Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"For now, I’m just a runner!

I recently sat down and composed a list of things I'd like to do before I die. The very first thing that came to my mind was "I'd like to run the Boston marathon someday." So, that's what I'm going to shoot for, even if it takes me ten years to run a qualifying time in an official Boston-Qualifying Marathon. Right now, the BQ time is 3 hours 10 minutes for a 34-year old man.

Luckily, I'm a 12-year old tucked inside the body of a 34 year-old. I'm camouflaged like I was friggin' Predator. They'll never see me coming.

Now, mind you, I've never actually run a Marathon before, whatsoever. But, I've always been a pretty fit fella, and I have the metabolism of a freaking Meerkat. I can eat just about anything (Though I've switched to a vegetarian diet in the last five years) and turn it into pure energy. I try to always get out and exercise-- as much as I can, anyway. I play touch football, baseball, basketball on occasion, and prior to the past few months, I'd only run every now and again-- whenever I needed a quick inertia-buster. I've also been practicing Yoga on and off for about four years, and that, along with my dietary changes, do wonders for my body even as both exponentially lower my 'coolness qoutient' among my pals.

My buddy, Baron Von Rick, likes to shake his head and say "What happened to you, man?"

What can I say?? I am, after all, the world's premiere 'AlfAlpha male.' A corny, goofy, geeky vegetarian touchy-feely guy with a competitive streak a mile wide, and a low frustration tolerance, but still with enough self-deprecating humor to make him somehow endearing at the same time as he's being annoying.

THAT's an 'AlfAlpha Male.'

Now, about the habits I used to display...

I used to drink like a fish (Mostly beer-- LOTS of Beer) and I smoked like a chimney for about 5 years. Who could blame me-- I was working three bartending jobs in Pittsfield, Mass (The scratch ticket/six-pack/cigarettes-combo capital of the world) and I noticed really quickly that people who smoke get more 'breaktime' at work than non-smokers. If you say, "Hey Joe, I'm gonna grab a quick smoke, " The answer is "No problem." Try saying "Hey Joe, I'm gonna stand outside for an average of seven minutes and breathe in and out." The next words out of Joe's mouth will be "Like hell you AHH!! Change the kegs, ya lazy rat-lookin' bastid!!" Next thing I know, I'm lighting up like a moron.

I also worked on The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama and lived in 'The Compound' for awhile, so we all enabled each other's nasty smoking habit. Now many of us are kicking it with the quickness, but back then, everybody did it...So, smoking became the thing to do, and luckily the Marlboro lights didn't result in a 'Light' tumor as far as I can tell.

So, like Carl said in Caddyshack-- "I got that going for me."

So, now, coffee is my only real vice. That and La Croix brand canned soda water. And sunflower seeds. That's really it. Now, don't think that I don't get my protein, because I do. I eat lots of peanut butter and soy protein and eggs (yes, I do eat eggs, maybe someday I'll stop, but not just yet) Cottage cheese (Has mad Protein, yo) Almonds, and flaxseed... and unlike Barry Bonds, I know what Flaxseed oil looks like. (It's great for your skin, by the way) I also get my veggies, cheeses and other dairy products, and a healthy heaping of breads (Jennie has learned to bake bread), including whole wheat pasta, and I cook a lot with olive oil. Every morning I have either an egg sandwich (Cooked with olive oil) and a bowl of fruit, granola and yogurt, or a bowl of cheerios and a banana or some oatmeal and coffee. I eat lots of pasta and different combinations of soy proteins that are so good --and good for you-- that it makes sense to substitute them into your diet now and then-- even if you're not some 'animal-compassion whacko' on the outermost lefty fringes of society.

But I digress. Back to my bipedal questisisss.

I have a weird history with running. It has moved in and out of my life ever since I was a kid on the Westminster Center School Track and Cross-Country teams at the age of ten. We lived in Bellows Falls, Vermont at the time, and we were called the Vikings. We wore green and white uniforms, which I thought was cool, since we looked like the Celtics. Short shorts, high socks with the three green stripes. Awww, yeah. I used to be the smallest kid on both teams, and I was an average runner at best. I was the kid who would run off into the woods during the cross-country meets and stop to look at a butterfly, resulting in a 19th place finish.

Our team was anchored by the erstwhile legend of Westminster track and cross -country excellence, Claudia Williams, the long-legged daughter of Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams. She won, I swear-- EVERY. SINGLE. RACE.

On and off over the years, I would eschew competitive racing in favor of the theatre, but that never stopped me from running just for the joy of it. My girlfriend in high school and college, Dina Ressler, was a track/cross country runner at PHS and Bentley College, and my cousin Shaun broke the Taconic HS mark for the 400-meter hurdles. With me, though, it was always about chugging along and taking in the view. I loved the three-mile run down east New Lenox Road to New Lenox road-- from my Dad's old house in Pittsfield Mass --to my uncle Charlie's-- and back The view of the Berkshire Hills, seen across the valley beyond the railroad tracks, is something I always go back to whenever I close my eyes. Those were the same tracks I used to lay pennies on with Katy Maturveitch in the second grade. We'd sit there and wait for the trains to come along and flatten them. Hey, what can I say, there was no internet... and Atari had, like, two games.

In college, I started running again to build up my endurance to play the lead in Me and My Girl. I would run around the Sutter Oval in front of Wagner College's Main Hall, sometimes waking at 6:30 am on days when my earliest class was at 11am. Those of you who know my penchant for 'sleeping in' will find that quite hard to believe. But, it paid off. I remember feeling so strong and confident during the actual show, blazing through those song & dance numbers... I had an inexhaustible supply of both breath and energy.

I remember that one of my favorite days ever was July 4th, 1994, when I ran the Pittsfield 4th of July 5k-- and then, during the ensuing parade, I was in the Berkshire Theatre Festival float down North Street as part of the cast of Brimstone: The Irish Musical. The only drawback to that day was that during the race, around the turn of mile three, Dina completely dusted me, fired up the afterburners and took off -- this was like, four months after we broke up, so it was basically her version of the Patriots' now infamous 'Eff-You TD.'

(But, unlike some NFL-organizations I could mention, I shut up and took my medicine... ; )

There's something great about logging a run in cold weather; In particular, the way your body just educates you-- it tells you "I can do more than you think I can, bro-ham. Let me show you. Have a little faith in me. I pump enough blood to keep you alive, and I put up with all the crap you've done to me over the years, now-- watch what I can really do. I'm the Millenium Freaking Falcon. Take me out for a spin, you low-expectation havin' mother$@**!! (Apologies to Chris Rock)

In recent years, Jennie and I have run the Komen Race for the Cure, and every time we do it, I am more inspired by these brave women and their stories of survival, triumph and dedication in the face of cancer treatment. We just did the Ntelos 8k together, and Jennie is now shooting for the Half-marathon as her goal. Depending on how our latest auditions shake out, we may each run our event in VA Beach on March 16th of this year-- The Shamrock Marathon and Half-Marathon.

I recently found a journal we had to keep in Mister Oglesby's Fifth Grade class.I am absolutely floored that this journal has been preserved like this-- it was at my dad's house for like twenty years, sealed and untouched. I found two fantastic passages that illustrate the beginnings of my relationship to the sport:


Yesterday, we won the track meet! Claudia came in 1st place and Asia came in 2nd! I came in 19th place! Maybe next year I can come in 1st place!

For now, I'm just a runner!"


Yesterday, we lost the track meet. (but) We might get ribbons for our running! I hope so. My Mom was at the meet yesterday, too. My Ma always askes me, "Scott how do you do it?" She says she could never run as fast as I can. I should have told her she can do anything she wants! It's being good at what you do that counts."

I have so much enthusiasm for running now, and rereading these journals is like dipping in the 'Magic waters' That James earl Jones talks about in Field of Dreams. What a blessing to be able to re-connect to something I wrote so long ago-- to find the simple, resonant truth of a child-- ringing like a bell.

Bill Rodgers, the Melrose, Mass-based 4-time winner of the Boston marathon, left the sport for quite a number of years, himself. Not quite as many as I did, and certainly at a higher level of competition, but something he said in his book, Marathoning, struck a chord with me. He writes:

"Some people say, 'I'm a painter.' Well, I'm a runner. It comes from within. What started me running again? The primary reason was that I finally came to realize I was a runner. It was always a part of my personality. It fitted me so well. Although I had quit the physical experience of running, I had never quit being a runner at heart."

So, I've reached an understanding with myself, and been re-acquainted with a valuable truth that I forgot how to hear. I'm a runner. What kind of runner I become is now up to me. I may never hit the heights of 'Boston Billy,' But I've got a full tank and a full heart, and I'm ready to see what I can do.

I'm currently training about 23 miles a week, and every time out, I am more and more thankful for this body, this life, these friends and family members, these memories, and this wonderful opportunity to live more fully. Each step of this life is an opportunity to do just that. May I be always observant of this simple truth, and take no step for granted.

I feel like there's a new chapter opening in my life, and I hope to fill the remaining pages with a special story, started by a small, ten-year old boy awkwardly running through the Westminster woods in high green tube socks. I'm going to give this my all, and hopefully it will someday lead me to my goal of getting to that starting line in Hopkinton some cold, drizzly monday in early april.

The journey alone will be well worth it.

And if I want to stop and look at the butterflies along the way, that's okay too.

Here's to whatever's on your list.


Scott Wichmann