Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bolder Boulder

The first time that I tried running was six months after a car whacked me. It was pre-M. I had a pin in my leg and the physical therapist ordered me to run. Crap. So every morning I got dressed in my sweats, ball cap and basketball shoes and hobbled across the street to a quarter-mile track in east Boulder. My goal was to finish three miles, no matter how slow. It took me an eternity. I would listen to books on tape. Ulysses. Moby-Dick. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Around this time, I first met M. She was living in Texas and had come to Colorado to visit Y, an old friend of hers from college. I knew Y because she had dated my ex-roommate, K (we had two degrees of separation). Anyway, I happened to meet M when she came to Boulder. And I liked her right off. She was slight, energetic and attractive. Her eyes shut when she smiled. And she couldn't sit still. M created a new path every time she stepped. Walking over the sidewalk. Going down an aisle in a grocery store. Getting out of a hot tub. It didn't matter where. I had a hard time keeping my eyes off of her. And then she was gone.

Boulder isn't a mystical place. It's not even close. The city is an elevated yuppie enclave. Overpriced. Phony. And self-obsessed. But damn, it's pretty. It sits in a misty green valley. It's overlooked by the Flat Irons. And it's separated by a sleepy creek. The valley also comes with a curse. When the first settlers came in the 1850's, Chief Niwot declared that, People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.

After a month of limping around that track in East Boulder, I had this awful notion. Maybe I should train for the Bolder Boulder? This was an annual 10k race and a huge event for the city. It took place on Memorial Day and attracted over 50,000 people, making it the biggest race in the U.S. I'm not sure where this notion came from. I never had desires like this before.

M visited Boulder again, a few months after her first visit. I met her and Y at the ski slopes. And then at night, we went to the bars on Pearl Street. Usually I'm socially inept. And if a beautiful woman is involved, forget it. Yet I felt comfortable with M. We had fun, but her visit was short. She had to get back to Texas. And I was planning a trip to China. Now that we are married, we sometimes try to reconstruct those moments in Boulder. They seem both cosmic and mundane. A handful of uneventful hours, that somehow got recorded, paused and replayed.

Running is an odd sport. It never allows you to stop. Keep your pace! In soccer, you can slow down and hold your position. In basketball, you can stop, pivot and pass the ball. Even in cycling, you can coast here and there. But not in running. Go. Go. Go. Keep on chugging. When I first tried running, I constantly wanted to quit. My mind hated it. It begged me to walk. I could not hold even the simplest thought. And it bugged me. I had always been an over-analyzer. When running, my brain got kicked to the side.

People often refer to Boulder as the People's Republic of Boulder. The city is fiercely liberal and residents scowl at all signs of god and country. I do too, but wow. In Boulder, it gets a little one-sided. Once we drove through town in a borrowed car that was covered in American Flag decals. Big mistake. This was at the height of the 9/11-flag-waving bullcrap. Some yuppie at Whole Foods saw the flags and wanted to spit on our car. He stood over the hood, blabbing and trying to make some point. I rolled up the windows. Gee. Lighten up, Clyde. . . But, hey, this guy was an anomaly. Most people in Boulder are incredibly cool. Maybe that's why Memorial Day is so fun? It's a patriotic holiday, but so what. The city lets its guard down. The Bolder Boulder is a big party. Everybody is welcome. University professors, venture capitalists, ex-marines, weekend warriors, elite athletes, hippy dippies. . . they all come together to run this race. It somehow works.

Either I don't care about my relationships. Or I care too much. Yet when I met M, there was no pressure. We were headed in different directions. Crossing at high speed. We enjoyed a few scattered moments. And then let go. Yeah, there was some chemistry. But so what. What were we going to do? Completely change our paths? It was a lucky surprise when we both ended up in Tucson.

After I finished the physical therapy for my leg, I quit running. It was an easy call. I never got above three miles. I never signed up for the Bolder Boulder. My times sucked. And running on that track had been torture. Also, a bunch of elite athletes were also training on that track. One team was Japanese triathletes. Another was a university club. And another was a bunch of pros from Ethiopia. I would be trudging along with my headphones and they'd encroach from behind, angry and yelling in other languages. And then a coach would cross the field and scream, Outside Lane! Slow poke! Outside Lane! Man, they would get pissed. After pretending not to hear for a minute or two, I would edge to the outside lane, merging like an eighty-year-old in a '73 Cadillac. Idiots.

I didn't see M again for over two years. Shortly after returning to Texas, she had been running on a country road with a friend when she got whacked by a pick-up truck. It was an old guy. He was half-blind. His license had been revoked. M had skull fractures and ended up in a coma. I won't give all the details, but she was lucky to survive. Damn lucky. She had one of those miraculous recoveries that you only see in television dramas. For a while, the doctors doubted she would ever run again.

One of the cool things about the Bolder Boulder is the music. They have bands every quarter mile. The first time I ran this race (when M finally signed me up), I noticed my pace improved every time I passed a band. I loved watching and hearing the jams. It took my mind off the run. Garage bands, old timers playing fifties music, goofy kids with their stereo systems in the front yard. It didn't matter. I dug it all. The fake Jake and Elwood Blues were my favorite. I gave them a high-five every time I passed.

During those two years when I didn't see M, I would get reports from Y. I heard about the accident on the country road. I also got updates on M's stay in the hospital. After a few weeks in the hospital, she left without permission, hitchhiking home. This was typical M. Her stories didn't seem real. At the time, I barely knew her. She was a distant memory. An outline. A blur. I never imagined that we would meet again. Still, I was curious. M's life had been thrown completely off course. She had an incredible comeback. She had jumped right back into school and got her doctorate. Within months, she was running again. Typical M.

The Bolder Boulder takes off in waves every thirty seconds. A couple hundred people in each wave. The elites go early in the morning. The walkers a few hours later. So the race becomes an all-morning parade. The run ends at Folsom Field on the university campus. The stadium opens up the grandstands, so that people can cheer the finishers, even the slowpokes. It's a nice feeling to run into a stadium full of cheering people and then take the final lap. Are they cheering for me? Why yes, they are! I'm great! I accomplished something! Oh boy! I'm an all-star athlete!! Okay, the race is only 10k. But it's nice to pretend.

When M and I were living together in Tucson, we took a road trip to Colorado. It was near Memorial Day and she wanted to sign up for the Bolder Boulder. She had just started prodding me to run. A few miles at a time. Some mornings, I would join her for a junk run to Reid Park in Tucson. We would do the three mile loop around the golf course. So yeah, I was up to three miles. And even more. It was awful and I complained incessantly. But she dealt with me. And I dealt with her. Running simply became something we did together. Often when we ran, M would stop and wait for me to catch up. Even though I was angry and miserable, I would give her the thumbs up. And then she would start again. It became a ritual. So when we took that road trip to Boulder and M wanted to sign up for the race, I said, Okay, fine. What the hell. I gave her the thumbs up.

M only listens to music while she's training. During a race, she leaves her player at home. It's extra weight. In fact, most elite athletes do this. They nix the player. Not me though! I need my tunes. Especially during a race. It helps me think. Or not think. Which begs the question, what do elite athletes think about when they race? I asked this to M. Their form, she said. Oh boy. That sounds fun.

After my leg healed, I decided it was time to leave Boulder. The city felt too small. Too sheltered. And too expensive. I was ready to try something new. I applied to a graduate program at the University of Arizona. And I was accepted. I packed up everything I owned in my truck. And headed for the desert. As I was driving out of the valley though, I knew I'd be back. I was cursed.

We haven't missed a Bolder Boulder since 2005. M signs me up every year and we make the trip back to Colorado. We ran it after she got injured at the Boston. We ran it while she was pregnant. And we ran it while she was breast-feeding L. And yeah so. . . I run it with her. I always suck. And I keep sucking. But I enjoy myself. So, sure. It's possible. Racing can be fun.

What's the best thing about running with M? Easy. It's when we are doing a long training run and she stops to wait for me. There's nothing better than seeing M. It doesn't matter where. I love seeing M. Waiting on the top of a hill. Stretching near a fence. Standing under a tree. Always impatient and checking her watch. But so what. My attitude jumps. I give her the thumbs up.

No comments:

Post a Comment