Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Best Story About a Time that I Ran

I see a lot of posts and statuses and tweets by people training and running—Ragnars, marathons, half-marathons—so I’d like to throw my hat in the ring and participate in this robust internet dialogue as well.  Because once I ran a mile and a half.

The author in his natural habitat.

It was the very beginning of my freshman year.  I was coming off my greatest summer as a swimmer where I had put in about five hours a day training in the pool, trounced the majority of my competition at meet after meet, and placed third in state in the 200 yard breaststroke, I was at the absolute height of whatever my physical prime would be.  That first semester I was taking this gym class called “Fitness for Life” (commonly and lame-ily called “Fitness for Death” by generations of students, I preferred “Fitness for Fatties”, a sobriquet of my own invention) where, to get an A and receive 50% of the PE credits you’d ever need to graduate, you just had to perform better on a fitness test at he end of the semester than you did on a fitness test at the beginning of the semester, and show that you trained a little in between.  The popular form to the preliminary fitness test: a mile and a half run with your class in the school’s field house. 

Seeing as I was as fit as I’d ever be, and knew it, I was excited for this run.  I’d practically never run before, except when earning my Physical Fitness badge and a few times in Junior High . . . the last time I remembered running was at the beginning of my junior year as part of a pre-swim season training routine with a number of my teammates.  I headed out on that run alongside my teammates but watched in mystification as these fellows, my peers in the water, grew farther and farther away from me.  One or two initially held back to keep company with me, but eventually abandoned me for the sake of their own fitness.  While they tore around corners and across lawns, I found myself walking with my hands on my hips, spitting frequently, with a feeling like my side was going to burst.  But I recognized this Fitness for Life run as the opportunity to see what I was really made of, to see what kind of decent mile and a half runtime I might score.  I gathered with my classmates in our blue and grey gym issue at the starting line, a few guys from my floor mingling around me with a few girls I recognized from other classes along with plenty of strangers.  I tried visualizing how far a mile and a half was.  Nothing materialized.  But it couldn’t be that far?  I imagined the walk to my old grade school and back.  That was probably a mile and a half.  The teacher, an upperclassman or physical education grad student, tells us that the mile and a half is 7.5 laps of the field house track.  This seems . . . long to me.  And then we’re off!

At first it is my plan that I’ll keep pace with this guy Scott, a known runner, that lived in the dorm room across the hall from me.  This delusion lasts no further than the first turn of the track.  I try to fall in with a clump of the runners, in my mind this mile and a half is just a little thing I need to get rid of.  A little thing that will be over quickly.  I feel like I must be able to do all right at this because my sister is an excellent runner, a renowned runner, a scholarshipped-runner . . . I should at least be able to put forth a decent mile and a half showing based on shared genetics, right?  But my key genetic traits at play in this physical challenge are my feet.  Long, wide, very flat footed, they turn out at a wide angle like clown shoes.  For the frog-like kick of the breaststroke, this is an advantage, my JV coach said he could tell from my feet I’d make a good breaststroker, he spoke of another coach that’d have his freshman walk around the pool just to get a look at their feet, to spot the breaststrokers in the bunch—but in running, they’re bad news.  They clomp clomp clomp out to the sides so awkwardly, so heavily, like a duck in rain boots.  Classmates pass me continually and I watch them go by, wondering if their feet are as heavy and loud as mine.

My endurance starts to falter, too.  Maybe I went out too hard?  Maybe it was foolish to have even tried to run alongside Scott as far as the first turn?  Immediately I fall into a pattern, along the straight approaching the second turn (you know what I mean by “second turn”, right?  I’m jogging a long oval track here, we started in the middle of the “top”, run counterclockwise into the first turn, then we run along the bottom, take the second turn, and after half of this next straight away a lap is complete) there is an aerobics class with pumped up workout jams playing full blast.  When this music comes into range I pick up my feet and pick up my pace, pump my arms a little harder and run with my head a little higher—the power of these jams brings me to a near sprint on each lap.  Once I’m out of range of the music my pace lowers, my heart beats in my throat, my side pounds in pain, and I pay for my minute of cockiness as I crash hard from my junk-pop sugar high.

Scott laps me.  His mile and a half is over and I’ve got plenty to go.  When I finish I do not finish dead last, but my time is nothing to be proud of.  There is a sheet with star ratings on a scale of, let’s say 0 to 6, assigned to times—my time is a three star time. There is a little blurb for each star score, a three star score gets a blurb like “Not bad, but you should have worked out in high school.”  It is appropriately humiliating.  I walk away from the track and my legs are just trembling.  I hack and spit.  I keep my head low and make eye contact with no one.  I gather my things at my locker with shaking arms and head for my dorm without changing.  It is a bright fall day, fresh and new fresh-faced freshmen frolic on the dorm lawns around me.  I hold my belongings to my chest like the survivor of a great wrong.  Returned to my dorm, I stand in the shower for nearly an hour, fully clothed.  While the water drenches my gym issue into a skintight darkest possible grey I shudder, I dry heave, I shake.  My legs feel like they’re going to give like a footstool kicked out from under me at any time.  The dorm building seems silent and empty and I am grateful.  No one else comes in for a three o clock shower and I am grateful.  I close my eyes and rest my forehead against the wall beneath the showerhead.  I fixate on my three star score.  That I did not soar like an eagle through this challenge does not surprise me, it was my often sited self-assessment that I was not good at any sport that involved land, a ball or a team.  But my athletic self-esteem had been dinged, my hard-earned high-regard for my own physical prowess was taken down a notch by this apparent non-transferability of skill.  To quote Vonnegut, in the water I was beautiful—but on land, an absolute disaster.

I would never run more than a block again in my life.

Fearing a return to the track at the end of the semester, I examined my Fitness for Life materials.  Turns out there were assessments available for other sports, including swimming.  On my first practice swim (as we were required to log a number of work-outs before our official final performance) my time translated into something that completely shattered the Fitness for Life star-scale, mine would have been a fourteen star time or something.  I’m not saying I swam the required distance in super-Olympian speed.  The swimming times were obviously set out for people who never swam competitively, for folks figuring they’ll give a lap swim a shot, people who couldn’t do a flip turn or didn’t realize that more than two people could share a lane.  Whatever the distance required for the swim was it was short, in no way a proper analogue to a mile and a half run.  Whatever the goal times set out were they were generous, allowing for breaks to catch your breath at the wall.  My Fitness for Life A was easily achieved, but my pride as a runner never won. 


Sara said...

Haha -- Brigham, this is probably the best post you've written to date. I mean, I liked it, anyway. It was so, so good!

Plus, I learned some things. I learned that in addition to being tall, my long, wide, and flat feet would've made me a great swimmer. I wish someone had noticed it in my youth. Instead, I grew up thinking I was bad at all sports. I think if I'd had lessons, I could've been an excellent swimmer. :/

Brigham said...

Thanks, Sara. It's never too late for a swimming lesson, you don't know what greatness might be waiting for you . . . and if not greatness, maybe fun?

Patricia said...

Classic Brigham...I love you.

Willie DeFord said...

Awesome, Brigham.

sarah said...

I love reading what you write.

Brigham said...

Thanks Willie Patricia and Sarah

Kristen said...

You just described how I felt trying to swim my .25 mile leg in my mini-triathlon. I too loved this post.