Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner

I'm not sure how I stumbled into joining the track team. I think some friends from middle school joined freshman football and were already reaping the rewards in female attention. I would soon discover that there was a big difference between track and football when it came to the ladies.

It was determined that I was too uncoordinated for the hurdles, too wimpy for discus or shotput, and too slow for the sprints. So I was shuffled off to the distance events.

While some might see this as the deep right field of track (my position throughout middle school PE), it suited me just fine. I have a strong stubborn streak, so this was probably the best place for me. I could just keep on keepin' on, and try not to come in last.

Distance running was fun, giving me the same feeling long-distance bike rides give me now. You're completely alone, you don't have to talk to anyone, and you can use the time as a sort of meditation, to work out humorous blog posts or life-changing plans or what have you. Plus, at the end, you feel physically and mentally wrung out, a nice ...afterglow of a feeling.

But for all the character building and sportsmanship and whatnot I suppose I learned, one of the things a former high school distance runner will never forget is the boredom.

Getting out of school at 1:30 was awesome! Then you'd ride a bus for about an hour, which was cool, since I'd pass the time by blaring punk rock, throwing food out the window, and being obnoxious. Then you get to the school hosting the track meet.

Then you waited.

And waited.

And waited.

You'd watch everyone else compete in their events, at least for a while. You couldn't eat or drink anything. Well, maybe some people could. I couldn't. Distance events were the last things scheduled, so by the time your event rolled around, everyone else was sitting on the bus, ready to go home, while you had spent 7 hours alternately nervous and bored before your 15 minutes of running (or more. I once ran an extra lap since nobody was there to tell me how many I completed).

Cross country was a little better, if only because you ran through actual trails, with nature and stuff around you, and you were usually finished by 11 in the morning.

Secretly, we all realized running was boring, but still got all indignant that we weren't generating the same excitement as other sports. Once we were practicing while a TV crew set up to film that night's football game. With all the righteous anger a group of teenagers can gather, we peppered the poor cameraman with comments about how he should be filming the real athletes, us. Those football players didn't even have any lower body strength! There's no way those guys could last more than an 880!

Those were all great arguments, but you know why they didn't film us? Because we were boring! Who the hell would want to watch a bunch of teenagers huffing and puffing through the woods for 20 minutes? Hell, we didn't want to watch each other and we were on the team together.

I actively discouraged my parents from attending meets because I liked to act the fool without my parents around to assess the damage I was doing to the family name, but I'd also like to think I'd spare them the boredom of sitting on some unpleasant bleachers for hours on a Saturday morning after working all week. Mom and Dad, you're welcome.

1 comment:

Keith said...

I ran cross country in middle school. Practice was always great. After school, a few miles, I'd come in round about the front of the middle -- not bad for a short, skinny 6th grader running against lankier 7th and 8th graders. Unfortunately, the meets were all at like 6 am, which meant you had to leave for some of them around 4 or 5 in the morning. Not being a morning person, I would trudge out and come in dead last every single time.