(Image Courtesy of Nike)
The Harvard Law School has a Running Club. The description is admirable enough, and invites potential "student runners of all ability levels" to participate. I was amused at the following description: "The Cambridge area offers many scenic runs on roads and trails and is a wonderful place to start running or continue training for your next big event. We welcome anyone affiliated with the Harvard community to run with us, whether you're looking to stretch your legs after a long day of class and studying, or are training for your next marathon". Here's my humorous interpretation: "Whether you are a serious triathlete or merely a good intentioned runner of mediocre Olympic potential, feel free to join us. We need you!" A little yin-yang story would be helpful, if not funny.
Never a natural athlete, I joined track, cross country and soccer in high school. I soon dropped out of soccer. Cross country was a dreadful experience, but I had great friends on the team who rallied me not to quit. This said, I have three basic memories of Cross Country.
First, we had a well-intended coach who was tragically miscast by Hollywood. He would make us sit in the stands after warming up to give us a "pep talk". It was always the same. Looking down at his clip board, he would review our upcoming meets--both home and away. As he would read the names of competing high schools, he'd pause and break down in tears as he continued to lecture. Invariably, I'd be sitting on the first or second row (why, I don't know) and there were audible noises of the guys sitting behind me doing every single thing they could not to bust out laughing. Better yet, two of my buddies managed to keep a straight face by looking at the ground and pacify the distraught coach by repeating, "We'll get em coach" and "We'll even the score, coach". I could see them struggling not to smile afterwards. Even they were dying of laughter, but had to hide it!
My second recollection was how often I came in last place. There were two friends of mine who always came in first and second place at every meet. One of them consistently would look out over the field and notice a dark solitary figure emblazoned against the harsh winter light-- struggling. That person happened to be me, and my buddy who finished in second place most every time, would invariably jog all the way back to where I was, then run along side and coach me. "Rest your arms, elbows to your side. Follow my pace, unclench your fists, relax. That's it! You can do it. You're on the last mile. Just think, the last mile! A mile's not too bad. You can do it" And so it went, race after race. It's funny for me to think about today, but quite painful and serious back then--believe me.
My third memory was an Autumn camp out before a major cross country meet. It was held at someone's family farm in Indiana, with a cook out and a run. Each of us took turns as we ran (without our coach, who thankfully stayed behind to cook) impersonating his "pep talks", including the exaggerated soap opera scenes of breaking down sobbing. Adding insult to injury, our coach would try to recover some machismo through tears with, "Dammit, I'm tired of them beating us!" We weren't being cruel. It was honestly hilarious, and those of you who have experienced laughing and trying to run at the same time know how difficult that is! (I'm laughing about it as I write this!).
Despite this track record (sorry, I couldn't resist) or maybe because of it, after high school and college, I actually became a fairly respectable distance runner. I rose at 4:30 a.m. and stretched in literally all weather conditions before my run. This included rain, hail and heavy snow. I'd make it to work with ease at 8:30 a.m. after a five-mile run--seven days a week. Common phrases that dominated my life back then included: "Weekly Group Runs", "Local Running Routes", "Running Buddies", a "Boston Marathon Party"--and you'll love this next one--annual "Running Shoe Drives". Knee and foot surgeries put an end to this adventure--only to be replaced today by upright stationary bikes and arm bikes. All of which is to say, while the majority of my friends hated to run but enjoyed the benefits of being in shape, I thrived on running in ways you'd never imagine--particularly if you had to suffer through track and cross country with me in high school! Blog bud Lisa over at "Two Bears Farm and The Three Cubs" reminded me of listening to music while running. She alluded to "Born To Run", so I'll mention some "Oldies but Goodies" that inspired me as I ran along with music headphones on my head at 4:30 a.m. (when I lived in Texas).
The Doors: "L.A. Woman"
The Rolling Stones: "Start Me Up"
Bon Jovi: "Livin' On A Prayer"
Elvis Presley: "Way Down" (from his final LP)
Shelby Lynne: "I'm Alive"
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: "Kings Highway"
Bob Dylan: "Tangled Up In Blue"
The Pretenders: "Back On the Chain Gang"
Looking ahead: As we approach Christmas, my best friend from childhood reminded me about how I would impersonate the late singer, Andy Williams as a kid. Impersonating others was central to my childhood humor, and I managed to mimic a vibrato and background electronics whenever I impersonated Andy Williams. Amazingly, Andy lived in Cincinnati for a time, and attended part of his high school years there, before his family moved to California. The other night, I found myself up late at night watching some short YouTube interviews with Andy from 2012, speaking about his career. He was truly a fascinating artist. Even in ill health, he surprised an audience by appearing unannounced onstage at his "Moon River Theatre" in Branson, Missouri to sing "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year", with a perfect voice. This will be the second Christmas without Andy Williams. He was a legendary pop singer who is well remembered for his easygoing manner, and televised Christmas Specials over the years. So, I'll be posting about Andy between now and Christmas--a wonderful singer, and a consummate professional. Until then, if you're a runner, be careful out there on the roads and paths. Enjoy!
(Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures)