grateful it ever happened or something. Actually, I think it kind of
perfect usually happens when you’re young, though. You just don’t see
time, just nobody notices.
Have you ever noticed the most important things happen when we’re
too young to understand that some big deal is going on? I think God
should sort of tap you on the shoulder and say “Pay attention, you’re
Anyway, this perfect deal happened when I was not quite 16. I was
sort of a jock. Well, a track guy. A lot of people don’t think of
track guys as jocks. I’d been this real scrawny kid, sort of the
class nerd, all my life. And I was a year younger than most of the
other kids in my class, which I didn’t like much. Everyone else was
driving and had dates and stuff. I didn’t date, though. I mean I
wanted to date, but I would’ve had to beg some guy to double date. I
that. Besides, what I really wanted was a date with like some
have probably ended up with some real chubby girl or something. And
she’d have probably been wishing she was with somebody else the whole
So, I guess I thought if maybe I was a jock or something, then
girls would notice me. But most of the jock stuff I tried, I pretty
much just got my butt kicked. I was really small, and I seem to
this like mondo jock in college. He tried to not be disappointed
about the butt-kicking stuff, but he was anyway. You can always tell
when your parents are trying to not be disappointed. I think maybe
that’s worse than when they’re screaming at you. But he wasn’t around
much, my dad, so I guess it really wasn’t a big deal or anything.
Anyway, I tried track when I was a freshman in high school. I
mean, you hardly ever see track guys getting their butts knocked off,
and I guess running seemed kind of natural. I’d had a lot of
experience at that.
You know, you always read — well you don’t always read, since
nobody writes that much about running track, except in those runner’s
really don’t think they like it, though, most of them. Except for the
ones that are really out there getting some sort of huge endorphin
to like it, since they feel like they have to. I mean, since they’re
writing about it. I don’t think a running magazine would buy an
article from some guy about how he hates running.
Anyway, when you do read about guys who run track, they always
saying stuff like “I prefer track because of the individuality of the
competition” or “I like that I’m only competing with myself.” I think
that’s bull*censored*, mostly. I think mostly guys run track cause they’re
fast, and couldn’t play football.
And I was really pretty good at it. Not like I was going to the
Olympics or anything, but I made the varsity as a freshman, which was
kind of unusual. It was kind of funny. I was good at all the events,
but not great at any of them. I was kind of a track utility guy. I
could run everything from the 100-yard dash to the mile. I don’t know
if you know much about track, but that’s real unusual. Most of the
time you’ve got your distance guys and your sprinting guys, but I
could do all of them.
At first I was mostly relay fodder, you know, just running on the
relay teams. But by my sophomore year I was running a lot of
individual events, especially the mile and half-mile. I liked the
pointless stupidity of it all. The whole thing consists of going
around in a circle, again and again. The goal is to go around the
circle a little faster than everybody else. When everything’s said
and done, though, you’re right back where you started, only you’re
real tired and sweaty. Oh, and sometimes you get to puke, too. I
really think they should give style points in track, like they do in
gymnastics. You know, take a few seconds off some guy time if he
looks like he’s really enjoying it, or has a great stride or
Anyway, I was a lot faster sprinter than the real distance
runners, so I would sort of lag back for most of the race and then
run like a bastard the last 200 yards. Usually, I’d pass most of the
field. Seems like I’d always finish second or third, though. The
coach was always telling me to run the whole race, not just sprint at
the end. He thought I’d do better that way, but I didn’t really think
speed. And people really kind of got excited when I was sprinting
that last 200 yards. I mean, even while I was running and all, I
could see them screaming in the stands. I don’t think they’d have
gotten so interested if the finish wasn’t exciting. I guess I sort of
liked that, seeing the girls yelling for me and everything.
Anyway, I was going to tell you about that time I was perfect.
See, after my sophomore year, I was still 15. That was sort of a
disadvantage in high school track, but the AAU has the Junior
Olympics every year or two. And there was an age group in track just
for people under 16. So I figured, most of the kids in this age
group, they hadn’t run high school track like I had, so maybe I’d
have an advantage if I entered. The first meets at the city and state
levels, I pretty much cleaned up. And the best part was the finals
for the Tri-State region were in Memphis, where I lived.
It’s not like there’s really a home field advantage in track or
anything, but I tried to psych myself up that there was. You see, the
top three finishers got to run in the Southeast region, which seemed
like a really big deal at the time. Anyhow, about a week before the
meet, we got this notice about who was running in it, and how fast
they’d run in their qualifying races. I guess my bubble really burst
then, because almost every guy entered had faster times than I did.
And there was this one kid who was only 14, but was like the next Jim
Ryan or something. It was pretty clear that I was outclassed.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, my dad decided he was going to
come. He brought his wife, too. I think that was the third wife. Real
cute blonde bimbo about 50 years younger than him. I’d been running
for two years, and they’d never had time to work one of my races into
their busy social schedule.
But this time, this guy who worked for my dad had a kid running in
another race. He knew I was running, and I guess he was trying to
schmooze up to dad or something, telling him how great it was them
to watch me run. Or probably, he was really coming so this other guy
would see him watching me run.
So right before the race, I try to break the news to my dad that
I’m going to get creamed. I try to start out gently, you know, saying
I hope maybe I can get third, so I can go to the regional finals.
Well, he just goes ape*censored*, standing up and getting all red. “Losers
are guys who don’t think they can win,” he says. And “I always ran to
win, I always played to win.” And on and on. So I just kind of left
with him mouthing at me. I guess he was real disappointed his kid
wasn’t going to kick some butt, what with his employee there and all.
And as if my parents being there wasn’t bad enough, the guy in
charge of organizing the mile comes up to me and asks if I’ll be a
rabbit, since he knows I’m not exactly competitive with these guys. A
rabbit is a guy who goes out and runs the first half of the race
really fast, then drops out. That helps the other guys push
themselves and get good times, and this organizer wants his race to
have the fastest times in the region.
Well, I figured since I’m not going to win or anything, I can do
that. And I guess I thought, you know, I might as well lead for a
while. I kind of thought maybe dad would think that at least I tried
hard and stuff. And maybe instead of quitting at the halfway point, I
can just slow down and at least finish.
So they line us up to start, and off we go. Now I figure since I’m
supposed to be the rabbit, I’ll just run my usual half-mile pace. The
field sticks with me around the first turn, just starting to string
out. If you’ve never run a mile, its about half-way through the first
turn where you sort of loosen up and just get into your rhythm. So we
come out of the turn, and I’m feeling real smooth and loose. Which is
the race. But now I’m feeling real good. And I’d never lead a race
early like this, so its kind of cool. Some guys I know are clapping
and cheering. They think I’m really doing great or something. I mean,
they’re all sprinters and field guys, so they don’t really have a
clue that the guy in front at first is gonna get toasted later on.
Anyway, I’m feeling good, but I got to admit I’m a little pissed
off about them asking me to be the rabbit and all, so I figure I’ll
kind of *censored* with their minds a little. So on the backstretch I open
up a little. Not too much, cause there’s no way I’m not going to
finish that first half mile, but enough to put a few yards between me
and the pack. Now these guys are all pretty good runners, and they
know better than to put out that much energy this early. They’re
running smart races. But I know they’ve got to be wondering what was
I doing. And really, I couldn’t tell you. I guess I was just pissed
off. And maybe I thought I would like have a moment in the spotlight
So we go through the second turn. That second turn’s when I
usually start breathing hard. You really have to consciously control
your breathing when that happens. See, if your breathing gets ragged,
you start losing you stride. If you lose your stride, suddenly
instead of just running smooth, everything gets sort of uncoordinated
and you really slow up. But if you control your breathing for a few
seconds, you start this real regular, fast deep breathing and
everything gets back to normal. You can lose a lot of distance if you
let your breathing get ragged during that transition.
Well, what with that show-off sprint in the back stretch, I
struggled a little more than usual getting my breathing right, and I
lost my stride some. Not much, but enough to slow me down for a dozen
steps or so, and the field caught up. But once I got my stride back,
I decided I’m going to get a lead before the home stretch, so I
opened up again for 50 yards. And that was what it really was all
about, I guess, because I sure remember leading the pack up the home
stretch, right in front of the grandstand. And I was trying not to
grin. I mean I didn’t grin or anything, but I sure felt like
When we went past the start/finish line, a timer was yelling the
lap time “Sixty-four, sixty-four,” which was really fast. Myself, I
usually never went below 70 seconds on the first lap, but then I
never ran below 4:50 for the mile. But some of the guys in that field
could approach 4:30, so I figured the lap time was just right for
And around we went again. I tried really hard to keep the pace
exactly the same, which was kind of difficult for me. I’d never run
in front before, so this was really a new experience. But I figured
if I was slowing down too much, someone would have passed me. Anyway,
I made it through that second lap, and the half-mile time was 2:12,
which was about as perfect as you could do.
Now a real rabbit, he would just run off the track into the
infield after the second lap, but I was going to try to finish. Since
I hadn’t run off the track, the guys behind me would have to run
outside of me to pass in the turn, making them run an extra distance.
I didn’t want to screw up anybody’s time or anything, so I tried
really hard to keep the pace up through the turn on that third lap.
But as soon as we got onto the backstretch one of the hotshots blew
past me. By the end of the backstretch, another went by. But
actually, I was kind of surprised that the whole field wasn’t past
me. I mean, I was really starting to labor by then. I huffed through
the turn still in third place, though. What I hadn’t realized, I
guess, is that I’d really strung out a lot of the field on those
first two laps.
For one glorious moment when I realized I was still in third
place, I really started to think that maybe I had a shot at that last
spot going to the regional finals. But going down the home stretch
another person swung out to pass me. I tried to pick my pace up,
thinking if I could just hold him outside till the turn came up,
maybe having to run that extra distance around the turn would keep
him from passing me. But I didn’t have anything left to pick up with.
He went prancing by, right in front of the grandstand, while I seemed
to be running in mud.
Finishing the home stretch took an eternity, and by the time I
started the front turn for the last time I as running back on my
heels. And I heard another runner close behind. Running on your
heels, that’s the death rattle of a distance runner. When you’re
running you stay on your toes. Your heels never touch the ground.
When you’ve shot your wad, and your leg muscles start to knot up,
feel a kind of jarring impact with each step. When that happens, it’s
time to drop out and quit.
But I really wanted to finish the race. Now don’t get me wrong.
Finishing things I started wasn’t real common behavior for me, even
back then. But I guess I didn’t wanted to hear what a quitter I was
from my superjock dad. And I guess I was still pissed about being the
rabbit, at least a little bit. So I just kept plodding around the
first turn. And the guy behind me realized I was toast, and decided
to just wait till the back stretch to take me. Or maybe he didn’t
give a *censored*, since the first three finishers were at least 10 yards
ahead of us by then. They had that regional trip all locked up.
I don’t remember most of that turn, but I sure remember entering
the backstretch. This was the fourth time in four minutes I’d been
there, but it sure looked different. For a moment that lasted forever
I just stared down that backstretch. The last turn seemed two miles
away, and I realized I couldn’t possibly make it. I couldn’t even
When the guy behind me swung out to pass, I saw it was the 14-
year-old whiz kid. I sort of glanced over at him, and you could tell
from his face he thought he could catch the guys 10 yards ahead of
us, which was crazy. I mean, in a local race, at a local pace, I
could maybe make up 10 yards. But I was a closet sprinter. This kid
was a miler, and this wasn’t the local competition.
Do you know much about running distance in track? Well, I tell
you, there’s more to it than just being the best runner. Sometimes
there’s a lot of pushing and shoving, and in those days we wore these
shoes with half inch long spikes for traction. Those spikes were
weapons, and you learned pretty quick not to let someone get real
close behind you. I’d lost a couple of races when someone stuck his
spikes in my calf, but I guess I might have won a couple that way,
Well, as this kid swings out behind me, he nicks me with his
spikes. Not badly, but really unnecessary, since it was obvious I was
no competition. I guess being young, he didn’t realize you should
wait till you’re out of range before you pull that *censored*. He was still
right beside me, and by reflex I sort of elbowed him on his hip,
which threw him totally off his stride. You can get away with using
your outside arm like that in the backstretch, since the officials
are all on the other side of the track.
It took him a couple of steps to get his balance back, which put
him a yard behind me. I knew those spikes would be clawing my leg
next time he went by, and out of some self-preservation reflex,
suddenly I was sprinting. I mean a second ago, I could barely keep
running, and now I’ve started a sprint 300 yards away from the
want any more spikes in my leg, or something.
I do remember thinking I’d just keep going as long as I could. I
don’t know what I thought would happen after that. Maybe I’d cramp up
or something, so I could sort of quit with honor. I’m not sure,
exactly. And I remember hearing that angry kid pounding behind me,
trying to catch up. At least I had the satisfaction of ruining his
finishing sprint by making him start too early.
I don’t remember much about that last 300 yards. Pain. I remember
a lot of pain, and later people told me I was wobbling from side to
side, sort of staggering up the finish stretch. I guess they were
hollering and stuff, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t even know what
place I’d come in until someone told me later. One of my friends told
me that my mouth was gaping open and I was sort of spraying saliva
thing they weren’t giving style points in that race.
I didn’t care if the girls were cheering, or my dad was proud of
me, or if I was running on my heels. I didn’t care if I staggered and
wobbled, or even if I won. You know, for a minute there, I just
didn’t care about anybody or what they thought about me. I just kept
running really hard and fast after I should have quit. I know you
guys are about to bust a gut to ask me, “How did I feel?” and all
that psychobabble crap. I felt like puking, OK? That’s about all I
If this was a movie or something, I’d probably tell you how I won
the race. It was pretty close actually. I kept going those 300 yards
finished that race in 4:38, almost 15 seconds faster than I’d ever
run before, or would ever run again. I came in second, one-tenth of a
second behind the winner, one-tenth ahead of the third place guy.
Or maybe I’d tell you how I found my true spirit that day and went
on to be some famous track guy. Oh, I made my trip to the regionals,
where I finished dead last. I never ran in competition again after
that. My senior year, I just couldn’t get really interested in it.
And I didn’t find some inner peace that day and become a popular,
self confident type guy. I guess we all know that didn’t happen.
Now that I’m talking about it like this, it seems that what
happened that day wasn’t very important. Kind of like the rest of my
life, I guess. I went around in circles for a while, trying to look
good and busting my ass just to get back where I started. After that
I laid on the ground and hurt. Oh, yeah, and I puked, too. Probably
some people were a little interested and entertained for a while, but
Except maybe mine, a little bit. Sometimes I see these people that
seem to have everything. You know, those smart, good looking, rich
guys with the arm candy wives. Sometimes I get real jealous of those
guys with their perfect lives. Most of the time, though, I think,
“Hey, I was perfect, once, for a little while. But it took an
incredible amount of effort, it really didn’t matter, and I made
myself sick doing it.”