Monday, October 12, 2009

Target Practice


I wandered around the house like a condemned man. My body felt lousy. My head hurt. The antibiotics had messed with my G.I. tract, causing frequent visits to the bathroom. My long runs had becomes disasters. Every run now seemed like a death march.

Whenever the topic of the marathon came up, I could only lower my head and mumble, I don't know how I'm going to do this thing. M started feeling sorry for me. She tried to pep me up. You only need one more long run! We'll both do twenty miles. And then we're done. Get four hours. Who cares how slow you are. And only go on flat trails and forest service roads (no more heading down in the canyons). Have fun! Yeah, yeah. . . Thanks, coach.

So we had a plan. I would do M's run. Go through Fort Tuthill, turn up Soldier's Loop, run past the archery range, and head toward Woody Mountain. She mapped it out for me. She also promised to leave little markers. M left at 6:30, taking Mundo with her. It was still dark and a mist escaped from her mouth as she waved goodbye. I ate breakfast with L and put the final touches on my Dead mix. Two hours later, when her pops showed up, I started my run. The sky was clear and heavy. I expected to pass M somewhere on the trail.

As I ran, I became convinced that my sole purpose was to boost M. To run well, she needed to beat somebody. And that somebody was me. I was her target dummy. Her punching bag. Her straw man. My chest was painted with a big red circle. My head was full of saw dust. And my legs were splintered wood. We had a reverse correlation. The more I suffered, the better she performed.

Once on the trail, I hit strong headwinds. My legs ached at mile six. I didn't see M at the Fort and became worried. I felt helpless and bitter. At one point, I thought I saw the ghost of Mundo, a black dog in the trees, but then it was gone. M must have taken a different trail? And then crud, I missed the road to the archery range. I circled back three times, but could not find the turn off. So yep, like usual, I went off trail. And yep, climbed some rocks. And yep, doomed my run.

Eventually I got to the archery range. There were stuffed targets propped against the trees, some of them in the shape of animals. A deer. An elk. A man. I kept waiting for the sound of an arrow to whiz by. How would it feel? To be struck in the arm. Or the stomach. Or the chest. I couldn't see any archers but I had a crazy urge to jump over the barbed wire.

After the archery range, the road split in three directions. I was pretty sure I would go the wrong way, but then I saw it. A cairn. M had built a little rock pile to show me the way. I loved her for it. Even her cairns were cute.

My attitude improved. As I progressed I saw little rock piles every few miles. I followed her path through the forest and onto a forest service road until I got close to ten miles. Then I turned around. If I could make it back without walking, I would get twenty.

At mile thirteen, as if by design, I bonked. My speed slowed to twelve-minute miles. I began to trudge. Crap. I tried to motivate myself, but my mind was a wasteland. Nothing grew from it. I kept noticing dead trees, fallen all around me. And then I could see in the past. I could see them falling. I saw one tree get struck by lightening. And then another. A few of the dead logs stood up and started walking around. Shaking their limbs. I ignored them. Keep going! M's words echoed in my head. Get four hours. Who cares how slow you are. On my player, the Dead played louder and louder. They jumped into something called Mind Left Body Jam. I passed M's final cairn and headed back to the Fort. I was not quit there. A golem among the golems.

When I hit mile seventeen, I got a second wind. Somehow, I had pushed through the bonk. Also I realized I would get twenty. My time was nearing four hours and I felt an odd sense of accomplishment. My pace was horrible, but so what. I had done what M wanted. And hey, maybe I wasn't just her practice dummy. Maybe we were actual running partners. When she was down, I helped her. When I was down, she helped me. How wonderful, eh?

I made a slow loop around the neighborhood and got my twenty. When I hit our driveway, my body felt like dead wood. I had no clue how I'd add another six, but whatever. I trained as best as I could. The tapering could begin. When I reached the front door, M was waiting for me. She asked how I did and I told her. And I thanked her for the cairns. Then I asked how she did. Pretty well, she said with a smile. I got twenty-two. Huh? I raised my eyebrows. I dropped my water bottle. You bitch!

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