Yesterday, I cleared off my large porch, and gave out Halloween candy to the kids who showed up at my residence on Clarence Street…did have one little issue that told me that kids are a bit different than when I went out dressed as a Hobo in 1971-72… a young women, dressed as Cinderella came up to the door, cellphone to ear, after about eight other kids, and with the phone still going said, ” Oh, yeah, Trick or Treat!” Kind of strange….
On my walk last night, I walked down along the river, with the street lights and the full moon guiding me, my little voice in my ear, saying, ” You have thirty minutes to go, as I listened to Counting Crows and Joni Mitchell.” About seventy minutes into it, the battery died and it was quiet for my last twenty minutes and that was good.
I can only begin to fathom what the 134 young men are going through in these last few days before the Men’s Olympic Trials marathon. There are 134 different reasons to race this Saturday and 134 different reasons to have trained over the past year to make this day a reality. Eager reader Tim Wason has encouraged me to cut down from my top five to my final three team members for the marathon. I will do that, tomorrow, but I will name four, as is tradition.
Tonight, after my five mile walk, I will roast a goat, open some retsina (Greek white wine, tastes like pine sol that has been dragged through a dog house, it is, though, an acquired taste), and a few olives. I will then begin my final countdown to the column where several thoughtful readers will do their covers of , ” Mr. Eder, please stop smoking the crack pipe? Or, Mr. Eder, where doest thou place the crack pipe when not in use, in certain peaceful body parts? ” Oh, the travails of a modern day seer. Anyways, I have digressed. With less than one week to go, the possibilities of who will make the team is down to fifteen or so of those 134. In my heart of hearts, I want to see some young gun, who has run 1:15-2:17, get all revved up and start counting the bodies about 23 miles.
I also have a soft spot for the oldsters who have qualified, but are pulling a Greg Fredericks ( 1972, 1976 Olympic Trials, did not make team, but in 1980, took the second position on the 10,000 meter team), low balling all of their performances this year, keeping it quiet, and training with little or no fanfare. That is pretty hard to do now, with 5,000 TV stations, radio shows, websites and blogs. Some inquiring mind, say, in Senetobia, Mississippi would find out about a runner quietly running 140 mile weeks and sneaking out of town every three weeks to find a race to enter.
The deal is this. To make the team at this level requires several challenging skill sets: talent is helpful, although talent without training does not really work over 26.2 miles of macadam. The skill sets are a) finding a healthy training enviroment for oneself, b) healthy training, where one does not break down, but builds up both physically and mentally, and c) a certain amount of leg speed, say 28:30 10k /13:45 5k, d) ability to control one’s emotions to such an extent that no one can read how you feel in the race but you, e) very, very high pain threshold. The final fifteen, the guys who can change the course of this race will not be using brand new racing shoes, will not try a new meal during the week before, will sleep great four, three, and two nights out, knowing the last night means nothing, and will have a support team-coach, wife, girl friend, chaplain, parents, siblings–whatever works. I
n 1976, a new running shoe company gave out a new racing shoes. Many of the veteran runners, believe it or not, used the new shoes and paid a dear price for that mistake. Or trying a new sports drink during a race and having your race stop at the first porta john.
It happens to all runners at one time. It should not happen to runners at this level, but it does. I still have that Once a Runner theme running through my head. John Parker’s magnum opus about a miler searching for truth, the meaning of life and the perfect mile touched mine a few thousand other running geeks’ hearts not because it was about running, but because it was a well written book about finding meaning in one’s life. When I was running in college, the 4 books I had were Once a Runner, by John Parker, the Frank Shorter Story, by John Parker, Best Efforts by Kenny Moore, and Self Made Olympian by Ron Daws. Daws was my daily translator of Arthur Lydiard. I figured out hill training, high mileage, triple sweat suit runs to acclimatize myself to heat. I did a couple of weeks each summer in Yosemite, running 20k behind Half Dome in the mornings and 12k at night on the soft horse trails in the valley, getting ready for the cross country season in college.
The lessons one learns from a good race can only be appreciated after a few tough ones–but, isn’t that the way with life? At some point in a race, especially a race where the runner is very fit, knows it and is running just at the redline, there comes a moment of decision. Stay with it, play it safe, or give it your all? In every race, where I ran a significant personal best, the voice was there-settle for where you are, it’s okay. During the race on Saturday, this and many other thoughts will be dancing around the marathoner’s heads. The guy who makes a good break and has to keep running from the front is one cool character. The guy who runs for ten to fifteen miles with a couple of friends and has to choose to stay with them or make a run for third place is not a cool character. He is running on emotion and dreams.
At about 24 miles on Saturday, there will come a time, when at least one, perhaps all three of the positions could be up for grabs. The crowds will be cheering, the coaches and friends will be yelling, ” Two miles to go..” and the runner is in third place. In 1968, at the Olympic Trials, Ron Daws pulled up with Steve Matthews, who was faster, and had a better marathon pedigree. Dueling it out over the last two miles, Daws pushed ahead, hoping for the best, trying to break a guy who had run a sub 50 second quarter mile. Daws somehow pushed his body to get a small lead over Matthews, who faltered, and held off, by less than eleven seconds, Bob Deines, who was the one of the best of the new breed of American marathoners. This race has some many great athletes that the race will be hugely competitive. There will be some surprises, because, in the end, running is a sport, it is not a game. It is not roller derby or professional wrestling, or for that matter, professional baseball. In the end, the guy with the most heart, the most soul, the most luck, and the most focus can win.
In 2004, it was Alan Culpepper, Meb Keflizighi and Dan Browne. In 2008, who will it be now? Consider that one on your run or walk tonight, little grasshopper.