THE Day

It was not supposed to go down like this.  There is a bead of sweat rolling down the side of my face as I realize I have made a terrible mistake from which I am not sure I can recover. Staring across the ping-pong table from me is a grim-faced eleven-year old boy who is flexing his knees and taking every shot seriously now.  He thinks today is going to be the day.  He thinks today is the day he takes down his old man.  I have always let him stay close before pulling it out at the end but today I regret that. I have intentionally flubbed a bunch of shots but a few errors on my part (and great shots on his) has left me three points from losing.  He thinks today is the day.

“They” say the happiest and saddest day in every boy’s life is the day that he realize he can beat his father. Video games do not count. It is the day a boy can beat his father at some physical activity.  It is the happiest day because the boy realizes that he is growing up and becoming a man.  However, at the same time the boy suddenly has to face the fact that his dad is not a mythical, invincible deity, but simply a man. A man who is starting to lose the fight with Father Time.  Essentially, the boy kills his hero.

I vividly remember my day. In middle school, I was fast. I was very fast. At an extended family gathering, I mentioned this and my dad made some comment about keeping me in my place.  Not thinking he would ever accept, I challenged him to a race. To my shock, he accepted and my aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandparents all headed out to the street to watch.  I trudged through the yard already embarrassed because I knew there was no way I could beat my dad. I just never thought he would accept the challenge and now I was going to look dumb. My mom even pulled me aside and said, “Why are you doing this? You know you can’t win. You’re still a boy.”  I knew she was right and I knew that I had put myself in position that I was going to be hearing about for a long time.

At the start line, my dad looked down at me and said, “We are only doing this once. This is you’re only shot. No excuses” I nodded and got ready.  My entire family was out there and my uncle started the countdown.  “On your mark.”  Deep breath.  “Get Set…..” and my old man cheated. He was three strides down the street before I realized I had to move. This was my one shot and I started from behind.

I remember going as hard as I could. I also remember feeling a bit puzzled at how quickly I made up the “head-start.” I was surprised at the half-way point when  I was a couple strides ahead of him and feeling like I had not really even hit my stride. I was in a little disbelief by how much I won by and how I eased up a little at the end because it did not feel right.  Later, I snuck back out there and stared at the street. I was elated because I knew I could out-run grown men and I had beaten my dad. At the same time, there was an odd sense of disappointment and general weirdness. I was too young to put words on it, but later I realized it was the sadness “they ” say every boy feels when he beats his dad. Sad that his hero is really just a man who is starting to get older.

And now Ben thinks today is the day.  I can see it in his eyes. He is not jabbering about Pokemon anymore.  He is not talking about soccer. He has stopped trying to do fancy shots.  The only smile I see is the smile he is desperately fighting to stifle every time he scores. Ben thinks he is three points away from something special.

I know it’s not the day because I have intentionally let him stay close and then made some mistakes. It still takes effort to make the game close without making it obvious that I am tanking.   However, he does not know this. The scoreboard does not know this. The scoreboard says the day is three points away.

I know the day is coming. It is inevitable.  I will feel proud and a little sad.  He will be elated with a weird feeling he can not pin-point.  When that day comes, I want it to be real. For him and me.

I have three points left to make sure I push the day back. Fortunately, Ben is eleven-years-old and is starting to choke. All I have to do is keep the ball on the table and he screws up two points.  On the third point, I put a ton of backspin on my shot and watch his little dreams crumble as he bashes the ball into the net.

He drops his paddle, falls to his knees with a huge smile and yells, “Nooo!”  Ben gets to his feet laughing and gives me a huge hug.  “Dad! I almost beat you!  I thought I was really going to do it today!”

“Yeah buddy. It was close!  You will get me some day.  Today is just not the day.”

The day?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know it when it gets here.”

**Addendum:.  My dad read this blog and recalls our race.  He told me today that he knew the only way he stood a chance was by cheating.

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My Marathon

I ran the Bayshore Marathon yesterday.  It was my fourth marathon.  Click this to read about my run last year. My only goal has been to break four hours and because I did that last year, I really had no goals or expectations for this race. My goals were simply to have fun, take a few pics, not utter an obscenity for the entire race and take the whole thing in.

My first thirteen miles are a breeze. In fact, I decide that maybe I have a shot at breaking my personal record. None of the little annoyances that plagued me last time have surfaced.  Everything is smooth, better than training, and easy through 13.1. I stop at the same porta-potty I used last year just for a laugh (read link above)  I scrap the goal of simply having fun, decide there was no way I am stopping for pics and go for it.

At mile 16, I can tell I am running out of gas a little and start to reign it in a little. After all, I have banked plenty of time during the first 15.  I start to walk the first 0.1 of each mile and run the other 0.9. Precautionary… to avoid the cramps that have shut me down before.  A young woman with a pretty cool looking hip tattoo is on a similar pace.  We pass each other several times over the next 4 miles

By Mile 20 the walk breaks are down to every 1/2 mile.  Hip Tattoo is about the same and we start laughing each time we pass each other because we knew we will catch up to each other again.  I see some friends from college spectating and make sure to look really comfortable as long as they can see me.  I am definitely slowing down but still feel OK and still have lots of time in the bank. I am going to knock 5-10 minutes off my best. Hip Tattoo and I joke about the misery we are starting to feel.

By Mile 24 I know I am in trouble. When my walk break ends, my body will not start running again. I try to dig. I insult myself, I do mental math, I pep-talk myself but my body simply mocks me and I know it is over. There is no question. I am cooked. I fail my obscenity goal. I fail it big.  Hip Tattoo disappears around a corner and I know I will not be catching her again. No matter what I try, my legs will not break a walk.  My hamstrings feel like they were being worked over by the most inept intern from Ramsey Bolton’s School of Massage Therapy. I begin to doubt that I can even walk the last two miles.

At Mile 24.5 a medical person approaches my shuffling carcass and says, “Are you one of our runners?”  I reply, “I’m trying to be.”  She asks me if I am OK.  When I reply that I am, she states “You’re swaying and can’t walk a straight line.”  I am shocked but realize I am staggering like its a 1996 walk-of-shame after a frat party.  I tell her I will be fine and keep going.  I can feel her trailing me for 50 yards but am scared to look over my shoulder because I think that I will get dizzy, fall and then be pulled off the course.  I give her a thumbs-up, yell, “I’m fine. Thank you for doing your job so well” and she leaves.  I stop a few more times and hunch over just to relax the tension on my hamstrings.  My watch passes the four hour mark.  This will be my slowest marathon (3:59,  4:07, and 4:09) but I just want to finish.

At Mile 25.1 I call my wife, Jasmine, and let her know I am going to be slower than expected.  She tells me she is going to walk back on the course and walk me in.  I make it another 0.2 miles and sit down on the side of the road.  I assure a volunteer I am fine, but I can see him talking to other volunteers and gesturing at me.  I know I need to get back up and I do not want my wife to find me sitting, or worse. I get back up and continue my Zombie Shuffle.

My wife meets me with about half a mile to go.  She walks by my side, talks with me, and grabs my shoulder when I slump.  She gets me there.  At Mile 26, I can see the finish line 0.2 miles away.  I look on the ground to my left and see Hip Tattoo.  Hip Tattoo is laying on her side with medics working on her.  Hip Tattoo has saliva dripping out of the side of her mouth. Hip Tattoo’s eyes are glassy and half rolled up. Hip Tattoo has an IV in her arm. Hip Tattoo is not going to get back up today. Hip Tattoo is going to go for a ride. Hip Tattoo is not going to finish.  Hip Tattoo made it 26 miles and went down with the finish line in sight.  My heart breaks for Hip Tattoo.

My wife leaves so I can finish the last couple hundred yards.  I have to stop half way  and walk again but finish on a run. I am so spent that the medal they put on me feels like it’s going to tip me over.  I have sudden empathy for Frodo having to lug that stupid ring through Mordor.

I am done.  I made it 25 miles in about four hours. The last 1.2 miles take me almost 24 minutes. 4:24ish.

Here’s the thing.  A year ago, I would have been crushed. My evening would be wrecked, I would have felt like I failed and would be thinking about the daunting task of starting all over.  Now I realize, that nobody cares.  Why should I? We went back to our B&B.  My wife and I spent the evening walking around Traverse City. We twice ran into college friends. We ate some great food and checked out some cool breweries. I had a blast.  I came home to my two fantastic kids. The rest of my weekend would not have been any better or worse if I had been 30 minutes faster.  Who cares?

Marathon #1 I cried after just because of the emotional dump and having finished something I never imagined doing.  Marathon #2 I sat under a tree crushed and crying because I had worked so hard to break the four hour mark and came up short.  I trained harder than ever for Marathon #3, dialed in and just beat 4 hours.  This one, I am more at peace. My training was more relaxed and my first 24ish miles were my best. End result was my worst one, but I am probably more content and more at peace than after any of the others.

I wish I had gotten Hip Tattoo’s name or had thought to look at her bib number.  I hope that she is healthy and is somewhat at peace with her race.

Four hours, or 4.5 hours as the case may be this time, does not have to make or break your day, weekend or life. There is too much other stuff in the world to enjoy.

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