About Time

Chapter 31, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

My racing peers twisted and bended and dipped with deep, soulful moans. Me? Warming up for two hours? If I got any looser, I’d be a Slinky. My legs jellified 45 minutes ago. Still, I did two, last toe touches with my legs crossed.

… don’t you dare hold anything back …

“Let’s go. Let’s go.” The starter gruffed.

He was past impatient, nearing grouchy. Could we help it if he’d already started 86 races today? This was the only one we gave a damn about. In a sudden attack of lethargy, the runners shuffled back to the line with all the gusto of prisoners returning to their cells. They knew a start with maximum thrust, just seconds away, would require every last calorie. I tried to follow their lead but couldn’t. My adrenal glands pumped 20 gallons a second. I was ready to blast off and out of my skin. First, though, we had to squeeze behind the skinny, white line.

“Take your mark.”

We coiled.

BANG!

And sprang.

MADNESS!

Starving cheetahs at dinnertime.

The grunting. Loudest I ever heard.

… the fans, can they hear this …

We whip through turn one. I’m caught in the middle.

… not bad, don’t panic, not bad …

I’m seven feet behind the leader.

… the pace – it’s too quick …

Down the back stretch, I fade to sixth.

… where’s that second rocket booster …

A horrid thought creeps in.

… did you warm up too long …

My legs answer with a wobble.

… c’mon, guys, let’s go, PLEASE …

I cross the line in sixth. The bell tolls one lap to go.

The leader is within spitting range. But I don’t have any saliva.

I don’t have anything.

Is that my check engine light flashing?

… OK, it’s time to panic …

And then, out of nowhere …

“GGGRRR, RUFF, RUFF …”

I look left. Some idiot with a Mohawk is barking at me. He scampers along in the infield. He lunges at me, snaps. I flash back to the neighborhood devil dog trying to eat me for breakfast.

“AAHHHH!!!” I scream.

My legs shift gears.

… THANK YOU, Harry …

I leave the Mohawk in my wake. My legs threaten to leave me behind. Accelerating down the back stretch, I run down the fifth- and fourth-place tots. The third I cut down on the curve. Second place, I zip by at the head of the front stretch.

… look out, Top Doggie …

He shifts, too. I still pull even. We’re neck and neck.

I hear the crowd buzz. Building, building …

Twenty yards to go. The lactic acid kicks in.

My legs ignite. I sniff smoke.

… uh-oh …

He beats me by half a stride.

I struggle to stand. My legs are melted rubber bands. I fall to my knees. I see Harry in front of me, screaming. I can’t hear him. Not a word. I turn to look at my legs behind me. They’re throbbing, blood red. Squinting through the sunlight, I shield my eyes to read the scoreboard. Up in second place is the name “Thompson, UCLA.”

But the time is mine.

1:46.17.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

The Staredown

Chapter 31, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Track is a funny sport. There’s no ball or bat or soccer goal. Just you, the track and a bunch of cats running around in their boxer briefs. Yes, I just figured that out. Pathetic, no? Can you tell I had way too much time to think?

Saturday dragged on. Would I get to compete? Or would I sit and watch my dream run by? The first heat for the men’s 800 had a 2 p.m. start, so I got to the track by 11:30 a.m. While I sat and pondered, I saw my 49 years whiz by in my mind’s eye. After I edited out the bad stuff, the story lasted about 3 minutes. I waited and stretched and waited and worried and waited and …

Got the call at 1:45. Some California dude thought 67 degrees was too cold to run in.

“Hey, Princess,” cooed Harry. “Get ready. The show is on.”

There was no drama, no fuss, as if he were telling me the lunchtime special. Over his career, I bet Harry said “Get ready” a thousand times. I was just 1,001. As I rotated my lower back in the suddenly glorious, Iowa sunshine, his words echoed through my head.

… get ready … get ready … get ready…

Like a bad pop song, there was no stopping it. When I rolled my pre-race visualization tape, it was the soundtrack.

… get ready … get ready … get …

Enough already! Strolling the front stretch, I tried to distract myself by peering into the stands. Never had I run before so many. I felt honored – and scared – at the same time. My nerves tingled. I was sure I was blinking on and off like a loose bulb in a ceiling fan. Then, it occurred to me the fans had no clue whom I was. Or cared.

… they’ll know when it’s over …

A positive thought? Are you kidding? I hadn’t had one since 1979. Maybe all of that training and paining had been worth it. I searched the stands for Melinda and the girls. My wife had never seen me run. My daughters had never seen me run. I wondered if they were nervous. Knowing Melinda, she was bored.

“Last call for the first heat of the men’s 800 meters.”

“GULP!”

I jogged back toward the starting line. Next time by, I’ll be doing more than 200 miles an hour. With my fear-induced adrenaline gushing, I felt I could. At the line, the other runners were ballerinas, prancing up and down, spandexed in mild-altering colors, their one-piece, skin-tight tracksuits sported miniature billboards full of corporate sponsors. Inspecting a chartreuse tracksuit to my left, I thought I detected a makeup stain.

… these guys – they’re just children …

The runner on my right stared hard at me.

… he thinks you’re someone’s lost grandpa …

“Alzheimer’s.”

… did you say what I thought you said …

As if he didn’t hear me, Mr. Stare bent over and touched his palms on the track for a last-minute stretch. But when he straightened, he stared again. The silliest little grin played on his lips.

… yup, he heard you …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Luck Be A Princess Tomorrow

Chapter 30, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Crossed electrons?” I asked. “Is that even possible? My physics lessons escape me at the moment. All I know is electrons are negatively charged and …”

“Here is a lesson in logic,” my coach said. “Did they ask your age?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Probably saw your age and put you in the Master’s race. That’s my guess,” said Harry.

“They shouldn’t even be asking my age. I should never have put that down,” I said, warping into indignant mode. “I’m not going to get to run tomorrow, am I?”

“Well, I am still working on it,” Harry said with resignation. “The head honcho, name’s Anthony or Andrew, I cannot remember. Anyway, he said if one of the runners fails to show tomorrow, you could … ”

“And how likely is that?” I snapped.

Coolly, Harry stared me into submission and bit his lower lip.

“Right now, Charlie, it’s the best we’ve got.”

“It’s not going to happen, is it?”

“You will be here tomorrow, and you will be ready,” said Harry.

We drove back to the motel and took Melinda and the girls to Cracker Barrel. Harry told everyone about the snafu. Melinda thought it was the funniest thing this side of the Mississippi. The girls didn’t know what to say, so they giggled through dinner. I was one green bean away from searching for a river to jump in.

For more than a year, I had sacrificed and almost lost my family only to be herded into a Master’s race. Now, I had to be back at the track by noon Saturday, sit tight, stay loose and see if someone would have second thoughts about running a couple of laps in the beautiful Iowa sunshine. It sucked more than Terre Haute, and I told Harry it sucked. I could tell he was about ready to snap, too.

“Just shut up, Princess. Just shut up,” he said.

“Princess?”

“Yes, Princess. You heard me,” Harry said. “You remind me of a royal pain in the ass sprinter I used to train in Louisville.”

“Was she good?” I asked, not really caring.

“She was dynamite,” said Harry. “But she had the IQ of a walnut.”

“I’ve got the IQ of a walnut?”

“Most times, Charlie, you don’t even have the shell.”

“Harry, did I ever tell you, you’re my hero?”

“Like I used to tell her: Just shut up and run,” said Harry. “Jesus, you make it sound like you’re working for NASA.”

“NASA should be so lucky.”

I sure wasn’t.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

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