13 January 2008

The Times They Are a PF Chang-ing

For some time, my plan was to rise at 7am on the morning of PF Chang's annual Marathon, and briskly walk the mile and a half from my house, along the canal and through a couple toney hoods, to Missouri Avenue at 20th street. There, at Milepost 8 on the racecourse, I could sheepishly share an iota of satisfaction among the thousands of more dedicated movers and shakers swooshing by. I had studied the course time projections (similar to bus route timetables) and knew the first athletes would roll by this point just after 8AM. One could say I had trained for this. I awoke at 6:30, one half hour ahead of schedule.

As it turned out, that morning I was rather "tired", much like the other three hundred and sixty four. I lingered half awake in bed, then read the paper on the john. By the time I actually wiped my middle aged heinie (different paper!), it was 7:45 and this best laid plan, so to speak, had gone down the loo! I hurriedly hopped in the car a la Jim Rockford (sans sportjacket, dimples, jet black hair and background porno music), and sped south to intercept the leaders. Unfortunately, half a mile north of #8 Milepost, 20th Street deadends at a sidewalk, where a sign warns "Do Not Cross. For Emergencies Only". After my quality time in the lavatory, this had become an emergency, so up onto the curb I edged, violently bouncing over basketball sized barriers embedded in concrete, like 4WD pickups in entirely too many commericals. Hell, it was Sunday. Shaken but undetained, I eventually parked just north of Missouri, then joylessly strode the remaining 26.2 feet to the edge of the racecourse.

The first athlete through was this spinner (pictured,left), followed by two other chairs. Then the elite, mostly African men, one of whom dropped out 100 yards beyond our station. Outside the dowdy Shalimar Apartments, a dozen young pom pom girls synchronized enthusiastic cheers. As the sporadic runners thickened to a linear throng, a sideline grandma held up a handmade sign, trebling "Mile 8 - You're Doin' Great!" over faint bass notes from an invisible band jamming down on 16th street. A spectator my age shouted runners' names from their tanktops and offered personalized encouragement. And everywhere was heard the ubiquitous "Way to go!" "Way to go! Lookin' good, way to go!" For tens of thousands of men and women, east was "The Way" to go this morn, as if pilgrims on some fast forward Hajj.

Around 1981, when I ran high school X-country, a girl named Anne Karl caused a stir by competing on our boys team. She wasnt only invading a male domain (there was no girls' X-Country team). Many people, doctors and such, were concerned girls who ran distance might hurt their uterus. Anne didnt win any races, but she trained diligently and earned everyone's respect - and if these legions of latter day sisters are any indication, Anne's uterus probably turned out fine.

Its interesting to watch the different body types go by, especially later in the pack, where less refined movements result in slower locomotion. Upright, forward lean, long stride, soft stride, all sorts of arm carriages, favoring a handicap or savoring every moment as if floating on air. So many styles, each reflecting its unique variation of pain and response, exertion and recovery.

It is a democratic - somehow very American - exhibition, these disparate souls extending and exposing themselves. My admiration is tinged with a sense of guilt, for not pushing myself more. Why do they all run 26 miles, anyway? Pheidippides had a valid excuse, but arent some of these copycats as self indulgent as I am? Laggards "running" a 6 or 7 hour pace, which isnt running at all, holding up Sunday traffic in the nation's fifth largest city, when some of us motorists have lunch reservations. I suppose most do it for their health, the endorphin rush, a few for the glory of the crowds. Ultimately, most of them do it for themselves. To prove something. Like Anne Karl. Nothing wrong with that. Just now, there's alot more of them - and they - like any man made traffic barriers - are getting in my way.

No comments: