I’ve lamented for some time now that the hardest age division in every race I run seems to be my age division. Case in point: I raced on a flat, fast course in Zion last Friday evening, one I’ve raced on at least a dozen times, felt like I ran real hard-assed the whole way, finished with a decent time (my second best of the year), and still only managed to bring home the 3rd-place medal in my age division. Behold it in all its glory:
Anyhow, I felt like I ran so hard and so well that I surely cracked twenty-five minutes. Not so. I came across at 25:54. But I did manage to outlast a couple of twelve-year old kids who were out front of most runners as far as the second mile. So I’ve got that to brag about.
I’ll take the medal. They’re still few and far in between for me, so I still get a lot out of winning one. I was happy with myself, too, for lacing up the Asics and running so well on a freakin’ Friday night after a full week of school. That’s unheard of because I’m usually too tired. But I’m trying to knock off thirty of these races, so sometimes tired needs to take a back seat to keep pushing towards the goal. I’m holding out for a few more races these next few weeks while the yellows and reds are coming out on the trees, the air is crisp, and I’m not yet exhausted from the rigors of the school year.
Dear Joe Buck:
You came out this week and told the public that your vocal cord damage in 2011 was a result of multiple hair plug surgeries over the course of your broadcasting career. Your eighth procedure tipped the scales; the effects of the general anesthetic did the damage. I’m glad you have recognized your addiction and are aware of the problem. No doubt others who face cosmetic addictions will benefit from your awareness and your choice to go public with it. I respect, too, that you said the problem stemmed purely from your vanity. It takes a lot of emotional fortitude to be so public about your faults, to be vulnerable like that. If it helps, I’m a man your age who has twenty years experience with hair loss. The best thing you can do is get comfortable with it. My life hasn’t been altered in any way because of hair loss, except for the purchase of more hats than most men buy because it’s damn cold during Chicago winters (especially during a polar vortex), and sunburning your bald scalp hurts like a sonofabitch.
The ancient Greeks believed that when a man tries to avoid his fate, he ends up causing it to happen. I was thinking about that one day a few years ago when I wrote a poem about baldness, thinking that the opposite of avoiding a situation is owning it, and if it’s something personal like baldness, owning it means you can make fun of yourself about it. I had a lot of fun drafting the piece; maybe it will provide you with some reassurance.
When daily your brush grows thick like a wooly bear,
When more hairs than you can count twist in the swirl of your drain,
When your pipes clog with clumps of those who forsook their roots,
Own it when the summer sun blisters your naked scalp
and January winds whip across it.
You’ll have no choice but to own it when your child,
smug with the self- satisfaction of youth,
utters the cold straight truth to your wife:
Daddy’s going bald!
All this failing, there will come a day
when you comb through generations
of family photos and are presented
with the irrefutable evidence
that Fate braided into your DNA
has stuffed you into the lower
recesses of a Punnett Square
where now you elbow for room
with Curly and Uncle Fester
and every other bb—
so you might
I’ve said to myself for years now that somebody should organize a 5K race that starts in the parking lot of my condo complex and runs through one of my neighborhood courses so that all I would have to do is roll out of bed and walk downstairs to the start line. Seems most of the time when I do that before I go to work, I end up having a pretty good run. Yesterday, my wishes came true—mostly. Instead of walking downstairs, all I had to do was drive a mile and a half down the street to Rollins Savanna. If proximity wasn’t enough to get me off to a good start, the sun was choked out behind gray clouds that have stuck around since Thursday afternoon, there was on-and-off mist, and the temperatures were in the low sixties. Any current current, former, or still-wannabe cross country runners know that means one thing: Perfect running weather.
I can’t imagine a race going much better than yesterday’s, especially after my mediocre and floundering results the last few weeks. I got off to a fast start at the head of a small crowd of people who were more interested in walking and sipping coffee than they were in running. No matter; their registration fees went just as far as mine to support the cause. My breath was coming in an unbroken rhythm, and I felt like I was gliding along, even when I slopped around a bend into some mud and treaded up a shallow, soggy hill that I’ve biked up dozens of times in the past few years.
The usual self-doubt and second-guessing of my life decisions and re-examination of long-forgotten events were keeping their own pace in my mind as I strided past the two-mile mark, but I left them behind. I felt like I was killing it, and knew I was well into a great race. I was right. I came across in 25:24, which is the fastest I’ve run in probably two years.
A couple of things helped, the big ones being that I was well-rested after having not raced for two weeks, and I’ve fallen into a consistent exercise routine that tapers late in the week. A few rounds of yoga have helped, and a stellar practice run on the same course last week was worth the difference. But there’s something else, too: I haven’t drank in a month.
This was not a decision I made quickly or even out of necessity. I started thinking two years ago about breaking things off with Mr. Booze for some undecided amount of time merely out of curiosity. Cocktails and beers are a regular, even mundane part of my life, which got me thinking about h0w much and how frequently I consume something I hardly think about, and when I consume it. Since I’m on the quest to run thirty 5Ks just now and struggling to maintain some kind of decent form while I’m at it, I got the crazy idea to explore an alcohol-free life for at least a month and see how that affected the situation. I’m chalking yesterday up as much to clean living as I am perfect circumstances.
So what do you drink when you’re not having a drink? Lots of water, it turns out. And more soda than usual, which still doesn’t amount to much soda. I had a non-alcoholic beer when I went out for drinks with coworkers last week. They don’t offer much to recommend themselves. Since I started stopping, I’ve noticed that I’ve been sleeping a little bit better, and the skin on my face feels more supple. Plus I’ve moved away from the notion of lusting after a cocktail halfway through a difficult day at work. The downside is that I still need to deal with stress, and that dealing has meant more candy and other empty calories. Maybe what I really need is a new hobby.
I don’t know how long I’m going to keep at the alcohol fast. My official month ends in two days, but I’m not exactly counting the minutes. If I’m going to run better when I don’t fuel myself in part with alcohol, why not keep at it for a while?
Surely I can’t be the first person to plug the misery of being a Cubs fan directly into the Alien franchise. Surely others have equated the feeling of some marauding beast bursting out of your chest with the feeling the Cubs have left fans with year to year over the last seven decades: Just when you think everything is fine, you’re wracked with body-shredding pain that comes out of nowhere, and you can only look at your bloody hands and the guts hanging out of the huge hole in your body as you fade into oblivion. Your last mortal vision is of a slimy, malevolent creature with the head of Dusty Baker or Lou Pinella emerging from the gaping wound, and you’re left thinking that’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! Unlike the victims in the Alien films, though, as a Cubs fan you get to experience the pain and carnage anew each year.
This unusual connection came to me a few weeks ago when I was chillin’ on vacation and happened to tune into Aliens on late night TV. I mentioned to the girlfriend that there will be a double fesature of Alien and Aliens playing in late October at a nearby drive-in theatre. We plan on taking in the sci-fi horror fun as the season turns to haunting. Usually, Cubs fans wouldn’t think twice about an October 22 night-time engagement. Why would we? So few of us were alive the last time late-late October meant anything that optimism has been bred out of our genes. But I had a nagging feeling that committing to the drive-in might not be a good idea. What if there’s an important World Series game that night? The thought of one involving the Cubs was so unexpected and so foreign to me that I was struck dumb. I had to check the playoff calendar! When has a Cubs fan ever seriously done that? But there I was fully believing that the Cubs were going to play in the World Series—and believing it with a degree of certainty I’ve never felt before when I thought about the northsiders.
It turns out there was no need to panic, and now life has returned to a calm restfulness not unlike the stasis the crew of Nostromo was experiencing before they touched down on LV-426. There is no World Series game scheduled for the night of the Alien double feature, so we can enjoy the horror and bloody carnage on celluloid before it has a chance to happen for real at the corner of Addison and Clark.
I rolled into Home Depot yesterday morning about 9:45 and picked up the Weber grill I bought Friday but needed the girlfriend’s SUV to pick up. The salmon and chicken were already thawing on the counter in the kitchen, and the potatoes only needed to be wrapped. It wasn’t long until I was at Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up some new bath towels and a garbage can. I ran into a few neighbors on the way back and boasted of my new disposal system. But I’m not some smug jerk who brags about something like that and lords it over my neighbofrom their new ownerrs or shows up to condo association meetings to talk about my new garbage can, so I encouraged them to stop by if they have something to throw away and want to try it out. I cautioned the girlfriend about the new bath towels. I knew I’d be at yoga when she rolled out of bed this morning, and she’d most likely have showered by the time I got back. As such, I asked her to keep quiet about the new linens, no matter how great or disappointing they might be. “I like to go in clear when it comes to new towels,” I told her. “So don’t spoil anything for me. I want to trust my basic instincts and first reaction.” I figured the towels deserved that in their new home and from their new owner. I was practically bursting at the seams throughout the afternoon with all the excitement from my new purchases. I got the grill put together and chilled out with a late-afternoon slow roast on the new apparatus. It was a good day, mostly.
I also ran a 5K at Independence Grove yesterday morning. Felt like shit. Couldn’t catch my breath. Came across in 26:50. This is thirty years of running slow and still somehow thinking I can get faster. When will running be enough without worrying about time? Probably after my next injury. Maybe I need to approach this like the Poem-a-Day Challenge and just get caught up in the grind of it and not worry about much else. I’ll think about it over the next few weeks, until I race again. Until then… my back is tired. My IT bands are tight.
I couldn’t think of much that would be more novel as a runner than to run down the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago the wrong way and in the middle of the street, and to do it twice. Hell, I don’t even want to walk down the Magnificent Mile most of the time. Thankfully, last Saturday morning the stretch was blocked off to traffic as a 5K and half marathon rumbled through. I didn’t want to pass up the chance since I’ll be relying on novelty to keep things fresh if I’m going to run thirty 5Ks, so there I was. If you have any questions about which race I was running, then you know too little about my size, my age, my perpetually tired back, and the piano wires I have for IT bands.
I wasn’t thrilled about the early start—7 A.M. is pretty early to be wedging yourself into starting corrals with 2,300 other sweaty runners, but the weather was cool and overcast. There was some mist in the air that was periodically turning into rain. It was classic Cross Country weather. I figured I’d get stampeded first thing since I was in the second corral and I never start fast enough to get out in front of a crowd, much less a massive mob. The staggered starts helped, though, and before I knew it I had turned onto North Michigan Avenue and was keeping a steady pace and feeling good. I was definitely digging the vibe of running through the retail heart of the city and across the river. My new shoes kept me feeling comfortable, and by the time I turned onto the home stretch I felt like I was doing better than I expected. I came across at 26:34, even though the race felt like it went by a lot faster than that. I checked results and saw that I finished 5th in my age division, which was totally unexpected. I’m still running varsity!
Sometimes when you run a whole messload of 5K races, especially on the same course, they fly by without you noticing much. Especially if nothing noteworthy happened during the race. That’s what happened last Saturday morning about 9 A.M. I was at Independence Grove again. As I remarked to a lady also running the race as she was scanning the course: I’ve raced there probably twenty times, and run there for fitness or fun or whatever probably thirty more times. I know the place. I know every way they can lay out a 5K, down to the point where I know if somebody measured the course wrong (btw… that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago–as I mentioned here! I went out and measured the course on my bike, and it came up at 3.2 miles).
So the gun went off, I went off, and twenty-six minutes and twenty-four seconds later I came across the finish line. I hit a good enough pace along the way and remember passing a few people, but I couldn’t catch a guy at the end who had walked directly in front of me the last quarter mile of the race. I hate when people do that and I can’t catch them. But I had been fighting a cold and the consequences of uneven sleep as I readjust to going back to school, so I’m not worried. My best racing is still ahead of me this year, and will remain so until it’s too cold to run. And despite my ambivalence about yoga, damn I’m glad I’ve been doing it. I rolled out of bed Sunday morning and felt like I was 56 instead of 46. Or perhaps I felt like most other 46-year olds feel on a frequent basis. I don’t know. I’m displaced regarding my actual age, my emotional age, how old I feel, how old I think I look, and how people my age are supposed to feel and look. The only thing I can think to do is keep running. And yoga helps one helluva lot to help me bounce back.