Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Verbal vomit

It might be hard to believe, but high school track and field season is upon us. If you’re like me, the only thing you look forward to more than watching 37 heats of the 100-meter dash is reading about it in the paper the next day.*

When it comes to post-race interviews, it seems like there is some kind of unwritten code of conduct followed by most runners and reporters. It goes a little something like this: reporters are expected to ask canned, cliché questions, and runners are expected to give canned, cliché answers.

As someone who has been on both sides of the tape recorder, I can say with absolute certainty that 99.9 percent of the time, this makes for really. Boring. Stories.

I mean honestly, who wants to read a heroic account of a come-from-behind win in the 1600 meters when it is peppered with such moving remarks as, “I guess today was my day. I just felt really great.”

It was your day, huh? I would have never guessed it staring at that shiny gold medal around your neck.

A lot of the time, such colorless quotes are the direct result of stupid questions asked by uninformed (read: stupid) reporters. Or maybe they are informed but understandably burned out on covering JV softball and middle school soccer.

Either way, a question like, “So, how did the race go for you?” is almost guaranteed to draw up an ambiguous and painfully uninteresting response like, “Well, there were parts that went really well, but I think there’s always room for improvement.”

At some point, whoever is reading this crap is bound to put down the paper and wonder if he is reading a sports story or a Sarah Palin interview.

Sometimes, though, even a solid, well-researched question asked by the most seasoned sports journalist will fail to extract a single worthwhile sound bite. This often results from an athlete’s inability to articulate what she is feeling for one of two reasons: (1) she is a teenager without access to some kind of keypad or (2) SHE JUST FINISHED RUNNING A FREAKING LONG DISTANCE RACE.

Leave it to a deadline-crazed reporter to saunter up to you with a notepad and pen as you stagger away from the finish line with a fresh string of mucusy spit dangling from your chin. Clearly, he has no idea that you are stepping off of the track to avoid yarfing all over the next heat of runners — not to provide him with a QuoteGarden.com-worthy line for his pullout box.

And so, as you struggle between labored gasps of air to provide answers to questions like So, how did the race go for you? you somehow end up with quotes like I think it went well, considering it’s so early in the season printed next to your name.

What gives? Why can’t you just be honest? Why can’t you say, “I felt like a huge order of crap with a side of crap, which is probably why I ran like crap.” Or: “I realized about halfway in that I shouldn’t have eaten that hot dog from the concession stand.”

And why do you always feel obligated to indulge the eager reporter who follows you to the trashcan where you fully intend to empty the contents of your stomach? Why can’t you just say, “Sorry, but could I just have a couple of minutes to vomit alone in peace?”

I’ll tell you why: because there is a small part of you that gets excited to see your own golden drops of wisdom printed in black and white ink on page 10 of the sports section, right next to the senior bowling league scores. Just like there is a small part of every reporter that gets excited to see their story about the local high school invitational printed in black and white ink on page 10 of the sports section, right next to the senior bowling league scores.

Without that little heart-flutter of pride and vanity, what would keep us coming back for more? Certainly not the hot dogs.

*I would rather bite the inside of my cheek in the same spot multiple times and then suck on a vinegar Popsicle than watch multiple heats of the 100-meter dash at a high school track meet.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fool's gold

There’s nothing worse than running an entire race believing you are in the lead, only to find out upon crossing the finish line that you not only did not win, but in fact had your ass handed to you by a margin of more than two minutes.

OK, so maybe there are worse things. Like passing a kidney stone or being the photographer at the Jessica Simpson nude pregnancy shoot.

But trust me, it really, really sucks to be fooled into thinking you won something that you actually lost, as I discovered this past Saturday during my second attempt at the local St. Patty’s Day race.

You might recall that last year, I out-kicked a 15-year-old girl for a hard-fought-but-slightly-embarrassing 5K victory. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, but what can I say? I’m a slave to my hypercompetitive nature.

This year, I decided to attempt the newly added 7-mile distance. Why? F@*% if I know. I generally run 4 to 6 miles a day, so I was in no way prepared to race 7. But what great moments in history were borne of preparedness? Do you think Lewis and Clark practiced traversing the entire American west before they set out on their famous expedition?

When I got to the starting line, I took a position approximately four rows back. My lack of confidence prompted me to go out very conservatively—like behind-a-dude-in-a-plastic rainbow-cape-conservatively. (On a side note, this spirited gentleman was dressed as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, which in my opinion is pretty much the most rad St. Patrick’s Day race costume ever.)

So while I was busy weaving through leprechauns and giant shamrocks, apparently there was some badass runner lady at the front of the pack who was working up an impossible lead over me and every other normal human female in the race field.

I finally got to the point where all of the runners in my immediate vicinity were men. Squinting my eyes, I could barely make out a few fast-moving figures in the distance. Naturally, I assumed that they, too, were men.

But you know what they say: when you assume, you end up losing races without even knowing it.

By the time I had made my way to the front of the man-pack, the leaders were so far away that I couldn’t even see them anymore. I came up on a couple of guys who were holding a decent pace. I hung behind them for a few minutes, testing the waters to see if they would accept me into their group. I felt like that weird shy kid on the playground who slowly edges his way into the sand box, hoping the other kids won’t notice. Before long, I felt comfortable enough to run right in the middle of these guys, unashamed of my labored breathing and intermittent grunting.

Around mile 5, my legs started to feel a little heavy. I knew that based on my training, I had reached my limit. I also knew that no matter how much I wanted to fall off pace, I couldn’t let myself falter because (a) if I let these guys go, I would have to suffer alone for the final two miles and (b) I was winning!

My breathing and grunting grew louder and more annoying. One of the guys in the group—probably tired of being distracted by my pathetic sounds of weakness—put on a surge. I watched the round sweat mark on his back get smaller and smaller as he moved farther and farther ahead. I knew I couldn’t let that sweat mark disappear. If I did, the next thing I knew rainbow cape guy would go flying by me, and that simply could NOT happen.

The sweat mark became my target. I gradually picked up my pace and moved closer to that moist, translucent splotch. With about a half-mile to go, I had made up most of the distance. As I listened to myself gasp for air, I wondered if it was acceptable for me to try this hard in a St. Patty’s Day fun run. Little did I know, there was someone sipping water at the finish line who had tried much harder than I did. Like two-and-a-half-minutes harder.

The finish came into sight just as I was beginning to experience some worrisome chest pains. I tried to quiet my breathing for the sake of dignity. Thank God I did not have the energy to do one of these as I crossed the line:

Photo courtesy of koadmunkee/Flickr

I smiled at the crowd as I stumbled down the finish chute. Some dude came up to me to collect my timing chip, and as I handed it over, I heard him say, “Great job! Second woman!”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, I thought. Did he just say “second woman?” Is he mental?

I limped through the crowd, desperately trying to find someone I knew and trusted—someone who could clear up the confusion and reassure me that this gentleman was obviously mistaken. No such luck. Instead, I heard snippets of conversations that confirmed my worst fear: I had lost without even knowing it.

Thankfully, all finishers over the age of 21 were entitled to a free beer. I whipped out my ID and gratefully accepted a cup of the best post-race recovery drink in the world (which also happens to be the best post-disappointment recovery drink in the world). Within minutes, I had forgotten the whole ordeal. The main thing was that I had successfully finished a 7-mile race without barfing or breaking something. Plus, I added this awesome beer mug to my sweet collection of fun-run swag: