Monday, April 6, 2009

Got every Ditchman out on the course of the Carlsbad 5000 this weekend! Even the Little Digger, who courageously Bjorned his way to the Junior Carlsbad finish line with Mommy on his back. The big race boasts itself as the premiere 5K event in the world, with its 16 world records. (Yes, there is a 5K world record. It happens locally.) There are over 12,000 runners, most of whom crowd the beer garden in the end. Please note that children and babies are not allowed in the beer garden. So what does everyone do? Park the stroller with the kids on one side of the plastic barrier and stand and drink beer on the other side. It's the Carlsbad way.

The weather was perfect and the teeming throng cheerful. Parking was no serious problem in that so many races are staggered, and if you made it out of there without your car battery going dead and your gas tank accidentally depleted then you probably had a slightly better day than us, though only slightly -we used the wait time to order a tasty Port pizza.

Most impressive was my friend Steve who ran his first official 5K in thirty years. He'd always been a cross-country enthusiast until he endured open-heart surgery years ago, more or less ending his daily runs. The doctors proclaimed his heart "good to go!" eventually, but like so many of us he found himself too busy, too tired, too preoccupied with everything else in life to get back into it.

So he was prodded, and fell headlong into a certain commitment of running a 5K "without stopping" at age 56. I had him on a rigorous training program with hills, distance, and the all-important walk breaks. He took to it good-humored and willingly, though it was clearly a challenge. Sunday morning he completed the Men's Masters event, running all the way to the finish, somewhere in the back of the pack. He was stoked, and the beer tent welcomed him.

It was a big stoke for me to be a part of it, actually, seeing someone fight it out to the finish. The body tries to trick the mind forevermore, and the wisdom of the runner is to figure out when to take the body seriously. I imagine if someone cut open my chest and replaced a few parts on my heart, I might be taking every small pain thereafter as an indicator of imminent, all-out, corporal failure. Steve was an inspiration.

And now the hard part for the guy: going goal-less into that dull, hopeless limbo between events... Do you keep up the training? Do you go farther, faster, higher in spite of it all? You deserve the break, no doubt, but with the glorious respite comes the nagging temptation to preoccupy yourself with being too busy, too tired, too whatever -again- however legitimate. Of course, I was pushing him to go full marathon.

People think that marathons are hard. They are, but that 26.2 miles isn't nearly as hard as the thousand miles you run when training for the thing. And it's not just a thousand miles of running, but a hundred times of begging off other things on the schedule when no one else understands, a hundred times of convincing your spouse how important it is, a hundred times of this-is-more-important-than-that-even-though-I'd-rather-do-that-which-doesn't-involve-pain-and-exhaustion. And then there's the long, hard lesson of learning when your body is telling you the truth, and when it's lying to you to get out of it. No one understands but you, as you battle that infinite derision from everyone at rest, including yourself.

I used to think anyone could do a marathon, but I was wrong: running is not for the proud. It is for the humble. There were over 12,000 runners in the race yesterday. How many losers does that make?

Got a busy week. Making shade.