Monday, November 9, 2009

Walking The Mile

I’m not exactly sure how elementary school physical education programs are run these days and frankly I don’t care. I’ve heard rumors that today’s P.E. programs have taken dodgeball out of their curriculum because fat kids kept getting the Twinkies in their pockets smashed or something like that, but I could be wrong. Even if I am off with my assessment, the fact remains that today’s P.E. is turning the future of America into wusses who cry when they’re told by the cool kids to “just stay out of the way” during class basketball games. It’s a shame that this is what it’s come to because you and I can distinctly remember that P.E. taught us how to be men during those times when cable TV and an angry dad with a leather belt simply weren’t enough.

P.E. class was always a way for me to get revenge on all the nerds who wouldn’t let me look at their homework because they thought it was cheating (and it absolutely was). The structure of the class awarded those who were men and punished those who knew how many damage points the Savannah Lions were capable of dishing out in Magic: The Gathering (shame on you if you still know). The entire year of P.E. always made me feel like I was taking part in a whole season of a sport called manliness, with dodgeball day being the equivalent of a big rivalry game and badminton day being the equivalent of a game in which the walk-ons know that they are going to see some playing time. Of course, every season has to have playoffs of some sort and the sport of manliness in elementary P.E. was no exception. It consisted of 5,280 feet of track and one disinterested teacher with a stopwatch.

What made the mile such an important thing in the lives of a bunch of nine-year-olds is that it was the one sporting event in which everyone could effectively gauge levels of success. Even though you could probably tell the difference between a good and bad nine-year-old basketball player, the fact remains that most elementary rec league games end up with a final score of 21-15 with the best player pouring in seven points. Sure he might have dribbled between his legs once or twice, but the ladies want to see the ball go in the basket and putting up seven points isn’t making that happen for them. What makes a good basketball player at nine-years-old is simply being able to throw the ball ten feet in the air, but hitting the bottom of the rim is worth just as many points as picking your nose and eating it on the bench, which is why there is such parity in elementary basketball. Some kids are better than others, but they aren’t that much better. The mile, however, offered an opportunity for athletic disparity as a few kids would run it in under seven minutes while others would take over 12 or 13 minutes. Simply put, the mile was the only athletic endeavor that could impress the ladies, which is why it was the most important thing in the world to elementary guys.

But a funny thing happened between elementary school and high school, provided you think puberty is a funny thing (and who doesn’t think cracking voices and pimply faced kids with braces are hilarious?). Mother Nature made us all bigger, faster, and stronger, which in turn made us better at sports. Because of this I no longer wanted to be the best mile runner in the school but instead shifted my focus on being the best basketball player in the school. Most other kids agreed that running the mile had lost its luster and high school P.E. teachers knew this, which is why they made the mile a pass/fail test that had to be completed in ten minutes instead of the ultimate test of manliness that it used to be. Basically, by the time I got to high school my mile running days were over because a ten minute mile is laughably easy, which meant I would just cruise through high school P.E. and never run another timed mile the rest of my life. Until I decided to play college basketball for Coach Matta and his slight obsession with players who can run 1600 meters faster than what I thought was humanly possible.

It was brought to my attention during the tail end of our autumn workout session that Coach Matta wanted all guards to run a 5:30 mile, and all big guys to run a 6:00 mile. Coach Matta has a reputation of being a fun guy with a great sense of humor (which I think is why he hasn’t castrated me for writing my blog) so I naturally assumed he was messing with us. Unfortunately, this was not the case. He was set on us running a mile until we got our designated times. As a 6’4” (relatively short) white guy with an above average jumpshot, I have been assigned the role of shooting guard, basically because it’s the only position that makes any sense for me whatsoever. This meant that I had to run my mile in 5:30, which was over an entire minute faster than the fastest mile I had ever ran in my life. Eff.

I’m guessing that you have a pretty good idea how this story is going to play out, but I’ll insult your intelligence and tell you anyway. The first time we ran the mile, a handful of guys got their times while the rest of us basically just felt sorry for ourselves. It took almost a week of running before anyone else even came close. I had been running around 6:00 flat just about every day for that week, but on the same day that most of the other guys decided to get their times, I figured I’d bust my (insert inappropriate body part here) and go for a 5:30. And go for it I did. After essentially sprinting the entire mile, I triumphantly dove across the finish line and let the sweet taste of victory mask the pain of tearing the skin off of my shins and knee caps. The guys who finished 10 yards ahead of me were celebrating their victory and I would have joined them, only I was so exhausted that my entire body was pretty much numb and I couldn’t get up from laying on the ground. Oh, and I also didn’t join them because our strength coach informed me that I ran my mile in 5:35.

After I found out that I missed my time by five seconds, I could almost feel my soul drain out of my body. The next few days, I gave pretty much no effort when I ran because I felt much better about myself when I simply didn’t try than when I gave it everything I had and failed (I don’t endorse this mindset, kids). We ran every weekday morning for another two weeks and I’d estimate that I ran a sub 7:30 maybe once or twice. I made up my mind that it was literally impossible for me to ever run a 5:30 mile. After all, I ran a 5:35 and then sat there helplessly as my body convulsed for a half hour. I honestly couldn’t have run any harder and yet it still wasn’t enough. I decided to stop trying because I didn’t want another reminder that not only was I a short, slow, and untalented basketball player, I was also completely out of shape. But even though I wasn’t really trying all that hard, the fact remained that I still had to run the mile every morning which meant I still had to partake in what was easily becoming the most annoying thing in the world.

Nevermind the fact that I had to show up to practice 30 minutes before the majority of the team. That’s not what was annoying. Nevermind the fact that we often ran the mile in 40 degree weather with strong wind and rain. That’s not what was annoying. Nevermind the fact that The Villain would make snarky comments about how he was done with the mile but I wasn’t. That’s not what was annoying (ok, so that absolutely was annoying). What really got to me was how our coaches would refer to the four of us who were yet to make it as the “Mile Guys”. At least once a day during some sort of team meeting, a coach would reduce my identity to “mile guy” even though I politely asked them to call me either “The Shark” or simply “Chief Pumpfake” instead. Not surprisingly, they never listened. When a coach would send a text message regarding what time practice was to start the following day, they would always say something like, “Practice – 3:00, Mile Guys – 2:30”. Jeremie Simmons, who was included in the group of four of us who hadn’t made it (along with Dallas Lauderdale and Walter Offutt), likened the “mile guy” tag to a splinter. I don’t exactly see how being called “mile guy” has anything to do with an elderly rat that teaches martial arts to talking turtles, but Jeremie saw the connection so I guess that’s good enough. Anyway, even though it sounds trivial and dumb (just like everything else I complain about), being called “mile guy” was eating away at me and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Except run a 5:30 mile, of course.

As October wore on, the weather in central Ohio became worse and worse which, in turn, made the chances of any of us making our mile time worse and worse. I ran my 5:35 when it was warm and sunny so there was no chance of me making 5:30 in the freezing rain. Eventually the coaches figured this out and decided to move our mile run to inside our arena, where we would run around the hallway in the club level. This was exciting news to me because I now considered the possibility of giving some sort of effort. On the eve of our first run indoors, I watched YouTubes of Steve Prefontaine and tried to make mental notes on how awesome his mustache and hair were. I would later find out that he was a pretty good distance runner too, which upset me because I failed to even consider making a mental note on his running form. As it turned out, I definitely could have used a little help because after giving it everything I had, I came up short again and ran a 5:40. To make matters worse, our strength coach informed me that when he measured out how many laps around the arena made up a mile, he was slightly off which meant that I ran farther than I had to. He then assured me that he was off by only twenty yards or so and I wouldn’t have made it anyway. Oh, well that certainly helps ease the pain.

After running twenty yards too far yet still getting incredibly close, I made up my mind to just go for the 5:30 every day. The annoyance level of everything about the mile was at an all-time high and I really didn’t know how much more I could take. Every time I was called a “mile guy” I gritted my teeth a little bit harder than I did the time before. I was reaching my boiling point and wanted to get the mile more than anything in the world. Since I mostly just stand around and wait to sub in during practice, the mile was the only physically demanding activity I did every day. It was the one thing standing in between me and the lazy lifestyle that so many Americans strive for. In other words, I decided to work as hard as humanly possible so that I could be lazy. Makes sense to me.

By now you’ve probably figured out that I eventually made my mile time. I ran a handful of 5:45’s and 5:50’s before finally getting it about a week ago. I won’t get too theatrical with my description of how it all happened, but I will say that everyone who saw my mile performance shed a single tear because of how inspirational it was, and then immediately made a vow to themselves to try and be a better person. But making the mile isn’t the important part of the story. It’s the struggle I had to go through before finally making it that is. The “mile guy” references. The 6:30 a.m. alarms. The Villain punking me as I sat there in silence. It was quite a journey, but in the words of Miley Cyrus (appropriate first name for this particular post), “Ain't about how fast I get there...it's the climb.” Then again, Miley Cyrus also once said “I'm noddin' my head like ‘yeah’, movin' my hips like ‘yeah’”, so I don’t really know if she’s the best person to take advice from. Either way, I made my mile time and have now been set free of the chains that bind me. An interesting development in the story is that since I’ve finished my mile, the only position I’ve played in practice is power forward (out of necessity). Sure the power forwards only had to run a 6:00 mile, which is what I did the first time I ran it, but I’m not going to get too worked up over that. What’s happened has happened. Besides, no matter what position I’m forced to play, the fact remains that I will never run another timed mile the rest of my life. Unless, of course, my NBA coach wants me to.

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Movember is proving to be the coolest charity event I’ve ever done in my life. So far, I’ve received a handful of comments about the development of my mustache and even had a dad pull his daughter closer to him to protect her from me as I passed them in the grocery store. Some of you think that you’re too cool to grow out your mustache because “I’ll get fired” or “I’m only 12-years-old”. Yeah, well as long as you can live with yourself, I guess that’s all that matters.

It’s not too late to get involved with Movember, in case you just realized that you are making a huge mistake in not taking part. If you do want to get involved, go read my last post again and follow the necessary steps. As a reminder, if you want to be a part but don’t want to grow out your mustache, join the team that was started by Bryan, a member of the Trillion Man March, and donate money to prostate cancer research. As for those of you who just want to grow out a ‘stache and spread the word about the seriousness of prostate cancer, join my group and upload pictures of your flavor saver. You might even get your picture published on my blog like these guys did…

Paul Barkoukis

Cornell Basketball player Geoff Reeves (GEOFF, LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!!!!!)

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Streak for the Cash Group Leader: T. Rittenhouse (streak of 15 wins)

Streak for the Cash Group Loser: C. Evans (streak of 12)

Your awesome YouTube was sent in to me by George R. There’s your shout-out, George. And here's your video.


Your Friend and My Favorite,

Mark Titus

Club Trillion Founder