Saturday, July 24, 2010

Deseret News Marathon

It is finished.

The marathon started at 5:30 in the morning, so naturally the race coordinators demanded that we be loaded into the shuttle busses to head to the starting line by 3:15 AM. This was no big deal, of course, because who doesn’t want to get to the starting line up in the dark mountains 14 and a half days before the race starts? So all 900 or so of us got out of the shuttle just before 3:30 to wait in the dark for two hours at roughly 40 degrees for the race to begin. What did we do to pass the time, you ask? The following:

Tent: One two-sided tent was erected, large enough to hold about 100 people standing, bodies pressed up against one another. Being the middle of the night, the runners were quite tired and those who ventured into the tent just stood in the eerily quiet and shockingly thin crowd, swaying back and forth with their heads down and eyes closed. To those of us outside the tent, this looked much like a scene out of “I am Legend.”

Music: Inspirational ‘80s music with the occasional Dixie Chicks interlude was blasted directly into the unfortunate ears of those not in the tent (I’m mostly just grateful they weren’t playing on repeat that horrid “I could really use a wish right now” song that every radio station across America seems to be in a contest to play the most times per day). This, of course, made me ask myself the same question I’ve been stewing over for several decades now: what is the deal with distance runners and ‘80s music? Football players tragically have their country music. Basketball players have their rap. Wrestlers have ring worm. And distance runners have inspirational ‘80s music. Even before the ‘80s, distance runners were listening to ‘80s music.

Porta-potties: Ugh. Two long rows of potties, back to back, jetted out from the tent opening. Initially individual lines for each potty formed, sending me into all out panic mode as I was absolutely not ok with an entire line focusing solely on how much time I was going to spend in there. I contemplated just holding it for the next six hours or so until I got back into the safety of my own home. But others must have felt the same way because just then the lines sort of merged together so that each now targeted four or five potties instead of one. Much less intimidating. The potties on the row facing the tent were quite popular, and the lines extremely social. The potties on the back row, on the other hand, seemed to be for the more tired and nervous poopers. I climbed into a line (on the back row, obviously) and waited my turn only to find to my utter horror that inside the potty it was as dark as when you go on a tour of the Timpanogos caves and they turn out the lights to show you how you can’t see your hand. I stood for moment, firmly resolving that there was no amount of emergency that would ever get me in one million years to touch anything in there. 

Never. Ever. Ever. Never.

Vaseline: I bought a whole new tub and began glopping handfuls of it onto every exterior part of my body until I weighed a solid 32 pounds more than when I got up in the morning. I did this while in mid-conversation with a new friend I made in the Porta-potty line named Lauren (because, when better to make new friends than in Porta-potty line?). I realized I was being rude and immediately offered her some (as one hand completely full of the stuff slipped down my shorts). She looked bewildered and declined the offer. Moments later she disappeared and I never did see her again.

Socializing: Normally the true socializing doesn’t begin until the marathon starts and runners spread out a bit. This is actually a very calculated process, not un-similar to dating or high school lunch tables. Everyone knows you don’t want to make friends with “weird guy” early on in the race. THAT would be social suicide, as you will also be dubbed weird guy from that point forward—something impossible to overcome. You also don’t want to hook up with an emotional leach (these are sometimes hard to spot early on), over-enthusiastic guy (who, not shockingly, is usually also “weird guy”), or ultra-competitive guy (for obvious reasons). Once you’ve picked your friend/friends comes the awkward task of trying to figure out how and when to split up (as you will definitely not finish the marathon together—again, just like dating—in my experience anyway). I normally stress about this for the first 18 miles until we just naturally drift apart without saying anything, grateful that the awkward “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation has been entirely avoided. Because we had two hours to kill, this socialization process got a world record early start, which was completely fascinating to watch (I had already blown it with Vaseline girl and so spent the rest of my time trying not to look too clingy or enthusiastic as I was quite sure some were already dubbing me “weird guy”).

The Start Line: The race finally began right after the announcer explained that one man there was on his 300th marathon (this got oooo’s and ah’s), and that a woman was completing her 129th (which normally would have gotten oooo’s and ah’s but thanks to a very poorly planned out order of announcements, only got one guy in the back to yell out “weak!”).

Mile 1: I met up with Sarah who seemed like a good safe bet to have as a friend. She also seemed willing to run at whatever pace I chose. I recognized that it was very possible that she could beat me but I decided long ago not to let women running faster than me in marathons hurt my ego (this has not translated into any other race distance yet, and hopefully will not for several decades to come) as I learned that, for reasons I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand, women who limp and have a hard time carrying in groceries from their vehicles are often able to step into marathons at a moment’s notice and run at an all-out sprint for 26 straight miles without breaking a sweat. I think this has something to do with estrogen, Oprah, and whatever makes mothers lift up cars to save their children in emergencies (a claim of which I’m still a bit skeptical).

Mile 2: I explained to Sarah the Vaseline experience with Lauren (hoping she hadn’t already heard through the grapevine) and asked her whether she thought what I did was odd. She quickly responded, “oh, some people are really just different.” She never did explain who she was referring to.

Mile 3-6: What I assumed to be rather pleasant conversation took place. Guy in long shorts with a sweater flew by us like the apocalypse was coming. I predicted that we would see him again at some point, and that it wouldn’t be pretty.

Mile 7: Sarah abruptly said, “you should run up there and try to catch those guys.” I wondered if my last comment about how I’d be happy to share the Swedish fish zipped up in my back pocket around mile 19 once they’re nice and warm, was a bit much for our relatively new and still blossoming friendship.

Miles 8-13: Sarah and I split without saying another word. I spent the remainder of these miles wondering if her telling me to speed up was just another way of saying that I was too annoying. No resolution on that still. By the end of mile 13 I was told that I had averaged 6:31 mile pace so far, almost 30 seconds faster per mile than I intended to go. Oops. I didn’t slow down however, as I wasn’t quite ready to face Sarah again.

Mile 14: Woman standing in front of her cabin in a nighty while smoking coughed on me as I went by.

Mile 15: I passed apocalypse guy who was sitting down on the side of the road looking totally bewildered and traumatized.

Mile 16-21: I started eating my baggie of Swedish Fish, which were warm and soft, as predicted.

Mile 22: No mile marker in sight. Sarah caught back up to me and we both started having a panicked conversation about whether mile maker 22 was still coming or whether they just forgot to put that one out. Sarah swore she hadn’t seen a mile marker in several miles and wondered if the next one would be 24ish. I was sure this was overly optimistic and desperately tried to convince myself that the next one would be number 13 so I would be very pleasantly surprised either way even though the last one I had seen was number 21. (I employ this same tactic when looking at the time during boring classes).

Mile 23: The beloved mile marker was found. Sarah left me. My ability to care was almost gone as I was now swaying back and forth across the road, occasionally saying out loud in slurred speech, “I can’t believe how good I feel!” (try mimicking this yourself so you can get the full effect) as though that would make all the pain go away. It did not.

Mile 24: Suddenly “only 2 more miles” didn’t sound that great.

Mile 25: Now on the parade route. And just in time for me to get unreasonably emotional, losing breath as I got choked up upon seeing a float from Salt Lake’s sister city, located somewhere in Japan. I then snapped out of it and wondered what the point was in having a sister city, especially when absolutely none of the residents of either city are in any way aware of the forged familial connection. Then I remembered that my legs were about to fall off and that the guy in front of me seemed to have recently pooped his pants (likely another nervous pooper), so I had more important things to worry about.

Mile 26: I suddenly realized that if I ran really fast, I could finish this miserable thing sooner (plus I would look so good in front of all those people waiting at the finish!). So I broke out of my bounce-walk (this is a step below “churning” which is a step below jogging) and set a world record for the 100 meter sprint, not really sure where the sudden burst of energy came from (probably had something to do with the warm Swedish Fish—bet Sarah wished she hadn’t turned them down earlier on!). I finished with a 3:36. Eh. It could have been worse. (And it was worse four years ago when I ran the same course about 30 minutes slower because David used peer pressure to get me to run it but failed to use the same technique to get me to train for it. Thanks David).

Aftermath: Rolling around on the grass, crying, unable to walk . . . the usual. Sarah found me and explained that she started crying around mile 25 (I assume she saw the Japanese float too. Or the guy who pooped his pants. Or maybe she felt bad about our big fight at Mile 7).

So there you have it. 40 years from now when I consider running a marathon again, I’ll take the lessons I learned today, and completely ignore them, as I’ve now done twice.

Is it really that strange to share Vaseline with new acquaintances? Old friends? Weird guy?

~It Just Gets Stranger

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Tragic History of Sports

This may surprise you all but I'm not very good at sports. That was actually a huge understatement. And this is probably the thing I am most self-conscious about in life (besides my foot disease). The thing is, I should be at least ok at sports. I'm in good shape. I work out every day. I'm young (relatively). I spent most of my childhood with all the neighborhood kids engaged in highly combative street hockey, football, baseball, and one really confusing game we invented involving bicycles which always ended in drama between all 10,000 kids on the block--fights which inevitably resolved themselves over night so play could resume the following day. In fact, I was once a scholarship collegiate athlete (but it was for distance running, which I'm excluding from the category of "sports" for purposes of this blog post and for the sake of avoiding the argument about whether running up and down hills and in circles is considered a sport, of which I stopped taking sides in 1947 when I finished college and moved on with my life). But the truth is, despite much of the exposure to sports as a child, I have a long tragic history of being absolutely terrible at any activity involving a ball. So what I would like to do today is give you all a rundown of my personal organized sports history:

1990-1991: Bob and Cathie enrolled me in a community t-ball league. It was a full calendar year before I realized that rounding the bases led to points. My parents have a picture somewhere of me with one hand behind my back grasping a half-eaten doughnut, the other hand holding onto a participation trophy (the only way I was ever going to get a sports trophy as a six year old). I am thoroughly convinced that of those two things, I was there for the one I was evidently trying to hide behind my back.

1992-1994: Machine Pitch. My only two memories of the experience were, 1. A kid got hit square in the face with the ball and bled all over the field and, rather than feeling any concern, I remember wondering whether he was on my team (because I had no idea--and no, it never occurred to me that my whole team was wearing the same uniform). As a result, I spent the rest of the season running to positions far in the outfield so that could never happen to me. Which leads to memory number 2. I was standing somewhere in the outfield and the ball landed literally within four feet of me. I thought it was a bird so I ignored it (let's face it, I wasn't paying attention). Another kid had to run halfway across the field to pick it up when I utterly ignored the screams from my coach and all 20 other teammates.
1995-1996: Soccer. My friends and I were all on a team together, self-named "The Jolly Green Giants" because of our bright green shirts. We lost every single game. I have more than one memory of sitting down with a friend on the field in the middle of play. Also, sometime during the season Danielle Diamond sprained my finger when I told her she kicked like a girl. I'll tell you what--she sure didn't fight like a girl.
1996-1997: Jr. Jazz Basketball. Obsessed with the NBA, this was a natural activity for me to be involved in and probably the first sporting event that I took seriously. Too bad I played on the same team for 2 years and never once scored a basket. Ever. Or did anything impressive at all, although I tried regularly and desperately. I still feel those same terrified feelings I used to feel every Saturday morning when I would wake up and realize that I was going to have to go play for an hour in front of a crowd of people if I think about it long enough.
1998: Jr. Jazz team 2. Thinking the experience would be more enjoyable, I joined a team with several friends. This was largely the same group that I played soccer with in '95. And unfortunately we weren't much better at basketball. But I did make a 3-point shot in the very last game of the season. Unfortunately it was an accident, magically going in when I tried to pass the ball to someone who was several feet away from the hoop (who I later realized wasn't even on my team). I think we still lost this game by 20+ though.
1998-2002: Cross Country and Track & Field. All I had to do was run. I never had to catch or throw anything. Sure I was terrible at running but it was nothing that several years of 2-a-day gruelling practices and border-line-abusive coaching couldn't fix. But I promised I wouldn't talk about this as an actual sport for purposes of this post. I only bring it up to account for the sudden halt in other athletic endeavors.
2005-2009: I spent a good portion of these years pretending to be busy when friends encouraged me to join intramural teams with them. I did take a tennis class sometime during this period that wasn't too disastrous. Although it was the beginner class. And I'm pretty sure I was the worst person in it, getting beat by the pregnant girl on more than one occasion (in my defense, I wasn't the only one who thought she belonged in the intermediate class. Plus she was only like 7 months pregnant. I would like to see her try and play me at 9 months).
So you can imagine how excited I was when my new ward invited me to come play softball last Tuesday night. After conveniently getting a phone call every time it was my turn up to bat for the first half of the game, I finally got pushed out to the plate. About half-way there I realized that I hadn't held a bat since I was about 11 years old and my neighborhood friends and I decided to start a pretend gang, in which my weapon of choice was baseball equipment (100% of our gang activity consisted of ringing doorbells and then pretending to fight in neighbors' front yards until we all lay dead on the grass. The neighbor would stand and watch and then awkwardly clap while slowly backing into the house. I think we were trying to get some message across that was never really clear to any of us). I swung once and hit the ball directly to the pitcher and made my walk of shame back to the team and then spent the next 4 days in emotional recovery. Is there anyone out there who can help me?

~It Just Gets Stranger