I guess it's always been in my blood to get up at an ungodly early hour on Saturdays. These days, I do it to drive half way across the state so I can arrive at a race an hour before the 8 o'clock start. But even years before I started running, Saturday's beckoned me to get out of bed at the crack of dawn. Why? Well, there were to reasons. Hanna and Barbera. I loved cartoons with a passion, and they knew how to make them back then.
My older brother and I had a set routine on Saturdays. We'd always get up early and try to open a new box of sugary sweet cereal on Saturday mornings, so we could dig for the treasures inside. Cereals used to have stuff inside the box to entice you to buy them. Tops and whistles, balloons, and even Tootsie Rolls. I remember one time, we got two Tootsie Rolls in a box instead of the customary one, and we decided that whoever the guy was at General Mills who put the cereal in this box probably put in a Tootsie Roll at the end of one day, and then, when he came in the next morning, he forgot about the one he put in the night before, and added a second one. It's the only time we didn't have a fight about who would get the cache.
We would pour our cereal, add sugar (I always added about five teaspoons to a bowl of Frosted Flakes), splash some milk on top, and then move to the den for some serious fun. Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Pixie and Trixie. They were all there every week, without fail. We would also throw in a little Three Stooges and Little Rascals just to be sure we grew up to be well adjusted adults.
One thing about the cartoons always humored me. Whenever a chase took place, which was every cartoon, the background always repeated itself. Jinx, the cat, would be in hot pursuit of those two meeses he hated to pieces, and first a chair would whiz by, then a sofa, a doorway, a bed, then the same chair, sofa, doorway, and bed over and over again. It was like they were running in circles.
Years later, I discovered that running on a track was very similar. When I first started running, I lived about a quarter mile from the local high school track. I used to run there about every run. I'd see the road, the basketball court, the school, the baseball field twelve to 40 times each workout, depending on how far I went. I guess I figured it helped with my mental toughness. I actually used to imagine I was chasing Pixie and Trixie. I didn't grow up to be a well adjusted adult, after all.
About a year later, I moved, and didn't step on a track again for a long time. Our new house didn't have a track near by, so I just ran circles around the neighborhood for the next ten years. I am definitely a creature of habit.
When I started working in Georgia, I moved to Gwinnett County, and was once again living near a high school track. I longed again for the boredom I had experienced so many years ago, so I gave the track a try. Much to my chagrin, it was not the tedious, monotonous chore I had remembered it being in the past.
It was late summer easing into early fall, and activity was at it's height around the track. The football team would be practicing for the new season, and I could usually hear the band in the distance. All you could really identify, though, was the percussion section, the drums beating steadily, the cymbals crashing, the xylophone hitting all the right notes.
Oh, and did I mention that the cheerleaders were also out in force? They would be practicing their routines between the end line of the football field and the track, and I'd try to sail by them with an effortless stride, as if gliding on air. I'll bet they all thought I was in remarkable shape for a graying old man. I always hoped to possibly catch an admiring smile as I floated by, but that never happened. They were focused on their cheers.
Then one day, everything changed. I had already started my workout at the track and was about two miles into it, cruising along at a steady eight minute pace, when the cheerleaders started arriving. They practiced for about a half an hour as I ran another four miles as dusk descended. With their routine completed, their coach yelled "Okay, everybody give me a mile on the track". From the way they reacted, you would think they had just been sentenced to life without parole. They whined and complained as they shuffled onto the track as I started my seventh mile. I thought to myself "Gee, I'm happily doing this for fun. What's their problem?"
They broke up into smaller groups going at different paces once they hit the track. They jogged a bit and walked a bit and I had lapped them all before they were half way through. I knew that they all had to be impressed with the fact that I kept chugging along. Still, not a single admiring smile of acknowledgment. I passed them all a second time before any of them had finished, as they were mostly walking by now.
As I was finishing my eighth mile, there were only a couple of stragglers still on the track, and they were about 3/4 of the way around the track the forth time when I started honing in on them. As I approached them, I noticed one of them looking for me out of the corner of her eye. Was this going to be the admiring smile I was waiting for? As I went to pass her, she didn't smile, but, instead started running with me, challenging me. What I did next defies explanation.
I sped up. What was I thinking? I was just finishing up an eight mile run and was exhausted. I figured she couldn't keep up. She countered. I lengthened my stride. She stayed with me. Oh, my word, what had I just committed myself to? A hundred yard dash after an eight mile run. This cheerleader blew my doors off and left me in the dust, distancing herself by about ten yards. As I stared to catch up with her, she suddenly decided the race was over. She stopped running, and declared herself the victor. I was about to protest, but came to the sick realization that the whole cheerleading squad had seen the battle unfold and were cheering for their teammate wildly.
I wanted to scream "Wait a minute! I ran two miles before any of you even got here. I ran the whole time you were practicing, and I passed you all twice while you were doing your wimpy little mile. And besides, I'm almost 40 and you all are still teenagers".
Instead, I hung my head.
The next day, when I returned to the track, I finally got what I had hoped for. All of the cheerleaders smiled at me. Most of them even laughed.
I don't do track work there, anymore.
Run The Planet thanks Michael Selman for this article.