5 miles, 1:17.10 (15:225-132)

I’m running at the track. It’s an OK day. There’s an ancient shot putter (why would you put shot at 70 years old? um, why would you trot around the track at 61? never mind), the college field goal kicker being filmed by a video crew, a guy running the wrong direction. God, I hate it when people run the wrong direction on the track.

It’s an OK day. 5 miles, 1:17.10 (15:25-132). It’s a bit hotter today and I’m feeling the accumulation of the week, but no big deal. Miles is miles.

I go home, turn on SpongeBob and scroll through the numbers. blah blah blah blah. And then I see it. There’s a hill on the track.

This is weird. I run on a college track. It is flat. Very flat. It is used for track meets and Other Important Events. There’s just no question here. It’s flat. I might have mentioned that already.

Garmin says it’s a little bump, 3 feet tall. It occurs regularly at the same spot. It’s like I’m running over a miniature hill each lap. Except I’m not.

I go back and look at the week. It’s there every day. Same bump, same interval. Very consistent.

What could this be? I am crazed with curiosity. Actually, I am crazed with intertia (it’s just from a distance that I seem morose.) But that’s a different song.

And then it hits me. This counts as hill training! I’m counting miles on the track as hill work from now on.

I suppose there’s a metaphor in the bottom of my bag somewhere, next to the neglected jar of Vaseline and a packet of suspicious looking pills. I’m pursuing a comeback like I’m pursuing uphills. Just a tiny bit at a time. Sure, it’s so small that you can’t even see it, but it’s there. You just have to believe.

Maybe I’ll get a shot put …

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5, 1:15.25 (14:36-133)

Today I discovered the secret to running. Sadly, I can’t tell you what it is. It’s a secret.

OK, you seem trustworthy enough. The secret to running is this:


I wore my sunglasses for the first time this week. They’re Serious Sunglasses, some big red things that came in a race freebie bag. Add a fright wig and a rubber nose and you’re set for little Billy’s fourth birthday party. Little Billy is 4? Where does the time go.

The result: 5.17 miles, 1:15.25 (14:36-133), my first outing to crack 15-minute miles and the first to consistently trot the straights while walking the turns. And it felt pretty good.

How did the sunglasses do it? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a psychological thing, where the shades make me feel cool. Possibly the lack of wind drag on my eyelashes. Maybe they’re so dark that I can’t see what is ahead of me and I feel less intimidated. All I know is they worked. Best run all week by far.

Skeptics would point out that it was 15 degrees cooler today, making the run significantly easier. They likely are just jealous of my stylin’ shades.

Probably pushing the HR a bit much. Threshold on straights, recover on turns, but it felt OK and I didn’t die. Tomorrow will be interesting.

The future’s so bright …

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5 miles, 1:17.36 (15:31-128)

There’s a terrifying scream. And then there’s a football in lane 6. That means he’ll be here soon.

I’m running on the track, and today there’s a great show on the “Please Stay Off the Grass” field. Two guys — a quarterback and a wide receiver — are working out. They’re good. The receiver is fast with sticky hands and sharp routes. The quarterback has a rocket arm. It’s around 100 degrees. They don’t seem to notice. The quarterback does the hut hut thing. The receiver takes off. Inside, outside, over and over. As the quarterback releases the ball, he screams. If it’s accurate, if it sails away, if it falls short, always a scream. If I were a defensive lineman I would avoid him.

They connect almost every time, the sign of guys who have been performing this two-man play for an awful lot of matinees. It’s fun to watch as I shuffle along. It’s a good day, 5 miles, 1:17.36 (15:31-128). I’m doing the Squirrel a lot more today, a hopeful sign that things will come around. Jan. 1 is a long way away. I have time.

As do they. The routine continues for almost an hour and a half with no break. Throw, scream, catch. Throw, scream, catch. The most impressive thing? When the quarterback throws a bad pass, forcing a retrieval of the ball, he does it himself. He takes off on a full run down the field, grabs it and comes back while the receiver bends over and catches his breath. Is it because he wants the extra running? Is it  penance for mistakes? An incentive to minimize mistakes? Beats me. All I know is to avoid lane 6 when he comes barreling across to grab the ball.

I don’t know who he is. He has big-boy cleats, a strong arm and lots of balls. Aspiring pro? Former college guy who couldn’t give it up? Total mirage? So many questions.

The one thing I would NEVER have thought to question: Is he transgender? I guess it’s a possibility. But who the hell cares? He has a great spiral, an unquestionable work ethic, and has to be an excellent team player. He does his job beyond reproach. I could not care less about his sexual identity. I would absolutely want him to be on my team.

You’d have to be an idiot not to.

I think I understand the quarterback now, though.

Sometimes you just have to scream.


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5 miles, 1:23.56 (16:45-127)

It’s hot. I’m tired. He’s fast.

I’m back at the track as the weather starts to climb back to hell temperatures. 5 miles, 1:23.56 (16:45-127). Just toodling while keeping the heart on the top end of aerobic without going threshold. And then he shows up.

I love this track because it seems to attract crazy fast athletes. I guess there are a lot of fast guys who live in the area, and there aren’t many available tracks. This guy is the real deal.

He sets out his little cones, one at the 200 start and another at the finish. A long warmup. Stretch. Another warmup.

I say hey to him as I come around. He says hey and gives me the little wave of kindred souls on a track on a steamy day. I’m walking and trying to do a little barely trot on the straights to help the body remember what running feels like. It claims amnesia. Whatever. And then he comes by on his first repeat.

If you’ve ever shared the track with a sprinter, you know that feeling. The energy flying past in a blur. Arms pumping furiously, hands straight and perpendicular to the track, cartoon thighs and quads bulging. Controlled chaos down the straight, then a drifting stop. Hands on knees, gasping for air. A moment of rest, followed by a minute of walk, followed by a jog back to the finish line. And then the jets come on again.

It must be odd to be a sprinter. That self-imposed torture of repeats on a hot day. Nobody else to push against except the little voice telling you to quit. The only glory is a little orange cone cheering you to the finish line. The only satisfaction is the knowledge that the endless hours will cause you to be 0.2 seconds faster in a couple of years.

I guess it’s all relative. I’m an old man struggling to get back to sub-15s, out in lane 9 while he’s setting lane 1 on fire. But we’re both chasing the same thing.

“You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout,” the prophet Parker said in Once A Runner. “The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”

Will I ever be a runner again? I don’t know. But I’m going to try. The Trial of Miles.

But maybe no 200s. Those look painful.

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2.2 miles, 37:49 (17:32-97)

I picked up Char at Mayo today. She says hey.

Char is 87 going on 12. She still lives independently, loves a good crossword puzzle and a strong cup of coffee, and Charlie Rose. Mostly Charlie Rose. If he ever runs into her on the street, he’s in trouble.

She was in the hospital because her heart wasn’t pleased with her latest adventure. She pulled a Thelma and Louise with her best friend, driving to Colorado and Wyoming for no particular reason. As it turns out, 7,500 feet isn’t the best idea for a flatlander nearing 90 with a bad heart. Who knew?

She went through two days in the ER, a stress test, an echo, a couple of CAT scans and a bunch of doctors. The prognosis: Don’t hang out at 7,500 feet, you dummy. A little tweak to her meds and she was headed back home. All’s well.

She has Medicare and a supplemental policy. She is a former radio broadcaster and doesn’t have a lot of money, so she depends on it to stay alive. If Medicare goes, so does she.

Government is such a numbers game. 23 million people. That abstract, sterile number means nothing to me. But one frail elderly woman? I understand that. You’re going to kill her so some rich guy can get a 3 percent tax cut? This is unspeakably insane, you heartless bastards.

And then Mo came home and we strolled for a couple of miles at the track. 2.16 miles (37:49, 17:32-97). I still have no energy and the HR is running too low. Dear body: Please kick in soon. Sincerly, Gary.

Football guys were out. We saw one guy catch a pass in the corner that beats anything I saw in the NFL last year. And they had a beagle puppy on the sidelines. I don’t recall any beagle puppies in the NFL last year. Couple old guys going the wrong direction in lane 1, two women in matching leotards, big guy in the middle. A good day to be on the track. Note to self: Run here more often.

I tell myself it’s all cycles. Running, health care, insanity. Just gotta hang on till things bottom out and it starts to get better. I hope Char lives that long, you heartless bastards. I might have said that already.

They say running is the best therapy. I think I’m going to be running a lot …

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4.2 miles, 1:11.53 (17:08-104)

Today was the first day of the Absolutely This Time I Really Mean It Training For That Damn Race That Has Haunted Me For 24 Years program. Which means nothing to you. What MIGHT mean something to you is that the “Back to the Future” car was parked on the back stretch of the loop.

Had this been any other week I would have chalked it up to another heat-induced figment of my imagination. Except that day Billy Barty doing the cha-cha on the mailbox on Main. I’m pretty sure that one was real. But today was barely cracking 80 degrees because of the Great Storm of 2017, so I was unusually coherent. Which is to say any part of coherent.

4.2 miles (1:11.53 — 17:08, 104) on the Mesa Arts Center loop. I know, I know, but that pace would get me over 100K, and that would be fine. So we’ll see. Maybe I’ll find another gear between now and then. Stranger things have happened.

Stranger things as in a DeLorean painstakingly altered to the exact specifications of Doc Brown’s time machine, down to the Mr. Fusion home energy reactor  (I thought those were just made up) mounted on back. It was sitting by itself in an empty parking lot. I was fearful to get too close, given that it tends to attract terrorists with automatic weapons, but I took a photo. Why would someone do this to a perfectly good car? And having done it, why would they drive it to work? But then, why would someone stroll loops around downtown Mesa? I suppose weirdness is relative. Which is likely why the nieces call me Weird Uncle Gary.

I finished up my outing and picked up Mo from the pottery studio. Upon getting in the car, Mo learned a valuable lesson: Don’t put the mug you just made on the driver’s seat in a dark vehicle just before the driver gets in. Oh, well. I’m guessing flat coffee tastes the same.

I took her on a tour of today’s discoveries. There were a community garden, some fantastic old houses, an empanada restaurant we have never seen before and a couple of cool murals. She was impressed by them all. But I told her the biggest find was still ahead, and that she should practice saying “WOW!!!!” so she could react properly. Mostly Mo wanted a soda, but was patient enough to say “Mostly I want a soda.” Mo is a trooper.

We made the loop, drove up to the parking lot, and I pointed to — nothing. It was gone.

I assured her that only moments ago, the “Back to the Future” car had been parked in that very spot. Mo was singularly unimpressed. “You realize I’m not a guy, right?”  she pointed out. Apparently the “Back to the Future” car is no match for the 89 cent QT soda or the Malibu Barbie Mustang. All a matter of priorities.

Which now leads me to wonder: Was it ever there at all? I was drinking caffeinated Tailwind for the first time in forever today, and I may have overdone it. Or possibly it was a “Slaughterhouse Five” time travel thing and I went back to a time when it was there and then popped back just in time to pick up Mo. So it goes.

Or maybe the guy got off work and drove home. But that’s hardly romantic at all.

I don’t know. All I really know for sure was that Billy Barty was dancing on that mailbox. Sure, he’s dead, but there’s a time machine in the neighborhood. You never know.

I hope Vonnegut shows up for the next run …

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5.3 miles, 1:24.56 (16:02-141)

I went out for a run. I got a parade.

As I walked through the parking lot to get to the start line, I wondered why anyone would be out in this heat other than disturbed runners. And then I heard them.

The Hindu peeps whose church is next door to us were having a parade. As it turns out (thanks, wikipedia!), today was the celebration of  Ratha Yatra or Ratha Jatra or Chariot Festival, a Hindu festival associated with Lord Jagannath. The Hindu religion is sort of complicated, and I’m not sure I understand it. But they had a really cool chariot (which ties in to the god being celebrated). They chanted and sang and played tambourines as they shut down traffic on a busy street. It was perfect.

There are religions that stay inside air-conditioned theaters, going through the motions. And there are religions where they take it to the street, wearing heavy clothing in 100-degree heat to celebrate. I will never understand people who think there’s only one valid religion. I bet they don’t own a tambourine.

Once I made it out of the traffic jam, it was an OK day. Just staying in the zone. I’m loving the mad dog loop. Drinking a ton of water, trotting a little the first mile, then death march at the end. The way running should be. 108 by the end of the run. Soul cleansed, mind happy. Best Ratha Yatra day ever.

5.3 miles, 1:24.56 (16:02-141)
10 a.m., mad dog, 102
14:19, 15:52, 16:02, 16:28, 17:07, 5:08

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