Last Saturday during a boring collegiate football game, I decided to revisit Waltrip’s (my high school) track and combine a bit of exercise with a taste of nostalgia. I haven’t laid foot on the sacred grounds in 44.4 years. Maybe the old lady owed me a little something, a fleeting touch of glory that might’ve escaped me back in the day.
Not much has changed, it seemed, as I parked my truck on the familiar circular drive. When I got out, I felt instantly transformed in time. It was as if I were transposed into a time traveler circa 1969.
As I made my way towards the band hallway, I noticed many student-athletes coming and going, assembling for the big homecoming game. There were 2 buses parked and ready to transport the football team and the spirit squad to the evening game.
Red and Gray filled the air. It was only earlier this week that I heard Waltrip was ditching its mascot and colors as part of the multi-million dollar campus renovation effort. I briefly considered taking the short-cut through the boy’s locker room, but since reason ruled over adventure, I sauntered down the sidewalk up 34th street towards Ella in hopes of finding an unlocked gate.
The side gate to the tennis courts was open. I entered and proceeded to other locked gates and soon realized I was corralled and had to retrace my steps to 34th. Of course I felt like a brainless cow, but un-deterred, I continued a couple of hundred yards until I was in front of the Surfhouse. There was a driveway and another locked gate which was scalable. I was able to get over the 6 foot cyclone fence with ease much like a school kid, landing nimbly if not gracefully. I marched to the oval.
Magically as I set foot on the track, a sort of metamorphosis took place; I became the high school athlete which I never was. As I jogged a couple of laps to warm up, feeling very springy in my stride, I then realized that the cinder circuit of our era had been replaced with an artificial surface and was tremendously user-friendly.
My history on this track consisted solely of time trials administered by Coach Foster Martin, who was my golf coach as well as the varsity basketball coach. As a requirement to make varsity, the B-Ball team was required to run a series of 4 consecutive 440 yard sprints in under 70 seconds each. There was a 4 to 5 minute rest between intervals for us to recover, the time it took us to walk a lap slowly. The golf team had a more modest of goal of 75 seconds. I vividly recalled my buddies, Holland, Jochec, Johnson, along with the rest of the team, grinding and laboring to make the grade.
On this particular gorgeous afternoon, my plan was to recreate that experience. Upon warming-up, the pragmatist in me made the decision to run 4 x 100 meters instead. My change was based on an article I had read recently which informed me that the 400 raises the heart rate more than any other running event. It is not unusual for a quarter-miler to reach 175-200 beats per minute as they cross the finish line. With visions of my heart literally exploding, I decided that the anaerobic 100 would be less taxing on my middle-age cardiovascular system.
Therefore, with no further warm up and with 90% effort, I clicked off a 16.79 first run. That was strictly unofficial by means of my Timex Indiglo chronometer. I was more than pleasantly surprised! My stride started smooth and rhythmic then deteriorated into a galloping lumber the second portion. That was the challenge of the 100. The trick is to maintain a relaxed and consistent stride for the full duration. As the lactic acid breaks down in one’s legs, the stride generally breaks down and the form wobbles.
After a slow walk around the track complete with diaphragm deep breathing, I prepared myself mentally for the second effort. With a little guarded confidence on my side, I registered a 16.57 which brought a smile to my face. The bear jumped on my back on the last 40 yards but, expecting it to do so, I was able to maintain some semblance of stride structure. This was becoming really cool.
Maybe I am sprinter in disguise. Perhaps a late bloomer. If I did missed my true calling, it’s not too late to compete in the senior division. I was in fantasy city. These thoughts kicked my adrenaline levels to new highs as I prepared for the 3rd effort.
I heard the churning of a slow-moving motor over the music in my headset. A coach was pulling along-side me in his pick-up truck obviously observing my actions. He was generally making his way towards the back door of the locker-room. I yanked my headphones off and waved confidently over my shoulder as I continued forward. He waved back and turned his truck down a construction path to his spot at the back door. Maybe he thought I was a kid on the varsity track team getting in some extra training (yeah, right).
With renewed vigor I changed my focus from 90% effort to one of style and form. I would emulate the peerless stride of Usain Bolt, the world champ. I was relaxed from the coach’s silent approval so I subconsciously kicked it up a notch. I clicked my watch and accelerated smoothly from my rolling start and covered the first 40 brilliantly. Suddenly and with no advance warning my left leg gave out and ceased-up in pain. A blown “hammy.” It felt like a butcher knife had been implanted into the muscle.
I hop-scotched to a stop. I grasped my hamstring with both hands in a desperate attempt to minimize the damage to my left hamstring. How embarrassing this was. I felt frustrated, angry, and disappointed. Scanning the area, I saw no one. Good. My thoughts turned to crisis control and I soon attained survival mode status. I limped to the bleachers. There, I had stashed my phone and keys in an attempt to save precious hundreds of seconds of time. My problems weren’t over yet.
I couldn’t put much weight on my left leg at all. I was able to accomplish basic bi-petal locomotion with an awkward limp. Gingerly I made my way to the locked barrier which I had so easily climbed 30 minutes ago. All I could think about was the ice which I was going to pack on my hamstring and if we had any pain pills that might mask the sensations I felt.
Sliding my valuables under the gate I prepared myself for the ascent. Without much forethought I was able to reach the top. Once there, carefully right foot over first, grasping and balancing with hands and fingers then left leg over. I was still grasping the top of fence to propel myself for an anticipated right legged landing when my left leg crumbled (under its own weight). The leg did clear the top of the fence and my gray, baggy gym shorts got hooked on the top link of fence. For a brief moment I was suspended in air. A red and gray inverted pretzel tethered awkwardly by a few strains of polyester sewn in a sweat shop in Bangladesh.
Split seconds later the threads gave way and I collapsed to the sidewalk in a heap. A hasty inventory revealed no additional injuries. All body parts accounted for, fortunately. Only my pride was further hurt. I slowly limped down the sidewalk back towards my truck. What a stupid idiot I was for not walking back the way the coach had came from, around the back parking lot from the annex area. I was also fearful that I might be arrested as an exhibitionist since my tattered shorts were clearly flapping in the breeze.
The buses were gone when I returned to my truck. The football team loss their game, 54 to 21, later that night. My personal homecoming was an unmitigated disaster. Ever the optimist I searched for a silver lining. If it doesn’t kill you it will only make you stronger was the best I could come up with. Coach Martin would have said it better, “Adversity breeds success.”
I climbed into my truck and agonizingly worked the clutch as I labored home.