Monday, November 9, 2009
A cure for the flu
It wasn't a nice awakening. Scraping in the throat was felt already after opening my eyes. I hesitated moment before I swallowed hard. I felt the bung, which was formed there. That figures - I thought – a flue …
. It was quite early, Sunday March morning only began, but I had a purpose that day. I was going to Cross-country Championships of Warsaw, being held as usual in Podkowa Lesna I started laboriously dragging myself from the bed, feeling almost every bone. What a bummer! - I thought. I had such a great expectations from this race …
In normal conditions I would simply get it over and further "snore" all the way till noon. But these weren't "normal conditions".Coach put us into a state of combat-readiness saying, that “will pull our balls along with lungs” if anybody will fail to show. What was to do? – Reluctantly I got ready to go out. I stuck pieces of cotton wool into my ears and scowling slightly at every swallowing I went to this race
Upon arrival I still had quiet hope that Coach will take pity. Nope... He only rested his hand on my forehead and he stated, "my heater was still too cold for the winter season" I had no strength to fret with him and decided simply to rank it, without any charge. "Just to arrive to the depot”...
It was not too cold, the snow was thawing , but I got dressed to play it safe. Singlet, turtleneck, cotton wool in my ears, and ski hat. Friends dressed race ready, looked at me like I was a nut. I wasn't upset - it was my sickness, not theirs. We still had to conquer 4 kilometers of mud, ice, puddles and everything what winter thaw could offer
The fact I felt powerless was the worst. At the slowest jog I felt faint, dark spots appeared in my eyes. I thought - if I collapse half way, on the forest trail, nobody would find me. The ambulance won't go through – to narrow. Despair. Decent warm-up was all I could do. After some jogging I swung all I had, in every possible direction.
Then I put spikes and I started running strides. After several strides I asked a fellow from another club for heating ointment. I applied a generous amount to legs, forearms and lower back. I gave the ointment back to the Coach of the friend, politely thanking and... wonders! - I was berated with hateful gaze. Did he consider me a threat to his runners?
Right then a command "get ready" was given. I stood up politely at the very end, being afraid of trampling by others. I moved slowly , feeling a bit strange, lightly deafened with cotton wool in ears - just as if in some surrealist dream.
Silhouettes squashed up into the colorful lump. Heads were jumping rhythmically, and I came to the interesting conclusion.Wherever heads stopped jumping,was muddier, and unaware runners were almost jogging in place. Since I ran last, a few meters behind the group, it easy for me to deviate to the left and to the right and before long I was right in the middle of the group.
I grasped the outline of some footpath, by the gravel route, so I could keep the decent rhythm. Meanwhile the entire group went crazy. They thrashed about senselessly on the muddiest stretches of the road, instead of running smart, losing the energy and the rhythm. Before we ran into the forest, the majority was neatly pooped.
So far I bore up enough. This cotton in my ears really helped. And I don’t mean the flue, but my emotions. I couldn't hear this nervous wheezing that is so contagious. We ran now into forest and I was on the third position. Tomek running before me courageously ran through the puddle.
I thought, “ no, this is not for me” and… I was right. Everyone who ran through this puddle slowed down suddenly. I was the only one who went around it, avoiding splashing with cold water. I didn't believe it, but I took the lead!
This situation instead of pleasing me, only made me angry. Damn suckers - I thought. They are too afraid to run fast,hoping for the sprint finish. But what could I do? – I was simply happy to stay alive. Right there was a bend, where I dared to peek back. The entire rate was thinned out and there were no more than four in the lead group.
. Now I felt really edgy. I started suspecting a stratagem. They plotted against me, just for the heck of it. They want to egg me on, exploiting the indisposition, and then “say bye, bye” I got so pissed; I felt a sudden burst of energy. We just entered a zone with “terrain saddles”. I let the gravity to do some work so I could relax. I sped up on the slope. I did it once,again and once more. Each time nobody dared to counter me. Suddenly a thought flashed - they are cooked!
Now was a chance to beat them like kids, leaving far behind. Most likely I would do it if not for that hateful look on the face of the Coach from another team. Now a sly plan came to my mind. Drawn situation - two of us from our club and two of them. I had to do something that Tomek could finish in second. Immediately I slowed down, hiding behind Tomek’s back.
. The footpath narrowed and led through the deep snow. In such conditions it was impossible to pass. Elbows started working sideways, not allowing the charge from the back. Now we ran uphill, and I pretended to be exhausted while slowing down, letting Tomek gain some distance. On the peak of the hill he had about 15 meters. Suddenly I changed gears and with savage sprint I drew level with Tomek. There were some 300 meters from here to the finish but I wanted to look into his face, in order to see whether he would hold our advantage. He had misty eyes, bogeys to the strip and in half lisping stammered out - ruuuun, you will wiiiin.
. I popped to the finish fresh as a cucumber. I did only a little bend and right away I told official my name.Tomek arrived son after.He grabbed me by the neck and smeared me with bogeys. We achieved our purpose - the double whammy.I felt no trace of the flue...
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Just the wind in my ears …
I don’t know what sinister force drove me to enter that race. All around me, the warm atmosphere of Thanksgiving was being celebrated. While turkeys tantalizingly sizzled in ovens, I shivered at the far tip of Long Island.
Montauk Point greeted us with a cold, cruel wind. Angry manes of ocean waves broke against sandy beaches. During the warm-up, one runner attracted my attention. His footsteps were light, almost ethereal. The way he moved suggested many years of long-distance running.
My friend, Kevin, was warming up with me. “Who is that fellow?” I asked. “It’s John . He came here for the holidays from New York,” he replied. “What’s his 10K PR?” I persisted. Kevin started to say something, but a sudden gust of wind distorted his words. I heard something like, “32 minutes and change.” Yeah, that shouldn't be a problem, I thought boldly.
I was more concerned with what I should wear. Since it was overwhelmingly cold, I decided to run in wool tights, a long-sleeved shirt, and gloves. When a frigid gust of wind almost blew through me, I added a “singlet.”
The six-mile course circled around Fort Pond. About a dozen of us started. We turned left, straight into an icy headwind, and I found myself leading. There was no need to look behind me; long shadows were leading the pack.
Immediately I knew that someone was "stuck" to my back. I could see his shadow in front of me. I was irritated, since I resent being used as someone else’s windscreen. I quickly jumped to the right-hand side of the road, the shadow right behind me. With equal speed, I returned to the left side, the shadow clinging to me. In my many years of street racing, I had learned a few tricks. It was the right time to use one of them…
Unexpectedly, I faked a stumble, diving forward. Having been caught by surprise, the shadow running behind me hesitated and was hit with a strong blast of wind, which put him off stride. Quickly, I “recovered” and sped up, believing that I had him exactly where I wanted .
At the next bend, I cast a fast look in the former shadow’s direction. It was John . Now the wind blew from my right, and if I wanted to exploit its power, I would need to run with my right shoulder slightly tilted into it. From a bio mechanics standpoint, I thought, this form should be futile, but …
Feeling confident, I was regulating my breath when suddenly, John drew level with me. My first reaction was surprise, followed by a rush of anger a moment later. The anger fueled my burst of speed.
John "sat on me" and momentarily countered my escape. Now I really started to sweat. What's more, I didn't have any reserves. I had already run to the max, and every additional dash on his part would be a disaster for me. Fortunately, John started to fade as well. It was then that I tried my luck with another dash.
Why did I do that, knowing that I was at my limit? Because that is exactly what the psychology of racing is all about. When power fails, a game of “make believe” begins in order to manipulate and deceive the opponent. Every rough dash is a signal of sort: “I still have plenty left.”
Such a ruse is a double-edged sword. It is equally possible for the instigator to suffer from it. One should simply observe how the opponent reacts to the taunt. And my opponent seemed to have nerves of steel. When I gave the challenge, he answered with redoubled effort.
In this way, fighting each other and with escalating exhaustion, we commenced the second lap. I was plowing forward again, with him behind my back. This time I slowed down to a ridiculously slow jog – I almost stopped! Did it provoke him to take the lead? Not a chance.
It wasn't all that strange, because the dreadful wind grew stronger and maliciously blew fists of sand straight into my eyes. My spit came back like a boomerang straight into my face. The sand mixed with sweat to irritate my skin. Every inhalation ended with choking and stuck to the back my throat, making it every bit as hard to exhale.
The next curve came and I made another dash, finishing the challenge. Would this Via Dolorosa ever end? I was starting to have my doubts.
What the heck did I need this victory for? Was second place so bad? But second place is defeat and defeat brands the weak. I am starting baring fangs to this wimp, being born in me. In order to kick him, I forced myself to a last, desperate attack. There before me, I saw the only hill on the course. My strategy was to conquer the top in a mad sprint. I could die like a dog after that, so long as the defeated weakness of second place was left behind.
I only needed some motivation, some sort of psychological lift, and I could get the rest of my energy from my secret compartment. Then it came to me!! September, 1939. At Wolka Weglowa, Polish soldiers were preparing for the fatal attack aimed at breaking through to the capital city, Warsaw. In the middle of the night and out of bullets, they put their bayonets on their rifles. The enemy outnumbered them and was well-armed. The mission seemed impossible, and all they had was their faith.
Italian war correspondent, Mario Appelius , recorded the rumble as it grew louder. Singing, marked with desperation, erupted from exhausted throats, sending chills down the enemies’ spines. Suddenly, soldiers ready to die to protect Warsaw began screaming “Hooray!!!”
This exact vision of the Jazlowiec Uhlan Regiment making the impossible possible allowed me to make an insane attack, in spite of the agony and wheezing in my throat. I pulled it off! John started losing 5, 10, 15 yards, and at the top of the hill, we were both completely spent. Although the finish was still several hundred yards ahead, the rest of the distance was not much of a race at all.
At the finish line, I fell down with no strength left and almost fainted. My lungs seemed to explode. My face was covered with a mix of saliva, mucus and sweat, and my muscles trembled from exhaustion. After a very long moment, I dragged myself to the beach, simply to be alone. Kevin, who all the time had been running behind us, found me there. Congratulating me on the victory he said, “I didn't expect that you would win. John has a better PR than you.” “How come?” I asked. “It should be two minutes worse than mine!”
It turned out that John, who dominated most races in Central Park, indeed had the better PR. I looked at the stormy ocean. I thought for a moment then, saying nothing, I smiled. There was no need for words. There was only the wind in my ears...