I took a week off from racing after the zoo 10K and the Philly 8.4 miler. My brother invited me to come out to Lancaster and compete against his former Millersville classmate Jeff Bradley in a ten-mile road race. As it turned out, there were other Millersville guys such as Alan Treffinger that I’d run against at the national level in college. Seeing some of them on the starting line, I knew it would be a fast race, and I had no illusions of winning, especially after the much-faster and more experienced runner in Jeff Bradley.
The race did turn out fast. Even on the hilly course, we ran the first five miles fast: 5:00-10:01-15:35-20:55-26:10. By then, I’d dropped off twenty yards off lead as Bradley surged and a few others pulled away. Then the field strung out as we climbed hills and tore down the other side. I continued racing at a decent pace, passing six miles in 31:54, then seven at 37+, eight at 42:35, nine at 49+ and 54:04 at the ten-mile finish line. At the finish line, I was cooked. It ws extremely hard race. “Held pace well. Didn’t surge tho. Ran some uphills steadily. Felt headache a.m., kind of queasy. Had felt well on Friday, Thursday night. Probably just tension. Won a pair of shoes.”
The shoes I won turned out to be a set of Converse training flats. That company was trying to make inroads in the running market, so I was excited to receive a box in the mail with the shoes inside. They felt terrible on my feet and turned out to be absolutely awful running shoes. I ran four miles in them and never put them on again except to trudge around a marsh, and even then, they weren’t comfortable. So my “big award” turned out to be as big a disappointment as the Leg Lamp in the movie A Christmas Story.
November to remember
I summed up the November racing in more detail as well. “November ruminations–“Low mileage month. Ran three races. October 31–8.4 miles in 44:36, 10 km in 31:58 and a ten mile, hilly mother in 54:03. Thus about 1/2 of the month was probably recovery time….and I probably needed even more time than I gave it. Ten-miler proved to be a storyteller…went through 5 nearly as fast as I did/total in first 5-miler. Improved 10K time somewhat– 20 seconds–and learned that the leaders don’t necessarily go out any harder than 5:00, they just maintain.”
I continued the ruminations: “So, what does it mean? It means I’ve got a ways to go to be a sub 31:00 10K man, but that I’ve got the speed (4:15 mile now??) and can gain the stamina with a reasonable amount of consistency and the willingness to give up a bit for it. Where I’ll have to figure out. The dark nights are certainly tough, but then there’s tonight, a moonlit blue night cool as a hawk’s eye but not too windy and I felt like running so…”
The following week I was hosting my at-home girlfriend Linda at my place in Paoli. I’d been back to Chicago once or twice on the company plane, but only for quick weekend shots. That was enough to keep the relationship going, but having a Thanksgiving weekend together would be good for us. I was excited to have her visit. The fall weather was cool, but not cold. A long line of maple trees along Paoli road shone a bright yellow. The day before her arrival, I planned to go for a celebratory run under that avenue of trees, but the rains came in torrents and stripped the trees bare. The entire countryside dimmed from bright autumn colors to somber greys and browns in a single night. The next morning the road under the maple trees looked golden with a layer of wet yellow leaves covering the surface. That made me sad because I was excited to show off the landscape in which I’d been running the past few weeks.
I was scheduled to pick her up at the Philly airport that night. Her flight was supposed to arrive at 8:00 p.m. so I showed up early and sat near the gate because back then, you could do that. Then word came over the loudspeaker that the connecting flight she was supposed to catch in Cleveland was canceled due to problems with the aircraft. With a touch of compassionate irony in her voice, the gate attendant told us that the plane we now saw pulling out of the bay was leaving flying to Cleveland to fetch those passengers and fly back again. I thought to myself, “Well, there goes three hours.”
I considered driving back to my place in Paoli and coming later to pick her up, but it was an hour each way, and that seemed foolish. Then a thought occurred to me; for some reason, it was really quiet in the airport that night. I sat there looking at the red-carpeted hallways and realized that the airport was built like a big square. “Hey,” I said to myself. “I could get in a decent run while I wait.”
Rolling locker room
I always carried some kind of running gear in my car. That night, all I had was some half-dirty racing gear and a set of worn-out Tiger flats. A quote I’d heard from a runner somewhere ran throw my head, “Go train, because if you’re not, your competitor probably is…” I was always trying to get a leg up on the competition.
So, I pulled on my gear and jogged back through the terminal to the square part of the airport and did a mile warmup. For the next hour or so, I ran repeats indoors just like we’d done while running the hallways of the high school in training for indoor track. I was just enough of an egotist to pull that off in the Philadelphia airport. Something in me imagined that my training was important enough to do it fully in the public eye. But after a lap or two, no one even noticed anymore. I finished five or six miles that way and finally heard the gate attendant announce that the flight from Cleveland was now loaded and would be headed our way in a few minutes.
That gave me time to head back to the car, towel off and change. I wiped all the important body parts with a stick of Brut deodorant and headed back to the airport. I felt a bit grungy, but happy that I’d gotten in a workout. There was still an hour-and-a-half to wait. Now I was just plain tired. Such were the ups and downs of life on the run.
My first-ever turkey trot
Earlier that day after work, I received a phone call from Linda to confirm her flight number. She asked if I had remembered to buy a Thanksgiving turkey that day. “Can’t we pick one up tomorrow?” I asked.
“No, Chris,” she said with some concern. “It needs to thaw. You need to go buy one right now.”
I hung up the phone and drove to the grocery store a mile away. Walking into the meat aisle, I was stunned to see that the entire freezer case was empty except for a lone frozen turkey sitting in the middle. Noticing another person at the far end of the aisle, I jogged toward the turkey and beat her to it. Never in my life had I felt so selfish and foolish. Without looking her in the eye, I grabbed the turkey, shoved it under my arm like a big pink football, and trotted away to the checkout line.
Back at home, I put the turkey in the refrigerator because I didn’t know how fast a turkey would actually thaw. This one was 15 pounds. When we got home from the airport, Linda immediately pulled the turkey out and we had it for Thanksgiving after all. Then we made love in my stupid little bed on the floor, and all seemed right with the world for a while that weekend.
Except it all felt rushed and too short. Yes, I was thrashing around trying to fight off loneliness and depression through other women in Paoli, but I had genuine feelings for Linda. Driving her back to the airport that day felt wrong. She knew it too. “Maybe I should move out here,” she asked. “I could find a teaching job.”
“That’s a nice idea,” I responded. “But I have no idea if this whole thing in Philly is even going to work out for me. Everything’s moving so fast.”
The following week our big boss and President Jack Merritt treated the entire office to a nice dinner out in Philadelphia. Jack was a genuous man, and invited Linda and I to dinner at his home in New Jersey during one of her visits. He grew elaborate orchids in his spare time, and appreciated good wine.
Along with Jack, I’d begun to like many of the people in the office. For the most part, the feeling seemed mutual among them. For all my odd quirks and bad jokes made out of anxiety on the job, the relationships we developed from working together on projects were growing. After all, I’d only been there for four months, but thanks to all the newness of life in Philly and Paoli, that short period of time felt intense to me. But then, a happy little miracle came along. That night, Merritt handed out raises (mine was $1000) and bonuses. I took home a $3000 check. That helped my finances after scraping by for those first few months. I could pay off some lingering debts, especially the long-distance phone bill.
A warm December day
On December 5 the weather turned sunny and warm. Temperatures reached 75 degrees. All the running clubs in the area turned out for a competitive 10K in the hilly reaches of West Chester or some other clean little suburb. I decided to go for it that day and ran the first downhill fast along with the rest of the field. But even after passing the first mile in 4:40, I was thirty places back from the front. Hammering away, I passed three miles in 15:30, four in 20:35, five in 25:30, and 10K in 32:15.
I’d run decently, but still expected more from myself. I made that statement to a Runner’s Edge teammate Dick Hayden. He turned to me in seriousness and said, “32:15 is a good time.” That actually meant a ton to me at that moment. I really respected those Runner’s Edge guys. Dick was pursuing a sub-31:00 10K himself and had recently done a 6 X 1-mile workout all under 5:00 pace. That made me wonder if I should be doing the same. Other guys questioned the wisdom of it. But I think Dick went out and did it.
Of the most recent race, I wrote in the journal: “Gut gave out at the end. Legs never really hit the max point…I know I can run 25:00 flat now. Felt washed out the first mile. Ran well downhill. Wasn’t even a real clicker mentally today. You gotta know you can do it, and you can. Perhaps loneliness sucked it out of you.”
Yes, I was always super hard on myself, including the dating life: “Don’t sit on your ass then dumb fuck. Hit on a girl once in a while. Then run well. From now on….50 miles is base. We ain’t going under 200 miles a month. Eat well (good groceries tonight) sleep well, do your job and run. It’s coming, now snap this plateau. One you run 5:00 per mile, think of the confidence, the relaxation, the new level.”
I was trying so hard to get a leg up in the world and kept coming up with a leg lamp instead. But I wasn’t going to quit. That’s for sure.