And It Costs What?

Chapter 32, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Could it be? Fifteen minutes of fame was too much. Liberties I took for granted such as a quiet dinner without interruption vanished. Not that I wanted to eat. After Iowa, Harry took my diet hostage and fed me only eggs, sweet potatoes and almonds. And hot water. Lots of hot water and soup. My coach had read it on a blog. The theory was you should drink nothing but hot and warm liquids. Cold drinks froze your organs, making your body work overtime to heat them. The older you were, the more important it was to keep your organs warm.

When I heard the theory, I thought of only one thing – warm beer?


It was the interviews, however, that really made me want to hurl. They always boiled down to one basic question.

“So, how’s it feel to be 49 and still compete with youngsters?”

In other words, “Hey old man, during a race, what keeps you from stroking out?”

Worse, following my appearance as the June cover boy for AARP, a biology researcher from Purdue called to ask me to donate my body, so scientists could study it. Harry was quick to note the irony.

“As usual, a Baby Boomer is worth more dead than alive,” he said.

Yet, Melinda piled on the interview appointments. She also scheduled for Harry.

“Be a good boy and drive me into the city, Princess,” my coach said. “‘Chicago Tonight’ desires a shovelful of my insight.”

I had to give my coach credit . Without Tai Chi and his other offbeat notions, I never would have made it this far. Later, Melinda wanted to start our own Tai Chi school in Valparaiso.

… if only YOU would have listened …

While AARP tolerated my 15 minutes, much of the national press beat me like a fat piñata. Sports Illustrated had the most fun, whacking my quotes so much that I sounded like a conceited simpleton.  SI’s “What’s-His-Name” didn’t think I had any chance to earn a Beijing trip. I cut out his article and taped it on the refrigerator. Every morning before practice, I tapped it three times with my forehead for extra motivation.

But motivation I had. Up to their old tricks, my 49-year-old legs needed something else. A week after Des Moines, they still ached. Along with the pain, doubt lingered: Would I be ready for Eugene? My Drake Relays time had qualified me for the Trials. There was no guarantee, though, I could reproduce it in Oregon. Even if I could, would it be good enough?

A few of my track peers believed my Iowa race was a fluke. The guy in the chartreuse tracksuit told SI he was certain a microburst had carried me the last 30 meters.

“With that pace we were on, no one would have a kick left like he did,” he said in print. “Especially someone that bleeping old.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Say When

Chapter 30, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

Ever the master chef, my coach loved to turn up the heat. Some of his best recipes required a pressure cooker. Yet, out of the hundred worries cooking in my brain, only one had caught fire: Did I kill myself for more than a year for only a weekend in Iowa?

Worse, Ralphie didn’t need to go to Des Moines nor did he want to. His invite to the Olympic Trials was already in the mail. No question, my best friend also was still angry about the inordinate attention I was getting from The Times a.k.a. Sheila and the rest of her sports department. So that meant …

“No. No. No. You are OUT of your mind,” insisted Melinda. “I don’t have time to go to Iowa.”

“But …”

“What do you think this is, Charles? You think I can take off whenever I feel like it.”

“It’s only three days,” I said. “Harry doesn’t want me to drive. And he sure can’t.”

“Why put me in this spot?” she asked, wringing her hands. “I don’t need this.”

“Lindy, you’re my agent for Pete’s sake. You’re supposed to look out for me,” I said as I stroked her arm. Melinda glared at me. She didn’t appreciate my calling her “Lindy.” She never did. I should have known better.

“In that case,” Melinda said, wresting her arm away. “I’ll get you a ticket. A bus ticket.”

“Gee, thanks. How about a Depends commercial, too, while you’re at it.”

“You sign with Depends, and I will carry you there.”

“The hell you will. I’ll walk to Des Moines before I wear diapers.”

Melinda called and ordered two roundtrip Greyhound tickets to downtown Des Moines. When she drove us to the old, paint-peeling bus depot on Thursday, though, Melinda had a change of heart. She couldn’t do it – to Harry. Whatever. So on Friday at sunrise, Melinda called off sick, the girls played hooky, and we piled into our gun-metal-blue Jeep Cherokee. Pinched in the back seat between Jessie and Shannon, I wondered what magic my Iowa track of dreams had for me.

Six hours later, we splurged to get a room at a new Hampton Inn no less than 15 miles from Drake Stadium. It was the least I could do for our reluctant chauffeur. After we checked in, Melinda and the girls went for a swim while Harry and I drove over to take a look at the stadium. Two years earlier, the Drake facility had undergone an expensive makeover, resulting in a track and field beauty. Topped with a new Mondo surface, the reconfigured track exceeded most standards, boasting 48-inch-wide lanes. It was big, blue bursting with speed.

The decathlon competition had wrapped up, and the stands were about three-quarters full. With my old, stained sweats on, I jogged a Sunday-drive pair of laps around the infield to get the feel of the place. While I circled, Harry bumped into some old buddies and chatted. My OCD kicked in, and I needed to confirm my race time on Saturday, so I hunted for someone official to ask. Lucky, I did.

“Harry!” I interrupted. “I’m supposed to run. NOW!”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

// //

Superstitious Minds

Chapter 28, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


I pondered the question. What superstitions did I have? What could I do before a race to help put my mind at ease? Did I do anything special before races in high school?

“No, I don’t think so.”

Harry frowned.

“Are you telling me you are not superstitious? You have nothing to help place yourself in a higher zone of comfort? Nothing we could incorporate into a pre-race routine.”

“I don’t even have a rabbit’s foot.”

“Are you sure? Nothing?”

“Nope. Nada. Ask Melinda,” I said. “She’s the superstitious one.”

“Could you borrow something from her?”

“Well, she does have this one bra she considers lucky,” I said.

“What about Shannon or Jessie?”

“Black cats?”

Growing frustrated, Harry rubbed his forehead.

“How can this be?”

“I don’t know. I’m new at this.”

“You baby boneheads,” said Harry with mounting disdain. “You have no imagination.”

“OK, coach, tell me. What would you do?”

With the question, Harry calmed. He smiled.

“When I was just getting started, I had this one sprinter. Man, oh man, he was one for the books. He had to take a bubble bath the night before every race. The head case would make so many bubbles that the tub would overflow. Get the picture?”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“He would sit in that tub full of bubbles and stick his feet up around the faucet, see? And then he would talk to them,” said Harry, starting to tilt on his walker.

“He’d talk to his feet?” I asked.

“Yes, his damned feet,” said Harry. “He would act like their coach. That is because I always declined to address them. Anyway, he would give them a pep talk or instructions, tell them what to do depending on how the race developed. It was the strangest thing you ever saw.”

I shook my head.

“Nah, I couldn’t do anything like that,” I said.

My coach appeared defeated, almost distraught, as if I had said I couldn’t tie my shoe.

… go ahead, tell him …

“Is there anything that would jack you up before a race? A song? A Biblical passage? Naked women? Anything?”

I thought again.

“The only thing I can think of …”

Hope rushed back into his eyes.


“I-I, uh, I, well, I did have a, uh, a dog scare the piss out of me that one time.”

“Dog? I thought that was pure fiction for the news media.”

“No, he was real. My heart pumped so fast, I thought it would throw a rod.”

“What kind of dog?”

I could hear the wheels grind.

“German shepherd, I think. I didn’t ask for his papers. It still makes my heart go into spasms.”

Harry stood, lost in thought, rocking back and forth slowly in his walker.

“You didn’t make that up for your girlfriend?”

“That was over in high school, Harry.”

“Dog. Hmmm. We will have to work on that.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Control Issue

Chapter 28, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


It was March and I could feel myself sliding headfirst into a bottomless pit of anxiety. Breaking the seal on Year 2 of training, I fretted I couldn’t’ qualify for a backyard Olympics, much less the U.S. Olympic Trials. I was running scared – was I becoming stale?

With the temperature hovering in the mid-40s for the past few days, Harry let me return to the Valparaiso High track. I had to. Indoor training sucked. I needed to get out and run.

During the cold months, I had done maybe a thousand 800s in my head, at least 22 of them world-record breakers. My legs felt the best they ever had. They should. I barely worked them. But I couldn’t shake the worry I needed to do more no matter what Harry claimed about visualization. There had to be more.

Harry was concerned, too.

“What should I make for dinner tonight? Dedra’s coming over,” he said, ignoring the obvious signs of my growing angst.

“I don’t care,” I said, stretching my legs into nicely formed pretzels. “Shouldn’t we start ramping up, you know. Maybe do some intervals or something?”

… oh no, not intervals …

“Probably spaghetti,” said Harry. “The girls enjoy spaghetti, don’t they?”

“My legs feel like spaghetti,” I lied.

Harry caught that one. He spun around.

“Have you been running behind my back again?” he snapped.

“No, of course not,” I lied again. Yes, I had been running two miles in my head during lunch a couple of times a week. It was nothing Harry needed to know.

“Good,” said Harry, appeased. The sun peeped over his shoulder. “Perhaps, we should concoct a pre-race routine.”

“A routine?” I blurted, losing the grip on my ankle behind my head. I sprawled forward. “Does that mean …”

“Yes, son, a routine. It is time to get serious,” said Harry. “Any superstitions you care to share with me? Anything I need to work in?”


“Superstitions, Charlie. I am afraid most runners have superstitions,” said Harry, making a series of elaborate gestures with his right hand as he clutched his walker with the left. “Things they feel they must do before a race to be successful. Usually, they are small, insignificant. But they make an athlete feel he has some control over his situation, even when in reality, he does not. Comprende?”

“Sorry, no hablo el espanol,” I said.

“Control,” stressed Harry. “It is all about control. You cannot control the other runners, but you can control what you do before the event. Do you have any?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Gotta Have Heart

Chapter 27, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


I turned the car back on.

“Turn it off,” Harry said.

“No, I don’t want to know.”

“If I tell you, will you promise to ask no more questions?”

“It’s all right. I don’t have to … “

Harry reached over and turned the car off. He sighed.

“No more questions?” Harry asked.

“No more questions,” I said.


“Well ….”

Harry started to reach for the car key.

“OK,” I said. “No more questions.”

Harry sighed again.

“Remember those measurements I took in the beginning, the legs, the calves, so on?”

“Yes, you even measured my ears.”

“For more than 50 years, I have kept records on everyone I have ever coached. I have carefully put together the averages, compiled all the statistics, did bell curves, standard deviations.”

“And …”

“I know how long a particular runner’s hangnail should be, everything.”

“And …”

Harry then took the deepest breath I have ever seen one human being take. I thought he would explode.

“Every one of your measurements are within an eighth of an inch of my profile for an 800-meter runner.”

I sat there with my mouth open, my jaw resting on the steering wheel, for at least 30 seconds. Harry glanced at me and frowned.

“I knew it. I knew it. It went straight to your brain,” said my coach. “YOU cannot handle it, can you?”

No, I couldn’t. He should never have told me. My head buzzed like a mosquito light zapping bugs on a backyard deck. My stomach did cartwheels and fell flat. Harry shook his head.

“In other words, if I could build an 800-meter runner from 50 years of research, my Frankenstein would look like you.”

Speechless, I sat there, still suffering brain malfunction.

“Your legs are the closest of all,” Harry said. “Dead on.”

… if only you had half the brain Frankenstein did …

“Logically, you cannot compete with these 20-somethings,” said Harry. “Hell, you are 48 years old. You’re 85 percent more prone to injuries. Your muscle fibers take at least 50 percent more time to heal. Your reflexes are some 40 percent slower. Your brain is …”

“Stop right there,” I said, regaining partial function. “ So I have no chance. That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Charlie, what I AM trying to tell you is you have the tools.”

“Yeah, but … ”

“I can even hot wire your brain …”

“But … ”

“But I cannot measure your heart.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

The Runaround

Chapter 27, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


When the weather blew wintry in late November, I couldn’t run outdoors. So Harry and I took my training madness to Valparaiso University where VU officials were pleased to have a potential Olympian use their indoor facility. But the checker at the front door didn’t get the memo. He still asked to see my student I.D. every morning. That would lead to Harry’s suggesting that the conscientious student instead check out a therapeutic lobotomy.

For all the actual running I did, I could have stayed in the basement. But Harry enjoyed seeing co-eds jog lap after lap while I sat and visualized sprinting the last 200 lactic-acid-soaked meters of a tight 800. At this point, my coach would allow me only a handful of laps at three-quarter speed. Harry claimed anything else would burn too many muscle fibers and make me stale. Funny, I did long for that real, lactic-acid fire.

One day, I had to ask. I knew better, but the issue was a beaver gnawing at my thick, wooden brain. It was time to ask “The Question.”


Harry ignored me and smiled as a slender co-ed in a tight, teal halter top bench pressed iron twice her weight. I twisted in front of Harry and grabbed his walker.

“And what in the world do you want?” he asked with the annoyance of a surgeon in the middle of a heart transplant. I persisted.

“Why, Harry?”

He didn’t blink.

“Why what?”

“Why pick me?”

“You baby boomers are relentless, bordering on obsessive.”

“Just tell me why.”

“I believe you came to me, son.”

“I mean, why did you think I had any chance?”

Harry rolled his eyes, considered his words – and hesitated. He sighed.

“When this is finished, yes, then maybe, we will sit down, have a beer, and I will tell you.” Harry looked me in the eye. “Right now, I doubt you could handle it.”

That made me angry. I spun and sprinted three laps at top speed and walked a couple of cool-down laps. Peering around, I realized Harry had left the building. I toweled off, threw on my sweats and hustled out to the car. Harry sat there. I got in and started to drive home. Harry stared straight ahead.

“Listen, Charlie. You should get yourself someone else.”

“You’re just upset,” I said. “You’ll get over it.”

“Son, you’re 48 years old.”

“I know.”

“You have the spunk of a 20-something.”

“Thanks, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me.”

“But you have the maturity of a 9-year-old.”

“Yeah? So tell me something I don’t know.”

“I swear, your whole generation never grew up.”

“OK, I’ll give you that one,” I said. “Maybe we didn’t. Maybe we couldn’t.”

I pulled the car over to the curb and turned off the engine. We sat there for at least five minutes without a word.

“All right,” I said. “Don’t tell me.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

See What I Mean?

Chapter 25, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

On my way home, I called Harry to ask him to make dinner for three. When I told him that Sheila the sports editor was the third, all he could do was whistle.


Seated on the patio for after-dinner coffee, I told Sheila about the Super Bowl party/fight, the killer dog trying to catch me, and finally, how I met my coach. She shook her head and beamed. Sheila was easy to talk to, and she was more beautiful than ever.

“So, you really think you can make the Trials?” she asked.

“Ask my coach.”

“Honey,” said Harry, eyeing Sheila. “If Charlie would close his mouth and listen to me just one time, we would be halfway to Beijing.”

“Wow! This is going to be some story,” Sheila said.

“Please don’t write about Melinda moving out,” I begged. “I’m still hoping she’ll come around.”

“No problem,” said Sheila. “But we’ll need some photos. Can we come by practice?”

“We’ll be at the high school tomorrow,” said Harry.

Now it didn’t matter if I were 48, 58 or 108. I was locked in. I HAD to qualify for the Trials or look like the biggest fool in Valparaiso, maybe Indiana. Harry knew it, too. He was a sympathetic teacher and buried me with homework. Harry said he needed to reset my “psychological clock.” Whatever. All it meant to me was more abuse. Three times a day I had to turn toward the Great Northwest and meditate on track and field’s mecca, historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. I Googled it, studied it and began to digest it.

For you racing neophytes, Hayward is the Yankee Stadium of track and field. It has no peer. Hayward is where track legends are born — or die.

The world’s best track fans live in Eugene, a.k.a. Track Town, U.S.A. At Hayward, spectators don’t have to be told. They know when someone is running a world-record pace. In the huge, green grandstands that flank the all-weather, eight-lane oval, fans stomp their feet and clap rhythmically to boost runners when they need that little extra push. The fans hunger for speed and athletic grace. For years, they feasted when the late Steve Prefontaine ran. They know they were spoiled. Still, they hunger for more.

In 2008, Hayward Field would host the Trials, the gateway to the Beijing Olympics. Just getting to run there would be the greatest moment of my life and probably also induce a heart attack. But before Hayward became a reality, I needed a qualifying time of 1:46.

Thus, Harry made me sit on the track every day and visualize, visualize, visualize. So many times I watched myself slosh through the Oregon rain, water leaked from my ears.

… visualize, smisualize …

It was too much. I cracked.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Just Show And Tell

Chapter 25, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


I laughed. It was a nervous laugh. I’d never been interviewed by a former girlfriend. Sheila was the one who hadn’t changed. She looked better than ever.

“So I ran in one lousy meet. Big deal.”

“That’s not what I heard,” said Sheila, picking up her pen. “The Price kid says you’ve been training for months. She says you have Olympic aspirations. Is that true?”

“That Geri,” I said, shaking my head. “She likes to exaggerate.”

“She also says you have a personal trainer living in your house and some pretty solid 800 times. Is that true?”

“You know, you really should be talking to Ralphie,” I said, trying a diversionary tactic. “He’s the one who’s already qualified for the Trials.”

“I know,” said Sheila. “He’s coming in tomorrow.”


“But truth be known,” said Sheila, flashing those gorgeous chocolate brown eyes. “I’d rather talk to you.”


“And why is that?” I asked awkwardly.

“There’s no real age restriction on tossing a hunk of metal,” she said. “Running, though, that’s different.”

I stretched my hands behind the back of my head, trying to appear unimpressed while my heart beat as if the bell lap had rung.

“People don’t forget how to run, do they? It’s kinda like breathing,” I said.

“Why, Chuck, you haven’t changed a bit,” said Sheila. “So c’mon, tell me. Tell me why C.H. Wells has a fixation on running 800s while most of his peers won’t run across the street.”

Sheila paused.

“That’s not asking much, is it?”

“In a word – yes.”

Sheila laughed. I started to sweat.

“Not sure,” I said. “Maybe early Alzheimer’s.”

“That’s not what I heard,” she said.

“You hear a lot.”

“It’s my job.”

“I see you’re good at it.”

“Tell you what,” Sheila said. “Would you feel better talking elsewhere? Say my place? For dinner?”

I glimpsed at her ring finger. It was naked.

“Why don’t you come over to my house? I’ll have Harry whip up something for us.”

“Ooooooh, that sounds like a date. And Harry, he’s your personal trainer? I can talk to him, too, right?”


“Sure, why not? About seven, then?”

“Sounds great,” Sheila said. “It’s so good to see you, Chuck.”

Floating out of The Times office, I thought I was having an out-of-body experience and wondered what Sheila really wanted. Check that. I knew what she wanted.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

And How Bad Was It?

Chapter 24, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


“Pops,” I repeated. “Just how old do you think I am?”

He squinted me up and down.

“Maybe 63, 64. I’m not a good judge at that sort of thing.”

“I bet you’re about 12,” I said, spiking with irritation.

Junior didn’t like that. He shook his head and jogged away. This 2007-style trash talking was juvenile. But what did you expect me to do? Act like roadkill? It didn’t matter. I lumbered home a distant fifth in my semifinal heat. Junior took second.

Despite my performance, another kid in a baby blue polo with “UNC” on the breast pocket wanted to harass me. He introduced himself, claiming he was an intern for the Atlanta Constitution. He sought a feature angle at the meet and stuck a micro-cassette recorder under my nose.

“You really 63?” he asked.

“What the hell do you think?” I asked.

“I think I better find another story.”

“Come interview my friend,” I said. “He’s the real athlete. And he’s just 62.”

“First, tell me why you’re out here running against guys half your age.”

“I’m not 63.”


“Try 48.”



I told him about my Olympic quest, convinced that would kill the story. He thanked me for my time and went looking for his next ambulance. Done for the day, Ralphie and I were in the mood to drink heavily. So Ralphie drank seven or eight Jack and Cokes, and I downed countless Diet Cokes at a midtown dive. On Sunday, I was a full-time coach as Ralphie took fourth with an Olympic-qualifying toss of 20.3 meters. Just don’t ask me to convert it into feet. I was happy for Ralphie, but I was ready to go home.

About 6:30 a.m., Ralphie dropped me off in my driveway. Limping to the front door, I saw the living-room light still burning. Inside, there was Harry snoozing in my Lay Z Boy. He awoke and started rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Weeelll,” he began with the finality of a hangman. “How bad was it?”

“It was bad,” I said.

“Exactly, how bad was it?”

“I got more than my feelings hurt,” I said.

“And what precisely does that mean?”

“It means my legs are knotted like 3-year-old fishing line.”

“Is that all that happened? That is simply lactic acid, my boy,” Harry said. “That will wear off by the time you reach my age.”


“Did you suffer any mental trauma? Or perhaps, you are more brain dead than I suspected.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Pops Goes The Weasel

Chapter 24, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


“I ain’t gonna pee in no damned cup,” Ralphie told the visored bulldog peering through pop-bottle-thick glasses. With a pencil stub, Mr. Bulldog marked an “X” by Ralphie’s number on his clipboard.

“Next,” he growled.

Ralphie glared. I took the rejected cup and headed for the dressing-room urinal. Mr. Bulldog followed and watched – so much for the innocence of track and field in the 21st century. I handed over the full cup, and he circled 613 on his clipboard, wrote the number on the container and packed it in his pee cart.

“Ralphie, as your coach, my advice: Piss in the damned cup,” I said.

This time Ralphie did and had the “X” erased, and his number circled. Now we were both legal. Back at the motel, I passed out. I had nothing left after posting a personal best 1:47.06.

“Whut da hell were ya dreamin’ ’bout?” Ralphie asked the next morning. “Dought ya’d  kick a hole in da wall or somethin’.”

I didn’t remember. But my legs sure did. A pair of tree stumps, they refused to move. Alas, the semifinals beckoned, wooden muscles or not. I stuffed down breakfast, looked at the meet results in the newspaper and geared up again. Ralphie didn’t feel well, and I felt worse. Together, we totaled about a hundred years of muscle fatigue.

With few good options in the strange land that was Atlanta, we drove back to Griffin, threw on our track stuff and lounged in the luscious green infield. I stretched out on my Ninja Turtle beach towel, covered my face and soaked in the healing rays of the blazing Georgian sun. Ralphie nudged me to say he was going to practice. His finals were on Sunday. My next dose of torture was at 4:45 p.m. Although I felt better thanks to solar therapy, I had no illusions of running well. My legs still had knots I doubted most sailors could untie. But with some intense Tai Chi, I loosened them the best I could until a kamikaze runner toppled me.

“Why’d ya stop here?” he asked, sprawled next to me.

I winced as he helped me up. I was too tired to care.

“Take it easy, Dog,” I said, trying to sound younger. “Just getting ready for the 800.”

The white teen stared at me as if I were covered with green polka dots.

“Really? That’s strange,” he said. “Me? I’m running for president.”

We both laughed.

“Well, good luck to you, Dog,” he said and started to walk away. “Jist stay outta my jet stream, Pops.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang