I’ve never run well in Racine, Wisconsin. That might partly be due to the fact that Racine is in Wisconsin. It also might partly be due to the fact that one time I ran there I was on the back end of a long-lasting injury and was out of shape; the other time it was hotter than hell. So when the idea of running in Racine comes up, I don’t quite approach it like it’s St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary. But I figured last Saturday morning that it would be different this time. This time I was in a better place as a runner and still feeling the good vibes from a Thanksgiving run that I killed despite the rampant cheating that was apparent on the course. This time I was going to attack. This time I was going to make Wisconsin regret me instead of vice versa.
Those thoughts lasted until I spotted Jeff Weiss at the start line. Here’s what you have to know about (soon to be) Dr. Weiss: He’s a tenacious bugger who’s in great shape, he’s in a running club, and he has run marathons. But don’t let all that fool you. Much like Jason Rush, I can’t believe I’m still friends with him. Anyhow, I saw Weiss and figured I’m best off keeping him in front of me where I can monitor him. Thankfully, he runs pretty fast. That encouraged me to run pretty fast, too, in case he thought about doubling back on me and pulling some type of shenanigans. Really: Don’t be fooled by that guy!
So I chugged along the lake shore in Racine for a little over twenty-five minutes. It was plenty cold, which meant I was sporting cold weather running gear on for a race for the first time this season. No matter. I run well in bad weather. I didn’t know the course. No matter. I was occupied in keeping track of Jeff Weiss. I wasn’t sure how well I was doing at any particular point. No matter. I kept chugging along. Before I knew it, I was dashing uphill in back of Memorial Hall in downtown Racine and crossing the line in damn good time. Four days later, and I’m glad I tucked this one away. We got six inches of wet snow Sunday, and temperatures are going to be in the single digits by next week. So it looks like the racing season is over. It kills me to stop short of the halfway point and when I’m running better than I have for four years, but it’s time to pack it in.
My back just sighed in relief, and my cranky hips are writing me a thank you note.
As I was rolling into Bryan, Ohio, at 7:20 A.M. Thanksgiving morning, I was thinking this is Medal City… Population: Me! That was my first mistake of the day, because Bryan is actually known as The Fountain City, and its population was listed at 8,545 in the 2010 census. But really, why wouldn’t I be thinking I would drive away in another hour and a half with a medal? I ran the Williams County YMCA Turkey Trot in Bryan two years ago and finished ten seconds away from a medal in my age division. Somebody in my age division probably cheated that day and I meant to contact the race sponsors about it, but I got too busy. Anyhow, I figured the best revenge would be to show up and run the way I know I can and let all those people behind me sniff my vapor trails, and I’d wear my medal all day long. Besides, I’m in a new age division, and I am lighter and faster than two years ago. Plus, the weather was perfect for running: Cold, wet, and overcast. Everything was going Jeff Burd’s way!
As far as the actual race, the Turkey Trot is a pretty good one that I’ve found to be well run. They draw between 200-300 people and lay things out on a flat, double-loop course with but one turn that slows you down a bit. I envisioned myself as far back as two weeks ago doing well by starting fast off the line and positioning myself effectively early in the race. All that happened, too. As I was coming around the far side of the first loop, I was feeling a solid pace that was faster than usual by about 30 seconds. Plus, I was picking off some dudes who looked to be in my age division. Not that I would know since I really have trouble telling who is my age anymore, but it still felt good.
When I reached the same place on the second loop, I spotted some black squirrels romping around in the trees and wet grass on the side of the course. They caught my attention because we don’t see many black squirrels around The Seeker luxury headquarters, though we have grey squirrels like the Army has boots. Turns out there are pockets of black squirrels throughout the midwest and along the east coast, and a number of institutions have adopted the black squirrel as their mascot due to their bad-ass appearance and relative rarity (only 1 in 10,000 squirrels is black). I looked all this up (after the race, of course) and I’m glad I did since I initially figured we didn’t see black squirrels around Chicago too much because the cops would probably shoot them.
Anyhow, I came trucking down the chute with nobody within seven seconds of me and cleared the finish line in 25:08. It was my best Thanksgiving 5K ever, and my 2nd fastest time in four years. “I killed it,” I told my dad, who came along to see the race and offer his support. I told him we’d wait around a bit to get the official results and for me to pick up my medal. That was my second mistake of the day, and it wasn’t even 10 A.M.
I could have kept running past the finish line and right to my car, and we could have gotten home a lot earlier to truly begin enjoying the holiday because I was nowhere near getting a medal. I finished 40th overall, and 1:16 faster than two years ago, but it was still only good enough for 4th place in my age division. The dude who took third place was almost a minute and a half ahead of me. I took a look at the overall results, and they confirmed what I’ve been saying for years: Whatever age division I’m in is the toughest division in the race. I would have finished 3rd in the 18-24 division, and 2nd in the 65-100 division. I’m not worried about it, though. I’m pretty sure somebody cheated again. I’ll have to remember to contact the race sponsors. If I hound them enough, they’ll probably send me a medal.
When my chiropractor told me two weeks ago that my first ribs and both clavicles were “superior,” I thought she was complimenting me. In fact, I felt pretty good about my adjustment up to that point. But once she got into saying my sacrum was “base, posterior,” and a bunch of other stuff was inferior or rotated internally or externally, I got to thinking that maybe the chiropractic lexicon varied slightly from my own. Turns out I was right. Each click of her activator echoed in my ears and reverberated through my bones until the final realization sunk in: My back was pretty screwed up.
Thank the powers that be for the wonder that is Chiropractic. My usual adjustment and massage helped things, as did taking some time to rest. Before I knew it, I was rolling out of bed last Saturday morning and trekking to Kenosha for race #12. It was a reversal of habits or sorts; usually, I’m running away from Kenosha. Three years of living there left a sour taste in my mouth for most things Wisconsin (the Milwaukee Brewers excepted, of course). Still, it was a race for a good cause (veterans), and I still need to stack as many of these things up as I can before the end of the year.
I decided to start slow, which made a difference. It was a cold morning, so cold starting was definitely in order. But once I got going and felt good, I started to cruise. The waters of Lake Michigan again lapped the shores right next to the course, and there were still plenty of golds and reds left in the trees that dotted the neighborhood south of the harbor to distract me from the fact that I was running in freakin’ Kenosha. I ran through parts of two different courses I used to run when I lived in K-town (or, more aptly, “Kenowhere”), and I couldn’t help but think of my younger, more carefree days of running before chiropractic adjustments, yoga, custom orthotics, and protein shakes became as necessary as a pair of Asics and decent running shorts.
I surprised myself with a 26:41 finish, and was further surprised to see that I finished fourth in my age division. My only thought was that the best runners must have run the 10K that took place at the same time. Still, no medal. No big deal. And I have to hand it to Kenosha—the place is has come together nicely in the last twenty years.
I did not feel like running when I woke up yesterday morning. I hadn’t had a good night sleep. It wasn’t exactly bad, but whatever it was contributed to me not feeling my race-morning mojo. Plus, I’m starting to get rundown from the school year. Plus, I’ve been running a lot lately and my back isn’t quite in it. Plus, too much candy watching the Cubs lose in the World Series. Blah blah blah… I know. Shut up. I soldiered on, because in the least the $30 registration fee is too much to flush. Besides, being a runner means you soldier on. Whatever reluctance I was feeling was only compounded by spotting Jason Rush warming up before the race. Here’s what you have to understand about Jason Rush beyond that link above (which you should totally check out!): He came out of the womb wearing a pair of running shoes. The last time I saw him, he busted out an age-division-winning 10K time in Wauconda (third overall) while I was plodding along in the 5K at a per mile pace 2:30 slower than him. Anyhow, dude is fast for 43 years old. Krikey… he’s fast for any age. Always has been. He can still beat most of his high school’s Cross Country team. Just last week he was the overall winner of a race, and he was wearing the dang shoes to prove it. I decided in the moment I spotted him that I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of totally killing my best time if I was went all-out. Because Jason Rush totally gets satisfaction out of that. A lot of mild-mannered, easy-going AP Physics teachers are sick like that. I don’t even know why I’m still friends with him, honestly, but it is what it is.
So I took my sweet-ass time yesterday running around Lake Bluff. Lake Michigan sat calm and blue well below the elevation of the course. The place is called Lake Bluff for a reason. Lots of gold and rust in the trees all the way around. A little bit of purple, too. Somehow, I still managed to finish in 26:07. That would have been a fast time for me six years ago. Hell, I would have been happy with that last summer. Now, not so much. There’s good reason for that, too. It’s called the Centre Club Pink Ribbon Run, which I ran at St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein last weekend.
The Pink Ribbon Run has been my favorite for some time now, to the point that I’ve almost mythologized its many pleasures in my mind. What it comes down to is this: It’s the closest I can come to again running an actual high school Cross Country meet. It’s during CC season, the weather is pleasantly cool and damp, there are unbelievable colors emerging from the trees, and it takes place on an institution campus. For one Saturday each fall, it’s like I have a time machine. Last weekend, I killed it. I dashed my way to a 24:40, which is my fastest time in four years and my fastest time ever on that course. I shot off the start line and ran hard and on the edge of breathlessness the entire way. If there is such a thing as divine intervention, I guess I experienced it there. Seems apt, given the nature of the place.
I commented to the girlfriend that 24:40 was the fastest I’ve run for four years, and that I might never run that fast again. Seems like a downer, maybe, but it might be true. If so, I’m glad it happened where it did.
Did I get a medal? Hell no. Three women finished ahead of me, which made me the eighth male overall. Two of those males were in my age division, and I was nowhere close to them (ironically, those results replicate my high school CC experiences more so than the setting!). Still, I would have won or got at least second place in every other age division, so my complaint stands that my age division is the toughest. But I did reel in a 57-year old woman in the last quarter mile. She was killing it all the way through, too, and unknowingly provided me with a rabbit to chase. So I guess I’m hell at beating the 12-year old and 57-year old age divisions, just not my own.
For those keeping track at home, I finally broke into double-digits in this quest for thirty 5Ks. It’s still going to go on for a while, but maybe I can reach the halfway point before the new year. Right now, the next race isn’t even on the horizon. I’m too stiff and sore to think about it. My back is tired, and even yoga didn’t help as much as I thought or needed it to this morning. I’m not going to get any faster, and I’m sure as hell not going to get any younger.
Might as well keep running.
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?