Use Care, Not Dare

Chapter 29, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

We laughed the rest of the way home. Sure, I was embarrassed. Never did I trip anyone in a race. I felt bad. But Harry told me to forget it. So what if I were disqualified and forever banned in Terre Haute?

Also, I was injured. Harry made me clean my knee wound at the McDonald’s in Kentland. Then, he prescribed a trip to the doctor on Monday to get a tetanus shot. Shifting into teaching mode, my coach said I should learn three things from the mishap:  1. Don’t fall at the start. 2. Don’t lose my cool. 3. Always pass with care.

“Should I write it down for you, Charlie? Perhaps print it on your hand for every race?” he asked. “Maybe a tattoo?”

“No, thanks, Harry, I’ve got it. Would it be easier if I just took the lead and didn’t give it up like Prefontaine used to do?”

“I wish it were that easy,” said Harry.

The injury did allow me to take Monday off to let my knee heal, but I still did visualization on my own. Harry was right. It was a powerful tool. I played the Terre Haute race over and over in my head, and not once did I clip that guy. But I did beat him every time. Back at practice on Tuesday, I wore the blindfold while I did my Tai Chi and jogged three laps with it on. Addictive? No, just superstitious.

I took the blindfold off to see Geri Price staring at me in mock horror.

“What in the name of Nike are you doing, Wells?” She asked and then winked at Harry.

“Training,” I said.

I told her about the Terre Haute debacle, and she thought it was ridiculous.

“I had no idea you were such a dirty runner,” she said. “Did Rockard teach you that?”

“Back in the day, I took out a whole relay team with a single baton,” I said.

“Wells, you’re such a bad liar.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

 

// //

On A Spring And A Prayer

Chapter 23, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I skittered for the starting line. Of course, I was in the first heat. I stripped off my Walmart warm-ups and lined up with the kids in their slick, neon outfits. Only the bearded guy in lane four noticed I was old enough to be his daddy. He grinned like a hungry shark at the clueless wonder wearing No. 613 on his old-school T-shirt, trembling in lane five.

“Runners, take your mark,” the starter called.

Balanced on the tips of our toes, we inched toward the line.

“BANG!”

My first three strides chopped into the turn as I hurdled vibrating nerve endings. But on stride No. 4, the nerves went poof, and it was go-time.

… so, knucklehead, GO …

I wanted to share my excitement, but there was no one near. Everybody else was at least five yards in front and pulling away. At the blend line, there was no one to blend with. Instead of moving over, I ran diagonally toward the next turn. Runners do that to help minimize the distance they have to run. I did it out of desperation.

… take it easy, Seabiscuit, pace yourself …

… catch ’em one at a time …

… oh hell, JUST GO …

My stride lengthened. I accelerated. The pack drew near. I caught the nearest runner as we crossed the line. The bell clanged.

… C’MON, YOU BASTARD, RUN …

Up I shifted and caught the next one before the turn. I stuck in the second lane down the back stretch. No boxes for me, thank you.

I had to pass two fighting rigor mortis through the last turn. A no-no. But I had no choice.

… see ya …

I slingshotted past another out of the turn and veered into lane four to avoid traffic.

Down the stretch, I scrambled.

And stole third place.

Crossing the line, I smiled – and crumbled in a heap. I was spent.

Next thing I knew, Ralphie had my arm on his shoulder. On Slinky legs, I bounced along for the dressing room.

“Took it easy dat time, huh,” he said.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Round And Round

Chapter 17, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri had transitioned to afternoon practices and meets, so I was limited to running with whomever showed up in the morning, whether they be humans or wild dogs. Sadly, it was none of the above – it was just freshmen.

They had the option of training in the morning or waiting until early evening when the varsity was finished. Many opted for mornings. It wasn’t bad. I had someone to run those damned intervals with – and bitch after each one. Yeah, we bitched. Man, did we bitch. You would, too, if you were high on lactic acid.

I felt wicked. A gaggle of eight children with me in the middle, all cussing like convicts for 30 odd seconds, then dashing for 45 seconds more, slowing to a crawl and letting loose again. I wish we had a video of it for that television show. We would have won the top prize. On the other hand, there would be some angry parents when millions saw their little Johnnie swearing on national TV. Remarkably, no one reported us. We were obnoxiously loud and the music we played during practice was louder, mostly Maroon 5, Daughtry and our favorite by Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around … Comes Around.”

On Saturday, I’d race whatever sucker wanted to try and beat me. The prize was $20. Even with head starts, though, no one could touch me, least of all, freshmen. No one else tried. Racing for money was illegal, of course, but I never had to pay. It was good practice. Staying out of box traps, sprinting the last 200 meters to the finish and setting the pace when the race was slow, I tried to invent every situation imaginable and some that weren’t.

Could you tell? I was bored. But the daily dose of training proved therapeutic, keeping my mind off the chaos in my personal life for about 90 minutes. Also, I loved the limited socialization it provided since Melinda, Ralphie and my other friends were shunning me. Only my daughters came around to see me. My kids, my job and my running were all I had.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

It’s Not Cheap To Be An Athlete

Chapter 17, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Short of 15-year-old fishing line, have you ever seen anything so snarled and screwed up? The steep price of being an Olympic athlete was climbing by the minute. Melinda took the kids and moved in with her mother, Dedra, nine blocks away, over on Franklin Street.

I tried calling. She hung up on me.

I tried visiting. She wouldn’t answer the door.

I tried writing. She sent the letters back, unopened.

I talked to Dedra, who said Melinda refused to listen. “Never has, never will.” Dedra then chastised me for being so selfish and ignorant about women. She had an inkling of what happened, but her real motivation was personal. Dedra wanted Melinda out of her house as quickly as possible. Soon, a week peeled away. My daughters came over a handful of times because they missed me. I sure missed them. I missed their mother, too. Melinda didn’t seem to care. She made the kids promise to leave if I dared bring up any “issues,” Shannon said.

After two weeks, I begged Geri to go over and tell Melinda the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She did. Melinda listened politely and then told Geri that her lawyer would contact me. Midlife crisis she could overlook. Adultery she could not. Melinda wanted a trial separation.

And who was having a midlife crisis?

Meanwhile, I left it all on the Valparaiso High School track. Melinda’s last words about the Olympics hung in the air, haunting me. Now I would do anything I had to make it. And that included running intervals with freshmen.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

A Game Of Domestic Dodgeball

Chapter 16, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

That 1:49-plus cemented the idea in my cracked brain that maybe I did have a chance. A second here, a second there – that wasn’t asking for a miracle, now was it? I thanked Geri and Billy for their help and headed home, hoping to catch 20 winks. After all, it was Saturday.

Exhausted and sore, I lumbered in the door to have a flying book smack me between the eyes. Melinda was red-faced and ready to rumble.

“How could you?” she screamed.

A black, spikey high-heel helicoptered toward me. I dodged it. My wife had one helluva arm, but she took way too long to wind up.

“What the hell?” I yelled as I dove behind the Lay Z Boy.

“You freakin’ ASSHOLE!” she screamed and fired another book at me. It skipped over my left shoulder and fell harmlessly to the floor.

“Want to tell me what this is about?” I shouted. “Or do I have to guess?”

I swear I had no clue. In spite of the flying objects, I tried to stay calm, but my heart wanted to jailbreak out of my chest. My wife stopped to catch her breath.

“You didn’t think I’d find out, did you?” Melinda growled.

“Find out? Find out WHAT?”

“You are one cool customer, YOU ASSHOLE!” Melinda said, firing another book as she shouted “ASSHOLE.”

It crashed into the wall behind me and also fell to the floor.

“Calm yourself. You’re going to wake the children.”

That just made it worse as a lamp came flying overhead. It missed, but the plug on the end of the cord struck my arm. Now I was angry. Couldn’t help it. I was under attack, but I didn’t know why.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I bellowed.

“ME?” screamed Melinda. “It’s YOU! You’re having a damned midlife crisis. I told you. But you wouldn’t listen.”

“What are you talking about?” I was beyond exasperated.

Melinda lasered me with her glaring, blue eyes.

“Are YOU, or are YOU not, running around with a younger woman?”

“Wwwwhhhaattt?” My mouth hung open.

Melinda waved her right hand in disgust and stomped into the bedroom. Stunned, I stood there. Either this was someone’s sick idea of a joke – or one colossal misunderstanding. Afraid of more missiles, I stole a peek into the bedroom. Melinda banged the second dresser drawer shut. On the bed, she had her suitcase pinned under a mountain of clothes.

“What are you doing?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

You Only Live Once

Chapter 15, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri started her workout. Billy and I rehashed the race. He said I needed to sprint the last 200 meters and not wait until the last curve to make a move.

“You’ve got maybe two chances to accelerate during an 800,” Billy said. “You can’t wait or you’ll waste them.”

Gobbling everything the young track star fed me, I craved more. I was starved for feedback. Who knew the fount of knowledge just happened to be this tousled-hair, 150-pound kid who scampered like a scared rabbit. What I wouldn’t give to be 17 again, have his wheels and know what I knew as a 48-year-old.

“Tell me. How do I shave off five more seconds?” I asked while Billy gave Geri her split times.

“Five seconds?” he repeated, taken aback.

… yeah, we know, world record territory, big effing deal …

“All right,” I said. “How about three seconds. No need to be greedy.”

Billy frowned.

“For starters, let’s get you some decent shoes,” he said, making a face at mine. “Are those from the Seventies, too?”

Brand new out of the box, my Pumas were a gorgeous red with white trim. Now they were a disgusting, rusty brown. Not wanting to make myself sound any older, I didn’t answer as Geri flew by again. While she did propel herself with an exaggerated arm and leg movement, she ran easily, sailing down the track.

“Tell me how I could run like that, and I’d hand over my firstborn,” I said.

“I’m still waiting for that twenty,” Billy said. “So you got kids?”

“Yeah, don’t tell anybody, OK?”

“Nobody would believe me anyway,” he said.

“Geri keeps telling me I need to find somebody to run with. I think she’s tired of my holding her back.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Billy. “But starting next week, there’ll be a mess of freshmen out here every morning. You can always run with them.”

“Thanks, Billy. But won’t an old guy like me just get in their way?”

“I wouldn’t worry,” he said. “They’re just freshmen.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Get Set …

Chapter 14, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

That was the difference between Geri and me.

I saw training as nothing but pain and misery. Something to get through, an evil means to a desired end. Go ahead. Throw in your own trite cliché here. But for Geri, it was spiritual, rewarding – and nothing short of miraculous.

Seemed to me, old school got old for a reason.

In spite of my hard-charging coach, I weaseled a week’s reprieve from racing to train with renewed purpose. With my first dose of competition looming, even those devilish intervals didn’t seem so hellish. See, I was trying.

On race day, I didn’t feel ready, but I had little choice. So at 7:30 a.m. on an overcast but dry Saturday in early April, I awaited my first race in 30 years. My sadistic coach matched me against Valparaiso High School’s current 800-meter champ, Billy Tubbs,

… you have no freakin’ chance, dude …

Geri and Billy showed at the same time. Billy seemed like a nice kid, long, lanky, a natural runner. He stretched easily, doing some of the same moves I saw Geri do. And then, he did some real ball busters.

OMIGOD! Did he!

We jogged a few warm-up laps, chatted. He was mulling going to Purdue, as I had, also for engineering. I told him not to rush it. Enjoy high school while he could.

“You sound just like my dad,” he said with a rueful grin.

… you probably look like him, too …

Geri lined us up, a lane apart with Billy on the inside. She pulled a starter’s pistol from her pocket.

“A starter’s gun?” I asked, startled by the formality.

“You saw the movie ‘Seabiscuit’ didn’t you?” Geri countered, winking at Billy. “It’s all part of my method.”

“Just don’t point that thing at me,” I said and inhaled every molecule of air my lungs could hold, counted to 10 and exhaled. “All right, let’s get it over with.”

“Take your mark … ”

“Just a minute,” I interrupted. “Billy, would you take $10 not to beat me by more than 10 meters?”

Billy smiled. Geri acted annoyed.

“Make it 20,” he said.

“Meters or dollars?”

“Gentlemen, take your mark … get set … ”

BANG!

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Why Run?

Chapter 13 , Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri and I walked the last mile back to Glendale Boulevard. The workout had refreshed her – and nearly finished me. I wondered out loud what drove a 17-year-old to climb out of a warm bed every morning to punish herself. Her confident demeanor evaporated. She looked perplexed, maybe conflicted. I didn’t think Geri would answer. Or could. But after about quarter mile of forced silence, she chose to reply.

“When I was little, maybe a year old, maybe 14 months or so, I had trouble walking,” she said. “In fact, they thought I couldn’t walk.”

“Wow,” was all I could say.

“The doctors never did figure it out, maybe ten thousand neurons failing to fire here and there. Something like that,” Geri said with a dismissive wave of her had. “My mother still says it’s a miracle I ever did walk, much less run.”

“Some kind of weird polio, huh?”

“I don’t know. Could be.”

Geri shook her head and gazed skyward.

“My parents took me to therapist after therapist until they found one who said she could help. Can you believe it? Not even 2 years old and in therapy.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“That’s why I run so methodically, like a crazed robot.”

“I don’t think you run like a robot,” I said.

“No?”

“More like an android.”

“Shut up, Wells. I’m trying to be real here, and you’re giving me crap.”

“Sorry.”

“So the short answer to your question – what motivates me, why do I love to run?”

“Yes?”

“Because I can.”

“I like that.”

What else could I say? I was embarrassed I had asked in the first place. I was trying to be conversational. Instead, I got a confessional. For sure, I thought I would hear a shallow “I’m just good at it” answer or “I did it to meet guys.” Perhaps, “I’m just an old-fashioned masochistic girl.” Now I was ashamed. Yes, ashamed I took my God-given talent for granted. Why didn’t I take more pride in it? I put my head down and trudged along, wondering why I was like that.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Day Two

Chapter 12, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

And, of course, I was right.

When the alarm clock rang Wednesday morning, I got up and was the tin man walking. Geri and I had planned to do 10 miles of roadwork up and down nearby Silhavy Road. I considered calling her and begging off. But my coach had warned me that it would take at least 10 days to get acclimated. Until then, I would have to suffer. If I called off, I would just have to restart the clock.

So I crawled out of the house and wobbled the three blocks to Silhavy and waited.

… maybe, just maybe, if you’re lucky, her alarm will malfunction, and she won’t get up, and you’ll have to bag it, you can’t work out without a coach, it would be dangerous, and, and …

And there she was, right on time. Was there a doubt? Really?

Coach did have mercy on me. She jogged most of the way while I limped along on wooden legs that refused to loosen. But the limping slowly smoothed out. My legs came around, and I trotted the last three and half miles. Along the way Geri filled the one-sided conversation with horror stories of what I could expect as my body morphed into a mean, running machine. Predictably, I was speechless, gasping for air.

… where the hell do they get this  …

As we retraced our path on Silhavy, the soothing glow of the early morning sun tossed a few rays over the horizon that landed on us. It was glorious. It was inspirational.

It was only Day Two.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Death Wish

Chapter 12, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Anaerobic training, Wells. When you run long distances, your muscles can’t remove the latic acid they build up fast enough. So ya get that burning feeling. Ya become fatigued and can’t kick those last 20 meters.”

“Kind of like the city trash haulers,” I said. “Too much trash.”

“Trash haulers? Whatever.” Geri said. “Interval training helps overcome it. Or at least, builds tolerance.”

I had read about intervals in my first issue of Runner’s World now that my subscription had kicked in. But I wanted to hear Coach explain it. For me, it sounded like nothing less than torture.

“Are you going to run intervals, too?” I asked.

“Of course, it’s Tuesday.”

“So what’s Wednesday?” I didn’t care. I just wanted to postpone intervals as long as possible.

Geri was happy to elaborate.

“Sundays and Wednesdays are distance days, about 10, 11 miles each.”

… GULP! You might need a new coach …

“Mondays, we’ll do 200s at pace; Tuesdays, 400-meter intervals; and Thursdays, a variety of intervals. Fridays, we’ll do some special stretching and a handful of 200s.”

… DOUBLE GULP! You DO need a new coach …

“And Saturday … ”

“We sleep in?” I hoped.

“Nah, that’s fun day. We race.”

“Race?”

Geri gave me a good, pained look.

“That’s why we’re out here, Wells.”

I wasn’t used to having young girls call me by my last name. It felt odd. But again, this whole arrangement was peculiar, bordering on Ripley’s.

“OK, Coach. What’s first?”

“We’ll do a 400 in 65 seconds, jog for 50 seconds, do another in 64, jog for 45 seconds, do one more in 63 seconds, jog for 40 … ”

“Hey, who’s going to time us?”

Geri pointed to her wrist.

“Don’t give it another thought. I have the stopwatch right here. Let’s go. It won’t hurt you a bit.”

… isn’t that what your dentist says as he reaches for his drill …

In high school, we ran intervals as a group of six or seven. When we were on the far side of the track, we bitched like prison lifers and called old Rockard names I can’t repeat here. I was a juvenile then. As an adult, I was much more mature. After each, I just cussed under my breath.

Once we got started, though, my legs got with the program. They didn’t like it, but they responded. I ran intervals with Geri and I was totally surprised that I could still do it, knowing full well I would be dead the next day.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang