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I think part of the problem is that I was perfect once. It only lasted for about five minutes, but I guess Im supposed to be grateful it ever happened or something. Actually, I think it kind of messed me up. Maybe because I was too young or something. I guess perfect usually happens when youre young, though. You just dont see old people being perfect much.
Or maybe theyre perfect a lot of the time, just nobody notices. Have you ever noticed the most important things happen when were too young to understand that some big deal is going on? I think God should sort of tap you on the shoulder and say Pay attention, youre going to want to remember this. Or maybe he does, but we ignore it. Anyway, this perfect deal happened when I was not quite 16.
I was sort of a jock. Well, a track guy. A lot of people dont think of track guys as jocks. Id been this real scrawny kid, sort of the class nerd, all my life. And I was a year younger than most of the other kids in my class, which I didnt like much. Everyone else was driving and had dates and stuff.
I didnt date, though. I mean I wanted to date, but I wouldve had to beg some guy to double date. I didnt really have any friends that would have done anything like that. Besides, what I really wanted was a date with like some knockout babe, but Im pretty sure none of them knew I was alive. Id have probably ended up with some real chubby girl or something. And shed have probably been wishing she was with somebody else the whole time, anyway.
So, I guess I thought if maybe I was a jock or something, then girls would notice me. But most of the jock stuff I tried, I pretty much just got my butt kicked. I was really small, and I seem to remember being scared censored less most of the time. My dad, hed been this like mondo jock in college. He tried to not be disappointed about the butt-kicking stuff, but he was anyway. You can always tell when your parents are trying to not be disappointed.
I think maybe thats worse than when theyre screaming at you. But he wasnt around much, my dad, so I guess it really wasnt a big deal or anything. Anyway, I tried track when I was a freshman in high school. I mean, you hardly ever see track guys getting their butts knocked off, and I guess running seemed kind of natural. Id had a lot of experience at that. You know, you always read well you dont always read, since nobody writes that much about running track, except in those runners magazines where everybody acts like they really like running.
I really dont think they like it, though, most of them. Except for the ones that are really out there getting some sort of huge endorphin rush from running about 20 miles a day. I think mostly they just try to like it, since they feel like they have to. I mean, since theyre writing about it. I dont think a running magazine would buy an article from some guy about how he hates running. Anyway, when you do read about guys who run track, they always saying stuff like I prefer track because of the individuality of the competition or I like that Im only competing with myself.
I think thats bull censored , mostly. I think mostly guys run track cause theyre fast, and couldnt play football. And I was really pretty good at it. Not like I was going to the Olympics or anything, but I made the varsity as a freshman, which was kind of unusual.
It was kind of funny. I was good at all the events, but not great at any of them. I was kind of a track utility guy. I could run everything from the 100 -yard dash to the mile. I dont know if you know much about track, but thats real unusual. Most of the time youve got your distance guys and your sprinting guys, but I could do all of them.
At first I was mostly relay fodder, you know, just running on the relay teams. But by my sophomore year I was running a lot of individual events, especially the mile and half-mile. I liked the mile best, though. You know what I really liked about it? The pointless stupidity of it all.
The whole thing consists of going around in a circle, again and again. The goal is to go around the circle a little faster than everybody else. When everythings said and done, though, youre right back where you started, only youre real tired and sweaty. Oh, and sometimes you get to puke, too. I really think they should give style points in track, like they do in gymnastics. You know, take a few seconds off some guy time if he looks like hes really enjoying it, or has a great stride or something.
Anyway, I was a lot faster sprinter than the real distance runners, so I would sort of lag back for most of the race and then run like a bastard the last 200 yards. Usually, Id pass most of the field. Seems like Id always finish second or third, though. The coach was always telling me to run the whole race, not just sprint at the end. He thought Id do better that way, but I didnt really think so.
Seeing as how I was a good sprinter, I figured I should use my speed. And people really kind of got excited when I was sprinting that last 200 yards. I mean, even while I was running and all, I could see them screaming in the stands. I dont think theyd have gotten so interested if the finish wasnt exciting. I guess I sort of liked that, seeing the girls yelling for me and everything. Anyway, I was going to tell you about that time I was perfect.
See, after my sophomore year, I was still 15. That was sort of a disadvantage in high school track, but the AAU has the Junior Olympics every year or two. And there was an age group in track just for people under 16. So I figured, most of the kids in this age group, they hadnt run high school track like I had, so maybe Id have an advantage if I entered. The first meets at the city and state levels, I pretty much cleaned up. And the best part was the finals for the Tri-State region were in Memphis, where I lived.
Its not like theres really a home field advantage in track or anything, but I tried to psych myself up that there was. You see, the top three finishers got to run in the Southeast region, which seemed like a really big deal at the time. Anyhow, about a week before the meet, we got this notice about who was running in it, and how fast theyd run in their qualifying races. I guess my bubble really burst then, because almost every guy entered had faster times than I did. And there was this one kid who was only 14, but was like the next Jim Ryan or something. It was pretty clear that I was outclassed.
And as if that wasnt bad enough, my dad decided he was going to come. He brought his wife, too. I think that was the third wife. Real cute blonde bimbo about 50 years younger than him. Id been running for two years, and theyd never had time to work one of my races into their busy social schedule. But this time, this guy who worked for my dad had a kid running in another race.
He knew I was running, and I guess he was trying to schmooze up to dad or something, telling him how great it was them both having kids in the Junior Olympics. So suddenly, my dads coming to watch me run. Or probably, he was really coming so this other guy would see him watching me run. So right before the race, I try to break the news to my dad that Im going to get creamed.
I try to start out gently, you know, saying I hope maybe I can get third, so I can go to the regional finals. Well, he just goes ape censored , standing up and getting all red. Losers are guys who dont think they can win, he says. And I always ran to win, I always played to win. And on and on. So I just kind of left with him mouthing at me.
I guess he was real disappointed his kid wasnt going to kick some butt, what with his employee there and all. And as if my parents being there wasnt bad enough, the guy in charge of organizing the mile comes up to me and asks if Ill be a rabbit, since he knows Im not exactly competitive with these guys. A rabbit is a guy who goes out and runs the first half of the race really fast, then drops out. That helps the other guys push themselves and get good times, and this organizer wants his race to have the fastest times in the region. Well, I figured since Im not going to win or anything, I can do that.
And I guess I thought, you know, I might as well lead for a while. I kind of thought maybe dad would think that at least I tried hard and stuff. And maybe instead of quitting at the halfway point, I can just slow down and at least finish. So they line us up to start, and off we go. Now I figure since Im supposed to be the rabbit, Ill just run my usual half-mile pace. The field sticks with me around the first turn, just starting to string out.
If youve never run a mile, its about half-way through the first turn where you sort of loosen up and just get into your rhythm. So we come out of the turn, and Im feeling real smooth and loose. Which is real surprising since Id been so emotional and tense and all before the race. But now Im feeling real good. And Id never lead a race early like this, so its kind of cool. Some guys I know are clapping and cheering.
They think Im really doing great or something. I mean, theyre all sprinters and field guys, so they dont really have a clue that the guy in front at first is gonna get toasted later on. Anyway, Im feeling good, but I got to admit Im a little pissed off about them asking me to be the rabbit and all, so I figure Ill kind of censored with their minds a little. So on the backstretch I open up a little. Not too much, cause theres no way Im not going to finish that first half mile, but enough to put a few yards between me and the pack. Now these guys are all pretty good runners, and they know better than to put out that much energy this early.
Theyre running smart races. But I know theyve got to be wondering what was I doing. And really, I couldnt tell you. I guess I was just pissed off. And maybe I thought I would like have a moment in the spotlight or something. So we go through the second turn.
That second turns when I usually start breathing hard. You really have to consciously control your breathing when that happens. See, if your breathing gets ragged, you start losing you stride. If you lose your stride, suddenly instead of just running smooth, everything gets sort of uncoordinated and you really slow up. But if you control your breathing for a few seconds, you start this real regular, fast deep breathing and everything gets back to normal.
You can lose a lot of distance if you let your breathing get ragged during that transition. Well, what with that show-off sprint in the back stretch, I struggled a little more than usual getting my breathing right, and I lost my stride some. Not much, but enough to slow me down for a dozen steps or so, and the field caught up. But once I got my stride back, I decided Im going to get a lead before the home stretch, so I opened up again for 50 yards. And that was what it really was all about, I guess, because I sure remember leading the pack up the home stretch, right in front of the grandstand. And I was trying not to grin.
I mean I didnt grin or anything, but I sure felt like grinning. When we went past the start / finish line, a timer was yelling the lap time Sixty-four, sixty-four, which was really fast. Myself, I usually never went below 70 seconds on the first lap, but then I never ran below 4: 50 for the mile. But some of the guys in that field could approach 4: 30, so I figured the lap time was just right for them. And around we went again.
I tried really hard to keep the pace exactly the same, which was kind of difficult for me. Id never run in front before, so this was really a new experience. But I figured if I was slowing down too much, someone would have passed me. Anyway, I made it through that second lap, and the half-mile time was 2: 12, which was about as perfect as you could do. Now a real rabbit, he would just run off the track into the infield after the second lap, but I was going to try to finish.
Since I hadnt run off the track, the guys behind me would have to run outside of me to pass in the turn, making them run an extra distance. I didnt want to screw up anybody's time or anything, so I tried really hard to keep the pace up through the turn on that third lap. But as soon as we got onto the backstretch one of the hotshots blew past me. By the end of the backstretch, another went by. But actually, I was kind of surprised that the whole field wasnt past me.
I mean, I was really starting to labor by then. I huffed through the turn still in third place, though. What I hadnt realized, I guess, is that Id really strung out a lot of the field on those first two laps. For one glorious moment when I realized I was still in third place, I really started to think that maybe I had a shot at that last spot going to the regional finals. But going down the home stretch another person swung out to pass me. I tried to pick my pace up, thinking if I could just hold him outside till the turn came up, maybe having to run that extra distance around the turn would keep him from passing me.
But I didnt have anything left to pick up with. He went prancing by, right in front of the grandstand, while I seemed to be running in mud. Finishing the home stretch took an eternity, and by the time I started the front turn for the last time I as running back on my heels. And I heard another runner close behind. Running on your heels, thats the death rattle of a distance runner. When youre running you stay on your toes.
Your heels never touch the ground. When youve shot your wad, and your leg muscles start to knot up, then you cant help but dropping back on your heels. Suddenly, you feel a kind of jarring impact with each step. When that happens, its time to drop out and quit. But I really wanted to finish the race. Now dont get me wrong.
Finishing things I started wasnt real common behavior for me, even back then. But I guess I didnt wanted to hear what a quitter I was from my super jock dad. And I guess I was still pissed about being the rabbit, at least a little bit. So I just kept plodding around the first turn. And the guy behind me realized I was toast, and decided to just wait till the back stretch to take me. Or maybe he didnt give a censored , since the first three finishers were at least 10 yards ahead of us by then.
They had that regional trip all locked up. I dont remember most of that turn, but I sure remember entering the backstretch. This was the fourth time in four minutes Id been there, but it sure looked different. For a moment that lasted forever I just stared down that backstretch.
The last turn seemed two miles away, and I realized I couldnt possibly make it. I couldnt even walk it. When the guy behind me swung out to pass, I saw it was the 14 - year-old whiz kid. I sort of glanced over at him, and you could tell from his face he thought he could catch the guys 10 yards ahead of us, which was crazy.
I mean, in a local race, at a local pace, I could maybe make up 10 yards. But I was a closet sprinter. This kid was a miler, and this wasnt the local competition. Do you know much about running distance in track?
Well, I tell you, theres more to it than just being the best runner. Sometimes theres a lot of pushing and shoving, and in those days we wore these shoes with half inch long spikes for traction. Those spikes were weapons, and you learned pretty quick not to let someone get real close behind you. Id lost a couple of races when someone stuck his spikes in my calf, but I guess I might have won a couple that way, too. Well, as this kid swings out behind me, he nicks me with his spikes.
Not badly, but really unnecessary, since it was obvious I was no competition. I guess being young, he didnt realize you should wait till youre out of range before you pull that censored . He was still right beside me, and by reflex I sort of elbowed him on his hip, which threw him totally off his stride. You can get away with using your outside arm like that in the backstretch, since the officials are all on the other side of the track. It took him a couple of steps to get his balance back, which put him a yard behind me. I knew those spikes would be clawing my leg next time he went by, and out of some self-preservation reflex, suddenly I was sprinting.
I mean a second ago, I could barely keep running, and now Ive started a sprint 300 yards away from the finish. I sure wasnt thinking of any strategy. I guess I just didnt want any more spikes in my leg, or something. I do remember thinking Id just keep going as long as I could. I dont know what I thought would happen after that. Maybe Id cramp up or something, so I could sort of quit with honor.
Im not sure, exactly. And I remember hearing that angry kid pounding behind me, trying to catch up. At least I had the satisfaction of ruining his finishing sprint by making him start too early. I dont remember much about that last 300 yards. Pain.
I remember a lot of pain, and later people told me I was wobbling from side to side, sort of staggering up the finish stretch. I guess they were hollering and stuff, but I didnt know it. I didnt even know what place Id come in until someone told me later. One of my friends told me that my mouth was gaping open and I was sort of spraying saliva all over myself. Probably not a pretty sight. I suppose it was a good thing they werent giving style points in that race.
I didnt care if the girls were cheering, or my dad was proud of me, or if I was running on my heels. I didnt care if I staggered and wobbled, or even if I won. You know, for a minute there, I just didnt care about anybody or what they thought about me. I just kept running really hard and fast after I should have quit.
I know you guys are about to bust a gut to ask me, How did I feel? and all that psychobabble crap. I felt like puking, OK? Thats about all I felt.
If this was a movie or something, Id probably tell you how I won the race. It was pretty close actually. I kept going those 300 yards finished that race in 4: 38, almost 15 seconds faster than Id ever run before, or would ever run again. I came in second, one-tenth of a second behind the winner, one-tenth ahead of the third place guy. Or maybe Id tell you how I found my true spirit that day and went on to be some famous track guy.
Oh, I made my trip to the regionals, where I finished dead last. I never ran in competition again after that. My senior year, I just couldnt get really interested in it. And I didnt find some inner peace that day and become a popular, self confident type guy.
I guess we all know that didnt happen. Now that Im talking about it like this, it seems that what happened that day wasnt very important. Kind of like the rest of my life, I guess. I went around in circles for a while, trying to look good and busting my ass just to get back where I started. After that I laid on the ground and hurt.
Oh, yeah, and I puked, too. Probably some people were a little interested and entertained for a while, but it didnt change anybody's world or anything. Except maybe mine, a little bit. Sometimes I see these people that seem to have everything. You know, those smart, good looking, rich guys with the arm candy wives. Sometimes I get real jealous of those guys with their perfect lives.
Most of the time, though, I think, Hey, I was perfect, once, for a little while. But it took an incredible amount of effort, it really didnt matter, and I made myself sick doing it.
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