Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Longest Kilometer: One Man's Journey

Chilly day, breezy, people wearing toboggan hats, black tights.

The annual Christmas Run for All People! I had spent the last two days training my ass off for this thing. I may be old, but I'm not frail, not decrepit, I can still get it done. Like George Carlin, I enjoy visiting medical supplies stores and looking at all the things I don't need yet.

So let's go! I wish everyone would stop milling about and taking selfies and letting their creepy little rat-sized dogs shit next to the apples and bananas stand, stop with those silly choreographed warmups and stretches and jumpin jacks, and get this competition started!

I am pumped!

I will lay waste to this pack of dorks dressed as elves and Santa's helpers and fairies and Santa himself, and even one as Joseph, the poor patient third-wheel Jewish carpenter of the first century.
Post-race rehydration is critical.

Finally, the clown holding the bull horn bellows out: "Are you ready for the Christmas Run for All People, 5K runners? Lemme hear ya! Yeah, yeah, that's right . . . "

Etc., etc., then he fires his Glock!

Now it's on, bro, it's on, and on and on we go, my rigorous training already paying dividends as I move quickly past an obese woman and a man who appears to be her grandfather.

"Move it, move it, move it, move OVER, goddangit."

What is wrong with people? Now a group of high-school girls wearing pink tutus flaring out over their black tights, just yards into the race, already they're gabbing about some guy being "sooooo cute!" 

Don't mind me, ladies, I'll just run on the grassy shoulder. So what if I turn an ankle?! The important thing is that you finish your godforsaken conversation.

Twenty seconds in, hurting for oxygen, my mind goes into that drifting, meandering, surreal mode so many experience before they fall asleep. Scenes from my boyhood flash by, the bad haircut from a substitute barber, my regular barber recently killed in a combine accident, the sub not getting the hair just right (breathe! breathe, dammit!), not noticing till my mom and I get back in the car and I see myself in the rear-view mirror, no, no, no, not like this, and back in we went, and finally, after two more cuts and two more trips to the car, it was close enough, but God, how I grieved for the barber whose mangled body was buried just the day before. Where is the justice?

A young couple next to me hold hands, the woman pecks the guy's cheek in mid-stride. I had seen them earlier, the woman taking a selfie of them during the "Star Spangled Banner," a crotchety veteran scowling in disapproval, photo-bombing them from behind, that'll teach'em, goddanged millennials who've never seen an M-16, never held a drunk brother-in-arms in their arms as he ralphed up last night's case of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the barracks floor.

Just as I feel I can go no more, I see the 1-mile marker ahead and now I know, I can do this, I can do this, there can't be that many miles in a 5K, probably fewer than 5. I look back to see how many runners trail me, and OH MY GOD, NO, NO! 

Three reindeer are gaining ground on me, but I'm not sure, they may be caribou, but in my exhaustion, I can't remember the difference between them -- maybe caribou and reindeer are actually the same, they're getting closer, and as God is my witness it comes to me suddenly, reindeer have an average lifespan of about 4.5 years in the wild, but caribou . . .

Wait. It's only a family wearing pretend antlers on their Santa caps. I feel foolish, sure, but charge on, pushing myself, gutting it out, when I see -- this is inevitable -- just before the 1-mile marker a woman has shat her pants, the runny excess exiting her silky pink shorts, making its way quickly toward her calves, but she has not trained this long to be sabotaged by an untimely bowel movement (she now distinctly remembers her husband saying last night "ixNay on the alapenoHay-adenLay urritosBay!") so on she goes, on and on, a small group of Brownie Scouts cheering her on, offering tiny travel-size rolls of bathroom tissue, but no, no time for that, and on and on, victory before dignity!

I gasp for air as I approach the 1-mile marker, and to my side I see the couple once more and I notice the woman is pregnant, early stages, maybe that's why I had not noticed this before, should she be running a 5K while carrying a child in her uterus?

My heart sinks as a woman runs by carrying a huge flag, the kind rednecks fly on the back of their pickups, and I remember, "I am in America," something I would've forgotten had the grassy shoulders not been littered with trash, squeezed Natural Light beer cans, a greasy Sonic tater-tot container, a wrinkled Big Mac wrapper,a cracked CD (Michael Bolton's White on Black), and on and on.

And now the hills begin. It is Winter Springs, and the EKG terrain is legendary, a series of sharp slopes and steep declines, but I will not give up. Entering the second mile, I see a woman effortlessly, gracefully vomit without missing a stride, like a point guard making a no-look pass, a veteran runner, this is nothing new to her, just another wasted cinnamon-raisin bagel, exiting her mouth like a bad story.

I myself feel the urge to toss my grits, to have a technicolor yawn, to become the Prince of Peristalsis, but it's not from fatigue. Some dingledorf man races toward us from the front, clearly having lost his way, and he wears nothing but what appear to be women's panties, firetruck red, barely large enough to cover his tools of reproduction, his skin as clammy and jaundiced as a lightly tanned toad belly, he's wearing a Santa wig, his head and face encased mummy-like with white cotton. Oh, the horror! The horror!

Mile 2 goes by in a haze, an Eisenteinian montage of heavily armed police making sure we stay on the trail, heart-attack searchers on racing bikes, making sure the stricken receive timely attention, a toddler abandoned on the shoulder, crying out like Sophie's daughter, and on and on. 

I will not stop, I start to get my second wind, but, no, I settle for my first, and the couple next to me are now pushing a baby carriage -- I hadn't noticed it before -- and I can barely hear the woman saying something about "down time" and "space of my own" and "my needs," and I try to surge ahead of them.

Suddenly I hear cheering and more bullshit coming from the bull horn, some sort of festival, and that's when it hits me, the Finish line, so near now, closer and closer, and I see maybe 20 yards ahead of me an octogenarian creeping along with his chrome walker, inching his way doggedly to the line like an overfed snail on Xanax. 

This must not pass! Just as the woman from the couple tells the man that she and the baby will be staying with her mother tonight, I kick it, I sprint, I floor it, trying desperately to think of the term for running very fast near the end of a race, and blow past the old coot and his walker. For his fame, he must wait another day!

I hear cheers, I'm pretty sure it's cheers, a lovely young woman, probably the Christmas Run for All People Queen, hands me the winner's medal, which has been crafted to strongly resemble everyone else's. Everyone wants to greet me, to jump up and down with me as if we had just won the World Series, but they somehow restrain themselves and continue chatting, allowing me to bask in my glory alone, as it should be, the 40:00 5K glass ceiling finally broken by almost a second.

Shoe endorsements are surely to follow and when I next win, by God, I'll take off my velcro Stein Mart Remainder Carousel Slightly Flawed Irregulars and wave'm like a flag!  
A champion displays his medal.


  1. I really wish all of this stuff were in a book form so I could hold it to my heart whilst I crow with delight!! (can you at least do Lulu???)

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  3. I'm just gol-danged proud a' you, Roy-boy! You did it, you waxed that ol' geezer and won one for the home team! Watch out 10 K-ers!

  4. How do you do this??? Loved it. Barbara