I never qualified to run in the Illinois state track meet. I ran the qualifying time of 4:29 in the mile but placed seventh in the race and only six could go, as I recall.
That same day a guy long jumping for a local school came tearing down the runway and wound up face first in the landing pit. He’d been doing cocaine or amphetamines before the meet and basically wound up fainting in mid-air. It was the strangest thing to witness, some guy hitch-kicking through the air and then going limp as he flopped in the pit, arms and legs akimbo.
The entire scene felt surreal that day, running down that long last straightaway of my senior year in high school. There was a large sign above the finish line ticking away the seconds. I’d run 4:29 in five previous meets. That was the likely result of trying to do too many events in dual meets, and not doing enough raw speed work to cut the two or three seconds that should have come easily. But a typical dual meet included running the two-mile, high-jumping, triple-jumping and running the mile. I was trying to help the team win meets. But it was not the way to truly improve at any single event.
Despite my failure to qualify, a crew of us decided to go down and watch the state meet anyway. We could get a tan and cheer on a few of the guys we knew from other schools. That just made me jealous. We piled back in the car and headed north toward home.
On the way back we were driving the long stretch of road on Route 47 when I spied some girls from the high school I’d attended before my father moved our family ten miles east and out of that district. They were all girls I’d hung around with, and I called out as we passed and they waved back.
“You should have mooned them,” someone in our car suggested.
Then their car came roaring past and they beat us to it. There was an ass in one window and several sets of boobs being shown. So we retaliated with a fruit basket or two, and from there it was a back and forth of body parts. We were all laughing uproariously and it was a bunch of childish fun.
But I also noticed a face I liked. So I called up one of the women the next day and asked her for a date. We went to see the movie Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. It was a ribald tale of a hairdresser who got laid a lot, and the costs of that lifestyle. After the movie I took her driving in the country. We pulled the car over and we got a little busy in the late spring heat. That felt like quite a bit of consolation after not having qualified for the state meet. I no longer cared how fast I was, or that my former school had just won the team championship at the state meet. Several of my former teammates were individual state champions. Suddenly, I did not care. It’s amazing what women can do (and for) to your head. Even if it’s just one night.
Most of us go to that place of sexual approval in one way or another. Think about the song “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. Both characters in the song are getting what they can. It’s an equal motive.
I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly reknown
She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy
Workin’ on mysteries without any clues
Workin’ on our night moves
Trying’ to make some front page drive-in news
Workin’ on our night moves in the summertime
In the sweet summertime
Some men get that brand of equality pretty early in life. They understand women. It’s either because they have sisters and see that they’re simply human beings with urges just like men. But some men just have the natural knack for appreciating that women are people too. They know how to talk and laugh and engage with women by nature.
Of course, not all men are like that. The entire history of sit-coms is basically about that subject. Women have lamented the shortage of good men since the dawn of time. Even Eve had her man troubles with Adam. Dude could not keep his mouth shut. Got them kicked out of a sweet garden in the process. Put the blame on Eve right then and there, in front of God. Well, goddamnit! There’s a lesson people don’t talk about often enough in the Bible.
Keep on keeping on
Still, we somehow find inspiration in each other as partners. That’s true for same-sex couples as well. It’s true with everyone. The vagaries of love require some level of risk.
And when you put your guts out there in some endeavor, it helps to have someone backing you up. I’ve always loved these lyrics from the song “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys:
She told me “Baby, when you race today
Just take along my love with you
And if you knew how much I loved you
Baby nothing could go wrong with you”
Oh what she does to me
When she makes love to me
And she says “Don’t worry baby”
Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Everything will turn out alright
In the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed, she comes to the end of her hike up the Pacific Coast Trail and comes to realize that every experience she’s had in life had merit. Even the heroin and the wild sex. “What if it taught me something? What if I wanted to sleep with all those men?
She had discovered the fact that even our mistakes can add up to good. Even bad relationships. They still teach you something.
It simply doesn’t pay to repress all our urges to try things. We don’t learn anything that way. Too many repressed individuals wind up bitter and controlling in their relationships. Then they carry it over to their life and their politics.That’s true for women and men.
Repression is defined as: the action of subduing someone or something by force. Stop and think about that for a moment. How well does it truly work to try to force anyone to do anything? People may do it because they’re forced to comply, but they come to resent you in the end. Bad bosses and bad leaders use force. Good bosses and good leaders encourage and lead by example.
Self-discipline vs. repression
That is not to say we don’t need controls in our lives. Self-discipline is far different from repression. There are so many examples where the Bible is actually referring to self-discipline when people choose to turn it into rules of repressive law. Jesus objected to that approach by the religious leaders of his day. He preferred instead for people to have motivation from their hearts. For certain, Jesus also taught that there are limits of satisfaction that come from indulgent behavior.
This is true even in our sporting endeavors. It’s possible to get carried away in any sport. Running. Cycling. Swimming. Triathlon. Marathon. Ultra-marathon. On it goes. At some point, there are physical and mental limits. Sometimes we don’t even acknowledge the sense of diminished returns we get from the effort and time invested in any pursuit. That’s true in both vocational or avocational circumstances.
There are also addictions to all sorts of things in this world. At some point, I recognized a running addiction in myself that required a bit of intervention. I was so captivated by the idea of being competitive well into my late 20s that there were other things in life that could possibly have been neglected. So I backed off. That’s an ironic form of self-discipline, perhaps, but just as real. I probably could have competed well into my 30s, but at some point, what was the point?
Backing off meant that my ego was no longer fed by winning races. But that also meant there was time to dedicate to raising a family. I kept on running for mental health, doing a few races every year when time allowed. It was hard to no longer be the best guy on the starting line. But learning to measure and value myself beyond athletic achievement was important too.
Later in life I took up cycling, because longevity in exercise is important. All those years of running did result in some wear and tear. It’s funny how all this feeds self-image and that baseline desire to prove yourself to the world or your yourself. It probably doesn’t end until the day we die. We’re wired to desire those night moves and the feeling it gives us to be wanted or desired.
And so we run. We ride. We swim. Some of us do all three. But don’t worry baby, everything’s gonna be alright.