Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just-for-Fun Meet

Yesterday, my son's Middle School track team had their awards program.

After the blissfully short program, there was a very informal, "just for fun" meet.

There were no stop watches, no starting guns, just kids jumping into events they've never run before, laughing. Three girls did cartwheels for most of their 100 meter dash. A school record-holding sprinter ran a blistering first 300 meters, and then tagged in the team's best shot putter to finish out the 400. Not many shot-putters get to be the first to cross the finish line for a 400.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, a great time.

Let me pause for a moment, here...

When a plane crashes, it's rarely due to a single thing going wrong. It's almost always a combination of factors, small things that alone would have been no big deal. But together they spell disaster.

Factor 1:
A few days ago, I had a birthday. I'm now 46, though I like to refer to it as 30-16. 30-16 feels farther from 50 than 46 does. Turning 46 is like being in the front car on a roller coaster just as it crests the hill. The other cars are still on the other side, still "clak-clak-clak"-ing up the hill, their weight holding you back. Your car is hanging, just for a moment, pointing down to your impending doom, just waiting for those behind you to push you toward it.

Factor 2:
I have barely run since January. As part of my "Year of feeling awesome" plan, I've been overhauling my core after a couple decades of abuse, kinda like rehabbing a worn out kitchen, or replacing the engine in your car just before it seizes up. To rebuild, you must first tear down, and I'm in the tear down phase. My core is about as stable as overdone spaghetti.

Factor 3:
That "just for fun" middle school track meet? Yeah, well coaches and parents were encouraged to participate.

You can probably guess where this is going.

I was a sprinter and hurdler in college. I'll save you the trouble of doing the math... that was 24 years ago. That's right, if I'd had a child right after I'd ended my hurdling career, that child would itself be out of college.

Luckily, the hurdles were the first event. It's easy to say no to the first piece of cake. "Oh no, I can't possibly, but it looks delicious."

Next up was the 100 meters, which my son jumped into. "No, really, I just can't. But thank you." The coach ran the last heat of the 100. He looked alright. He's a little younger than me, but not that much younger.

"Boy, ya know, that cake does look yummy."

After the mile was the 4x100 relay. "Maybe just a small piece..."

I talked the coach, who had just finished the mile, and a couple dad's into fielding a team. My son was also on a team, a team of young pups, with hopes, and dreams, and working hamstrings. I hadn't warmed up. I hadn't stretched. See factors 1 & 2 above.

Lined up one lane outside of me was one of the coaches for the girl's team. She could easily have been a classmate of the fictional 24 year-old born after my last college race. When the gun went off, well, actually someone just said "Go!", I blasted off the line the way ketchup blasts out of the bottle... not really blasty at all. I tried to blast. I thought I was going to blast. Didn't happen. It was like slow motion. It would seem that a stable core is important if you want to blast.

Eventually, though, I got moving, and I'm proud to say I stayed with the 20-something girls' coach, made a pretty slick baton exchange, and didn't die.

"That tiny piece of cake was very tasty. Thank you."

High-fives exchanged and smiles all around, though it took longer than I'd expected to feel recovered, and by "recovered" I mean not on the verge of a stroke-heart-attack-pulmonary-rupture-projectile-vomit-and-pass-out episode.

Once I did recover, I felt pretty good about it. I joked with my boys. They called me old and slow. But I'd held my own.

Then they announced the 200.

My son, the recently track awarded one, was running the 200, as was the boys' coach.

"Get out of my way! I'm taking the whole cake. Don't you even try to stop me! Screw the fork, I'm eating it by the hand full! Nom! Nom! Nom!"

I lined up in lane 7, with the coach in lane 8, so I could keep an eye on him. "GO!" Again, my legs took their sweet time getting up to speed, "speed" being a relative term. But I ran the turn well and hadn't lost too much ground to the coach.

In fact, I ran a pretty good race, if the race had been the 140 meter dash.

It wasn't.

With 60 meters to go, I decided to make my move. Problem was I didn't have a move. My legs had checked out. In fact, most of my body gave up.

"Too. Much. Cake. Why did I do that?"

You'd think I'd have been humiliated, a once moderately successful Big 10 sprinter pooping out two-thirds of the way through a 200. But at that moment, I didn't have time for embarrassment. I was 100% focused on reaching the finish line before I died. It was clear that I was going to die, probably on the track. I just wanted to make sure I went out having finished the race.

I crossed the finish line, a good 10 meters behind the coach, and almost everyone else. I did manage to beat my son, but only because he'd just finished a hard 400 right before this race started.

Some slightly lower high fives, fewer smiles, I found my son and we swapped some smack talk. I walked across the field to retrieve my shades and camera, walked back to say bye to the boys, got to my car. This all took 10, maybe 15 minutes. Yet when I got to my car, my heart was still pounding so hard I could hardly turn on my phone, let alone dial 911. It was a good 30 minutes before I felt like I'd survive my foolish attempt to reconnect with my youth.

We all want to feel young. We all want to play with our kids. We all want to pretend that a pair of running shoes is actually a time machine. Sometimes all of that want overcomes reason.

Had I not just crested that hill toward 50, or not been keeping myself from running for so many weeks, or not brought running shoes to the track, that disastrous 200 would never have happened. I'm not sure yet if that would be a good thing, or not. I'll let you know in a few days when, hopefully, I have feeling in my legs again.

Good running,