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Guest Post: Felix, I’m Telling You, I See the Irony

Note from the real RiledUpRunner:

Below is a guest blog post from a family friend Vaughan, who has forgotten more marathons than I’ll ever run and who writes the best race recaps this runner has ever read. Vaughan came and cheered me on at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2014, but he’s actually been my cheerleader for 31 years, as evidenced by the following photo. 

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Cool hipster glasses, bro.

I hope you like reading about his recent marathon success as much as I did. Enjoy!


“Hyphenated.  Non-hyphenated.  There’s irony for you.” -Anonymous.

There’s irony as well in an over-60, injury-prone, junk-food fixated runner (who not six months ago ran a marathon in Anchorage without a watch because he’d left his Garmin behind at his step-children’s house) presuming to give tips on injury prevention, diet and logistics to what I imagine is an overwhelmingly young, healthy, food-conscious and cognitively focused readership.

That said, a grateful shout-out to RiledUpRunner for having entrusted her blog to my tender care during a portion of her South Seas honeymoon sojourn. I’ll make sure it behaves, takes its vitamins, keeps its room clean, etc. And while I won’t pretend to be as up-to-speed as Anne on the proper nutritional do’s and don’ts of running, let me insert my two cents’ worth (and give you a ha’penny change): Try to avoid the foods shown here, because what’s known as the “dense nutrition” factor is a little suspect:

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I borrowed these props from a friend. No kidding, really. (Wow, never thought living in a post-truth world would be this easy!)

I want to tell you the story of my most recent marathon, the San Antonio Rock’n’Roll on Dec. 4, but to do so, I first need to explain to you a science program I watched on C-Span the day before the race, something with Neil deGrasse Tyson and a panel discussing black holes. (Stick with me: this relates to the race.) One of his guests used the image of a spacecraft orbiting near the event horizon and then getting pulled in while trying to send out a final message: “Things are nnnnnnnnnnnn………..” It represents an attempt to broadcast a final message that things are not going at all well, but the transmission is caught in the gravitational pull and essentially frozen in time. That’s how I describe my lucky thirteenth marathon – one long keening vibrating anguished wail trying, through the boundless Einsteinian loop of space-time, to make it out of my throat and past the gate of my clenched teeth.

Fortunately for you and me both, the strictures of editorial space-time mean you’ll get the highly abbreviated version of my race recap.

After having wrapped up my first injury-free training cycle in three years, with a strong long run just prior to taper, I figured I’d have no natural enemies this time unless the weather decided to act up. I hate it when I’m right. It was a cold, wet, altogether grim weekend, but by early Sunday morning the rain had stopped. That reprieve lasted until just a few minutes before the starting gun, when the sprinkle started up again. I had my watch this time, but I thought it the better part of valor to attach myself to the 4:00 pace group and trust someone else’s skills on that score. The 4:00 pacer being a no-show, Plan B was to run with one of my class buddies there in Corral 5 for as long as I could keep up with him. About half a mile out, someone came up to us and asked if we knew how long it had been since the starting gun – he turned out to be the 4:00 pacer — and then, as if on cue, came the deluge.

It lasted close to two hours – the cold rain, that is; the flooded streets and the run/wade biathlon lasted the entire race. At Mile 18, I dropped out of the pace group and went into a 10-minute-pace survival mode, which soon degraded further into a run/walk. By Mile 25, I was really, seriously wishing that Phidippides had just e-mailed that damn battle report to the Athenian council and had done with it.

Then, up ahead, I saw my class trainer, Coach Tina, waving and calling out to me. (It turns out she had just run a 1:51 half, through the worst of that soggy muck, and had stuck around to help pull in her lost lambs who were doing the full.) She ran with me the last segment, talking about heart and not giving up and stuff. About a couple of hundred yards out she said, “There’s the chute – this is as far as I can go. You can DO IT!!” And then Coach T – who weighed maybe a hundred pounds after absorbing all that rain – put her left hand on my back and the next thing I remember was a Saturn V thruster shoving me toward, into and past the finish line. Gravity? We don’t need no stinking gravity!

The moral of the story, nieces and nephews, is two-fold. First, infinity has an end. So did this marathon. The next one will be infinite too, of course, until it ends, and so too the one after that; there will be rest for the weary, but be ready to wear yourself out again.

The second part of the moral is that readiness involves listening to people who actually know what they’re talking about. Get your nutritional advice from somebody like Anne, who knows this stuff because she does it and lives it – do NOT listen to a guy who even knows where to find Cheetos and Blue Bell ice cream. (OK, maybe the “Cereal Girl” thing is a bit counter-intuitive, but I still trust her judgment.)

What I can do for you while she’s away – even though I’ve no goldendoodle to call my own – is share a shot of two of the three members of my own four-legged cheering section. They’re no substitute for Keira, I know, but they’re my own blond baby-direwolves:

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(l to r) Daisy and her older sister Shemp, the latter named more after my “Legalize Shemp” poster than after the Stooge himself.

Has the concept of infinite space-time ever messed with your head during a long race?

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Guest Post: Lucky Shorts

Note from the real RiledUpRunner:

Below is a guest post from my homeboy Davy, an uninspired runner and a cursed soccer player but a talented musician and a fabulous friend. You may remember his pretty face grazing these pages before, from when I plugged (my cameo on) his adorable children’s album to when I finally admitted I saw entirely too many baseball games last summer and checked myself into fandom rehab. Enjoy his long-form prose about tearing your ACL twice, the unlucky bastard. I, meanwhile, will get back to my elephant-riding adventures in India. God speed.

————

I used to have a lucky pair of shorts. I still have them, but over the last couple years it’s become increasingly clear that they’re not that lucky.

They’re navy blue mesh with white trim and they say Kenyon College. Kenyon’s one of my happy places. My sister and I both went there. I came to visit her when I was 12 and she was a freshman. We watched The Princess Bride in the common room and ate microwave popcorn. She told me, with the glee of a mad scientist, that she and her friends had discovered exactly how long to set the microwave to make a perfect bag every time. That’s all I remember from the trip – just two little moments.

When I was in high school I read somewhere that people are always less polite to family members than to other people. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that all families work that way – that even the nicest of my classmates went home and clobbered their siblings just like we did.

The more I think about it, the more unfair it seems. My parents worked so hard to raise four well-mannered children and they never directly enjoyed the fruits of their labor. After dinner at a friend’s house, you offer to help clear the table. After dinner at home, you head straight for the basement, where it’s at least plausible that you really didn’t hear anyone screaming at you to take your dishes to the sink.

But it worked. We’re all polite. We’re all nice. We all say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ (although my older brother prefers ‘pardon me’ – I’m not sure where that came from). I think we’re all nice people and polite people, anyway. The problem is that it’s a hard thing to test. It’s important to me that I’m a nice person. It’s part of my identity. I just wish there were a way to settle it once and for all, you know? When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But the polite? All they can do is just keep on being polite.

I was wearing my lucky shorts the first time I tore my ACL. At that point, they became unlucky. After that they were eaten in a bizarre washing machine accident, becoming unlucky not just to their wearer, but even to themselves. After subsequent repairs, they became Frankenshorts. This fall, I was wearing them when I tore my other ACL. That’s when they became dead to me.

Dead to me, Frankenshorts.
Dead to me, Frankenshorts.

My sister was on the basketball team at Kenyon, which is its own story. She tore her ACL in high school and missed most of her senior season. She spent a couple months in denial. She was trying to finish high school and apply to colleges, and it was just too much to handle. She refused to admit anything serious was wrong, then refused see doctors, then refused to have surgery. What finally brought her around was that her leg was unstable and she kept falling. Once on the stairs, once when she was just on the phone in the kitchen.  The surgery was incredibly painful, and rehab took months, but I think that first part, just accepting the reality of what had happened, was hardest for her.

She has two daughters now. The older one just turned three, and the mission to civilize the next generation is under way. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are extracted with, “What do you say?” The current focus is to discourage her from getting attention by saying or shouting ‘hey.’ This makes me feel a little self-conscious. I say ‘hey’ constantly. If I’m being completely honest, I also say ‘yo’ way more frequently than is acceptable for a non-rapper.

Before my niece was born I went back to visit Kenyon with a friend. We went to the bookstore and I bought a onesie and a lucky pair of shorts.

The onesie was not for me.
The onesie was not for me.

I tore my first ACL while I was playing soccer, which I’m sometimes embarrassed about. Stephen Colbert once called soccer “the sport for fourth graders that foreign people take seriously.” When co-workers ask about my weekend plans and I say I’ve got a soccer game, I can see in their eyes that they’re picturing me at the park with a bunch of six-year-olds, clamoring over orange slices at halftime.

It was the summer of 2010, during the World Cup. Everyone was a little more excited to go out and play soccer because they’d been watching soccer on television all week. Before the game, we all practiced heading in corner kicks. I was wearing my lucky shorts and I remember feeling good and jumping up and down a lot.

The game started, and it turned out the other team was not very good. Right away we had the ball on their side of the field. I was in front of the net and a pass came a little to my right. As I reached to take a step toward it with my right leg, I felt something pop in my left knee and I started to fall. That’s when time slowed down.

Objectively, I know that when it feels like time slows down, time doesn’t actually slow down, but the thing is, it really does feel like time slows down. When I was little, I always used to jump down the last few stairs on my way to the basement. Once I jumped from way too high – maybe only halfway down the staircase – and I can still feel myself there, frozen in midair and terrified of how much it’s going to hurt when I land.

What’s even scarier is when it works the other way – where things happen faster than you can process them. When I was 13, I was riding a bike down a narrow road and I got hit by an eighteen-wheeler. It was trying to pass me, and as it did, it clipped my handlebars, turning them perpendicular and launching me over them. I think. It happened too fast. I was on the bike, and then I was on the ground. I didn’t even understand what had happened. I got up and took a few steps before I noticed a big gash on my shin and sat back down. The truck driver stopped and got out to help. He was really nice, thank God.

When they put me in the ambulance I started to freak out a little bit and hyperventilate a little bit. Not because I was scared, but because of what came next. Hospital, doctors, police, my parents freaking out. It was hard to accept that all of this was going to happen because of something that, in the most literal sense, I didn’t experience at all. I tried to hide my panic from the EMTs. We’d just met and I didn’t want to make a bad impression.

It seems like time only warps itself around bad experiences. Think of all those moments that should’ve been longer, that you wish you could stretch out and live in.

The ones that really haunt me, though, are the ones that slip by. There are some things I really do wish I could go back and slow down. Back on the floor of the common room at Kenyon, watching The Princess Bride with my sister, the unimpeachable perfection of popcorn microwaved for two minutes and thirty-five seconds. Maybe if that moment had been a little longer, I would’ve realized then how special it was.

Somebody's taller.
Somebody’s taller.

When I felt something pop in my left knee and I started to fall, I knew instantly that I’d torn my ACL. And what I thought about for the million years between then and when I hit the ground was everything that my sister, whose name is Leigh, by the way, went through. Fear and pain. Doctors, MRIs, more doctors. Travelling halfway across the country for surgery, waking up in a hospital room strapped into a motion machine that bends your leg for you, months of excruciating exercises just to get back to being a normal person.

Because of Leigh, the one thing that didn’t run through my mind was doubt. When I landed, I knew the deal. I’d torn my ACL. I had to have surgery. There was a lot of pain and work in my future. I lay there, afraid to open my eyes, miserable but resigned to what came next.

After a while, the ball went out of bounds. The other team’s goalie finally noticed me crumpled at his feet like a broken kite. He leaned over and said, “Hey, I went to Kenyon too.”

I silently cursed my formerly lucky shorts. I opened my eyes, and, from the depths of my despair, I said, “I would love to discuss that with you at another time.”

I said it nice as pie. Because when the going gets tough, the polite just keep on being polite.

Note from Riled Up Runner: How do you feel about this dog-free post? Not good? Yeah, me either. So here’s a photo of Davy’s brother’s dog pretending to be baby Moses. Eat your heart out, folks.

Not a goldendoodle, but I'll take it.
Not a goldendoodle, but I’ll take it.