Later this afternoon, Ginger and I are beginning a "Couch to 5k" training program designed to get us off of our asses and get healthy-ish. We are not classic runners by any means, but it is important to note that we were both in the Army at one time and were extremely fit. In fact, we first met while on a Saturday training run along Monterey Bay, and running was part of our lives for the first year or so we spent together. After spending the past 12 years exploring and growing (physically as well as spiritually, sad to say) and focusing on spending time with our kids, we are moving into a mode where we'll focus on improving our health so we can actually spend more time with our kids, rather than keel over suddenly while trying to climb up the two big stairs that lead to our front door. OK, it's not really that bad, but it will be great to experience the thrill of running and pushing our bodies again. We'll train - veeeeery slowly and methodically - for the next two months in preparation for a 5k race we'll run the day before Hallowe'en. If we're still alive and able to walk, we'll run some more after that.
But as much as I am looking forward to getting into better shape, and as much as I am looking forward to the peace and solitude of running, I do have some small hesitations. There are some really inconsequential things, like maybe needing new shoes and concerns about how my left knee will hold up since it seems to enjoy living a life of luxury with it's little scars and zero cartilage. But the real concern?
I fucking HATE running.
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. I have always hated running. As a kid, I would run for neighborhood play, but never just for the sake of running. Running while playing street hockey? Check. Running to catch a TD or round the bases? Of course. Running after Joey from across the street to give him a Pop-Tart wedgie? Like the friggin' wind, bro. Running when mom called me home for dinner? Oh baby, yes (unless it was that dogshit-tasting wine chicken.) But running just to run? Stupid, pointless, boring as hell.
In high school, I was roughly the same height and build I am now, with a few score less pounds. I got it into my head that I wanted to join the wrestling team. (As an aside, wrestling is one of those sports that seems pretty easy and tempting, especially if you're young and strong. Don't do it. It's equal parts strength and technique; my first day of practice, I got beat by a kid who weighed like 110 lbs and had a mullet that I am sure must have served as the model for Joey Buttafuoco's. True story.) The first day of practice, the coach had us run around the gym for 20 minutes. It was easy, but so pointless. And then he made us do it again, and again, and again, until we were eventually running a mile every day before practice. And I don't mean jogging a mile, like a Richard Simmons "you can do it!" prance around the room; I'm talking about heart-pounding, air sucking, "oh Jesus oh Jesus oh Jesus I'm dying" sprints. I did it because I wanted to be cool and get a hot girlfriend (another wrestling misnomer, by the way; the hot girlfriend never did materialize,) not because I wanted to feel what it was like to have my lungs literally implode. But for one season, I got through it.
And I never ran again.
Until . . . . about ten years later when I joined the Army. I joined the Army in August 1991, but didn't report to boot camp until February 1992. This gave me plenty of time to get my body into shape to survive the rigors of Basic Training. I began by lifting weights once a month, ice skating for about 45 minutes a week at an easy pace, and eating about five cheeseburgers a day. The next month, I eliminated the weight lifting so as to not get too bulky, and added tater tots and beer to my diet. Through sticking to this plan, I eventually gained about 35 pounds of malaise-induced fat to carry with me to Basic. Not the path for everyone, but it . . . uh . . . well, it is what it is.
On about the fourth day of Basic, we took our first physical fitness test. In the Army, a PT test consists of two minutes of push-ups (do as many as you can), two minutes of sit-ups (do as many as you can without shaking, groaning solicitously, or vomiting on your partner), and a two-mile timed run. For each event, you get a scaled score with a maximum of score of 100. For example, at my age then, I needed to do 87 push-ups, 92 sit-ups, and a 12:18 run to max my score. Now, for the first test they really just want to establish a baseline, so they make you do the two minutes for the push-ups and sit-ups, but only make you do a one mile run.
I did 23 push ups. On the last 10, I was convinced that every time I went down I was going to embed my nose so hard in the ground that there would be a permanent imprint that they would commemorate with either a pithy plaque of some type or a simple yet poignant headstone.
I did 14 sit-ups, shaking and groaning but, thankfully for many people, sans chunks.
And finally, I "ran" one mile in about 9:30. For the record, I did actually run the whole way and I did not finish last, so considering my rigorous pre-Basic training regimen I was pretty impressed.
Of course, as pathetic as those scores were (I think I totaled something like a 115 out of 300), it gradually got better. I passed all of the PT tests in basic, eventually running the two miles in just under 17 minutes. When I got to my next duty station in Monterey, CA, I really began to improve. There was something about running in the woods and along the beach, especially when it was tourist season and the cougars were out and you could run shirtless in a group like a Chippendale posse, that made running enjoyable for a time. I got down to about a 15 minute two-mile time, and began to find the joy in running longer distances through challenging courses. I still hated track running, but our long Friday beach runs were very therapeutic after stressful Army weeks. (Another aside: these runs might have been special only because we would sneak downtown at lunch and rent a locker at the wharf to stash our Friday night party clothes in so we wouldn't have to run all the way back up the hill to change before we went cougar hunting. But I digress.)
Anyway, just as I started to really enjoy running, I broke my left leg just below the knee while playing football for my Company team (I was posing after making a brilliant tackle, and got rolled into by a Marine whose physique could best be most accurately described as "Rubenesque.") It was, as it turns out, a bad break, and I spent 8 months in physical therapy before I could run again. While I missed running, I was really more concerned with getting around on crutches, crouching onto the toilet, and getting in and of cars. Oh yeah, and walking - I was concerned about learning how to walk again.
But a funny thing happened on my way to recovery. Apparently, my Physical Therapist was a fan of the Bionic Man, because I came back better, stronger, and faster than I had ever been. Over the next few years, I really drove my times down and my distances up. It got to the point where running five, six, even 10 or 12 miles was actually enjoyable. We ran in the rain and in the sun and in the fog. We ran at daybreak and sundown. We ran on the beach and in the hills and on roads. We ran in front of the General's house and spit gritty loogies on his front lawn under the auspices of needing to clear our lungs. We ran in groups of a thousand, groups of a hundred, and groups of two or three. We chased ducks. We got chased by wild boar. In short, we ran because we could and we ran because we had to and we ran because it just felt so damned good.
And then, one day, we got stoopid.
Me and my friend Chris decided to run a marathon.
For those of you who do not know, a marathon is 26.2 miles. It's funny, in a way. When you can run one mile, running two - doubling the distance - is pretty easy. When you can run a 5k, doubling the distance requires some training and preparation, but it's not too terrible. When you decide to double that 10k and run a half marathon, well now you've really gone and gotten yourself into a pickle, because the difference between running six miles and running 12 miles is just suckishly ginormous. But to run a few half marathons and then boldly declare that you're ready to double THAT distance - by running 12 miles more than you have ever run previously in your life - well, there's a lot of words to describe that and very few of them are charitable.
But shit, why would two Army studs be stopped by anything as ludicrous as logic, intelligence, or common sense?
So, we did what any young Army stud would do. We signed up. And then we basically got caught up at work and never ran more than three miles a day until the Big Race. Oy.
So, fast forward a month and here we are at the starting line of the Honolulu Marathon, 1996 style. And . . . . they're off!
Mile 1: More people jockeying for position that there are at the Amarillo Wal-Mart on Black Friday. But the people at Wal-Mart are more sweaty.
Mile 3: Chris needs to stop in a Carl's Jr to "throw the kids in the pool." So much for all the work we did to break through the crowd.
Mile 5: With so many people all clustered together, I think we've run twice as far zigzagging sideways as we have running straight ahead. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
Mile 6: A nice gentle rain on a hot day. Sweet.
Mile 7: My socks are wet and my nipples are getting chafed.
Mile 8: The rain is no longer physically soothing, but is now coming in Biblical proportions so perhaps at least the Evangelical Christians are happy. I'm just fucking wet.
Mile 9: Sun came out, it's too damned hot. Is it too much to ask for a little freaking rain?
Miles, oh I don't know, 10 through 13: Fuckity fuckity fuck, my hips hurt. Suck it up, keep moving, DO NOT STOP BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER START AGAIN.
Mile 14: Stopped to take off our shoes and enjoy a short nap on some dude's front lawn. Been passed by several 75 year-old ladies, and two pre-teens running with stuffed teddy bears under their arms. Glad I'm not wearing anything that says Army, because Uncle Sam himself might suddenly apparate and rip my stripes of my sleeves for being such a wussy.
Miles 15 through 20: Jog, walk, stop, stretch, moan, whine, laugh, grab a beer from a keg party on some other dude's front lawn because we want to be drunk when the ambulance comes to scoop us off the pavement in an hour or two, lest we remember our foolishness.
Miles 21-24: Really, I have no idea. Likely pain and regret. Just like my first marriage.
Mile 25: Okay, here's where things get interesting. Coming up a hill on the south side of Diamond Head, we hear this strange "clip clop, clip clop, clip clop," like a giant Clydesdale is coming up the hill behind us. Now at that point, if that had been the Budweiser Clydesdale we would have jumped on the wagon and drank beer until we hit the finish line. But it quickly hit us that the possibility of a team of Clydesdales pulling a beer wagon up the foot of Diamond Head on the same day of the marathon was likely to be pretty remote. So we briefly paused to look behind us. About 100 yards behind us was a 300+ pound Samoan man in a grass skirt and wooden shoes, and he was running right at us. Now, even under non-wussy-marathon conditions this would generally be cause for alarm, but in our present situation we were just perplexed. As we turned back and started jobbling (kind of a lame-horse gaited jog/hobble combo), we could here our giant friend yelling something at us, but we couldn't quite make it out.
Mile 25 1/2: NOW we can make it out. He's shouting "Haole, me gonna catch you! Heeheehee!" Mo.Ther.FUCKER. No he didn't . . . he did NOT just call out two Army studs. There is no way that what little of our pride was still clinging to our shattered joints was gonna let this guy pass us.
Mile 26.2: We jobble across the finish line, 20 seconds behind the Clydesdale. Bastard.
So, that was my first marathon experience. We ran a few more, training for them this time, and got our time down to a respectable 4:15:00. Eventually, I got my two-mile time down to a 13:15, and received a maximum score on my PT test.
I ran for a few more years before my knee finally decided to retire without telling the rest of my body, and about 30 years before I wanted it to. Haven't run since. Oh, I've played some frisbee and soccer and stuff like that, and I bike from time to time, and for the most part the knee shows up rather gamely and pretends to be enjoying itself for a while before blowing up like a stinging Puffer Fish and laughing at my expense, sometimes joining in with neck in secret conversations about how best to piss me off. But running for the sake of running? Nope.
That changes today. We're doing it for our health, for fun, to spend time together, and because we need a good challenge. All that I ask is that if you see me laying on the ground in a pool of deflated ego, give me some water and slowly back away. 5k here we come!