My Miserable Marathon, Part I

Marathon3

When I turned 51 several months ago, it suddenly occurred to me that I was unlikely to live forever. With that miserable realization hovering overhead like a personal black cloud, I found myself making a bucket list.

Having two kids in college pretty much removed the Corvette, the beach house, and the trip around the world from the list. And, as for more prurient pursuits, I’m not even sure Cheryl Tiegs is alive anymore. So, that really left only one thing: This loyal citizen of Recliner Nation would take the tattered remnants of his knees and ankles and try to run my first marathon.

Because I was going to do all my training in Corpus Christi, which is like running on a pool table, the course had to be flat. I figured the Houston Marathon must be about the flattest around. But, incredibly, even though there are slots for 11,000 runners, there are far more people who want to run than there are slots. That’s why you have to enter a selection lottery and submit your credit card number, which is immediately charged a $115 fee if you’re selected.

Naturally, the only lottery in my life I prayed I wouldn’t win, I won, and, also naturally, it cost me money. In Ireland, they say if you want to climb over a very high wall, throw your cap over it. That $115 was my cap sailing over the wall. I found an 18-week training schedule free on the web (so you know it must be great) and, ignoring my wife and kids’ good advice, took to the roads.

At first, it wasn’t so bad; my creaky joints seemed to be holding up well. In the middle of a 14 mile run, I’d look down at my knees pumping as reliably as pistons and wonder whose they were. In my mind, I’d ask them over and over, “Why didn’t you guys tell me you could do this before?” And they’d always answer, “Because you never asked.”

But, the 18 miler killed me. My right ankle swelled up and both Achilles tendons blew out. I laid off the next six days and then set out on the longest training run on the schedule, a 20 miler. I finished, but it hurt. The next day, it was worse. So, with visions of heated, buzzing machines and blonde, Swedish masseuses dancing in my head, I happily went off to see a physical therapist.

It was pain the likes of which I’d never experienced. The treatment consisted of the therapist locating the sorest spots, and then pressing on them with both thumbs as hard as he could. My response to the treatment consisted of spouting curses loud enough for those scared, cowering souls in the waiting room to hear. Weirdly enough though, the therapy seems to be working.

The Houston Marathon is next month. Thanks to all the injuries, I will have run only a total of 4 miles in the 3 weeks before the race. I suspect that’s not going to help me finish. But I’ll be at the starting line, no matter what. Because I’ve discovered a place about 12 miles out where all your troubles and broken dreams fade away, and it’s just you and a sunny day and the open road, like it used to be all those years ago.

Golf Is A Genetic Disorder

2013-01-01 00.27.24

Heaven knows we can’t help what we love, and my father was helplessly in love with golf. He naturally assumed that his teenage son would be too. But, as much as I liked being with him, I’ve always loathed the game, and it showed in the quality of my play. Of all our misadventures on the links, one lives on in my most vivid nightmares.

For the thousandth time, I stood forlornly over the ball as dad began his tireless litany, “Head down, eye on the ball, left arm straight, hips loose as a goose (then he’d shimmy like Shakira), backswing low and slow, swing through the ball.” It was like driving a car while reading the owner’s manual and resulted in a herky-jerky swing that produced a ball flight consistent only in its absolute unpredictability.

I was just about to hit my drive, when I noticed a course employee had stopped his maintenance cart on the path about 100 yards ahead of us. I waved him on, but he motioned for me to go ahead and hit. My father told me to swing away, there was no way I’d hit him.

Like a dimpled laser beam, the ball’s trajectory varied nary an inch in any direction. The worker dove head-first from the cart, like Pete Rose sliding into second. There was a loud clang as the ball hit the metal fender inches from where he’d been sitting. He quickly got to his feet, yelling and angrily gesturing at me.

I’d fallen to my knees as I’d watched the horror unfolding before me. Dad and I looked at each other in wide-mouthed wonder. I slowly collected myself and said from my knees, “If I’d wanted to hit him, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere near him.” My father, the astonished look still on his face, nodded in mute agreement to the absolute truth of what I’d just said.

Cynics say that parents, like my father, who push children in the direction of their own broken dreams are trying to live through their kids. The truth is, they want their kids’ lives to be perfect. And those childhood dreams of playing centerfield for the Yankees, dancing on Broadway, or playing on the PGA tour are still our ideal of perfection. So, push them we do. I ruined tennis for both my kids when they were little by doing just that.

And then one December day when he was 15, my son, Matt, announced he was going to try out for his high school golf team, despite the fact that he’d never played a round of golf in his life. I went into full parent freak out mode and bought him a specially weighted, caution-tape yellow, training golf club I’d found on the web. When I proudly gave it to him Christmas morning, he looked at it like I’d just handed him a new algebra book.

The next day, I dragged him to a driving range. As he stood forlornly over the ball holding the ridiculous yellow club, I heard myself, as if from a far distance, instructing him, “Head down, eye on the ball, left arm straight, hips loose as a goose (and then I shimmied like Shakira), backswing low and….” I stared out at the horizon for a few seconds, told him I wasn’t feeling well, and walked slowly to the car where I sat and watched him flail happily away at the whole bucket of balls using my old clubs.