was in serious trouble. My side ached, I could not get enough oxygen into my body, my legs were leaden. But stopping would mark me a pussy. And at this age, that was something I would not endure. The girls had beaten me, yes, but I would not give up.
They were all waiting for me, of course, as I plodded those final 200 meters scarcely faster than a walk, hyperventilating, utterly humiliated. The coach, a tall thin blackbearded man, came over to check and see if I would recover normal breathing. I panted out some sort of half-crazed disclosure of how I was unable to tear my thoughts away from the monotony of stride after stride after stride.
He looked at me as if I was full-crazed.
My short legs at that age were the obvious physical shortcoming, but somewhere I sensed that I was losing the mental contest as well. Something that I did have control over. He was no help. I needed Yoda; he was just a junior high geography teacher.
The remarkable thing is that even after I quit the cross country team, against all evidence to the contrary, I clung to the idea that I could run. That maybe I could even be good at it.
Three years later at a new school in a new town I tried again. I had grown nearly 11 inches in 12 months. I figured it would help. I was wrong. Too many years had passed to get back on board that train. However, I had learned to stop before hyperventilating.
Flash forward. Three years into the world of work. The walls are closing in. The variety and elevation of school seems distant, and disturbingly, perhaps irrelevant to the now. It begins to dawn on me that I didn't really understand the definition of "ennui" the first time around.
I signed up at this place that used to be a neighborhood grocery and then a European Health Spa™ that sold lifetime memberships then went out of business but was now a pretty decent workout spot. (I hate the word "club" when applied to exercise places.)
A short girl in 70's style sweats, short curly black hair and glasses walks me through the facilities, shows me how to use the equipment without injuring myself and gives me one piece of very good advice: write down what you do each time.
And that worked pretty well.
I could compete against myself and did.
These places like to organize little activities to keep your attention and keep people from quitting. I'd been there for a few years doing mostly the same stuff and needed a diversion.
IRONCLAN. 10 events. Sort of a decathlon for regular people. Now as a diehard role-playing gamer (a practitioner of the true faith - meaning not foolish hack-and-slash or one-dimensional wargaming but honest-to-god role-playing in the game) this was the perfect marketing appeal to me.
But without any highlighting required, one event jumped off the page: the mile.
The mile is a particularly cruel race. A sprint masquerading as a long distance event. Four laps around the track, each more excruciating than the last.
I hate the mile. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one. And yet it holds a mythic place in the imagination. It's built into our (i.e. ugly Americans) definition of speed. It frames our concept of geographic distance. I had awoken my sleeping demon.
I wanted to do well in the competition which meant I would have to train for the distance in addition to revisiting my sad swimming technique and rim-clanging free throw shot along with sundry other IRONCLANnish feats.
I needed a coach. Someone I liked. Someone who was invested in my doing well. Someone who would push me hard enough to get better but not so hard that I would hate them. Someone who could give me good advice on how to improve my technique. Someone who would be around at my convenience.
The first thing I taught myself is that if you hate it, it's probably not going to help you get better. I hate running laps around the track, especially alone. I had always looked askance at the treadmill. It struck me as hamster-like and effete. But it turned out to be exactly what I needed.
A metronome beats regular time to help you stay in rhythm. But it can't make you play in time. A treadmill is a metronome that brooks no argument. You set the speed and you keep up or you are thrown off. And training to a set, regular pace was making me strong.
The second lesson was unlearning what I had learned 17 years ago. On a training run, I had overheard one of the better runners telling a companion how he coordinated his breathing with his stride. And having no coaching to speak of or physiological training, I adopted his technique.
If someone had intentionally set out to destroy my career as a runner, they could have done no better. I try not to harbor any resentment. The poor bastard was 14 and seemed to do alright but it is the worst fucking advice you could give to any athlete (pardon my French). Your body knows how much oxygen you need. Open your mouth and let it happen.
I increased the treadmill speed. It was at maximum now. Not terribly fast but it would give me a good vigorous 6:30 mile.
My body mechanics had always been pretty good. That left me with the mental game. The part of running that broke down my inner strength like Chinese water torture. While on the treadmill I'd listen to music. Usually KNRK, the moderately o.k. "alternative" (god, I hate that descriptor -- we'll get to that one in the coming weeks) station or a cassette of Jason & the Scorchers or Midnight Oil. But that's not really kosher on the track.
The problem was that when I ran, my head would start running images from the archive. And I didn't have many positive associations in my mind with running. I was a loser. The coach, however, could tell from my progress that the old ideas were bullshit and that I needed new ones.
Occasionally, as I ran on the treadmill I would see myself in one of the mirrored walls. And I looked alright. I needed to see myself steady and strong. I had limited success holding the image in my mind until I morphed the picture to something akin to the galloping horse graphic that used to run on the circa 1981 Apple II (or think of the animated GIF from the People Chase with better running form). That absolute consistency along with a circular sense of continuation. It helped.
The enormity and scale of the track daunted me. I would look ahead and have a constant reminder of how much further I had to go and it would undermine my resolve. The more I contained my attention and brought the locus of my thoughts inward, the better I began to do. I couldn't run and close my eyes. So I just looked down -- about 10 meters in front of me. Another step forward for the space program, yes, I know, but it worked.
One last thing I hadn't found an answer for. It is very lonely out there on the track. This quixotic little endeavor was highly personal. I've never told anyone about this internal struggle, mostly out of shame. What I really wanted, deep down, was someone who admired, without qualification, the act of doing this thing. And I didn't believe that's something you can ask someone for. It has to be given freely. A true gift.
Game day. I deliberately flouted Olympic by-laws and downed a cup of coffee 15 minutes before the gun. A slightly damp Sunday afternoon, April 1993. Centennial High School track. The workout place was running heats on several different days to accomodate people's schedules. My competition: an eleven year old boy, 2 fourteen-ish looking girls, a 20 something woman, and a 20 something guy.
Bang! The kid is off like a shot racing ahead. Ignoring my quarterly split I had carefully paced myself for, I chased that squirt down and finally overtook him at about the 200 meter mark. It's like the gods were smiling on me. This little boy was my chase rabbit. I used to save energy for the big kick at the end, but by that point if you haven't run a fast enough pace, it's too late.
The first lap of the mile is beautiful. Adrenaline and anxiety are unleashed into action. The waiting is over. The damn race will be over soon. I look down at my wrist at the end of lap one. My goal was 6:20. My watch stopwatch function showed me a full 9 seconds ahead of the split required to make my goal.
I could hear no one even close. The second lap is a settling in. The rush is over. This is bidness. I felt good -- strong. I stayed with my game plan and it was working.
The third lap is pure hell. The body begins it's screams of protest. Your lungs begin to burn. The lactic acid your muscles produce pour gasoline onto the flames. "Body to brain, body to brain: what the fuck are you doing? Trying to kill us? Knock this shit off!"
Mentally the beginning of the third lap is no picnic either. Your body is giving you shut down signals while you know that relief isn't within immediate reach. You've got a lap to go -- an then another one after that. The temptation to ease off is nearly irrestible.
I've held together but now I'm looking deep inside to shore up support. Fear and doubt are beginning to rap ever so faintly on my door and they will destroy me.
And then it hits me. Like a gift.
Inside my head I see the stands. And smack dab in the middle is a little boy. My boy. The child that will emerge from his liquid world inside Cathy into our world of air in just 7 weeks.
He's bathed in light and I can't quite see exactly what he looks like, but I know in my heart that it is him. He doesn't say anything. He just has this look of wonder in his eyes. And I know he's thinking, "That's my Dad! That's my Dad!"
It's just impossible for me to explain to you what that meant to me. It's all that I needed. Maybe all that I will ever need.
I held onto that moment as tightly as I could before it slipped away. And like that, the third lap is over.
Lap four is lap one stripped of it's propulsion: nothing left but raw hope and fumes. But enough. "Mind to body, mind to body: we know you're hating life, but we're almost there. Hang on, we'll get you through this." And the body, being the body, wants to believe the mind, is skeptical, but ultimately doesn't make the choice -- yet.
As I lap one of the runners, I know that I'm on target for the best mile of my life and I try to summon up anything extra for a kick. It's not really there but I can sustain the pace. I glance up. The starter has shifted her position on the track. It looks as if I have about 100 meters to go. As I reach a point parallel to her, I slow down figuring I've finished. "Go, go!" she shouts. Goddamn rookie (i.e. her). She moved from the true finish. I ran the additional 15 meters and completed the race.
God it feels good to stop. Breaths come heavy and full but not gasping. No sideache.
Victory. Complete. I don't have to listen to that crap anymore from that demon bastard that looks surprising like me. He's history.
I've rarely felt more satisfied in my entire life.
6:03. Unbelievable. If our illustrious timer had just held to the designated finish, I had a shot at cracking the 6:00 mark. Par for the course for a decent runner, a miracle for me. What the hell.
I had four more events to go that day, including a 5 minute stationary bike sprint (in which I rocked) and a 100 meter swim (in which I sucked).
But I had already won.
p.s. Nancy finally succumbed to my nagging. Do you think you're tougher than her? Resistance is futile: new days notification list.
|previously on days of naze:
he plays one on t.v.
what have you done for
|May you never be more active
when you are doing nothing.
|in the feedbag:
web: Read these Valentine Poems to your S.O. and be prepared to get slapped or shoot coffee out your nose (killer link from Rob); The Intern dot com - I ate the whole thing in almost one sitting, thanks for the monster link Xeney!;
book: The Way You Wear Your Hat by Bill Zehme (Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin'). Cathy loves Frank and his wicked ways. He definitely belongs to another time.
cd's: Liz Phair - whitechocolatespaceegg. yes, mr. cutting edge, that's me. i'm beginning to like liz quite a lot. / Lone Justice - This World Is Not My Home. It's been more than a decade since Geffen released a Lone Justice album. LJ will always be one of the best bands of all time. I bought the Dixie Chicks album (yes, I admit it) 90% because they covered one of Maria McKee's songs.
VCR: The Opposite of Sex - very amusing but even more irritating. Puzzling.
|We few, we happy few...|