Yesterday morning we ran the local Fox and the Turkey Four Mile. The Batavia race attracted 2061 runners, 916 men and 1100 women. I placed 180th at just over 30 minutes. It was a fun run that went past my former home on Republic Road. And as coincidence would have it, I lined up with my own son about three blocks from that home. So we ran past it together feeling a bit strange that it was no longer the place to which we would return and have Thanksgiving dinner as we have the last few years.
Really cooking now
Instead, Sue and I worked to make Thanksgiving work for everyone at our new place. This year I actually prepared the sweet potato casserole on my own, with little help except finding the ingredients in the litany of cabinets where they are stored.
It might seem like a simple enough task to follow a recipe. And yet when attempting the same sweet potato feat a few years back, I mixed up the toppings ingredients with those used for baking the potatoes and had to start all over again.
It could be said that cooking is basic science. I recall chemistry experiments in high school that involved mixing liquids together, and if you combined them in the wrong order, the entire experiment would turn out a bust. There is no substitute for good instructions, and following them.
It’s the same thing with training, you know? It’s the same as having a recipe and having a winning recipe. I’ve done that many times in life.
But it’s a little different these days. I now have enough experience as a “cook” in endurance sports to throw a few ingredients together things generally come out okay. I do not perform at the level of a chef anymore. More like a mildly talented short order cook. Yet despite the fact that I have not been training like a maniac, I still finished 180th or so out of 2000+ runners in 30:03, a bit above 7:00 per mile.
Which isn’t too bad on a cool November morning in the 55-59 age group, where I finished twelfth among my peers, the best of whom ran in the 26:00 range, just over 6:00 pace.
And I could train my ass off and possibly do that again. But seriously, what would that prove at this point in my life? Besides, it seems much more fun to keep an eye out for life’s little absurdities and take what comes with the training I do do. And yes, that’s a joke.
Juggling Gumby Spatulahead
Because during the first mile of the race I found myself in company with a runner who registers and dresses in character as Juggling Gumby Spatulahead. He wears a giant green Gumby costume and juggles green tennis balls during the entire race. He also spouts insane dialogue toward the runners around him and spectators as well. This turns his sphere of operation into a comic enterprise.
Yes, even Juggling Gumby Spatulahead beat me by a minute yesterday morning. At one point in my life, that fact would have offended me greatly. During my competitive career, I could not stand getting beat by anyone with a less than respectable stride, much less some joker in a Gumby costume.
But one learns to adapt to circumstance and choose your battles rather than try to beat every Juggling Gumby Spatulahead who comes along with another attention-getting scheme. That’s a game no one with self-respect and a conscience actually wants to win. Because you can wind up like every evangelical preacher conducting fake healings on TV, where credulity too quickly fills the void where credibility vacates the premises.
So characters such as Juggling Gumby Spatulahead symbolize joy and mock seriousness at the same time. People who can’t make real contributions in this world often invent ways to gain and keep attention. That’s how TV preachers make so much money. They create a show around miracles that never really happen. The same thing happens quite frequently in politics. The phonies often gain the most attention because people are so eager to be entertained and fooled they can’t separate real performance from carefully manufactured fiction. And that’s how men like Donald Trump win elections.
Yet it’s a subtle dynamic. Because we all enjoy people dressing up to celebrate an occasion and have some fun. Nothing at all wrong with that. There were hundreds of people dressed as turkeys at the race yesterday, and I loved the costume and makeup of this Grinch that was racing too. He not only looked the part, but carried an audio speaker with him that played “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” But talk about an earworm…
Granted, I always wanted to go out and win a running race while wearing a pair of Converse Jack Taylor basketball shoes. It seemed like that would be a cool thing to do as an expression of an Uber Reality, or consciousness. Retro and smart.
To be sure, I once witnessed a guy wearing cutoff blue jean shorts nearly win a competitive cycling criterium. Along with his cutoffs, he wore a torn up tee-shirt with his race number pinned to the side. In this getup, he rode with the top crit riders throughout the race, only losing in the bunch sprint by a few meters. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen in real life to the look of that classic cycling movie Breaking Away.
And I also watched a guy many years back win an 800-meter race while wearing blue jean cutoffs and borrowed track spikes. The college All-American runner from North Central showed up to watch an All-Comers meet and was talked into jumping in the race by his former teammates. He won the race with a blistering kick in 1:53. Without a warmup. He used the first lap to do that. Then killed the field.
In other words, he was truly talented and smart enough to harbor his resources for the circumstance of the race. That’s real talent and brains. No Juggling Gumby Spatulahead was he. He did not need to fake it to get attention.
Rise and shine
Along with talent, accomplishment requires a degree of hard work. So the morning after Thanksgiving, Sue and I drove to the Vaughn Center to do weights and swim. I focused on leg sets while Sue did an all-body workout that her coach assigned.
Then we moved to the pool and did our respective workouts there. I was invited to share a lane with a woman about my speed while Sue swam in a lane with a University of Northern Iowa college swimmer.
The gal in my lane turned out to be a swim coach by trade. When we stopped to talk near the end of our respective swim sessions, I told her the story of how Sue and I met, and how that relationship led to doing triathlons and swimming for me. She asked how long I have been swimming.
“It’s taken about two years to get where I am,” I replied.
“Well, I’ve been coaching for 40 years,” she told me. “And I can tell, you’re doing very well.”
“That means a lot to me,” I told her. “It’s been a hard thing to learn.”
“A slim person like you does not float easily,” she responded.
And I’ve heard that many times before. And it’s true. Yet there were moments this morning when I actually felt that flying sensation some people experience while swimming, like I was working with the water rather than it working against me.
At that moment I felt thankful for all the hard work put in over the last couple years, and that I hadn’t give up hope on those days went it felt worthless to try. I have followed the recipe doled out the swim coaches I know as well as advice from Sue as I went along.
So all is cool with the chef and the pool. And I’m certainly thankful for that.