Run, Chuck, Run

Chapter 30, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

At first, my coach appeared nonplussed, then quickly turned displeased.

“All right, Charlie,” said Harry. “Exactly, what happened?”

“No, no, they want me to run now.”

“Yes, I heard that part. Tell me why.”

Struggling against a deepening oxygen debt, I gulped air.

“Calm yourself, Charlie,” said Harry. “Start over.”

“I was asking … when I was supposed to run tomorrow … you know … so they looked it up … and said I’m not on that list.”

One of Harry’s friends, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, held up his hand to interject.

“There’s an 800 Master’s Race starting in, maybe, 20 minutes.” He checked his watch. “Actually, 15.”

“That’s it,” I said. “That’s the damned screw-up.”

“And?” Harry asked.

“They have me in the Master’s Race. NOW!”

“OK, take it easy, Son,” said Harry. “We will see …”

“You better have him run it, Harry,” said coach’s other pal, this one wearing a Cubs hat. “You know, it’ll take days to straighten this out.”

Harry looked at him and nodded. He looked at me.

“Can you be ready, Charlie?”

“I-I-I think so,” I said. “Guess I better, huh?”

“It appears so,” Harry said. “In the meantime, I will try and untangle this foolishness.”

Harry and his friends scooted away. Hurrying out into the parking lot, I got my bag and headed in to change. I wasn’t about to run in my sweats. With pre-race adrenaline surging, I got back out to the track, visualized, stretched and …

“Last call for the Master’s 800.”

… this sure ain’t no heaven  …

My heart wanted to jump out of my mouth as I trotted over to the starting line. My name was penciled in for lane No. 4. In a bluish blur, I took my mark and …


A minute and 49 seconds later, I broke the tape. Paying the high adrenaline cost, I was spent. Harry still made me stand and walk to cool down. When I could talk, all I had were questions. But my coach had no answers.

“What in the name of Iowa happened?”

“DO NOT know,” said Harry. “Some bureaucratic bullshit. You emailed your entry, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So some dumb ass got his electrons crossed,” Harry said.

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

// //

On The Clock

Chapter 30, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


Stopwatches don’t lie – enough. Despite racing away with the club events, I could not break 1:49. Instead of improving, I was stuck on a plateau or worse, fading.

It was simple. I needed better competition and no more train wrecks like Terre Haute. But Harry had trouble getting past Terre Haute. My angry burst of speed mystified him.

“Criminy! We have to figure out how to light that firecracker of yours, Charlie,” said Harry, scratching his chin. “We can’t have you fall on your ass every race.”

“And cuss everyone out,” I added.

“That was the best part,” Harry said. “I thought I had seen it all, but I did enjoy that immensely.”

“Glad you liked it,” I said. “Personally, I thought it sucked. I could have gotten hurt a lot worse than I did.”

“Don’t know who was more horrified,” said Harry. “The fans or the club president. He would not shake my hand or even look at me. You know how I hate poor winners.”

“So what the hell do we do now, coach?”

No more club races, he said. Despite USA Track and Field sanctioning, they could not help me produce a qualifying result. I needed a 1:46.50 – and fast.

“Doggone it! I gotta run against somebody better.”

Harry’s eyes flashed.

“For probably the very first time, Charlie, I think you are right.”


That narrowed the options significantly. By design, there were only a precious few opportunities, outside of college competition, to run in meets with enough pre-Olympic Trials firepower. I wanted a meet close to home. Harry wanted to go to California. We settled on the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. They were the next weekend, April 24-26.

To procure an invite to such a premier event, Harry had to phone everyone he knew in Iowa. He might have dropped a few dollars under the table, too. But I wasn’t supposed to know anything about that. Since I didn’t have the time or money to go to California, Harry warned that Drake would be my best – and maybe only – chance to qualify.

“Really, Harry, do I need any more pressure? Want to tell me the fate of the free world is riding on this, too?”

“Charlie, we’re talking Beijing 2008. As you know, it’s a Communist country.”


“Do not limit it to just the free world.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

// //

Use Care, Not Dare

Chapter 29, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


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


// //

Terre Haute Meltdown

Chapter 29, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


We began in Evansville where the Pocket City Striders held their annual club invitational on the first Saturday in April. I ran a lackluster 800, winning by 7 or 8 meters. The next Saturday, I ran in the Comet Racers event in Fort Wayne. Again, no one could touch me. In two races, I led from start to finish. It was boring. I wanted more. I needed someone to push me.

On the next Saturday, I ran in the Wabash Valley Invitational on the Indiana State University campus in Terre Haute. The 800 race was crowded, cramming 15 runners in eight lanes. As the mob surged at the start, I tripped and fell in a heap. Tied down by arms and legs, I was an old man in a pickup football game. In slow motion, the pile untangled. I struggled to my feet, shoved one guy aside and sprinted after the pack, about 20 meters ahead.

Scrambling down the backstretch past three stragglers, I felt something trickle down my leg. I looked and gasped. It was blood. My knee was missing three inches of skin.

Now I was angry. With hot adrenaline gushing, I shifted up a gear. I caught two more pretenders going into the curve, another coming out. The rest of the gang pranced 10 meters dead ahead.

“Come back here, you bastards!” I bellowed.

The small crowd stared in silence. Not even a buzz. I doubt they ever heard anyone run down the front stretch – and cuss. But I did hear a female voice ask “Did he say bastards?”

So what? I was hurt. I was mad. The bell clanged.

Harry shouted as I crossed the line. I couldn’t hear him. I didn’t care. I would run ’em down or run ’em over.

“Git the hell outta the way,” I huffed, steaming past two more on the curve.

“MOVE!” I yelled at three more in the backstretch.

It scared them, and they scattered. I scooted through the hole.

One left to catch. He poured it on through the last curve.

I chased him like an angry Tony Stewart.

Ten yards.

Six yards.





My left foot clipped his right heel. He dropped as if he were shot. Through the tape I sprinted and kept running – all the way to the car. A long 10 minutes later, Harry rolled up, tossed his walker in the backseat, and we took off for home.

“Better work on that start,” was all Harry said for the first five miles.

“Where’s my ribbon?” I asked about three miles later.

“Up that guy’s ass,” said Harry.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Let’s Race

Chapter 29, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


I craved it. I dreamt it. I ached for it.

And now, here it was in my face. R-A-C-E.

After enduring Harry’s endless methodical meanness, I was going to run in a real race. But where was the jubilation? Was I too exhausted to be excited. Was I relieved?

My heart knew what to do. It raced in my chest.


My lower lip quivered. I sweated like a cheap air conditioner. Fear vise gripped me.

… you’d think you’d be careful what you wished for…

“You will run every weekend, and we’ll see what happens,” said Harry as if he were planning a trip to the grocery. “I have it all mapped out on my calendar. In April, we will take a lap around the state.”

“We will?” I repeated, skipping from one foot to the other. Every leg fiber vibrated with mounting trepidation.

“Yes,” Harry said, sensing my reluctance. “Just part of the process. You will be all right. Competitive work, that is what you need now. A few races. Seasoning. Just a touch. For flavor.”

“What am I? A stew?”

“You do not want to go stale, do you?”

“Stale?” I asked, having pleaded for months to race.

“Yes, stale,” said Harry. “I figure three or four events should be sufficient before we try and qualify you.”

… listen, Coach, he’s already certifiable …

“Great,” I said, meaning anything but.

“You will be fine. I have done this a hundred times,” said Harry. “Any fool who can run blindfolded like you has the right stuff.”

Blindfolded? That was easy. I was outside of my body, looking down.

“Trust me,” said my coach. “You already have more courage than a hundred morons.”

Harry slapped me hard on the back.

“Let’s go eat,” he said.

Whistling something straight out of “Indiana Jones,” Harry rolled toward the car. I stood there stunned silly. Then it hit me like a shot put to the noggin.

“Hey, I still don’t have a pre-race routine …”

But it didn’t matter. I was going racing. The blindfold should have been an eye opener. I didn’t think I was ready, but everybody else already knew. My legs knew it. My heart knew it. Harry knew it.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

More Than Senseless

Chapter 28, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang


“Really?” Now I hoped Harry was kidding. “What do you mean by that?”

“It means, let us get started,” my coach said. “Here, wear this.”

Harry held out his hand. In it was a black cloth.

“A bandana?” I asked.

“No, el stupido. It’s a blindfold,” he said.

“A what?”

“A blindfold. What? Did I stutter?”

… coach has lost it this time …

“What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

“You wear it, Charlie, baby.”

“What the hell for?”

Harry looked at me with bewilderment. I might as well have asked if he were my fairy godmother. He waved his finger in disapproval.

“We said no more questions, remember?”

“Sure, but …”

“It is part of your training,” he said. “It will help you develop your inner runner.”

“My what?”

“You need to trust your instinct,” Harry continued. “You depend too much … “

“My instinct is telling me to forget the blindfold.”

“Quiet! As I was saying, you depend too much on your sense of vision. Anyone who can see, does. Your other senses need additional work. You know, development.”

I took the blindfold and tied it in place. The cloth was thick. I couldn’t see anything. I felt helpless – and foolish.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Jog a lap,” he said.

“Harry, I’m just going to fall down and get hurt.”

“No, you’re not. I will tell you when you get to the turn. Try it. It is easier than you think.”

“If I sprain my ankle …”

“I swear,” Harry said. “YOU are such a baby.”

That did it. I started to jog. Weird, I felt totally weird. I put my hands out.

“No,” yelled Harry. “Run normally. You can do it.”

I pumped my arms.

“Visualize the track,” Harry shouted. “See the track in your head.”

I focused. I could see a track. Was it right? I jogged slower and peeked.

“Noooo,” bellowed Harry. “Trust your inner runner.”

…. #%&*@#!*#$# …

Blindly, I jogged. I felt the track change. I peeked again. It was the turn. I stopped and glared back at Harry.

“You’re supposed to tell me,” I hollered. “I could have fallen.”

“Charlie, you knucklehead,” Harry yelled. “You felt it, didn’t you?”

He was right. I did feel it. I was stunned.

“Come on back here.”

Sans the blindfold, I jogged back.

“Tomorrow, we will get someone, maybe the Price girl, to run with you until you get used to the blindfold.”

“You knew I would feel the turn?”

“Only the good ones do,” Harry said.

“I want to run a lap with the blindfold.”

“Think you can?” Harry asked.

“Let’s see.”

Replacing the blindfold, I turned and ran off. This time I jogged a little faster. Again, I felt the contour change ever so slightly. I followed the turn. It changed again. I could feel the backstretch. Faster I ran. I felt the turn again.


It was exhilarating. I never felt anything like it. My strides bounced down the track. I could hear my shoes strike the surface and spring off it. I never heard that before. The early morning air smelled intoxicating as I sliced through it. I could even taste it.

I stopped near Harry and removed the blindfold.

“Only the good ones, huh?” I asked.

“That is correct, said Harry, full of himself. “You know what?”

“What?” I played along.

“It is time to find you a race.”

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