War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. *
– The character of The Judge, Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
To experience the endocrine soup of emotion and adrenaline and fear and acute nausea during competition is to live inside for just a few moments a controlled pantomime of something like war. Survival and victory bring with them sweet and addictive feelings that tempt although the risk is defeat and its punishment is the lowest pit imaginable. Running is a special sport because death and contact are pruned away and raw instinct unfolds on a well defined stage with simple rules. Running challenges: it bullies normalcy; roughs a sure footed path up. Come failure or come victory, you lived.
Getting pulled off the start line of a 1500 seconds before the gun because of weather doesn’t feel good. I’ll call it blue shoes. (I was in fact wearing blue Reebok spikes) Just before section one of the Hoka One One middle distance classic 1500 began, lightening struck to the west of Occidental College’s track. The race started anyway and as my section trotted and did strides and cantered around like unbroken horses fat drops of water started plunking on the track and then hail began bouncing. The officials lined us up then said “two minutes” which means go be horses again. After another shakeout stride they called it off and began a 30 minute meet delay.
The game during a delay is to maintain emotional and physical preparedness across a series of observed lightening strikes unknown in number without wasting energy. The irony of this storm quenching southern California’s thirst in the exact moment we needed Los Angeles to make it just one more hour without a drink was not lost on me and gave me some solace as I wondered how much positive karma this was worth. It was like a grade school tornado drill, everyone lounging in the gym and basement waiting for word. The word came a few times and it was additional delay. The guys in my heat once began re-warming up but were stopped in our tracks when another delay was handed down. Like simon says at a roller skating rink in middle school, except they just said go race without the simon says part.
Eventually the entire remainder of the meet was cancelled about 75 minutes after I was originally scheduled to race. My first thought was an expletive and my second was lets go unofficially time trial. I didn’t build myself up for battle only to be denied. That would be like laying siege for two weeks until my next race. I was feeling incredible and knew I was ready rip a good 1500. But asking around there wasn’t a lot of interest and we weren’t even sure if they’d let us on the track, which proved true.
A couple minutes after I started running on one of the treadmills in the Oxy fitness center next to the track Donn Cabral joined me and we started scheming a workout that would at least temper what we called our bloodlust. We both have similar attitudes when it comes to working out and we were both on board for some work together like times at Princeton. Outside the rain had lessened but sporadic lightening lit the sky up electric blue and illuminated the clouds menacing. There was standing water in lanes one and two on the backstretch that would have been great for skim boarding, but the rain had lessened to a drizzle.
Donn and I made it through a 1200 in 3:11 with meet management hollering at us to leave the track for our safety the whole time. We had to cut our plan short but props to them for doing their job and keeping things safe. We went back inside and joined Tony Jordanek on the treadmills and decided on a tempo run. This whole time, still on edge and the race nerves rattling. It was about ten o’clock. Two miles into the tempo meet volunteers told us they were closing the place for the night in ten minutes. The running gods might have been trying to tell us something. Or maybe testing us. We did 5:45, 5:15, 4:57, 4:45 miles on our treadmill tempo, burning away the pent up energy.
When Donn and I left the trackside facilities, walked to the car and did a short cool down, the LA night was still and clear and resting as if from some great exertion had left it breathing evenly and slowly and relieved.
The Judge might agree that running unifies us in the test of our will against our spiked counterparts. Training and racing and living running have brought us all to our current existence. All of these meets are an undulating topography of highs and lows: in the anticipation and buildup of race day to the glances and silence and nods between men and women about to spill their hearts and plunge their lungs in blackness against one another, to the soaring high post race with its relief and smiles and chatter and communal cool downs in which everyone comes back to ground level and bonds are made. It’s a curve that takes some bravery to venture up onto but there is reward emotionally and physically fulfilling on its backside, sometimes even when you don’t get to race.
*I should say that in Blood Meridian the Judge is one of the most dark characters I’ve ever met and he may represent the devil or (McCarthy’s opinion!) worse the true nature of mankind, so take everything he says (and I say) with a grain of sodium chloride, as you should to keep your electrolyte intake up anyway.
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|John and I rolling some speed work last week – 600, 3 x 300, 500, 2 x 300, 400, 1 x 300, 800
all at under under mile pace.
It’s back to Zap for two weeks of training and spring in the high country. (Here is my account of a recent rainstorm that is too long to include.) Everything is green and adult running camps are beginning soon and this time of year is always exciting around the Zap campus. In two weeks I’ll end the siege with a well set up 1500 in Greenville, SC with Furman Elite and other studs.
Ten days later John Simons and I will have the opportunity to do something special. We are coming home to Milwaukee and running a sub four mile attempt in the Wisco Mile at Wisconsin Lutheran high school. The Wisconsin soil record of 3:56.38 set by Matt Tegenkamp in 2006 is in our sights and only two men have run under the barrier in Wisconsin’s great 167 year history – Tegnekamp and Chris Solinsky in that same race in Madison in ’06. If you, your family, and/or friends are in Milwaukee on June 10th make sure to come out and witness history. Races begin at 6pm and the “Super Mile” is at 8:40. More info at WiscoMile.com.
I view track season in two halves: everything up to and including the US Track and Field Championships in late June, and everything after that until late August. The first half goal is to grab those pesky US “A” standards of 13:32 5k and 3:39.0 1500. The opportunities we have set up are the Furman 1500 and the Portland Track Fest 5000 on June 14th. The second half will most likely include July racing on the European circuit in Belgium and Ireland then domestic meets in August out west and here in North Carolina. We plan to run this puppy all the way into September road racing before taking a major break. Racing will (baring more storms) be heating up soon and there’ll be many stories to tell. Thanks for reading!Upcoming Race Schedule
|Venue / Distance
|SC Track Classic
|Portland Track Fesitval
|US Track and Field Championships