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


Frank Creasy said...

Okay Scotto, first let me get these off of my chest:

"...metabolism like a meerkat"

- Yeah, I can relate man. I had that too, until I was like, oh, 23. Then I acquired the metabolism of a 3-toed sloth. Really. I got 3 toes.

"...and Asia came in second"

- Hey, I guess it was THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT! (uh...it sounded good in my head...)

Okay, back down to ground level. I'm glad to hear the running is firing you up again! I've loved running for conditioning for many, many years now; in fact (little known fact here) I actually did run the mile run in track when I was in 7th grade. Best time: 6 minutes, 5 seconds. Now you can see why I turned to wrestling!

But of course, over the years, especially during the ill-fated soccer playing years, I ran for training purposes quite a lot. And I still do today, though "training" is for life, and for theatre. A lot of people don't seem to understand the connection, but I believe you have to be mentally and PHYSICALLY your best to give your best performance, even if it's not a physically demanding role (though my beloved but sadistic friends at Richmond Shakespeare have NO qualms about taxing my thick middle-aged frame to its' limits!) But again, when I go onstage, I want to feel and LOOK my best. Sure, sure, I could run 10 miles a day and I still won't be Brad Pitt, but I can be a pretty good Frank Creasy. You know somebody better to fit the bill?

I've turned to lots of interval training combined with various cross training activities to maintain (and hopefully GAIN) my fitness level. Interval training seems to do a great job of firing up my metabolism; a vigorous circuit of weight training once or twice a week helps boost testosterone levels too. But running is a great rush. There's a 3/4 mile circuit around Echo Lake not far from my house, and I enjoy a short jog over there followed by as many laps as I can endure. More often than not, that means some brisk power walking interspersed with the running; no matter. An hour of that routine provides a real calorie burning workout for me. Along the way, there are geese and heron and squirrels and other wildlife to enjoy; I've always preferred trail running to road running any day. The smells of the trees, grasses, even the soil, provides a magnificent addition to the "runner's high".

A 10K is the best I've ever been able to do in road racing, which was never a priority for me. But there are so many people who cannot use their legs, or are too feeble to run any more due to age or illness/injury; I've always thought it was a great gift from God to be able to run in the breeze, enjoying the multiple freedoms and blessings of an average American.

I've had some great workouts this week (indoors, while out of town on business); it's helped clear my mind to study the many pages of verse I have to handle for "Spanish Tragedy". I'm hoping for some pleasant weather Sunday so I can perhaps take a jaunt around the lake during a study break. There's nothing like a great run to fire you up for whatever your daily challenges present to you.

I hope one day, Scotto, that you'll kick the ass of Heartbreak Hill. But if you don't, your inner meerkat will love you anyway for all the good things you've done for your well being.

Peace brother.

Scott Wichmann said...

Yeah, man. Asia. Nice.

I freaking LOVE that song.

What will really make you laugh, though, Frank, is that her last name was BURNS. As in 'Asia Burns.' There's your "Heat of the Moment," right there. I had the biggest crush on her in the 5th grade. Talk about 'Vermont Hippie' Parents, her sister's name was Clover. Far out.

I'm currently using a combination of the Hal Higdon 'Stepback' training method and an intermediate-level four-day a week schedule with progressively longer runs on the weekends. Tomorrow I step it up to 12 miles, then 14 next weekend and 16 in 2 weeks.

Thanks for the kind words, brother-- I'm really motivated right now, and I have a huge appetite, too!!

Andrew Hamm said...

Asia freaking rules.

I ran for a couple years while we lived in New York City, but crashed into a massive wall of artrhritis and tendinitis in my knees and left hip. I went from rockin' and running all up and down the glorious Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan's best-kept secret, all the way uptown at the tippity-top of the island) to having to stop in the middle of a run with my sister and limping for a week, pain in my hip and knee like I had never experienced. Every time I have tried to start again, no matter what brace I wear or how easy I go, I smack into that wall of tendinitis down the left side. And the only way to treat tendinitis is rest, which means not running.

I never loved running and exercising like you guys. I was always a reader and a writer as a kid, activities that generally require lots of sitting (though I have been known to walk the 3-1/2 miles from my Vienna house to the Toys R Us in Tyson's Corner with my nose in a book both ways when my bike was broken--or sometimes just because I liked to). So it's extremely difficult for me to motivate running, a somewhat alien activity which I enjoy (or at least WANT to enjoy) when I'm pretty sure it's going to end badly.

Biking is a lot better, and easier on the joints, but that's the thing I DID do grow up doing, and I got spoiled by the W&OD bike trail, which runs from DC to Leesburg and which passed about 100 yards from my house. Miles and miles with no stop signs, no lights, no cars. The biking around here is too start-and-stop.

Now that I'm taking on new duties at Richmond Shakespeare, I'm hoping to make some other life changes as well. I need to exercise, I'd like to lose about 15 pounds, and I'd like to wake up earlier. I'm not sure how to motivate it. There's this HUGE freaking wild park right next to my house, and I feel like I should be traveling through it at some kind of high velocity...

So will I be able to run again? As Asia would sing, "Only Time Will Tell."

Frank Creasy said...

Good comeback with another CLASSIC Asia tune Andrew!

How do you motivate yourself? That's such a personal question to answer. Earlier this year my doctor told me to lose 10 pounds. With decades of pounding (wrestling, soccer, football, karate, running and other training) taking a toll on my creaky joints, I wondered how or if I could amp up my exercise routine. Well, a couple of things helped: First, I went through some thorough physical examinations to ensure I was fit enough. Second (and not sure if you relate to this as much as I do, and I know Scott loves this one), but oddly enough the movie "Rocky Balboa" was a tremendous inspiration. Why? Well, the original "Rocky" came out my senior year in high school (1997 graduate, James Wood High School, Winchester VA). I lost a critical wrestling match in the district tournament that could have led to scholarship possibilities, and then an overtime loss the following week to the defending regional champion completely destroyed any such hopes. While "Rocky" had motivated me then, it wasn't enough to grant me victory - and the tournament failure (despite an unbeaten dual match record) is the thing that has haunted - truly HAUNTED me - all these years. It drives me still, but I'd not been able to make peace with it...until "Rocky Balboa" was released. In this final, triumphant cap to the series, Rocky comes to peace with who he is and what he has accomplished in his life, also coming to accept his defeats despite his valiant efforts. If Rocky could accept that - and if Sylvester Stallone, at almost 60 years old, could achieve such a level of fitness, why couldn't I do the same?

Okay, Stallone might be on human growth hormones. So what? He has to work out like a fiend nonetheless, he didn't get pectoral implants along with fake biceps, triceps, delts and lats! I increased my activity level, added more weight training, high intensity interval training, and cut down on late night eating. I lost the 10 pounds the doctor recommended, and then 10 more. I had to buy all new pants, as the old ones didn't fit any more!

Andrew, my recipe for success might not be the same as yours. And, I've had setbacks...I've regained and lost that last five pounds several times (with the holidays it's back ON again, but I'll drop it again, and maybe more). Arthritis? Me too brother. But you know what? You CAN find the things that work for you. I still run, but not as much...but while I used to poo-poo the idea, I've discovered the joy of POWER WALKING. Sometimes hand weights kicks it up a notch. But a really brisk, one hour power walk, especially on a day when you don't feel like an intense aerobic workout? First, it BECOMES intense, and second...it burns calories at almost the same rate as RUNNING! Plus, it's easy on aging joints.

Somedays, I get more intense (Tae Bo, multiple cardio machines at the gym, jumping rope, squat thrusts and other calisthenics). Some days I'm just too whipped...but yoga is energizing and also vigorous without being too taxing. The main thing is to MOVE, do SOMETHING. Eat fruit. Eat whole grains. Eat veggies and low fat meat or fish. Drink water.

It's hard when you work a full day and have rehearsal and try to squeeze in a workout. I make it a priority. Sometimes it's during lunch; sometimes between work and rehearsal, grabbing a quick bite between the two. Some people work out early in the morning - good for them. I tried it, and it's not for me. But if you can do it, more power to you.

When you start making the right choices day after day - I WILL exercise, even if it's only a little something...I WILL eat some fresh fruit or vegetables, and I WON'T have that sugary or starchy food...I WILL love myself despite my many faults...these are the choices that lead to a healthy life and a healthy mind.

Hey, we're all a work in progress. But jumping from an Asia quote to a Beatles quote, I'll end with this thought: "It's getting better all the time."

Frank Creasy said...

Typo: 1977, not 1997 graduate. Wow..."Memories, light the corners of my mind..."

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Andrew Hamm said...

If is possible, do not spam my friend's blogroll. I thank. Good bye friend.

thelif said...

OK - Now I'm feeling guilty because I haven't run since Saturday (with your wife, I might add)
I understand about just wanting to see what you body will do. I've run pretty much all much life - never though in an official sense. In high school, I just ran around my back yard a couple of million times to do 2-3 miles (I'm only mildly exaggerating)
My life strategy is to do MORE as I get older, not less. I did my first half marathon at 51 and got my first tattoo a year later.
Ok and maybe I'll join you at the Shamrock. Can we paint our faces green?

Andrew Hamm said...

By the way, Scotto, I neglected to mantion what a beautifully-written post it is that started this conversation. Maybe my favorite on this blog ever.

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