I think part of the problem is that I was perfect once. It only lasted for about five minutes, but I guess I’m 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 you’re young, though. You just don’t see old people being perfect much. Or maybe they’re perfect a lot of the time, just nobody notices. Have you ever noticed the most important things happen when we’re 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, you’re oing 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 don’t think of track guys as jocks. I’d 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 didn’t like much. Everyone else was driving and had dates and stuff. I didn’t date, though. I mean I wanted to date, but I would’ve had to beg some guy to double date.
I didn’t 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 I’m pretty sure none of them knew I was alive. I’d have probably ended up with some real chubby girl or something. And she’d 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, he’d been this like mondo jock in college. He tried to not be disappointed bout the butt-kicking stuff, but he was anyway. You can always tell when your parents are trying to not be disappointed. I think maybe that’s worse than when they’re screaming at you. But he wasn’t around much, my dad, so I guess it really wasn’t 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. I’d had a lot of experience at that.
You know, you always read — well you don’t always read, since nobody writes that much about running track, except in those runner’s agazines where everybody acts like they really like running. I really don’t 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 they’re writing about it. I don’t 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 I’m only competing with myself. I think that’s bull*censored*, mostly. I think mostly guys run track cause they’re fast, and couldn’t 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 don’t know if you know much about track, but that’s real unusual. Most of the time you’ve got your distance guys and your sprinting guys, but I ould 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 everything’s said and done, though, you’re right back where you started, only you’re real tired and sweaty. Oh, and sometimes you get to puke, too. I eally 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 he’s 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, I’d pass most of the field. Seems like I’d 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 I’d do better that way, but I didn’t 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 don’t think they’d have gotten so interested if the finish wasn’t 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 hadn’t run high school track like I had, so maybe I’d 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.
It’s not like there’s 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 eet, we got this notice about who was running in it, and how fast they’d 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 wasn’t 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. I’d been running for two years, and they’d never had time to work one of my races into heir 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 dad’s 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 I’m 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 don’t 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 wasn’t going to kick some butt, what with his employee there and all.
And as if my parents being there wasn’t bad enough, the guy in charge of organizing the mile comes up to me and asks if I’ll be a rabbit, since he knows I’m not exactly competitive with these guys. A rabbit is a guy who goes out and runs the first half of the race eally 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 I’m 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 I’m supposed to be the rabbit, I’ll just run my usual half-mile pace. The ield sticks with me around the first turn, just starting to string out. If you’ve 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 I’m feeling real smooth and loose.
Which is real surprising since I’d been so emotional and tense and all before the race. But now I’m feeling real good. And I’d never lead a race early like this, so its kind of cool. Some guys I know are clapping and cheering. They think I’m really doing great or something. I mean, they’re all sprinters and field guys, so they don’t really have a lue that the guy in front at first is gonna get toasted later on. Anyway, I’m feeling good, but I got to admit I’m a little pissed off about them asking me to be the rabbit and all, so I figure I’ll kind of *censored* with their minds a little.
So on the backstretch I open up a little. Not too much, cause there’s no way I’m 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. They’re running smart races. But I know they’ve got to be wondering what was I doing. And really, I couldn’t 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 turn’s 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 verything 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 I’m 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 didn’t 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. I’d 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t past me. I mean, I was really starting to labor by then. I huffed through the turn still in third place, though. What I hadn’t realized, I guess, is that I’d 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 nother 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 didn’t 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, that’s the death rattle of a distance runner. When you’re unning you stay on your toes.
Your heels never touch the ground. When you’ve shot your wad, and your leg muscles start to knot up, then you can’t help but dropping back on your heels. Suddenly, you feel a kind of jarring impact with each step. When that happens, it’s time to drop out and quit. But I really wanted to finish the race. Now don’t get me wrong. Finishing things I started wasn’t real common behavior for me, even back then. But I guess I didn’t wanted to hear what a quitter I was from my superjock 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.