i am going to hell in really cheap shoes

Local running stores. I totally get it.

◙ The first woman I was ever intimate with was the manager of the local running store. Great discounts.

◙ I learned how to tie The Perfect Knot from a guy at the local running store.

◙ I would religiously go in every week to survey the little rack where races would put their entry blanks.

◙ I spent countless hours fighting my total fear of interacting with another human so that I could try on shoes till I found the right one.

◙ I have run many races either sponsored or co-sponsored by the local running store.

They’re essential. We must support them or they will die. And my favorite running store is in central Phoenix, a place that seemed far away when I lived in the suburbs, but now is just down the road from where I work. An easy stop on the way to save the world each day.

I solemnly vow to go there more often. Or ever. Or something.

But the sad truth is, they’re not essential at all. We now have unlimited online race calendars, comparison shopping and expert reviews, free two-day shipping and prices that are indicative of the difference between running a national site online vs. a small brick-and-mortar store.

I want to support them. I really do.

But then, the Zante 3 just got marked down to 48 bucks on running warehouse. With the flotrack secret discount (it’s a secret, so please don’t tell anyone), that’s 43 bucks for my favorite shoes. Sure, I will die before I go through all 50 pairs, but what the heck. Maybe they will establish a Homeless Guy Shoe Society in my name.

I totally lament the demise of stores in the age of the internet. But I also lament it’s the last season of “The New Girl.” You can’t stop what you can’t stop.

Please, please, please support your local running store. And maybe buy something expensive in my honor. I and my 43 dollar shoes will thank you.

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the Great Red Bull Experiment of 2018

I’m calling from the diner
the diner on the corner
I ordered two coffees
one is for you
I was hoping you’d join me
’cause I ain’t go no money
and I really miss you
I should mention that too
— the prophet ani


If it’s good enough for Emma Coburn, it’s good enough for me.

Today was a hard run day, but I wasn’t feeling it. What would Emma do?

Red Bull.

Mo had suggested it yesterday. This is mostly because Mo ingests caffeine by IV drip and she saw it as a clever way to get me to buy her a Red Bull. As luck would have it, our store sells them for $2.40 each or two for $5.00, so it’s the perfect couples drink.

But would it work?

I drank mine on the way to the track and waited for something to happen. But nothing did, other than I seemed to be driving the speed limit rather than my Morning Grandpa 45 mph on the freeway pace. So maybe.

Running is funny. So much of it is mental. If you think you’re going to go faster, you’ll go faster. So that’s what I did. This was augmented by a woman who I’ve never seen here going the wrong direction in Lane 7. This meant we were constantly going past each other, creating the illusion of an atom in a supercollider. I tried not to dwell on how things turned out for the atom.

I suffered greatly, my HR was about where I thought it should be, and I flirted with sub-13s although they were aloof and rebuffed my best moves. I was slowed only by the absence of the water obstacle, which our track keeps covered to limit bird parties. It’s not easy being a bird.

Suffer, recover, suffer, recover, pose nude for ESPN body issue, suffer, recover. I was feeling my inner Emma, which is likely unacceptable in the #MeToo era but by the third mile I didn’t much care.

And then the watch said stop. If you believe the Garmin on the track, and  don’t think I do, I ran a 41:03, which is my fastest 5K yet in the Year of Fleshman (no, I haven’t broken the Coburn news to Lauren yet.)

Was it really the Red Bull? The perfect weather? The cumulative training effect? The annoying woman in Lane 7? Magic track gnomes? Beats me. But I’m happy with it.

On Saturday we’re going to run an out and back course on the Mad Dog course, so that should be a better indicator. But for now, I’ve got my New Balances draped over my shoulder and I’m doing a victory lap with my imaginary American flag.

Never doubt the power of taurine. Whatever the hell taurine is …

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alice. dallas alice.

If you give me…
Weed, whites and wine
And you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’
To be movin’
— the prophet lowell george

Like a little toxic herbicide is going to kill you.

We’re walking up to the track and a guy on a John Deere buggy is spraying stuff from a huge tank. Apparently it’s dangerous enough that he’s wearing an industrial mask, but safe enough that he can spray it all over us. This must be a wondrous chemical indeed.

Mo, who is often referred to as “The Sane One of The Couple,” decides to avoid the situation and opts for the dirt loop going around the track complex. I, on the other hand, realize that if it kills me I won’t have to go to work today, inhale deeply and head for the start line.

It’s cold today (SIXTY DEGREES!!!) and windy and not as much fun as the brochures would indicate. I’m going hard day, easy day, and by my math yesterday was a hard day, so I’m just moseying.

I’m enjoying the 5k a Day program. It’s not intimidating, and I’m lazy. Maybe I’ll get faster. And monkeys will fly out of my butt. We’ll see.

I’m thinking it’s all about moderation. I can realistically sustain 3 miles a day, but not much more. Same way with pesticides. I get Mo’s panic over breathing the stuff, but aren’t we constantly bombarded with stuff? I gave up the beloved Diet Coke last year and recently read the story about a woman celebrating her 104th birthday. When asked for her secret to longevity, she credited her daily intake of Diet Coke. Maybe life is about worrying less. Worrying is surely the thing that kills us. Along with nuclear holocaust. Which makes me worry. I really need a Diet Coke.

It’s an OK day on the track. One of the 100 meter guys is totally hogging the front stretch today. He has an elaborate system with a camera at the start and at the finish of 40 meters. I’m not sure what you can learn from filming yourself. But I guess selfies are a thing with the kids now. I stay out of his way while secretly hoping to photo bomb him. Photo bombing is a thing with the kids now.

Paula Radcliffe is out without the kid, and another 200 woman is doing some serious  repeats. Wonder Woman water bottle. Nothing says serious 200s like a Wonder Woman bottle.

My legs are tired. It’s windy and cold (I might have mentioned that already) and I’m not having fun. I grab Mo and we do a dirt loop in the middle. Naturally, the pesticide guy has moved around to the softball field, so we get an extra snort.

And then, we’re done. The 40 meter guy drops a little round thing, maybe the starter for the cameras, as he sprints past. Mo asks if he knows he dropped it as he walks back. Yeah, he says. Hope it’s not broken, he says. Costs 150 bucks. Yikes. Sprinting is expensive.

We head for the car, leaving Paula Radcliffe and the sprinter behind. I forget to turn my watch off. No doubt a side effect of snorting pesticide. Upside: No weeds will grow inside me for the foreseeable future.

I hope this stuff doesn’t kill the monkeys in my butt before they can fly out. Diet Coke, here I come …


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i was really more of a letterman guy

See how they fly like Lucy in the sky
See how they run
— the prophet lennon

I know now what it must have felt like to be Ed McMahon.

We’re on the track. Mo has veered off to do the dirt road loop, leaving me alone on the Gumbo 5K track course. Nobody is here, I guess because it’s Tuesday and school just started, or maybe everyone is sticking close to a fallout shelter. Just in case.

I’m toodling along at 13:20 pace. Trot the straight, walk the turn. Trot the straight, walk the turn. Things are going OK.

And then I’m joined by a skateboarder.

I’ve had a lot of running companions on the track, but this is my first cowabunga experience. It occurs to me that the sign doesn’t specifically outlaw skateboards. But he just rides across the track and parks it on the field before peeling off  layers of clothes till he’s down to just his shorts and shoes. I watch as he jogs slowly up the field and back. Hard to tell how serious he is.

And then an old guy walks on to the track. He’s maybe 70, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt and khakis. Big El Señor hat. He’s got a pretty strong walking pace, but I steadily gain ground.

Skateboard Dude, meanwhile, is running some serious intervals, so I guess he’s legit. And then, he fishes around in his backpack and pulls out a parachute.

It’s the silly little thing you tie around your waist and run with to create resistance. I guess they must work OK, but I always thought maybe just run a little harder and achieve the same thing. But then I still have memories of the daily 20 mph Corpus headwind, so I guess I’m prejudiced.

So there we are. I’m in Lane 8 running 13:20s, Walking Hat Guy is in Lane 5 walking a little slower, and Parachute Boy is tearing up the football field. We all continue.

Walking Hat Guy is about a half a lap ahead of me. He starts looking over his shoulder to see where I am. Parachute Boy is dragging his parachute up and down the field, working way too hard for before noon on a Tuesday. Hat guy glances over his shoulder again to see where I am again. And again.

At this point, I’m weirded out. Why does he keep looking back at me? Yes, I’m stunningly attractive, but I’ve taken care not to wear a provocative outfit, and i’m projecting an air of unattainability. It’s not like we’re running the same pace and pseudo-racing. There’s no reason to be watching for me. And yet, he keeps glancing back.

It takes me maybe a lap to finally pull up even with him. Seeing that I’m there, he breaks into a huge smile. He points at Parachute Boy and says:

“Think he’s ever going to get that kite to fly?”

I long for a snare drum to perform a proper rim shot, but it’s so impractical to run with percussion instruments. Unless maybe a triangle counts? My mind races. I can come up only with:

“I hope not. Then we’d have to catch him.”

We both laugh, and I kick it up a gear to drop him. But I think about it for the rest of my run.

We’re such solitary creatures. We want to run alone, immersed in our thoughts and our own little world. But now and then, you just need a sidekick, our own personal Ed McMahon to hand you the Carnac envelopes. I was his. A good joke is terrible thing to waste.

Skateboard Dude packs his parachute, the old guy grabs his jacket and heads back to class. I finish the last couple of laps, and Mo comes back from her loop run. We stretch a bit (if Mo yelling at me to stretch while I say “blah blah Fluffy” counts as stretching), and then sit in the glorious quiet of the track.

As we walk off together, I tell her “Hey. I have a funny story.”

Maybe running is a team sport after all …

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the best runner

I love the track.

As we’re walking toward the track, we see them coming down the little dirt road that leads out to the glorious stretch of running. The gazelles.

Two men and a woman, maybe mid-20s. Super fast. They’re slowing to a trot after what must have been a long run. They move in that easygoing stride that fast people move in. As we walk in to the track area, they trot once around the track and sit down on the back stretch bench.

The woman is in a sports bra and shorts. One of the guys wears a “New England Distance” T-shirt. The other guy is New Balance. Pros in town for Rock n Roll Marathon the next day? Hardcore guys living in Flagstaff who come down for the weekend for speedwork? Beats me. We’ve never seen them before.

It’s one of those days at the track that make you realize how lucky you are. Mid-70s, sunny, just a few people. The perfect place for our daily 5K.

A woman maybe 30ish has lane 2. She runs in an awkward way, all arm swing and weird cadence. I mention to Mo that she has horrible form. “Doesn’t Paula Radcliffe have that same form?” Mo asks. Mo is sort of a jerk.

She is joined occasionally by her daughter, maybe 6. The kid runs a lap with Mom, who slows down for her. Then she jumps on her bike and rides around the sidewalk around the track before joining Mom again. Future duathlete. The woman runs steadily with a resolve. Not fast, but serious. Respectable.

A woman in her early 20s is doing 200s for almost the entire time we’re there. Start line on the back stretch, a blur to the finish line, a diagonal jog across the football field back to the start, repeat. She must run 20 or so while we’re trotting. I will never know how sprinters are able to do that. The joy of suffering, I suppose.

A guy around 40 is doing mile repeats. I don’t get this one at all. He’s a fireplug in a plain shirt and shorts. Heavy training shoes. Backward baseball cap. Not too fast, but good form. He is working hard. Mile, rest, repeat, rest, repeat. What is his story?

A young guy is doing 100s. Spikes, lightning. The sort of crazy fast guy this track seems to attract. Saucony singlet, spikes, trainers, bag. I’m guessing he’s pro, but no idea who he is. I make a note to myself to require people to sign my registry as they come in.

The gazelles sit forever on the back stretch, savoring the afterglow of a hard run on a beautiful day, before they pull on their backpacks and wander off. The woman and kid take off. The sprinter stops after a few repeats (I thought he was a slacker, but he showed up the next day for the Training Session From Hell and I spent my entire run mentally apologizing.) The 200 woman warms down on the field before departing.

It’s just us and the 40-year-old miler.

We finish up and sit on the bench watching the world go by. Mo says she thinks he is the real runner of the group. He’s doing it simply because he loves it.

I make a spirited argument for the gazelles. You don’t run 100 miles a week unless you love it, I tell her. She says they’re in it for the adulation that comes from winning. I don’t buy it. I’m from the Cassidy School of Running. Only a True Believer can work that hard for that many years.

Or maybe the 200 woman. That ability to push yourself so hard when nobody is looking. How much does it hurt in the last 20 meters after the 15th repeat? How easy to turn off the jets a little bit and coast?

Or maybe the mom. Training your brains out while juggling your run with an overly zealous little girl at your side.

Or the 100 guy. 80 miles a week to run a little stretch of track at 15 mph.

But as we sit and watch the guy come by again, maybe it’s him. He’s getting older. He’s never going to win anything. He isn’t impressive at all. And yet he’s still here. Mile after mile. Running. Just because that’s what he does.

Who’s the best runner? Mo says him. But I think she’s wrong.

I think it’s everyone. We’re all part of some cosmic running community, sharing a track and sunshine and energy. We’re all the best.

I love the track. I might’ve mentioned that earlier …

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duck duck duckity duck

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions
— the prophet ben gibbard

Never trust a finish line that’s marked by crime scene tape.

If I had a credo, that would be it. Although if I had a credo, I don’t think I would like hanging out with Scott Stapp. Maybe a motto instead. Mottoration in all things. But that’s not why we’re here.

You know it’s going to be a bad race when you park next to a guy in a $2 billion red Mercedes sports car with a “Run4ever” custom license plate. If you’re running forever, why are you racing a crappy 5K in Peoria?

The best part of the race was the ducks. There was a band of vigilante ducks who seemed to truly enjoy blocking traffic. They just waddled along the stripe, oblivious to the cars. The race would have been a lot more fun if they’d participated.

The other saving grace was Mo’s pre-race rendition of The Secret Happy Dance. Mo is weird when she has too much caffeine. Mo has too much caffeine a lot.

I have come to the realization that 5Ks are dull here. Dull people, dull courses, dull weather, dully dully. We ran out. We ran back. We had a banana and a bad announcer. Boring old white guys standing around looking at each other. It was not fun. Except for one puppy who appeared to be in his first race. There is much joy in a running puppy.

The funniest part: The race directors didn’t even try. The gaudy finisher’s medal that all 5Ks seem to have now was thrown in the goody bag before the race. So you don’t even get that satisfaction of receiving a medal as you cross the line. They should have just mailed me the package so I could sleep in.

I managed to run 42:21,  my slowest time yet in the YoF. How is that even possible? I resolve to get faster. That’s my self-assigned penance.

Or maybe just hang out with the ducks blocking traffic. And I must learn that Secret Happy Dance.

On to the next year …

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christmas carol

maybe next year we won’t go insane
when they rush to hang the bows and candy canes
because peace will shine in me and you
from Bethlehem to Timbuktu
even if the forecast
is for rain
— the prophet Mary Chapin Carpenter

We should go run, Mo said. We have a streak.

I thought about it. I worked a weird shift today because of early Christmas Eve deadlines (editing before noon? heresy), but there was still time. And then we looked at the pie, and that was that.

And now it’s late, that time of night just before Christmas arrives. I’m still up, hoping Santa doesn’t walk in on me. Mo and BK are curled up together sleeping. The living room is dark except for the lights on the Mardi Gras tree. It’s just me and Mary Chapin and some old wine that may or may not be OK. Hard to tell when you’re drinking.

It’s been an odd year. Our first back in the land of the saguaro, away from the friends we accidentally stumbled upon in the land of pelicans and crazy homeless guys. We still look in amazement at the sunsets and the mountains beckoning in the distance, while missing the sound of breaking surf and Jimmy’s soundtrack on the third floor. We’re still not sure where home is. But here we are.

I think back to my childhood. Christmas was always a magical time. We’d go to see Dad’s parents on the farm, and then drive down the little dirt road to see Ma’s folks in Vancourt. We’d crawl up on the little space behind the back seat and stare at the sky to spot Rudolph’s nose.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but that was OK. My favorite present always came from Dad’s mom, who would give me a Folger’s can full of shelled pecans from the trees in her front yard. I would stay up most of the night eating them. This probably explains the lack of moderation in today’s pie. Ma’s parents got me a Sears guitar when I was in the sixth grade. They had no idea it would change my life. Christmas is like that.

We’re scattered now, the Smith Boys. Ma’s been gone a while, although I miss her every day. Ma loved Christmas. Dad took off last year, so now it’s just the brothers. We’re a long way apart, and we’re not quite as spry as we once were. But we’ll be there soon, so I’m OK being here. As I get older and wiser, I realize Christmas is a state of mind, even if sometimes it’s a couple states away.

Mo worried tonight that we are becoming those old people we always thought we’d never be. Maybe she’s right. But I love being us.

Tomorrow, we’ll start a new run streak. We’ll go to the park and mosey along while dodging the frenzied kids trying out their new bikes and scooters. We’ll pull out the Rudolph costume and terrorize some children. We’ll bring our neighbor over to celebrate her 88th Christmas on the planet, and we’ll eat the rest of that pie. If it makes it out unscathed tonight. No promises.

We’ll say hey to our friends and family in Texas and Seattle and those scattered across the country, and our weirdo internet pals who somehow became our dysfunctional family. Christmas is a good time to remember how lucky you are.

We have a streak, Mo said. And she’s right. Nineteen Christmases together. That’s the kind of streak you hope won’t end for a long, long time.

Merry Christmas. May peace shine in me and you, from Bethlehem to Timbuktu.

Even if the forecast is for rain …

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