Saturday, October 1, 2011

Free or Not, I Hate Butterflies

"But even so, I still get nervous before I go onstage."
Etta James

Now, let's get this straight. I was not a good High School runner. I did HS Track for one reason only - to get a HS letter and give it to some girl. Man, what a jerk, but that's a subject of another blog...but, I did get the letter back when we said Sayonara. Well, we said more than that, and it wasn't Japanese. During, those years, I also played baseball, soccer, and even some Ice Hockey. When the teams would line up before the starting whistle, there was no gnawing in the pit of my stomach. There was no weakness in my knees like I suddenly needed to sit down before falling down. There was no hope that a storm would whip up out of a blue sky and cancel the game. But, when I ran track, I absolutely dreaded the sound of some big, official bellowing "440 yard runners to your line". God, it was like being punched in the belly.

"To your lines" this non-running adult would beckon. "Where the hell is that storm?" I would ask nobody in particular.

"Runners set"...."No, no, wait". Then the gun would fire and off we would go...everybody speeding away on fresh legs. All, except for me it would seem. I would be trying to mentally direct blood back into my legs that had drained out in that pre-race ritual that would repeat itself before every race. Not exactly the peak-at-the-right-moment strategy for doing well in a race.

You think I would outlive those teen fears, but when I began running again when I was in my early 30's, these feelings followed me to all my races. Didn't matter if it was a 10k, a marathon, or an ultramarathon - there was ol' wobbly-legged Al dreading the start of something I had trained months for, actually looked forward to doing, bragged to others about what I was going to do. It made no real sense, but I can't recall any race I ever ran where I didn't have these butterflies fluttering around.

It wasn't like the obvious nervousness that would build up in the weeks and days leading up to the race. It wasn't obsessively checking the race day weather at least 3 times a day starting 10 days before the race. Or spending most waking hours planning out how the day before and day of the race will go, from what time you will wake up, to what you will eat, what clothes you will wear, to listing out every item you need to pack for the weekend. Or studying the pace chart, memorizing your target splits for each mile on the course. It wasn't the "I wish I had just one more week to train and I'll be Ok" type of nervousness. This was "I'm fine till I step into the starting chute" type of nervousness. And don't give me that "take a deep breath and relax" nonsense. My pre-race mantra becomes “I hate this. Why do I do this? I hate this”, even though I know full well that I don't mean it. Now, understand that I've been doing marathons and longer since 1979, so it's not like I'm a stranger to long distance running or lack confidence in my ability to finish these things. But, I've run hundreds of races, and although the "competitiveness" has shriveled down to zero (except with my present self), the start of these races - that I say I love doing - still scares the begeezus out of me in the mere moments before the "go".

I'm not afraid of disappointing those around me. I’m pretty sure that if my wife ever leaves me, it won’t be because I failed to place in my age group, or worse, DNF’d. Many of my friends and patients don’t run and have no concept of what’s fast or slow. The very fact that I’m running by choice and not because my house is on fire and I’m running for help is impressive enough for them. With the friends that do run, we share a complete understanding of every facet of our running and we don't question any of each other's quirks.

Do you remember your first race? The anticipation, the butterflies, the sweet taste of the unknown. Well, that's me, to some degree anyway, every race. It's kind of addicting, I think, facing something new and outside of our comfort zone and I guess every time I toe the starting line I feed that addiction because every race is new and certainly outside my ever shrinking comfort zone. Can't help it...maybe I don't really want to help it...who knows?

One last note of remembrance. I ran the first 12, and 19 of 20 Vulcan Marathons in total here in Birmingham back in the 80's and 90's. The VM was pretty tough in that we hit one mile hills at 5 and 21 miles. At the crest of that last mile hill, for many years, was sitting a longtime friend of mine, Dick Casler. Dick was a casual runner, but didn't do many (if any) marathons. But, he would be sitting at the top of Red Mountain playing his accordion (yep, that's right) for the gasping runners. It was usually some polka or rendition of a song (un)suitable for an accordion. But, one year, as I gasped over the mountain, I wasn't in the mood for the Beer Barrel Polka so I asked Dick if he knew "Fly Me To The Moon". He said "no". I didn't see Dick for a year (who knows why), but as I crested that same hill 52 weeks later, Dick saw me coming and played the most off-pitch rendition of "Fly Me To The Moon" - definitely not a song to play on an accordion,as if there really is one. Every time I saw Dick after that, I always thanked him. It's funny how a little thing sometimes means a ton to you and you never forget. Dick moved to north Alabama several years ago and I lost touch. I read this week that Dick passed away. The world lost a good person. Dick had a giant soft spot and loved to help people in need...handicapped, homeless, etc., saying "God doesn't make junk".You hold onto memories and Dick occupies a golden one for me. I wonder if he ever really knew. I should have told him more.

That's it for this week guys. Don't forget to read Training With Al if you're gearing up for a marathon in the near future. Hopefully, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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