“10 Miles of Hell” or “Nope, the First Title Says It All”

I signed up for the 10 miler again this year.  I think I must have been on heavy medication.

Last time when I signed up I did it on a whim.  The weekend of the race my family was in town.  As I was out with my brother and father grabbing some beer for dinner, I said out loud, “Maybe I shouldn’t run it…I haven’t really trained.”  My brother and father, always the supportive types, nodded in agreement (or maybe they were just in agreement over what kind of beer we were going to buy…I can never tell if they really hear me talk).

So, I come home with a case of beer and say to Rhonda, “I don’t think I’m going to run in the morning.”

Notable Note: when explaining to your wife that you’re refusing intense physical exercise because you are afraid that you haven’t trained enough, do not do it with a 12 pack of Sam Adams in your hand.

Write that down…you’re welcome.

The look that came over her face is difficult to describe.  The closest descriptor I can come up with is “angeratred.”  It was as if anger and hatred had procreated and out burst this little devil of an emotion that demanded you sleep on the couch with all the lights on while Tool blasted in your ear buds.

Suffice to say, I ran the next morning.  Waking up a 4am to drink coffee (apparently runners do this) and eat a banana (they also do this), I pinned my number to my shirt, stretched my “hammies” and walked to the train line.

And had a great time.  I ran like the wind!  I felt great, had tons of energy, and even jumped over the finish line.  Oh, and Gatorade never tastes so good as it does when it has the finger tips of adolescent children dangling in it just before you grab it out of their hands at the hydration stations…

I signed up again this year.  And I trained.

And it sucked.

We woke up extra early, chipper and cheery.  As I stepped out of bed I noticed something: my heels weren’t cooperating with the rest of my body.  I was walking like I had a bum wheel.  And this, plus the fact that the day before I pulled my back while trying to turn on our Super Nintendo (vintage baby), made me rethink this whole “Let’s run 10 miles just for fun,” thing.

Side-note: to heal my back, I drew a bath.  It was about 5pm.  I got in, grabbed a beer, was soaking away when a “raprapraprap” came from the front door.

I couldn’t move quickly so I slowly got out of the tub, all the while the “rapraprapraprap”  continued as if the knocker somehow thought I didn’t take them seriously.

I grabbed my robe, slung it on, grabbed the beer, and went for my glasses.  Although, the only ones I could find were my prescription sunglasses…

I sling open the door, and there is the maintenance man of the building.  Apparently our tub leaks.  And I stared him down with a beer in one hand, my robe on, sunglasses (at 6pm) with the bath running.


It was like I was either auditioning for a reality slot on “Basketball Wives” or I’m just not well put together.  You decide which it was.

Anyway, so my heels and back are hurting.  I fight through the pain though (because I’m a “champ”…at least my 7th grade basketball coach called me that…once…after my only basket of the season), and I pin on my number.

Ready. To. Go.

The Soldier Field 10 Miler is fun.  You cross the finish line on the 50 yard mark while people are in the stands cheering.  It is exciting.  It’s too bad that, by the end of the race, the only thing you want to do is get out of there as quickly as possible.

Actually, I imagine that’s how the Bears feel after a lot of their games…

So we get on the train, get downtown, round the museum campus drive and arrive at our starting corral.  That’s when I look up and notice the sky is green.

Not grey; green.

Now, I’ve lived in Ohio.  I know what a green sky means.  It means “grab the cat, swallow mom’s earrings, and hide in the basement.”

But, we couldn’t do that because they had us in the huge corrals.  We were in corral 12 to be exact…with 11 corrals ahead of us.  And I began to picture what would happen if a tornado did sweep through at that very moment.  The scene where the cow goes flying by twice in Twister came to mind…only the majority of us were wearing the yellow “10 Miler” shirts for that year, so instead of cows flying everywhere it would be streaks of yellow, like a dandelion massacre during the mowing of the lawn.

The national anthem brought me back to reality.  That and the fact that my heels hurt.

After about 30 minutes of standing in that corral pretending to stretch (overrated), we finally get going.  Rhonda always brings her digital watch (with the gross velcro strap that smells like it may have just come from a sewer treatment facility), and so we hit the “start” button on the stop watch as we begin to pick up speed out from the starting line.

And then we stop.  We have to.  Because some yahoos in corral 12 think that the “10 Miler” is actually a “10 mile stroll” and you have to run around them for the first mile.

Notable Note: don’t sign up for the Soldier Field 10 Miler if you can’t run through mile 1.  K?

Anyway, we pass through the tunnel at McCormick Place, suffering through some woman slinging a cowbell on the sidelines “cheering” us on.  Frankly, I wanted to jog over to her, snatch the cowbell, and throw it in Lake Michigan.  Thanks for the “support,” lady.  We already were standing in corrals for forty minutes, you dingin’ that cowbell doesn’t make me feel like any more of an athlete…just more like a cow.

Down goes mile 2, and we head up the onramp to cross over to Lake Shore Drive.  That onramp, by the way, is a 2.0 on the incline level of a treadmill.  Trust me.  It felt familiar.

At mile 3 my heels really start to bother me.  The only thing that kept me going was chuckling at the people who ran off into the woods off of Lake Shore Drive to use the bathroom.  Really?  You can’t run 3 miles without taking a leak?  But I guess body functions like that are just a non-issue on a long run.  When you look around and think to yourself, as the teacher did at the beginning of the seminal movie Dazed and Confused, “Some of you aren’t going to make it,” I guess the least you can do is let them go to the bathroom with minimal embarrassment.

Miles 4 and 5 were terrible.  You head down LSD and make a nice little turnaround at 51st street.  At the turn around a guy with a mic was trying to entertain the runners, but really all he was doing was confusing us all.  C’mon man, either sing the song or don’t…but don’t mock me by doing the “running man” while tossing me a thumbs-up.

The other guy with the bullhorn kept saying, “If you’re having difficulty, please find a person with a vest.”  But if you’re having difficulty by mile 5, chances are your vision is blurry and everyone is wearing a vest.

Side-note: speaking of vests, we saw some of the coolest full chest/back tattoos on this run that we’ve ever seen.  Seriously.  Apparently wings and koi fish are way in.  What I wish was not as “in” was short-shorts on dudes who shouldn’t wear short-shorts.  Ok, back to the story.

Heading North now on the Lakefront Path, you begin to notice how beautiful Lake Michigan is.  And you begin to dream that, perhaps, no one will care if you jumped in for a swim and abandoned this whole “race” thing.  And the weird burning sensation in your thighs just eggs on those fantasies.

It was at this point that we walked through a water station.  I drank a cup of water.  I swallowed a bug.  Bring it.

Moving back into the race of runners, I notice this guy walking on the side of the trail.  But I had seen him before.  An older gentleman with an odd gait, I had seen him walking back at mile 3.5.  But wait, if I saw him walking back there, how did he catch up with me?

And then I saw it.  This dude took off like a bottle rocket, weaving in and out of slow runners in a full on sprint.  I would catch up with him again at mile 8 (or as I called it when I passed by it, “8 Mile”…and then sang Eminem for a quarter mile).  His 10 miler experience was more of a “sprint and saunter.”

Actually, I’d sign up for a “sprint and saunter.”  That sounds more my pace.

The only thing that got me through mile 7 was the big JT.  Justin Timberlake, that is.  I tell you what, that kid sings music that is good to run to.  “It feels like somethin’s heatin’ up, can I leave wichu’? started flying from my mouth before I realized what I was saying.  I’m sure that was unfortunate for the runners beside me.  When you’re running long distance, polite talk doesn’t include discussions about what is “heatin’ up”.  That’s why you put Vaseline under your pits.

By mile 8 (8 Mile) though, my heels were seriously killing me.  I thought about packing it in and walking.  But then I remembered my mantra, “You paid for this…”  That usually makes me finish something.

I pulled it out from somewhere.  Rhonda set the pace, I just followed her lead.  At mile 9 she thought she’d be all sorts of awesome and speed up.  That was a mistake on her part, and I thought about gently tripping her to make that mistake known.

But she resumed a good speed and we sailed on past McCormick and began the home stretch.

As you round the back way through the tunnel at Soldier Field, you suddenly remember that tunnels are dark.  And that the pavement there is uneven.  And that you’re wearing sunglasses (those very glasses that made you look super slick to the maintenance people).  And then you get these wonderful thoughts about twisting an ankle, therefore putting your running career on hold for the foreseeable future.  By mile 9.75, I’m darn near delusional, trying to figure out legit ways to throw this thing.

And then you see the green turf, and the finish line, and you realize that you’re coming out of the side entrance and that you don’t really have to run the whole field.  And that they have a medal waiting for you.

And by the time all those realizations have crossed your slow brain (speaking from experience here), you’re already across and someone is shoving a water bottle into your shaking hands.  10 miles of hell conquered.

They then give you fiber-packed granola, not taking into consideration that you have to take the train half-way across town again before you’ll hit a decent bathroom. But, alas, it was worth it.

My heels still hurt, and the procession at church on Sunday was a bit like Frankenstein taking up the end, but it’s good to stretch yourself, even if you don’t really stretch before a race.

A good takeaway from this whole thing, though: that’s the last time I train for a 10 miler.  I did so much better going in cold.


“I Wish Alchemy was Real” or “Fat Squash”

We did situps.  A lot of them.

I hate situps.

Knees in the air, hands behind the head.  Crunch. Crunch.  With each movement I just imagined the fat cells that surround my middle experiencing their version of an earthquake.

A little fat-cell family going, “What the hell is going on?  Get under the solarplexius!  We must find something stable to get under!”

And with each roll of the spine and scrunch of the fat, my mind plays tricks on me.  “Yes,” my brain says. “This is working!  You’re turning those fat cells into muscle!  Muscle that will bulge and look like your hiding soda cans under your shirt!  This will work!”

Ugh.  If only alchemy were real…

And I totally get that those fat cells will just be fat cells.  That the only way I’m going to get rid of them is through cardio and eating better/less.  But, man, don’t you sometimes wish for some magic!

I also know that my “core” is getting stronger by doing situps.  By the way, what is the “core?”  I think it’s an imaginary place in the middle of your body that fitness gurus like to point to in order to make you believe that something is actually supporting and keeping up this bag of bones we call a body.

It’s all alchemy.

And we delude ourselves into believing all sorts of things like this.  I remember in high school I was shopping at the mall (“shopping” in the sense that I was going from store to store with a dollar fifty in my pocket).  At Hot Topic I ran into a guy I knew from my acclaimed school, Fred T. Foard.  For the purpose of this story let’s call him Larry (his real name was Josh).  We got to chatting, and Larry mentioned that he was a vampire out of the blue.

Yeah, you read that correctly, a vampire.

Not wanting to seem like a judgmental dork, I said, “Oh, what kind?”

I naively thought that perhaps, like wolves, there were different kinds of vampires.  Apparently there are!

“Psychic,” he said.  “A psychic vampire?” I responded.  “Do you suck my thoughts?”

“Sort of.  I actually just feed off of people’s energy.”

“Cool,” I said.  But I didn’t really think it was cool. The only other person that fed off of people’s energy as far as I could tell was my sophomore year English teacher.  I’d walk into that classroom and immediately feel like less of a person…

I had to think of a way to escape, but in Hot Topic they don’t make finding the exit easy.  You have to get past the leather wrist bands and, unless you’re careful, you’ll poke an eye out on the spike-studded collars on sale for $20.  I couldn’t lose him, especially if he was a vampire.  I’d just have to be honest.

“I’m going to leave,” I said being wary of his eyes.  After all, I was a teenager…I didn’t have much energy to spare.

“OK,” he responded.  “See you later.”

Ominous, right?  And I swear as I walked out of Hot Topic, he we bleeding my energy dry.  I had to go to Panda Wok for some orange chicken just to perk up…

But in reality, the guy was weird.  And not truthful.  He didn’t suck my energy, he just made me believe he was (although, who can tell with teenagers?).  And while on the one hand I appreciate a reason to eat orange chicken, I don’t like being lied to.  And even if he wasn’t lying, I don’t like my energy being used as a mid-day snack.

But who can tell?!  He could have been sucking my energy; I was a teen!  They have no energy.

In that same way, I’m suspicious of my “core.”

So, unless I see some six packs showing up soon as opposed to this keg I have right now, I’m going to be suspicious of my core.

Man I wish alchemy was real!  I just feel like I’m doing is squashing fat…

But, I’m running the 10 miler tomorrow.  So…there’s that…

Opening Night!

Earlier this morning Rhonda turned to me during breakfast and said, “Hey, want to go for a 9 mile run this weekend?”

I immediately began thinking of ways to turn my ankle.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but it bears repeating: I hate running.  I’ve heard from many encouraging people that, if I run enough, I will eventually like it.

They are liars.

But as I began to sketch out on my breakfast napkin various ways to turn my ankle, I realized that almost all of these sketches would require a trip to the hardware store.  And while I’m quite fond of the name of our local hardware store…The Crafty Beaver…I don’t actually want to go there.

(If you need an explanation as to why that name is funny, consult your 12 year old son)

I actually like hardware stores.  They smell good.  And I like high ceilings.  What I don’t like about them is how I wander around from aisle to aisle like I’m reenacting a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I don’t know what the heck I’m doing 90% of the time in a hardware store.

I like when they have power saw demonstrations, though…

So, because I’ve been writing a lot about running and working out, I thought I’d switch things up and write about something I am passionate about: seeing movies at a movie theaters.

I’m absolutely serious.

With the advent of direct-streaming movies, theaters have declined in popularity.  Oh yes, I’m sure you don’t like the high prices or the overabundant bucket full of salty packing peanuts they generously label as “popcorn,” but I want you to bear with me for a bit and hear me out.

I think direct-streaming movies are destroying our ability to interact on a communal level, not to mention depriving you of some very entertaining people-watching.

You see, just as a gym is GREAT for people-watching, a movie theater is a less strenuous alternative that offers just as much, if not more, enjoyment.

And I love watching franchise movies at their midnight showings.  My wife hates me for this, but like so many things in our marriage, it’s not going to change (much like my inability to successfully clean the bathroom).  I’ll do this till the day I die.

Best franchise opening night viewing experience? Star Trek.

Full disclosure time: I’m not a Star Trek fan.  Never have been.  But man did I figure that opening would bring out the fun characters.  And it did. In spades.

Aliens galore at that opening.  And almost everyone had one of those dumb pins they wear on their chest.  No lie, I saw some people hitting it during their conversation as if they were talking to one another over those intercoms.

And one woman came dressed as Uhura with the short dress and go-go boots.  Classic.  Absolutely classic.  Watching her negotiate those stadium theater stairs was hi-larious.  And don’t you know everyone whistled when she walked in (except for yours truly…I’m classy).

Now, before you think I’m going to these events simply to watch people, I have to say that I love movies and love watching them.  And I love watching them with lots of people because you get that “crowd reaction” during certain portions that, when I’m at home watching them with Rhonda, only I do…and then she begs me to turn it off because I’m being annoying.

The great thing about these midnight showings is that everyone there knows its a safe place.  In that space you can cheer when Leonard Nimoy makes his guest appearance.  You can “Oooo” as the spaceship goes down in flames.

And you clap at the end, which I particularly enjoy.

Another great opening night that I went to was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.  Terrible movie.  Horrible.  I would say it is arm wrestling at this moment with Temple of Doom for the distinction of worst movie in that franchise.

But when else will you hear people begin to cheer as the “Lucasfilm Ltd” marker shines forth at the beginning of the movie?  Nowhere else, that’s where…unless you’re at my house watching it.

And because these opening night fans are so ravenous in their devotion, occasionally you’ll be able to judge them and not feel bad about it.  Like when I went to see the opening night of Thor and the couple to the left of us brought a newborn in with them.

Yes. Newborn.  Couldn’t have been more than a month old.

The kid slept through the whole thing (we all did, actually…to label it as “craptastic” is to go easy on it), but still: parenting fail.  If you’re willing to pay $16 at midnight for that crappy movie, you should also be willing to shell out another $20 so the zit-laden high schooler can sleep over while you relive comic book glory.

Most recently I went to see The Avengers.  And while I wasn’t able to go on opening night, I would say that the crowd the following day was comparable to an opening night crowd.  The comic book shirts were in full swing, and while I didn’t see any Iron Man helmets or Cap shields, there was quite a bit of nerd-yelling and vocalizing.

Like from the dork three rows up and to the left.  The Hulk starts smashing things in a seminal fight scene and the kid begins cheering like he’s watching his favorite horse pull into the lead at the Kentucky Derby.  But while we are all silently judging, no one says anything.  Why?

Because we’re secretly wanting to do that, too.

And that, my friends, is yet another reason why I see movies in the theater: the dorks around me can enact my deepest childish outbursts, so that I don’t have to.

My local theater, The Davis, is family run.  It’s small.  It’s sticky.  The tickets are cheap, the concessions are reasonable, and the crowd is decidedly local.  I love it.

The one thing I wish it would upgrade is the men’s room.  The urinals are so close together you might as well just throw a large bucket on the floor for everyone to stand around.  And, really, after 64 oz of cherry flavored Coke, a dude’s gotta go.

But it’s a small price to pay to have the communal theater experience in a local setting.

So, as part of the Year of Health, I’m advising everyone to see a movie in a theater to expand your cultural health.  Don’t give me that whole, “I don’t like people” bull (I’m looking at you, Rhonda).  It’s important to have common experiences with fellow human beings over shared interests, whether they be important or banal.

And definitely go see a movie on opening night once in your life.  And if the mood strikes, dress up like a character.  It’ll give me something to talk about.

“I’m Secure,” or “Nice Mohawk, Jerkface”

On Wednesday I had a pretty late night at work, so I didn’t get to the gym until after 9pm.

Man, that crowd is different than the 6am crowd.  And by “different” I mean “jerky.”

I guess there’s something to be said for the camaraderie that comes with dragging your tired butt out of bed in the wee morning hours that makes the 6am crowd much more peaceable and less pushy.  Sure, you have characters like the Ewok and the two Asian twins who could bench press three of me, but at least they’re nice and wipe down their machines.

Not so for the 9pm crowd.  They have ripply muscles and sad faces.  Lost in the oblivion of the late hours, these gym wanderers are trying to get out of there and home as quickly as possible.  And I understand that, but if these weirdos do have people to go home to, I hope they’re not shoving those spouses and partners off living room couches with the passive-aggressive ferocity they’re shooing me off the lateral pull-down.

There I am, minding my own business, listening to a rousing rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” done by the cast of Glee (stop judging), and from behind me comes what I can only describe as “ass-face stares.”  I could feel these stares on the back of my neck.  And so, I do what anyone would do; I start counting out loud.

But, of course, I begin counting about ten numbers higher than the rep I was actually on.

“19, 20, 21…”  I say loudly, straining with each pull.  (The strain is real, the number is fake)

I let go.  SLAM.  The weight falls with a thud.  “Whoo…” I say as I slap my hands together.  I get up, turn around, and sure enough, there’s someone behind me waiting for the machine.

“Are you done?” says Sleeveless Mohawk.

“Uhm, that was one set of three,” I say over the calming Simon and Garfunkel that I’m sure he could hear wafting from my headset.  His earbuds were blaring some metal-mix that I can only describe as “primordial.”

“Ok.  Mind if I sit down for a few in between?” he says with a smirk.

I bow and extend my hands toward the machine in an exaggerated invitation.  I was hoping to give the impression of visibly unhappy, but I think I just ended up looking like one of those dorky enthusiasts who pretend like they’re from the Middle Ages.

Regardless, he sits down and, once adjusting the knee brace, proceeds to do what I can only describe as the gym version of a slap-in-the-face: he ups the poundage by 50lbs.

That rat-bastard.

Here I am, straining away at this lat machine.  And he has the nerve to not only stare me down, causing me to change my rep number (which ALSO means I’ll have to do 30 reps this next time because he’ll be standing there), but he also changes the weight by an increase that I, in no way, can handle.

So, I do what any man would do: I go to the drinking fountain to plot my revenge.

Unfortunately, the drinking fountain was uninspiring. By the time I get back, he’s finishing up.  I’m surprised his mohawk, or should I say “fauxhawk,” didn’t get caught in the pulley system.**  He gets up, wipes down the machine with the rag he’s got thrown over his shoulder, and says, “Go ahead with your next set.”


And I sit down…and he’s still watching.

I readjust the knee brace…he’s watching.

Crap…I go for it.

I reach up for that bar looming above my head.  I think intensely about the most recent movie I’ve seen, The Avengers.  I channel The Hulk.  “Tim smash,” I yell (inside my head, of course).  A-one. A-two.


You’d think, at the very least, that my body weight would be able to pull down the bar.  But, nope.  Nothing.

I let go of the bar, rotate my arm in a large swing and hold my shoulder as if I’m stretching out a sore muscle, and then shake my head and change the weight.

I can feel Mohawk’s jerkface stare on the back of my neck.  I swallow my pride, do my reps, suffer the impatient crossed-arm foot tapping of the gym-shorted, spikey-haired wonder behind me.

After my set I get up and just walk away.  Didn’t wipe down the machine or anything.  I went straight to THE OTHER lat machine on the bottom floor of the gym (yeah, there’s two, dude.  A revelation you might have discovered had you not been so intent on being a jerkface).

And there, with the other patrons who lack the ability or the moral fortitude to go upstairs where the free weights are inter-mixed with the machines, I finished my workout sandwiched between the guy who wears his jeans to the gym and the woman who recently had surgery and is lifting the lightest weight possible (you know who I’m talking about).

And here, I am at home.

None of us have hair worth speaking of, let alone any muscle tone. All of our shirts have sleeves, and none of us feel the need to wear spandex. But, we feel secure nestled in the inadequacy of the rest of the first floor crowd where, no matter what machine you’re on, someone is bound to come behind you and lower the poundage before beginning their workout.

Yup, I’m secure.

**It actually was  a mohawk…which makes the story all the harder.

Red, White, and Bloated

Back in the regular schedule, although I’m putting more of an emphasis on running now that I’m heading down the stretch toward the “Soldier Field 10 Miler.”  I plan to wear Packers face paint.  It will be epic.  I might get tripped on purpose (dirty Bears fans).

The fun thing about it is that you end the race crossing the 50 yard line at Soldier Field.  Last year I got my picture taken crossing the finished line doing “rock-out” hands.  A fun day of Gatorade and running for no apparent reason.

Hopefully this year will be much of the same.

But thinking about what I’ll wear for the race has made me look around at what people at the gym wear.  And although there is a decidedly “tight” look that is in (both in skinny jeans and the contemptible biker-shorts craze that is back in), I’ve noticed another disturbing trend.  I don’t know what it is about people who constantly workout (lovingly referred to as “gym rats” by those of us who hold them in disdain), but I have noticed what I’m dubbing “workout patriotism” in their choice of apparel.

And, while it would appear that the in-shape people prefer the slimming black leggings and tank-tops, the “out-of-shape-but-always-there” folks or the “overly-muscled-and-shamefully-tanned-in-the-middle-of-January” folks tend to wear some combination of red, white, and blue.

Now, its not like I’m against patriotism.  It’s just that, I don’t see what it has to do with the elliptical machine.  I don’t think Betsy Ross ever envisioned Old Glory waving as a result of your ass-fat bouncing up and down on the treadmill.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I guess…

My favorite of the T’s on display at the gym this past week was one featuring good ‘ole W.  He was on his knees praying, and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were on either side of him laying hands on him.  Of course the Stars and Stripes were waving in the background as well.  The fact that neither Washington nor Lincoln were very religious not-withstanding, the hilarious part of this shirt was the fact that I couldn’t help but imagine that Bush was praying for this individual to finish their workout without sweating too much on his face.

When I took karate at the tender age of 12, I had a karate uniform (a gi for those of you in the know).  It had red, white, and blue stars and stripes up and down the pant legs.  I thought it made it look like the United States was “kickin’ ass and takin’ names”…when I was 12.  But on most workout gear, it just looks like the United States is out of shape and bloated.

Red, white, and bloated.

But, I guess I have no place to talk.  When I step off the of the treadmill, my face is red, my butt is white, and, yup…I’m pretty bloated.