For Jon Tenzing Neralich, Exercise Guru Extraordinaire
Like many time-mellowed males, I have undertaken an exercise program that includes doing roadwork four mornings a week. Please note that I did not use the term “run,” because that would misrepresent the truth, nor did I employ “jog,” since I associate this prissy word with self-indulgent yuppies whose athletic wardrobes often cost more than the annual income of people in undeveloped countries, nor did I use “plod,” even though this bluntly unattractive term is closest to the reality of my movement. Besides, “roadwork” is fundamentally honest: My feet make painful contact with a road, and the endorphin high-related claims of marathon jocks notwithstanding, it is work – hard, unpleasant work.
As long as I am being frank, I should justify my unduly poetic usage “time-mellowed,” which is, of course, a euphemism. After all, the word “elderly” is both quaint and demeaning, though in my case accurate, and the term “decrepit,” while apt, is rather discouraging, though in unguarded moments I am wont to confess that rather than “staying in shape,” my chief ambition in undertaking a disciplined approach to exercise is merely “to slow down the rate of my increasing decrepitude.” Men for whom middle age is now a phantom rapidly receding in life’s rear-view mirror know perfectly well what I mean. For the uninitiated, by which I mean the obnoxiously young, I offer this anecdote: I have elected to run on a mile-long circular roadway on the top of a local hill, rather than along the boulevard nearest my house, because on the latter there is an antique shop, and dragging myself past it four days each week made me self-conscious.
Soaking in a tub of hot water a few days ago, in a futile attempt to sooth my sore and time-ravaged muscles, I decided that it might be instructive and even inspiring (I dream a lot) if I were to share some of my training experiences, at least selectively, with a wider audience. After all, my fellow “athletes” (please indulge me – we all require a few harmless but sustaining fantasies to get through the day, even if describing them requires stretching the definitional limits of words to near their breaking point), especially younger ones, might discover in my brief narratives something of the joys that lie ahead of them, while “battle-hardened road warriors” (see my comments on “time-mellowed,” above) will likely find much that is familiar in the tales of my victories (regrettably few) and follies (alas, legion), and misery truly does love company. I begin, then, with an incident that took place during my morning plod just a few days ago.
I was hobbling along at super-sub-sonic speed, which I call my “stealth mode,” since I am moving so slowly that no one notices me, when I saw a man sitting in a battery-powered golf cart on the road ahead of me. As fate would have it, I came upon this cart in the exact spot where I used to speed up as part of my interval training, until I discovered that doing so took effort, and, being a dedicated foe of the work ethic, I immediately amended the alternating pace of my intervals from slow-fast-slow to slow-stop-sleep. Nonetheless, when I saw the driver sitting in this cart, my competitive spirit suddenly quickened, and with the bravado characteristic of all emotionally mature males, if any such there be, my immediate thought was, “I can take this guy.”
A few words about my pace on these runs: I generally move along at a fairly good clip, except, of course, for those occasions when I either begin crawling, stop for an extended rest, or collapse in a ditch, times which grow increasingly frequent. I know that “fairly good clip” is vague, but everything is, after all, relative. I mean, I move slowly compared with, say, a speeding bullet, but I move quite quickly compared with a tree, at least when a breeze is not blowing too briskly. However, honesty (not one of my favorite virtues in matters involving my numerous shortcomings) compels me to admit that I was once lapped on my morning circuit by a snail, but those ready to mock my infirmities should know that this was no ordinary snail. As the creature sped by me, I noticed that it was wearing a shell made of a titanium-carbon fiber composite, just like expensive, ultra-lightweight bicycle frames, while I was burdened with two t-shirts, and so any comparison of our respective speeds must take into account the heft of the two layers of thin cotton with which I was handicapped. Besides, this snail-related humiliation took place on a day when I was feeling a bit sluggish.
Returning to my narrative, as I sped up in an effort to overtake the golf cart, and keeping in mind how much I detest effort, I noticed that the driver had what I interpreted to be a look of disdain on his face, though it could also have been indifference, but his body language seemed unambiguously to suggest contempt (hand placed provocatively on the steering wheel, back arrogantly braced against the seat – he might as well have spit at me). I am always prepared to meet any challenge, especially one that hasn’t been offered, and so I shifted my pace into a higher gear (from first to first and a smidgen, to be exact), and raced past the cart. Its prideful driver did not take this insult to his prowess lying down, since he was, after all, sitting, and so he, in turn, shifted his vehicle into a higher gear, or perhaps he just started it, but in either case it took no more than a few seconds for him to pass me. As the distance between us rapidly increased, I recalled something that I have always told my sons, a sort of code by which I have always lived, a code that has brought me most of what I call success, such as it is, in my life. “Boys,” I always began (Well, not always, since I usually address them as “hey you”; there are three of them, after all, and I have trouble recollecting their names, and their birthdays, and, truth be told, their appearances; that’s all Mom stuff, anyway.), “there is one thing that I want you always to remember. Life will present you with many difficult challenges, but you must face them all boldly. You must never give up. You must never quit. Never! Unless, of course, no one is watching.” And since no one was present to witness my being embarrassed by a golf cart, I quit.
I have tasted the bitter dregs of defeat many times in my long life – marriage and the aforementioned three sons spring immediately to mind – but this loss, this debacle was of an altogether different and far more baleful order from my usual setbacks. However, while almost anyone can learn from success, I am one of those rare people who can learn from failure, which is the only reason I passed high school trigonometry, albeit barely. Therefore, when I returned home, I swore to myself that I would learn a valuable lesson from this defeat, and so I have. I am not a man given to making casual promises, unless love or money is involved, and so I have made a pledge to myself, a pledge that I fully intend to honor. I vow that someday soon – very soon – I am going to purchase a golf cart.