Monday, June 28, 2010


Louisville Metro Police Force (LMPF) Celebration Run: My first 5K experience.
July 12, 2008

Six hours of sleep after two martinis and three Coronas isn’t ideal preparation for a 7am alarm to go run a 5K, I found out. But I got a personal best, primarily because I had no real baseline for comparison. I picked up Jude at 7:30am and we were at the starting point by 8am. People talking, tying shoes, stretching, all part of this modest throng (170 of us total).

One guy looked like he’d already run five miles to get there—his shirtless abdomen was covered with sweat and he was jumping furiously in place, aiming to knee himself in the head, it appeared, with both knees. I wouldn’t suspect runners of being habitual morning coke snorters, but this guy looked like he was about to rocket off to some other galactic plane. If he were personifying a Mexican jumping bean on the corner of Preston and Witherspoon on a Saturday night, the LMPD would have carted him off to Sixth and Jefferson.

Before I knew it, the whistle blew and people bolted. I didn’t, because I told myself I wasn’t here to race. But the crowd, including Jude, rapidly disappeared around the curve of Adams Street and I wasn’t six minutes into the run when I turned to run backward to see if there was anyone behind me. There was. God I was thirsty already. Parched before I was even sweaty. Not used to this morning running stuff. My objective all along was simply not to quit my stride and end up walking for any part of this affair but the temptation was nearly overwhelming, because I felt like ass.

Before reaching the halfway water point we ran through some atrocious aromas that surely caused some to nearly chuck their beets. It can only be described as carrion—this foul scent on the wind. We ran past a junkyard, I believe, and it made you want to hold your breath despite the slight uphill grade and swelling humidity. ...Drinking water and running was also a brand new experience; prior to this I’d never been parched on a run. Doesn’t work out so well--I maybe swallowed a whole ounce before chucking the bottle to the curb like everyone else.

We made the turn and I’d lost pace with the middle-aged lady who was by my side most of the way. I really don’t know whether she fell back or went ahead. And I watched at least two attractive women in their 20s slide breezily past me. Ah, the disparity among age groups.

Back on Main Street we encountered another fetid awfulness. This time the air just smelled like pure garbage. My note to self at that point was: Don’t ever run this route again, ever. That, and: Although that shapely girl with a long pony tail 20 yards ahead of you has stopped to walk and is holding her lower back, and you want to do the same very badly, you keep running. I did.

In the end I came in 69th. Yes! I may aim for that number every time until I consider myself an actual runner. My time was 26:00 almost exactly. When I channeled myself into the little taped corridor and a young guy told me to tear off the perforated bottom of my bib, I nearly asked him to do it for me. It was good to just stand for a moment. Then I walked it off...

That time, as far as I know, beat my usual time by about four minutes, and I can’t make out how that happened. During the run I felt awful. I figured 10-minute miles was my average, but the Fleet Feet data says I made 8:22 miles. My placement put me in the 36th percentile, which I was happy with. Beating 50 percent of the people there was my one aim.

Jude’s objective was more ambitious. He wanted to land in the top 10 of our age group and he was sixth in that--and 44th overall. 23:30 was a new best for him as well, despite a cramp after the first mile and nearly ralphing at the finish line. He reasoned that eating a banana that morning didn’t do him any justice. But he did great, and we were both re-energized and happy with things within five minutes of cool down...

I took a day off and ran the following evening, and the circumstances were much more favorable for me. The atmospheric pressure must have been very low. Pristine sky with a gorgeous slant to the lowering sunrays. Through the heterogeneous landscape of Highlands houses toward Taylorsville Road and then down Park Boundary and through the park next to Beargrass Creek with sweet smells of green, green flora—in stark opposition to the 5K’s olfactory record.

Twenty minutes into the run last night seemed like ten, and I experienced that pseudo-runner’s high at about the point when certain music started pulsing through my headphones. It reminded me of being ten years younger and running on a treadmill at my parents’ house; it was always music that invoked that endorphin rush. I’ll take it, whatever causes it. So I covered a lot more ground than usual, and whilst on the homestretch back alleyway of my own street I met a black dog coming my way, panting heavily. The kind of panting you see a dog doing who is panicked and lost. I said hello and passed him by, determined to keep on. But I saw he had tags and figured I had to check. I backtracked and he let me approach him and he was a she. “Grace,” who lived one street over. Good tags with a phone number and address. Grace refused to follow me but the beauty with running is that, unless you’re determined to stick to a route for the sake of time assessment, you can run to whatever place suddenly presents an emergency. I jogged a few more minutes at a heartier pace, and found the owner. She thanked me effusively and apparently knew what to do to get Grace out of the alleyway. “Oh, she must have jumped the fence again,” she said.

...A couple of fine days for running. I jog, actually... I am not a runner.

Fleet Feet Fiesta 3-Mile Fun Run
August 23, 2008

An hour before this race I experienced crippling nausea. Could it be the couple of beers I had that afternoon, followed by 4 or 5 grams of kratom? The beers were incidental, but taking the kratom was done with the intention of feeling really good by race time. A way to stave off the agues and aches I regularly deal with. Could it be nerves? That’d never happened before, not even when I wrestled competitively in high school. What the hell did I have to be nervous about, after all? This kind of sporting event can hardly be called competition—it’s more like a circle jerk. You’re racing against time, and only against yourself, essentially.
I felt fine for most of the day, but as night began to fall I really felt like I was going to puke. So much so that I went in the bathroom and stuck my middle finger down my throat. No dice. I’ve never been a puker. That is, I’ve never been someone who can induce vomiting with a finger. Maybe my fingers aren’t long enough.
Lingering about my apartment, I was extremely torn because I’d wanted to run in this night race for over a month whence I’d signed up for it, but if I were a robot then all functional monitors would have warned “System failure: No-go.” This race though... Not only was it a night race, which intrigued the hell out of me, it was through Cherokee Park, right down the street from my home. This brilliantly-plotted chunk of green space was intimidatingly hilly and its “Scenic Loop” alone, part of this race’s route, was about 2.5 miles. I expected it would be a beautiful run because nestled there in the middle of the city’s most condensed population zone was this refuge from industry and commerce. More than anything in anticipation of this race, I knew it would be a challenge because of two long, gradual hills that I’d never run before but had biked for the hell of it. And on at least one occasion I’d hopped off my bike to walk it up either or both of these hills because pedaling in low gear didn’t yield an acceptable time-to-forward-progress ratio. Pedaling in low gear was just way too hard. You know it’s steep when walking your bike is faster…
So I ran this very circuit the night before the Fun Run. As usual with me, this was probably not the wisest of decisions. But I wanted to be sure I could do it… or at least to know what to expect. I couldn’t do it. Rather, I didn’t force myself to run all of it. On the second hill that hugs the west side of “Dog Hill,” I walked about 60 yards of it that Friday evening. Nothing was pushing me to run the whole thing, so I pussed out and walked some of that hill...

On the other hand I did get a vasectomy two weeks before this night, and this was only my second or third voluntary exercise jog since feeling like I’d recovered enough for my bits and pieces to handle the sickening, kicked-in-the-nuts sensation that persists for days after a vasectomy. I mean I felt good enough to tackle the race in regard to subjecting my scrotum to the inherent jarring that comes with running. So by then I’d had a few weeks off from running—convalescing, so to speak. Running was one thing, and I respected it. But the things that weren’t new to me, like lifting weights and shagging Liz, were already part of my daily routine a week or so after surgery. When I called the urology doctor to ask when I could resume exercise, he told me six weeks. Pfpff.

...As night fell on the night of the Nighttime Fun Run, I became increasingly frustrated at this unforeseen malady but more resolved to give it a try. Shit, worst case scenario: I’d run off into the woods of the park and bend over and spew whatever was causing this problem. Surely I’d feel better then. Liz went with me to the starting line, and the registrants consisted of the usual rabble—all shapes, sizes, ages. Except this time, under the street lamp on the corner of Willow and Eastern Parkway, they were decked out in a whole spectrum of glow bracelets and battery-powered lights. I still felt like puking, but the deal was: I was going to run, dammit.

The whistle shrilled and up the slight grade of Eastern we went. Before I’d gone one block I felt better. Exercise makes you feel better: O yes, this proved it once again. The most indelible part—and the part where I felt that first surge of a make-believe runner’s high—occurred as the leaders of this pack penetrated the darkness of the Scenic Loop, abandoning nearly all civilization’s traffic noise and city light pollution, and all reason for thinking I was going to puke. I felt marvelous. I wished I could telegraph this vision I saw to Liz foremost, and to a thousand people after that. The bugs droned as we made our quiet foot-patter and headed up the first hill that leads to Hogan’s Fountain. The ray from my solid red LED light I’d clipped to my belt bobbed against the backside of a woman in front of me. I had no designs to pass her, but I did going up the hill. (I also passed a woman pushing a tram with a baby in it, and it didn’t make me feel much better knowing this woman scorched me off the starting line.) Once we reached the top and planed out, I felt the true sensation of a runner’s high. Supergrass crooned in my ears—It’s Not Me was the song, and as Gaz Coombes hit the refrain, enhanced by the floral aromas of high summer, the view of a couple hundred people jogging harmoniously in an utter lack of formation, and my own physiology repairing itself with every step--it was as if I was infused with some higher power. The kind of ephemeral buzz that approaches a charge of channeled divinity… but just as quickly, it dissipates. A smile grew on my face and I wished that in the dark I could see if my comrades close by were smiling too.

Then the best part happened: we started going downhill. This part of the route curved left at the base so it offered the view of a determined-looking embodiment of humanity running ahead into an even darker area, a titanic snake of bouncing people adorned with bobbing blue, green, yellow, purple, and audacious-red bike accessory lights flashing with the same chaotic rhythm as poorly understood particles on some indeterminate course through the galaxy. Flatly gorgeous and unforgettable.
The rest from there? When you get to the bottom of that first hill in Cherokee Park, you run on flat ground for a third of the route, so there’s not much to say other than I was passing people. I was passing older people, heavier older men, women, heavier older women, 12-year olds. No bragging here. The point was to get to the top of the next hill without walking. Or vomiting. The trail of foot soldiers had thinned out, and when I passed the mark where I’d started walking up the hill the previous night, I knew I was good to finish the race at this pace. It wouldn’t be easy, because my bones ached from the inside out, but it was [mostly] downhill from there, as they say.

Another quarter mile went by and we were on the final stretch where I’d kept pace with a girl about 10 to 13 years younger than me. My MP3 player had died, so I collared my headphones and listened to the pitter-patter.
“You’re not even breathing heavy,” I observed.
“Oh yes I am,” she replied, staring straight ahead. “I may not be breathing loudly, but I’m breathing heavy!”

It occurred to me that my breathing seemed louder than most because my goddamn sinus passages were useless. Had been since childhood. That one was of my great little personal secrets--in cardio exercise I was a habitual mouth-breather. Had to be. I wasn’t actually winded from weak lungs. It was just that my goddamn nasal lining was perpetually swollen, nearly fully occluded like arteries in an ischemic heart. Ahh the Ohio Fucking Valley allergen hub. Or maybe it was this way ever since they cut out my tonsils. Give me those back, I should have demanded, slamming my Burt and Ernie dolls to the ground. ...And probably the deviated septum didn’t help.
As we surmounted the slight arch that is Eastern Parkway toward the Finish, the girl took off. I watched her shake her aqua shorts right on toward the endpoint. Shit! What was I doing? I reminded myself about the vasectomy, and the fact that this was not a competition with America’s youth.

Once the end channel was in sight I made a dash, a rather pathetic 20-yard dash toward that big red digital clock and bolted into the turnstile. People stood along the side of the road clapping and cheering, by my estimation, for anyone who finished the race within an hour. My time was 28:10, 83rd among 181. That’s acceptable. Good enough for a nauseated non-runner with terminal rhinitis and a swollen nutsack. Especially good since I no longer felt like I was going to hurl. But I’d learned a couple things in the first and last two minutes of this race: 1) running at night with a bunch of phosphorus-bedecked like-minded people is a nearly sublime experience; and 2) if you have any significant form of energy remaining at the end of a race, you sprint. ...I could have done better. I would on the next go around.

Iron Man Competition – Held Annually in Louisville, KY
August 31, 2008

To pretend I competed in this race would be a travesty of journalistic integrity, self-awareness, and truthiness. It was only by accident that I immersed myself with the flow of over-achieving men and women who were blazing the trail for the Iron Man Triathlon held in Louisville, Kentucky.

What happened was: I needed to use the phone. The night before, I had destroyed my own cell phone for reasons that remain unexplained. So I made my way toward my office in Old Louisville in my car, and I parked about five blocks from my building in a Kroger parking lot. Noting the blocked off streets for the Event, the only recourse to get to my desk phone was to beat feet toward the corner of Fourth and Ormsby. So I jogged toward Third and witnessed the thin trickle—a few guys hundreds of yards apart—of Ironmen… their expressions blank and demolished by now… The competitors at this stage had already swam 2.4 miles and biked 112. The time of day at this point was 4pm-ish, and these people had started their day at 6:50am with a plunge into the algaeic Ohio River. Warnings they received just before making the plunge included:

“Welcome Iron Man Contestants. We are obligated to inform you that the E. Coli bacterium in the water today are at levels considered to be mildly threatening to those prone to gastrointestinal and urinary infection. So maybe… try to swallow as little of the shit as you can to avoid fecal-oral transmission.”

On top of all this they were here, at the 6-mile mark of their final phase, which demanded only another 20 to go. But I figured this was the best thing to do: just run their route till you have to cut west.

As I jogged into the street I ran past a few of them, but at least one guy was keeping his targeted pace and strode right by. I felt super-douche-alistic because I, indeed, was in no hurry yet I had no excuse for being that much slower than this guy who had already expended 30,000 calories today. I ran my five blocks and got to work, sweaty. No one was there on this Sunday before Labor Day, which was perfect, so I made my phone call and then decided I wanted to run more and see what the Iron Man was all about.

For the first mile the competition was sparse—the same slow trickle of men mostly in their mid 40s. After a couple blocks in this late August Ohio Valley sweatbath, the demographics started to even out. I passed a few women; but I wasn’t just passing women. I was passing men too, because I was fresh and spry—but what did they know about me? Nothing. I was just some conspicuously inkless interloper[1] in no shirt and short shorts with a headband, carrying his keys in his hand.

Eight blocks down Third Street I encountered one of what I will call the “Salvation Stations.” In pairs the volunteers handed out cups of water, which I refused, but beyond that there were tables sporting bins of cookies, orange slices, and what looked like delicious mini-pimento sandwiches. So that I might deflect some of the strange looks I was getting from the run coordinators, I accepted one cup of water and took a sharp left at this point toward the admin building on UofL’s campus where I formerly worked. I knew that these people had a solid four more miles to run before they were permitted to turn around, and run the last grueling leg. So I dashed off. I rationalized that I was still running, after all, but I didn’t care to run all the way to the turnaround checkpoint. …I soared back through the campus loop to Third Street and nestled again into the oblivious rabble chugging along at an admirable clip.

It was really as if I were a spectator of this event on TV, yet floating along with it—because I felt so unreasonably good compared to most of these poor bastards. I smiled at the UofL cheerleaders, for instance, at the end of Fraternity Row while I ran by—and the girl with the megaphone shouted.

“You people are smiling even now! Wooo! How do you do it?”
Indeed. How did we do it? But surely I was running alongside people who felt like they were about to bleed from every orifice. Not me! What’s the matter, man? Can’t handle all this distance? Is the heat too much? I was now officially a poser—because I was such in my own mind. But I needed to get back to my car, which was in the Kroghetto parking lot a mile away. Felt terrific at this point. I detected the scent of gin coming out of my pores from the night before hanging with Dave and drinking Tom Collinses, minus all that sugary crap. Basically straight gin. The only real problem was that I lacked my headphones on this impromptu jaunt, and for some reason Rudolph The Red-Fucking-Nosed Reindeer got lodged in my head and I couldn’t shake it out for a solid mile. Jeeeeeezus! I detested Christmas enough as it was, but Christmas… what do you call them… Christmas fucking carols?! My sweet friend, Carol, I’m so sorry your name hath been sullied by the likes of Charles Dickens, and whoever else popularized the word. They should be dug up, and forced to complete and entire Iron Man triathlon listening to this god-forsaken song.
Nearing my destination, I boogied up behind a fairly rare sight in this race: a svelte, light-skinned black girl with a fine, fine booty and long, straight brown hair—not even up in a pony-tail. Just lilting in the breeze of her gait. I had to get a look at this woman’s face. Now next to her, I jangled my keys and she turned, slightly startled.

“Why do you have keys?” she asked, except that this wasn’t possibly a she. Her voice, and the rest of her visage, was as androgynous as Prince’s circa his 1991 Under The Cherry Moon era. What tipped me off was her mustache. Or, his mustache. Light and thin, but black and evidently not tampered with in any cosmetic way. And he had no boobs to speak of. Yet what a commendable ass and beautiful hair! I’m still genuinely confused. Perhaps this creature was simply in a metamorphic phase. I told Mighty Hermaphrodite that I had keys in my hand because I’d just mugged a janitor.
He/she chuckled politely, breathing hard, and I moved on...

Stampede for VIPS 5k Run/Walk
September 6, 2008

This run was organized to raise ducats for visually impaired people, so no wonder it was at night. Among the participants were folks tethered to dogs, or tethered to other people, and it was a perfect night to run side-by-side with someone across the Second Street Bridge and back. But not for me. By now I had a taste for whipping someone’s ass--neverminding the 64 people who whipped my ass ahead of me. And this must mean that I was reaching some sort of pinnacle phase where I was no longer concerned about simply finishing under 30 minutes, but that I felt categorically competitive.

I wasn’t displeased with being 65th out of 260. Certainly the largest race I’d done. Time of 26:35. Good but no PR, even though while running it I felt more in control, and more determined, to beat 26 minutes...

Accurately, I was mostly driven to beat people in front of me after the half-way turnaround. It would be mostly downhill at that point. Running across the bridge was sweet... all these purple neon lights weaved throughout the iron girding. Plus a panoptic view of Louisville’s skyline on a pristine summer night… Yet all in all it didn’t approach that sublime feeling running in Cherokee two weeks before. What I became fixated on was a few select adversaries. One was a guy in his early 20s with a haircut like Rosie O’Donell who would charge ahead of me and eventually fall back. I kicked in the Chi Running, a style where you lean forward but make like a steel rod is up your ass, all the way to your brainstem... and I outdid him by the lower end of the bridge coming back to Main Street. Then I’d set my eyes on a girl 100 yards ahead, and eventually made her a small figure behind me. Finally, on the absolute last stretch, I was 5 yards behind a 21 year-old chick named Brianna Fleming (and I only know this because of viewing Fleet Feet’s results) and she poured on the speed as we saw the big red clock one soccer field away.

She pulled away from me but not too far. I waited until the last 40 yard dash and, like a Supreme Dickhead, starting sprinting. My intention wasn’t to ruin this girl’s ambition of coming in 64th, but it had to happen. I ran so fast that she probably had to dodge some of my kicked-up dust, and I came into the finish line gate with such alacrity that standers-by looked at me as if I was doing it wrong—which surely I was.

Who cares? I walked around until the sweats stopped, changed clothes standing next to my car, and headed to Bearno’s By The Bridge to start writing all this down. Not my best time, but perhaps my best race yet...

[1] For Iron Man runs, a pin-on number flag is impractical. Instead, they stencil your race number on your arm with a Magic Marker.

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