Ted, Smoking, and Running
Between Golden and Boulder, Colorado lies Coal Creek Canyon, where Ted was the patriarch of our private road named after him, Fischer Road. One day over a year ago, he was in his car, slowly pulling out of his driveway so that he could drive down the paved public road. I was in my running shorts, just beginning my run down the same road. He pulled along side me, wearing one of his dozens of baseball caps, smoking a cigarette, smiling slightly as a rugged, 83-year-old, Pearl Harbor vet might.
"Want a ride?"
"Oh, no thanks. I want to run."
"It's easier this way," he said, pointing to his empty passenger seat.
Looking at the smoke dangle in the air, I thought of saying, "Yes, easier in the short run, but tell me that when you're eighty" -- and instantly realized he had beat the odds. So he drove on, and I ran on.
We both stopped, in varying ways, during the winter of 2007. December and January brought not only typically short days, but also three blizzards a week apart, enough so that I snow shoed to my car on a couple of occasions (only about 100 feet down hill from my house), and Ted retired indoors perpetually. Finally the snow let up, and soon I found it was summer, when I decided to run my first marathon in Portland, that October. Having moved out of the canyon, I was not aware that the winter never let up for Ted, and that sometime in late summer or early fall, he left this world. Quite the fighter ("I've been declared dead three times on the operating table; let me show you my scars..."), Ted must have been worn down considerably since I had last seen him. One can imagine that toward the end he began to let go, saying to himself, "It's easier this way."
When I went to Portland, I bought a ticket for a bus tour of the course, which was to take place the day before the run. However, I was so busy resting in the hostel, that I missed the tour. On my way there, however, I found myself in a group of Burmese who were chanting: What do we want? Democracy. What do we need? Freedom. Sympathizing with the Buddhist monks who were being starved and beaten (in several ways) by the Burmese militia, I joined the group, not the only non-Asian to support them. Someone gave me a large poster with several photographs on it, the main ones being of the Japanese photographer who had been shot at close range by a Burmese guard, showing that the violence was not limited to the monks, or even the citizens. We stood on Broadway for about 45 minutes, getting mostly supportive honks and approving looks from the passerby's. And then I joined some friends at a pasta dinner, wearing my red armband, happy that I had missed the tour.
Portland welcomes novices to its annual marathon. Eighteen aid stations along the way encourage novices to persist without fear of hitting a wall and being stranded on some remote, unfeeling and unending stretch of road. My only goal was to jog the distance and feel good at the end, so I followed the Red Lizard pacer who carried a "4:45" balloon. Staying with the pacer kept me in a group of like-minded people. One was a Kaiser nurse who loved her role in endocrinology, working with a doctor who could figure almost anything out given some time. Later we were joined by a man I will call Curtis, an irrepressible fellow, who talked frequently and in a familiar, sometimes overbearing, and sometimes belligerent tone. I don't think he would have characterized himself that way. In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is a character named Lucio, who persists in conversation even when shunned, describing himself as a "burr" who "shall stick." Curtis stuck with us, long after I said I was done talking (around mile 6). Somewhere, I dropped behind for a while, and it wasn't until about mile 19 that I saw both Curtis and the nurse again. She had been stricken with leg cramps, he stopped to help her for a few minutes, and then continued on without her.
So, once again, we were together, the Introvert and the Extrovert. I needed solitude, he needed dialogue. But he settled for a monologue. Around mile 24 or 25 he said, "I will stay just one step ahead of you and make you feel frustrated." This was his way I think of saying, "Although this is my first marathon, I'm still gnawing at the bit, ready to bolt, and yet I like what's left of our makeshift community." To me, though, it was just one more obstacle to overcome in my need to focus on the run, so I decided to try to lose him. By this time in the run, several runners ahead of us had emptied their reserves and were struggling to continue. Fueled by a desire for peace and quiet, with some indignation, I sped up, enjoying the relative ease of passing runners. About 1/2 mile later, I look to my left and there Curtis is, merging back to talk some more. Unfortunately for our fellowship, I stopped at the final aid station to drink my perfunctory electrolytes and water, while he continued on. I never saw him again, although while I was cooling down, the nurse found me, and assured me she was all right although disappointed having had a better time last year. Curtis will never know how his speech helped both his time and mine, so that I beat expected time with a little adrenalin to spare at the end. He should have run with the 4:30 pacer, in all fairness.
The "Enviro Run" with Hornets
When one of my daughters returned from Korea, having spent a year there teaching English, she wanted to run a 1/2 marathon, preferably in California, before leaving for South America with one of her sisters, both of them holding one-way tickets. I found what sounded like the most beautiful half-marathon, Oct. 27, 2007. It was in Bothe Napa Valley State Park, heralded as a trail-only, nature-lovers', no-iPod, approximate half marathon. I didn't examine the altitude map, but I do not think it would have prepared me for the 3 miles climb that started the loop (that was to be run twice). It definitely didn't prepare the woman behind me who both examined it before the run and critiqued it during the passages where most of us walked, finding that we kept up with the joggers and kept our breath. Somewhere around mile two, I considered dropping out after the first loop, thinking that all this climbing might not be too good for me, as I was nearing my next marathon in November. But then I realized this could be the equivalent of my big run before tapering down, so I decided to stay on. Once we reached the Summit of Something and began going mostly downhill, I was feeling good.
About then, I saw the palest faced man, along with a couple of women, walking my direction on the trail. "What's wrong?" I asked. "A swarm of bees," he said. "Oh, you're allergic?" "No, just a wuss." "Hmmm," I thought about how bees mind their own business, "follow me." He didn't. So I ran on, and after a few minutes, forgot about the encounter. Descending a fairly steep slop, I suddenly felt several shots of pain in both my legs, simultaneously. Looking down, still navigating the winding trail, I glimpsed several yellow jackets, and began hitting them furiously. Two dropped off. A third attacked. Whap. Gone. Ouch. "That really hurts," I thought, and trotted on. Just then, a group of women came over the rise and began their descent, and before I could think were shrieking, but still running. Yellow jackets swarmed them, too, as, I learned later they had swarmed my daughter who was ahead of me, alone with almost all the half-marathoners. (The marathoners, going through first, apparently escaped before the ground vibrations fully enraged the yellow jackets.) One woman asked me to check her back side, and I found out both that she lived about four blocks from me in Lafayette, Colorado, and that she still had a hornet in her hair. With a twig, I knocked it out, and we went on our way.
Interesting, it was, how easy running seemed while my legs stung, both because we were descending and because the natural exertion was a mild anesthesia to (or distraction from) the burning in my legs. It seemed unjust, this attack of the killer bees, and it certainly wasn't in the altitude or the course map ( although it is now!).
The last two miles of the loop were the perfect trail--smooth, leafy, gentle slope, beautiful surroundings. Finishing that lap at a good pace, I stopped at the turnaround and met my daughter, pulling up her shirt in the back to count the stings--about six. She was all for a second lap, particularly because the lumps of people who walked too often for her taste on the first lap had frustrated her. So we started again, this time prepared to pace ourselves better on the neverending hill as well as to walk stealthily past the hornets.
Anticipating that patch of the trail was a test of courage. It didn't make sense to turn around, and it didn't make sense to proceed. So I began to walk and listen as I neared the area. I went through them first, and had to swat only one away, although the lady in front of me was stung once. Then we met the forest ranger who was there, primarily to keep panicked runners from hurting themselves at a stream crossing that came, strategically it seemed, just close enough to the hive to lure runners to recklessly slip on the stones. He was cheerful enough, assuring us we were past the bees, although my confidence began to wane when he told the woman in front of me that she wouldn't be stung "this time" around the course. Her arm told both of us differently.
Again, the final few miles were a joy to run, with remarkably fewer runners. Some of the first lap had signed up for the 10k, and chose not to re-sign up for the second half of the half from h... well, the half from purgatory. As my daughter later said--and I agree--it was liberating to go through the hornets a second time, to face that fear. She also called her first half marathon "fun" without qualification. She and I disagree on rare occasions.
Second Marathon (don't worry, I forgot the rest)
Finally, I remember the marathon I ran yesterday (Nov. 25, 2007). It was longer than the first in psychological time, though shorter in measured time. The two out-and back legs allowed me to high-five Steve and Melissa from Broomfield, who are excellent at running as a couple. The section along Lake Washington Blvd. and the loop through Seward Park contrasted nicely to the stretches alongside various highways. The wintry sun, the crystalline water along the bank--now there was a place to run. Unlike my experience at the Portland Marathon, few people spoke to me. One man in his thirties and I kept passing each other. I, dressed in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, noted to myself how sweat had saturated his woven shirt. On passing me later, he noted aloud, "You dress old school." On mile 23 I stopped to stretch, and a couple of guys who were obviously enjoying their run, slowed down to ask me if I was ok. And that is all anyone said, until I ran into the stadium and one of the photographers said, "Don't slip away too quickly. Smile." So I did. And the next day I smiled more, thinking that instead of running a marathon, my I could ride around Seattle with my daughter Mindy on our foot scooters.
Created 2007/11/01 | Modified 2007/11/26
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