Saturday, April 21, 2007

Body and Soul

"Could(gasp)you(gasp)grab my keys for me?", I blather out. I'm gimping along in small circles now, pausing briefly to put hands on knees. "Try breathing first", Kiera says as she digs around in the jogging stroller for me.

A few feet beyond me the clock at the finish line I'd crossed a few seconds earlier ticks into the late 17's. I say good-bye to the kids and Kiera, who almost balks at a kiss before I turn and hurriedly head off towards my car. I toss the warm-ups into the passenger seat and put the old beach towel on my seat before sitting down and starting the engine. Checking the mirror reveals a copious amount of spit which has dried on my face and lips, and I'm made aware of just why Kiera had that deer in headlights look when I leaned in.

Behind me is a glorious spring morning, where cold showers and wind have given way to sunshine and mild temperatures. There's a playground, a beer garden, a potluck and lots of smiles and back-slapping. Kiera and I took two cars so she could stay behind and enjoy the celebration along with the kids. She ran a great race and I'm very happy for her.

As I push on the gas with my double-knotted race shoe I can hear the calf muscles complaining about the lack of a cool-down. Soon enough they are drowned out by an NPR Morning Edition segway into another story about the horrific events at Virginia Tech. When I start to sink into the seat and feel the weight press down on my shoulders I fight back and push the button that switches on the new Modest Mouse. "Well nothing ever went/Quite exactly as we planned/Our ideas held no water/But we used them like a damn"

This has been a bit of a rough week for me. I feel sheepish and small for even mentioning it, but it has permeated my thoughts enough so that I can't really move on with this blog without writing about it. Monday I got the news that my Grandmother had taken a bad fall, and that the injuries she accrued along with her advanced Alzheimer's meant that she had very little time left. When the Virginia Tech story reached my ears a bit later that day, followed by the news of the hundreds dead in Iraq after the latest round of car bombs soon after, I really started to withdraw. By the time I could bring myself to heed Lucas's warning that Chicago would soon close, I was already too late to get in. My runs this week were terrible, my patience has been non-existent, and I've found myself in a bit of a funk.

Yesterday morning my brother and I drove up to Phoenix to say goodbye to my Grandmother while we still could, and to spend time with my mother and her sister. There was a blue book we were referred to in the hospice about the separation of the spirt from the body, and much of what I talked about with my mom related to the broken body my grandmother had been living in over many difficult years thanks to alzheimers disease and how unfair it was that her spirit was stuck in it. It was a difficult day, and by the time we returned I couldn't wait to get both kids into my arms. I thought of the one uplifting quote I remembered from the endless stream of "news" about this week, where someone mentioned the importance of moving forward by telling the people around you how much you love them, and then creating new memories with these people. I know it's the same broken record of tried and true self-help refrains, but for some reason it reaches me this time.

Those thoughts were still with me this morning as the rain abated just before Kiera's race started. Haiden, Finn and I watched as she tackled the course in high style. When she finished we switched positions behind the stroller and I headed out for a short warm up before my 5K started. When we were called to the line I eyeballed the competition. A runner who had beaten me by a fair amount at a 10K in January was here, and so were Lucas and Shane. Within a minute of the start the sun punched through the clouds for the first time all day in dramatic fashion. In that instant I changed my strategy from staying close to the front and looking for opportunities to something a bit more suicidal. My body was far from broken and my spirit, while a bit battered, was growing stronger by the minute. I decided to take it from the gun and win the race.

I get off the line in a hurry and take the lead from the get-go, pushing myself hard up and over the false-flat of the fire road that we would travel over twice. I can hear breathing and footsteps behind- I can't tell how many, and even though my breathing is already pretty heavy I try to stay calm. A sharp left and a quick descent leads us into the first wash, where a runner finally comes up on my left. I study him and conclude that he's only temporary, but as he starts to fade my friend Shane zips by me with one of his patented surges. He knows how to get by in a hurry, and I can't get the legs moving fast enough to get right on his tail. He's able to work through the technical sections faster, and I find myself five steps back as we pass the first mile and hit the steepest climb. I know I'm matching him on the uphills, but he's putting the hurt on me through the turns and downhills. When we get into the second loop and I start to pull him back a little, but lose him again as he dances on top of the sand in the washes while I seem to sink with each step.

We hit the second mile marker and make the sharp right off the grass that takes us up the last steep climb. For the last time I make up a little ground, and when I crest behind him by 20 meters or so I'm acutely aware that my chances are running out. I try to dig in and accelerate but the legs are now feeling week. When I really press they almost buckle and I find myself lucky to tread water behind the leader. We cross into the last section of the course, which is all narrow trails with lots of technical turns and I cannot get any closer. One last sharp turn spits us out on a winding bike path, with far too many weaving turns to make up any ground. I'm pushing as hard as I can but Shane can taste the tape and the victory. Shane wins and I spill across the line a few seconds later at 17:04. I stumble a few steps and find Kiera and the kids. Hugs all around, then a look at the watch and realize that while I ran 27 seconds faster than last year, I have less than an hour to get to work.

I'm no less for finishing second, and I'm truly happy that a deserving friend earned a victory today. I certainly suffered out there, but at the same time I was able to let go of what seemed to be weighing me down over the past week while I pushed myself through the loops of the course. I loved it out there, I loved that I had my family with me, and even though I'm stuck at work for the time being I'm left with some new good memories with the people I love. I needed this today.

Racing: 5K in 17:05, 2nd place
Yesterday: big fat zero


Phil said...

So sorry to hear about your grand-mother. As horrible as things were at VT, I can't imagine working through the reality of your Grand Mother's final days in the same week. It really made me pause and think about how much I miss my grand mother.

Great race and an impressive improvement over last year (this from a guy who can barely break 22 on a flat course). To get through the whole race with only one guy challanging you must have been fun. Great run.

Mark said...

Sorry to hear about your Grandmother.

That BFZ probably helped. Got that lovin' feeling I like it, makes life all the more worthwhile.

Abadabajev said...

who almost balks at a kiss before I turn and hurriedly head off towards my car. Checking the mirror reveals a copious amount of spit which has dried on my face and lips, and I'm made aware of just why Kiera had that deer in headlights look when I leaned in.

This made me burst out laughing.

Good race Mr. Mike.

And the guy says he has no guts or can't dig deep down enough.

Quick question if you have time:

Did you feel flat before or during the race?

Thomas said...

I don't know how to write this without sounding truly pathetic.

I'm really sorry to hear about your Grandma, but try to see death as a release for her. Alzheimer is one of the worst diseases to get, because of how it affects your loved ones.

The race seems insignificant in comparison, but congratulations. Not just on second place, impressive as it is, but more so on the way you ran. You certainly don't have to second-guess your effort this time, and you went for the win as well as you could.

runmad said...

Sounds like you ran a la Ryan Hall.