As spring has begun to show its colors, and the fish-belly-white ghosts of Winter have slowly but surely been roused from hibernation, outdoor door activities are finally resuming. And thank god—the cabin fever had everyone antsy. Even the ants themselves were getting antsy. Of course, though the warm temps are a net positive following winter’s deluge, for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction: allergy season. Everyone’s nose is leaking like the Exxon Valdez. You walk into a classroom, you’re treated to a symphony of Kleenex honks. We’re like DC’s Poison Ivy— our blood stream is three-fourths Zyrtec.
But to the runners of the world, an itchy nose is but a flesh wound. Hell, they’ll go out in negative twenty degree weather in those 1960s ultra-high basketball shorts. “Oh, ‘tis just a breeze…” They return from their ten-miler, frozen in an ice block like the squirrel in “Ice Age,” having been sprayed by Mr. Freeze…
Running is a curious thing. Just ask J.R.R Tolkien— half of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was merely superfluous description of Frodo and Sam journeying across Middle Earth. Running for exercise…to some, it’s a beloved companion; to others, complete and utter anathema. It’s like Tom Brady; you either love him or hate him. As a runner myself, I’m all too acquainted with the dichotomy. So, for those who think of running as a benign little hobby akin to collecting stamps or eating bugs, I pray this article will radically reverse those schemas.
It all starts at the shoe store. That’s the foot in the door, the gateway drug. First, the guy brings you to the Asics aisle—maybe he thinks you’re shopping for your grandpa. You try them on, walk around as if you just exited a vortex tunnel…use the little floor mirror to assess the design, see what it looks like from your cat’s POV…so they fit. What’s that? Two hundred smacks? Oh, it has the gliderail technology? Anti-gravity insoles? Yeah, sure, what’s two hundred bucks?
And then there’s the runner socks. The salesmen act as if the wool comes from Abraham’s sheep in Genesis. Hand-woven, even, by Loyola’s Sister Jean. For the price, they sure as hell better be laced with something out of Miracle Max’s hut in “The Princess Bride.”
Armed for war, you get out there, start a-running. After the first mile, you’re already starting to question everything. Mark Twain once said that worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe—same applies for running. You’re donating a lung nobody needs. Eating snails for amusement doesn’t sound so bad a hobby anymore.
But then the torture ends, and the “runner’s high” hits, and the endorphins are doing a tango. Still, man are you sore. So you go looking for a foam roller. Runners—they can’t get enough of these. If you’re really looking to make a racket, simply rent out a big honking steamroller, plant yourself at the finish line of a marathon, and wait for the money to roll in.
Chocolate milk comes to mind, too, for post-workout necessities. What is this? What’s the deal with chocolate milk? Everyone thinks it’s like ambrosia— will bring immortality to those who consume it. What, you think one pint will suddenly have you pumping iron like Mark Wahlberg?
But chocolate milk alone doesn’t tide you over. You’re ravenous. See, when you get into the habit of running, you think you’ve got the diet of Andre the Giant— you’re invincible. You’re a guest at the Immortality Field Resort in “Rick and Morty.” You can down five stacks at IHOP, no problem.
Tolerance builds up and soon you’re running five days a week, no sweat. When I’m running, I’d like to think I look like Sonic the Hedgehog or Flash, you know, break the sonic barrier and all… in reality, I look like Joe Biden ascending the stairs of Air Force One. To compound this, on the rainy days, the campus sidewalk looks like the Dagobah swamp in “Empire Strikes Back”—I’m hopscotching my way around the pools of water like this is the Mushroom Gorge course in “Mario Kart.” Seriously, you need a canoe just to make it from Meredith to FAC.
As we discussed earlier, there are those runners who put in the miles rain or shine, snow or derecho. These are the same pavement-pounders who go out at 11 o’clock at night, run the streets in a high-visibility yellow reflective safety vest and don the high-beam headlamp, look like a lost coal miner… I mean, in this garb, they could jut through the construction site for an alien hospital in Area 51 and no one would bat an eye. Why 11 at night, though? Because during the day, the neighbors are out. And you know what that means.
The “good neighbor” smile.
I hate when people give you this obligatory eye squint. You know the one. Scrunch their face up as if they just stepped on a lego… they pass by—it’s only courteous to reciprocate. When I was a kid, my parents used to warn me that if I crossed my eyes for too long, they’d get stuck that way. These wretched eye-squinters—I think they should be stuck that way. You know, freeze them in carbonite with the expression on their face. Then put them up on a display right smack in the middle of the town square with a message etched on the base of the monument: “This is not a smile.” When you’re running, however, that squint—or, rather, that wave—there’s no need to put up that feigned acknowledgement anymore. It’s liberating. You’re going too fast—don’t have time to gesture. It’s like when you’re walking on the sidewalk, and a car passes by, presumably with someone in it you know, but all you hear is “EEEEE…” That’s what passing a neighbor while running is like.
For the real runners in town, Relays is here. The 5k seems to be a popular event. Right before 5Ks, you got all sorts of characters flanking the starting line. Most notably, there’s the fifty-year-old dads, dressed as if they’re heading directly to a casting call for “Justice League 4” after the race. They’re doing all sorts of unidentifiable stretches, you know, like birds doing a mating dance or something. They’re donning one of those headbands like Mark Knopfler…
Not to cast aspersions on anyone, but— in my experience, runners, sorry to say, often don’t find the time to wash their hands. They must be experiencing life at a faster pace; I don’t know. They’re out there on the course, doing the farmer blow, going for distance with the hock-a-loogie game… if given the choice between shaking the hand of a cross country runner or the Mucinex booger guy, I’d have to go with the latter.
Then there’s the track and field events. Absent are the cushy Brooks of the road runners. Track stars have spikes. Sharp as a butcher’s knife. I’d rather be hit by a morning star than grazed by one of these cleats. No joke, I could easily see a track event descend into a Roman Colosseum fight. It’s easy to see why: A, the track smells like a 1960s car shop, so at the outset, smells are already unpleasant. And B, psychologists say heat increases levels of aggression. It always seems to be hot on the track, no matter the time of year. On one of these Sahara-scorching hot days, I feel like the guy who shoots the start gun is gonna load the chamber for real and fire it at the first thing that moves.
Which might not end well.
Maybe, then, Relays should have a cheese-rolling event. You know, like the one they host in the UK, chase a block of cheese down a hill? You think about it, it basically satisfies all the requirements of a sport: it’s physically taxing, and at the conclusion of the game, you get to consume more dairy. And aside from a few broken limbs, there’s virtually no risk.