DON’T ASK WHY- Best race was away from track & field

Usually when people think about someone going out for track, they picture a fairly muscular individual who is in peak physical condition and runs the mile more often than he brushes his teeth.

People who run in track meets have one purpose in mind: Finishing first to get the gold.

My track ambition, however, is to eat my locker note before someone else steals it. (Locker notes are placed in an athlete’s locker on “game day,” and consist of a usually edible treat with an uplifting memo such as, “Go Trojans!”)

This spring I did something that I vowed in sixth grade I would never to do. Namely, go out for a physical activity that would require me to run in competition.

That was because, prior to this spring, the last competitive race I ran in was something like a 100-meter dash at a sixth-grade track-and-field day. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but my performance in that race still holds the record for “final athlete coming in as far last as possible without actually winning the following event.”

In fact, at that point in my life, I think a small, bi-valve mollusk could have passed me.

Since then I’ve put myself through the grueling training that has brought me to where I am today: sort of in shape.

Which is why this year when a “friend” told me I should join track, I said no. However, once word spread that I was passing up an offer to join the team, people kept telling me to join the track team until I finally gave in to peer pressure said, “I’ll think about it.”

The “I’ll think about it” method is a technique I’ve learned over the years from my parents. It puts a very definite “maybe” on any given issue.

For example, I could ask to use the car Saturday night, and they’ll say, “I’ll think about it.”

Or I could suggest the family go see a recent movie release and they’ll say, “I’ll think about it.”

Or I could ask to squirt some lighter fluid on the living room floor and then light a match, just to see what would happen, and they’ll say, “I’ll think about it.”

Usually, the exact definition of “I’ll think about it” is “no.”

So, thanks to foreshadowing, irony and also the fact that I already told you, I’m sure you can guess that my eventual answer was “yes.”

The thinking behind this decision, as my psychology class and I discussed, was that as long as I was running by myself every day, I may as well get-and these were their exact words-“shiny stuff” for it.

Once my place on the track team was official, I soon learned that being on the team did not just mean running around in a few circles and drinking watered-down Gatorade.

For example, I quickly discovered that nobody else finds the word “fartlek” amusing.

OK, so maybe my mental maturity wasn’t exactly where it needed to be for this kind of commitment. But it was soon whipped into shape, as was my physical maturity, at the daily after-school practices. And that was just the two warm-up laps.

The actual workouts consisted of a lot more running around in circles. One of my personal favorites-which actually means, if you were paying attention, my least favorite-workouts were the 400-meter intervals.

Four-hundred-meter intervals consist of continuously running 400 meters-exactly one lap, or about 300 more meters than I would have preferred to run-with minimal breaks in between, until you either (1) collapse or (2) trip over someone else who has collapsed.

As you can tell, the practices were a lot of fun. So I’m sure you can only imagine how enjoyable the actual meets were.

My main problem was that everyone I was competing against were slender, had a muscular build, and probably actually cared about how they would place in the meet. Most of them were also taller than me, and probably had gone out for track since it was first made available, by the looks of them, in kindergarten.

I was competing against ATHLETES. I was running with the type of jocks I fervently avoided in the locker room before and after sixth-grade P.E. class lest I get snapped by a towel hard enough to bruise my-and this is the most scientific term available-utt-bay for the next month.

I was out of my league. My league, of course, being the goofy kid taking his inhaler five minutes before the event.

My central event was-ironically-the 400 meters. The only motivating factor there was knowing I only had to run one, instead of intervals. However, Coach-whose actual identity I can’t reveal, so I won’t say that his last name is also a type of lightning-got a bright idea to put me in the 1,600 meters at one meet.

For those of you who don’t run in metric, the 1,600 is equivalents to about one American mile. An American mile is four laps. Three more laps than my key event.

I should probably mention that it was cloudy, wet, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and windy at that meet. Perfect running conditions.

The race began just fine: the starting gun went off without a hitch.

Unfortunately, the rest of the mile is a blur. I vaguely remember starting with all the other runners. After the first lap, I’m pretty sure I thought something like, “You want to go how many more laps?”

And, although I was not in last place, the only motivation I had on the final stretch was the bright yellow USD 410 bus, which promised warmth and protection. And my inhaler.

But now that my personal track season is over, in retrospect I’m glad I went out for track this year. Now I have entire year to get myself into peak physical condition.

It takes a very fit guy to say “no.”

* * *

UFO: Twenty-nine percent of men say the unstable economy is making them watch more cartoons.

Don’t ask why.

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