Welcome, readers. This is Part Two of my Hunter S. Thompson-inspired vignette, which was itself an enchanted foray into a recent weekly WordPress Daily Post challenge. My Part One shall live forever, ever, ever at the link. And now . . . Pinch-hitting for Pedro Borbón, Manny Mota.
To discover why most runners do LSD nearly every week, please read on. And feel free to comment, share, or commiserate–I get lonely in here with only my echoes and memories of funny films to keep me alive.
E-GAD! IT’S (T)HIGH ANXIETY
The small sandwich board-type sign stood at the front of the store, where the sidewalk was wider to accommodate more foot traffic to the restaurant and bar nearby. A brief stab of panic slipped through my ribs when I saw a woman in a long, dark coat outside the store. She could’ve been waiting for someone or maybe just the “walk” light to cross the street. Something told me she wasn’t there for the seminar, so I wasn’t petrified of her so much as I was of the entrance to the meeting. As a child and teen, I’d begun to build a slippery precipice of fear surrounding any entrance into a public forum, room, or get-together. Think classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, or anywhere people were already present and I wasn’t. Likewise, exits, though those were far less problematic. Had I the vocabulary then, I’d probably have been able to brand the perplexing condition as social anxiety. But an argot of the mind had not yet been sifted into my soul, so I always got dubbed “shy” or “bashful” and was told “you should smile more,” “you should talk more,” or, the real kicker, “you’d be pretty if you smiled (more).” As if it were impossible to think a serious person attractive or remotely admirable.
If you want to slurp the more memorable alphabet soup of psychologic plagues, I suppose you might spoon out GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Not to be confused with GERD, though GAD can certainly cause GERD in some people. One almost imagines a satirical psychotropic label as such, malicious though it is:
GAD Sufferers: ‘GERD’ your loins for one hell of a ride for your overly sensitive stomach. What, you don’t have sensitive stomach? It must mean you’re abnormal. Have you checked lately to see if any giant green thing is stuck in your teeth, if your breath reeks of garlic, if something nasty is dangling from your massive proboscis? If you do have gastroesophageal reflux disease, you really ought to have that checked out–it’s probably cancer. I’m surprised you’re not dead already; it’ll probably happen when you least expect it or can control it. While sleeping, for instance.
But seriously, the little acronym with the big, bap rap can be likened, I think, to some Tim Burtonesque mouse with serrated shark’s teeth in its jaws, which miraculously unhinge and grow to gobble up a person’s mojo, if you will. However, as I think of it, the affliction of GAD really reaches its apex as shyness on steroids.
And so, as the panic-stab muscled its way around my innards, ricocheting any china in the bull-shop so that it buries itself in some soft place or other, I begin to picture it like one of those hooks that movie criminals use to break into the museum. It’s thrown into the air, is attached to a rope, and miraculously lands just on the lip of the ledge and can be expanded to grasp ahold better by increasing its circumference. Once it imbeds in a weak spot, it’s darn-near impossible to shake it off, for at least a few minutes anyway. And those minutes stretch as if taffied, but it’s sour candy. And you abhor sour candy.
Here was the terrorizing thought pattern, as best I can reflect the inner chaos of the lizard brain, thankfully brief though it was: ohmygoditstartedalready. itwasatsixnotsix-thirty. i can’t go in, i can’t go in. peoplewillstareatme. peoplewilllookatme. peoplewillseemebeinglateandwrong, a total frickin’ idiot coming in late. I mean, we’re runners. We’re supposed to be obsessed with time, right? They’ll think this probably is emblematic of how good a runner I am, too.
Sigh. All that mangled baggage in the time it takes for a propelled sneeze to leave one’s body, that one nervous-Nelly neuron fired out of control. Dang, if only there were better neuron-control laws in this country.
The sandwich board doesn’t give a clue as to the start time, but suddenly I see a man approximately my height come from the left. He was slowly jogging, not a jog-jog as if he were out for a recreational jaunt, but rather a purposeful “I am going to catch up to something, and then I will stop” kind of gait. As he neared, I saw it was James, though I seriously doubted he remembered me since it had been ages since I’d done LSD with the group.
Oh, that? Yeah, I do LSD regularly. Not as of late, however. For LSD, of course I need to direct you to the runner’s lexicon. LSD in this context means long, slow distance. It’s typically the one long run a week someone does, usually on a weekend, to maintain their aerobic base. In my case, I do trip with semi-regularity and could tell tales on myself, but I won’t inject that into this story, which is a novella as it is.
We say our hellos and he opens the door for me. I’m glad it’s not a prolonged encounter, because I have so much to do. It drains me to interact with people sometimes. Suddenly, the merch in the store, a vast majority of which I cannot afford and none of which I truly neeeeeed becomes The Most Interesting Thing I’ve Seen in Months, Maybe Years. It’s a great avoidance tactic, because the store is crowded. For a little store, maybe the size of an average dining room and kitchen, it’s nearing about half-way packed. The crowd is about half-and-half. No brown, however. Only white, sadly. It’s split along the male-female line, with approximately 8 of each present near starting time.
There’s Ray, the silver-haired extrovert who could be a Jonathan Pryce impersonator if he wanted to. There’s thin and graceful Sarah, looking years younger than her age, an age range I know only because I’ve seen her name in race results, not because I’ve become a close friend (owing to my social anxiety, and nothing else). Then Brandy, yet another woman I don’t know, but whose name I’ve also seen in race results and who wears the exact-same blue-black glasses as I, I discover tonight. (In my mind, I make an ever-so-witty comment like “I love your glasses,” but it doesn’t come to reality.) Then numerous others, some of whom I feel I’ve seen here and there, but can’t place them according to names, occupations, running speed, or favored events and PRs (i.e., personal records). I inwardly damn my disintegrating memory. It must be Alzheimer’s, a catastrophizing, pathologizing thought chimes.
Roughly in the center of the store in dark-blue, acid-washed blue jeans and a backwards-turned black ballcap stands a younger man with at least a five-o’clock shadow, which was appropriate as it was almost six-thirty, placing him well under the time.
He seems to know a few of the men and one of the women in the store.
“Was your husband playing basketball at the ‘Y’ over the break?” he chats with a woman.
“Yeah, I think I saw him there.”
Then they talk briefly about kids. His or hers, I’m not sure, as I don’t want to seem like I’m eavesdropping.
As I observe, trying to stand casually, coolly even, calculated to look less nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as my Grandaddy was apt to say, I begin to gather that this must be Scott, the guest speaker. He is from the area, but has moved away to pursue a career as an elite runner. He now works for a shoe company out West, where most running-shoe companies in the States seem to reside. Where a higher density–number-wise but not weight-wise!–of America’s fittest people are. It makes perfect sense.
His black polo is emblazoned with the bold red lettering of his company. His shoes, company brand of course, aren’t brand-spankin’ new, and this I appreciate. My own Nike Frees are spackled with dried mud enough to make any cross-country runner (or “cross” as many of us elide it) envious. Another mini-pastime that fits well with my sometimes-nervous nature is shoe observation. I’d noted many of the folks in the room–those who weren’t dressed up as they’d just come from their job–had clean, new-looking or almost new-looking athletic shoes on. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be running on a treadmill that evening; almost certainly it wouldn’t be outside, for it was both dark and frigid, with a forecast of snow slated to start around 8 p.m. CST, so I’d dressed accordingly–bummily–in a tech shirt, overcoat, and sweat pants.
As I’d cruised the perimeter, a red-haired youngster in his 20s asked, “Can I help you?” quickly realized his error, then said “are you here for the talk?” He ended by complimenting my hat, so I guess I had someone in my corner.
Even Sarah had recognized me from behind the counter. I didn’t usually wear glasses, so again I wasn’t sure if I’d be identifiable. “Hi, Leigh” she called across the store. I moved closer to say, “How are you? It’s good to see you running again.” She related a few tidbits about her recent trail race, not much beyond what she had posted on Facebook, and gradually the conversation lulled and I faded away shyly.
It must have neared 6:30, for the young guy in the middle motioned us all to the back of the store. I had expected a somewhat more-wizened runner, not someone the approximate vintage, I’m guessing, of my “William and Mary Cross-Country Invitational” T-shirt from 1990.
THE (S)TREE(T) OF KNOWLEDGE
I was about the third in line to wind our way past the running supplements and in-race or pre-race gels and to the bright-white back of the store. Two doors led left to bathrooms and a sink sat outside in an open room that usually bore two or three round plastic, picnic-type tables with bench seating. Instead, about 20 individual chairs had been brought in, most white plastic as well. A table full of shoes of every size, color, and “gender” sat to the left of the room, I suppose to beckon to the gear hounds among us.
I made the quick decision to sit near the “front” of the talk in order to better soak up the running-related knowledge–or else make a quick exit, if need be, a tiny subconscious voice urged. Or maybe it was feng shui gone wrong? In any case, I took the third seat along the wall in the single-file line. Toward the back of the building, there were 2-3 rows of about 3-4 seats crammed in.
“First, I apologize, guys. I’ve been around the world lately and my voice is so hoarse,” Scott began. It turns out that the “young guy” is the grizzled running veteran. Lime-green and black shoes with sliver lines and all. He looks every bit the male elite runner, however. He’s a compact five-eight or so, slim-limbed, short-haired. I’m sure he has a down of fine, dark hair dusting his legs and chest.
“People are always asking if I should land on my forefoot or midfoot or heel. There is no one correct way to run. You need mobility . . . to tap into different muscles,” he begins.
At the outset of the talk, which I didn’t know was going to be focused on a certain brand of shoe (i.e., I didn’t even know he was a shoe rep), he promised we’d cover three main topics: strength, mobility, and coordination, doing a few quick tests to ascertain each.
“Okay, guys, now I’m going to need you to take off your shoes,” he urged. “You can leave on your socks, but it will be easier if you don’t.”
Gawd. I’m so embarrassed. My feet look like hell.
The woman next to me quietly laughs with her neighbor to the left–who so happens to be Sarah–“I won’t look at yours if you don’t look at mine,” so I guess it was a gender thing. I didn’t hear any men self-deprecating about this scenario.
I hate to say it, but the room did get a little smellier after that point, but I adapted. Heck, I’d been an athlete throughout my teen years, lived with non-human animals of different types, worked or volunteered at humane societies, visited various senior-living homes for relatives and relatives by the grace of marriage, and changed my share of cloth diapers via the so-called wet method using the toilet (upon which I won’t elaborate except to say that if you have a squeamish stomach, this experience is probably every bit as nauseating as it sounds)–so I was used to irksome smells. No biggie, not one of my trigger issues, thankfully.
Not only was I embarrassed about my funny-looking feet, but I had the goofiest socks imaginable. I was probably about to be exposed as the female Urkel in the room. I thought, at most, I might run on the treadmill and/or try on shoes, but I never expected a sock or foot inquisition. Nobody expects that!
But seriously, I would have worn my runner-y socks had I known. Instead, I had the “Banff, Canada” socks darned with red moose and black bear silhouettes on them. Even though I really liked the socks, given to my husband by a volunteer at his workplace, with the geekiness of the garb calling to me like E.T. phoning home, I thought I’d be outed as a complete dork. It was high school all over again in that moment, but I still cheerily removed the shoes and socks.
GEAR LUST RISES AGAIN
James sat to my right, relating to Scott how he had several pairs of the brand shoes. So he was one of the gear nuts among us. Not that I didn’t want to be a gear hog at times, mind you, I simply lacked the resources. Other times, the passion for acquisition.
“Pass, pass, fail, pass . . .” I was one of a few who fail the big-toe test. Apparently I lack range of motion in that toe on each foot, so Scott grabbed my dorky sock and quickly rolled it up. The table had been moved back into a corner by that point to expose three small rectangular blue exercise mats. He explained that you can “block off” the big toe and do wall stretches to improve and stretch it, as well as roll around a golf ball using the toe and foot. I quickly recalled that I’d read similar advice in a running magazine in the last 2-3 years that I’ve been keenly re-interested in running.
I do better with the calf-muscle test and the hamstring test, too.
I can’t help but notice the three signs, stacked like steps above the small sink in the room. The path to paradise is not always paved and Maybe getting lost is the best way to find yourself and Today is your day to get on your way. Really, it was boilerplate text for the running community.
Among other advice: do some pick-ups during your race warm-up to be ready to go; this is especially important for the shorter races. He mentions Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule, and I later locate a recent Gladwell piece on it. I’d read in the last year a science piece on the Runner’s World Web site discussing new data about Kenyan schoolchildren vis-à-vis this concept and how far they walk or run daily, out of necessity, to fetch water, attend school, and the like.
He advocates “every 500 miles, or 6 months, replace your shoes,” to a spectator question. Ray, the Jonathan Pryce-a-like, flaunts his extroversion, but I like him nonetheless. He’s friendly and self-deprecating, which definitely saves it: “what was that exercise again that you recommended for better coordination?” He laughs at himself as he almost loses balance during one exercise.
I couldn’t believe myself, almost, when I participated on the mats in several exercises, though I took the same mat each time out of force of habit.
Speaking of force, I also made myself to go up to Scott, ever so briefly, after the talk. I took off only my left shoe, realizing afterward how imprecise and, thus, dumb it was. [I should have shown both shoes, because there can be foot-to-foot variations.] I wasn’t prepared to club the poor guy Khrushchev-style, however. “Before you go out to your car, I’ve got a quick question.” I thrust the dirty old thing forward: “I’m not good at interpreting wear patterns. Does this look to you like I’m a forefoot striker?” I inquired.
IT WEARS ON ME
He confirmed the wear pattern that I’d suspected and even ended up giving me a red business card–his last one, for which I apologized and laughed nervously. I felt a little bad for the guy; he was so thin his jeans kept falling down, exposing the tops of red-and-blue plaid boxer shorts that paunched out from the top of jeans that said “1969” along the back band. But perhaps that was calculated, too. I never know with “young whippersnappers” these days.
Making my way back to the cold car, after just hanging on a little bit longer than 90% or more of the people to peruse the gel flavors in the store, appearing like I might be able to afford to buy some shoes or something pricey any moment now, and, thus, avoiding the hated exit scene, I began to let relief crystallize around me, a cocoon to the winter air.
I hadn’t had any LSD tonight, and I hadn’t tripped. Except maybe on the tangly, banged-up, bandaged-up pathways of the brain. I just hope I don’t stand up with any fresh bouquets of bruises.