Friday, January 28, 2011

"I Hate Hank Dart" and Other Reflections on the 1985 Prep Track Season

Not holding public office and considering myself to be a generally amiable person, I was surprised to get word a few years back that someone I didn't even know actively hated me.  It was a strange feeling, to be sure, that, without my knowledge, I had done something to some stranger that raised his pique to the point that it transformed to actual hate.

Of course, I am fully aware that people who actually do know me may easily tire of me and eventually come to hate many parts of me.  But, a stranger?  I had no idea what I could have done.  Dinged his car?  Insulted his girlfriend?  What?

What I had done, it turns out, was win the 800 meter race at the Condor League Championship high school meet in the spring of 1985.  Yes.  1985.

In the land of small schools in Southern California - in a time of short shorts and white Vuarnets - I was a decent runner who was good at, but also hated, the 800 meters.  I'd cut a deal with the coach my senior year that I'd run the 800 meters whenever the team needed the points, but that I'd get to run the 200 all the other times.  It was a great compromise for everyone, except for one accomplished 800 meter runner from a rival school.

This runner - who shall remain nameless to protect him from my convoluted story - had dominated the 800 meters throughout the 1985 season - and, as I've been told,  never went head-to-head with me in the event that year.  The day of the Championship meet arrived, and anticipation of his victory had been such that all manner of family had come out to support him and video tape the event.  Unfortunately, things didn't quite unfold as planned.

With the league championship on the line,  my coach had me run the event, which as images show, I ended up winning pretty handily - and, it seems, scarring this person for a number of years; so much so that when one of my friends mentioned my name in passing a few years back he blurted:  "Hank Dart?  I hate Hank Dart!"

To stir things further, this runner - who is actually a great guy who graduated from Harvard College, eventually married one of my best high school friends, and is more successful professionally than I may ever be, recently came into possession of the video tape of the infamous 800, which it turns out shows an uncalled false start on my part (body movement, but not forward motion).  The discovery made for some entertaining Ahabian Facebook/YouTube posts (videos below), with his calling for my relinquishing the ribbon, and my using Orwellian logic to the effect of:  if the false start wasn't called, and there wasn't a chance for restart, it didn't happen.

To be honest, I don't know what the ruling should be on a 25 year old race in a rinky-dink league.  But, since I can't even find the ribbon, it looks like I'll have to keep it regardless. 

I will admit that the Way-Back Machine aspect of all this has been pretty fun.  That day was one of the prominent memories from my senior year.  I took home four blue ribbons (counting the one in dispute) and League MVP - which was awarded to me by Olympic Decathlon medalist J├╝rgen Hingsen.  The sun was shining.  And life was waiting to be explored. 

YouTube Videos - Posted by Runner Up

Check out those short blue shorts....

...and tight gray sweats.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January Thaw: An Early Trip Up Carbonate Mt.

After a cold and snowy November and December, we've had a bit of January thaw in our part of the Northern Rockies.  So, it seemed time to abandon the diagonal stride for some real striding on the Carbonate Mountain spine - a short, steep 1,300 ft climb that gets enough foot traffic in winter, barring a big snow fall, to make for a pretty enjoyable up and down with Yak Trax or, my favorites, Kahtoola KTS crampons.

The longer switchback route up Carbonate is our go-to run in the spring, as anyone who reads this blog is tired of hearing (posts), but the climb up the spine is a great way to get some good vert up and down and begin to season the quads for those early spring outings.

As the iPhone photos show (which may be of local interest only), there's some bare earth, but the up and down switchback laps of spring are a ways away, especially with La Nina haunting the west this year.  Regardless, it really felt great after a long early winter's rest to step into my running shoes, hop on to some familiar ground, and put in a good effort.

At the flag, looking north.
Looking west.
A bit of traffic on the Jeep trail descent.
Looking down the spine toward Hailey.
Upper switchback junction with spine.
Lower switchback junction with spine.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Are You a Runner?" [Long Pause]

Maybe I'm naive, but I don't generally prepare for a head on collision with existential crisis in the middle of a holiday party, but that's just what I should have done a few weeks ago.

It was a little before Christmas, and my wife and I were at a gathering at a friend's house.  We began chatting with a woman who we'd never met before, a new transplant to the area who also happens to be a trail runner.  After talking a bit about the races she'd done and where she had lived before moving, she asked me what I'm sure seemed an innocent enough question: "Are you a runner?"

Now, having  been a devoted runner most of my teenage and adult life (now in my forties), having in the not too distant past completed many races in the 50 - 100 mile range, and having logged a number of miles in 2010 that would make the Surgeon General ecstatic - I was surprised to find myself silenced by the question, not really knowing what the true - what the exact - answer was.

As I've chronicled ad nauseam on these pages, I've been plagued by a knee injury for over a year now that has kept my running haphazard at best, and that simple question posed amidst cups of spiced wine and canape's brought to a pinpoint all my machination of thought on the subject over the last 13 months.   It was existential crisis on 34th street.

After a very long pause, my wife gently answered "yes" for me, either as an easy way out of the tiresome "knee" conversation or as a generally truthful answer to a simple question.  Not surprisingly, the woman soon found an excuse to find more engaging, less doltish company.  And that was that. 

Yet, I've been turning this exchange around in my head for the past few weeks, and I still don't know exactly how to answer it.  In gross terms, I am a runner, of course.  Barring the occasional and now regular flare up of my knee injury, I run regularly week in and week out.  And my miles would usually put me in the high end of the recreational category.

In many ways, though, I am no longer a runner - at least not in the sense that I've come to define it.  No longer possible are the 5 hour training runs, the 100 mile weeks, and the epic-distance races - the weekly dance on the edge of the possible that at the same time leaves you feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and triumphant.  For now, I am so removed from these things that it doesn't seem quite right to apply the label "runner" to myself.  That my injury may be getting more pronounced over time rather than better (and with no ready fix for it) makes it ever harder for me to do so.

"Are you a runner?" It really laid bare what's made the last year rough for me, and I don't believe it's the immediate answer that made me pause for so long, but the answer that might come after looking a couple years in to the future, and the possibility that I might have to answer: "I used to be."

Like so many of us, I cherish running's purity of effort, its strangely direct line to the human archetype, and its natural camaraderie.  It'd be a difficult thing to lose completely.  Likely, it won't come to that.  It'll be a continual and slow adjustment to a new normal - for mileage and for races and most importantly for me, for expectations.

I do know, however, that wherever things wind up - high mileage, low mileage, no mileage - running will always be a major part of who I am, whether I get to label myself a runner or not.