There was a time when I enjoyed kicking the crutches out from under a casted loser and watching them flail to the ground as if they could prevent gravity by flapping their arms and screaming out. Better yet, those dudes with the white canes and red tips like a candy cane where all the peppermint ran to the bottom? They’d go straight down with a flour sack thud making no attempt whatsoever to break the fall. They didn’t even see it coming. Hilarious. I’d stand over their helpless, struggling bodies and breathe in their potentially broken-armed wails through my nostrils (and out the mouth – I’m not a Neanderthal). For a while, I was convinced that the cries of the weak fueled my soul like blood feeds a vampire. Sure, the spitting was unnecessary but I liked to think of that as my ‘cherry on top’.
That was then. That was a hobby. It’s not much fun anymore now that I’ve matured. I still do it but it’s an empty, hollow, felonious experience these days. It’s done more out of a sense of duty. If I don’t knock the walker over, who will? Look around at all of the upright becaned, it’s a lost art.
I was reminded of this tripodal abuse when watching The Karate Kid, the original 1984 version, at home with the kids the other day. We try to watch old 80’s movies as much as possible: Back To The Future, The Breakfast Club, Hardbodies, Hardbodies 2. I feel terrible that the kids today are growing up without realizing that anything can be accomplished within a two minute Huey Lewis musical montage.
What does The Karate Kid have to do with running? Well, let’s just say I’ve been thinking a lot about my races this summer. Since I’ve been running, I’ve never experienced a situation where my race results were so…off…my training times. It’s been eating away at me since the Bayshore Marathon in May. Literally, eating away…at my joints, apparently. My training times this year have been great – best ever – so what gives on race day? I’m falling short of my PRs every single time.
The hero of The Karate Kid, Johnny of the Cobra Kai gym, faces a similar struggle in the movie. Despite the fact that he is clearly the most gifted karate tactician, he is beaten by a punk upstart from New Jersey who is mentored by a mystical occult wizard that can heal his charge with a magical pain-suppressing touch. The kid is clearly under trained and has no business competing with Johnny but, somehow, he lands an ethically questionable Crane Kick to end the championship match. It’s an interesting movie in American cinema as, most often, our films focus the bulk of their time on the hero of the film (ala Rocky) overcoming obstacles to a victorious conclusion. In this one, the hero, Johnny, barely appears and, when he does, typically loses the physical conflicts set up for him. It plays like a modern tragedy and against the grain of other sports related movies of our time. No matter what the hero does, no matter how hard he trains or how bad he wants it, he cannot win. Sisyphus, push that boulder! It’s like Jimmy Chitwood rimming out every shot in Hoosiers.
In running, my enemy is the clock. I want to beat that sumbitch. I want to beat it bad. I’m training hard like Johnny at Kreese’s dojo. I can hear Bryan Adams’ “Hearts on Fire” in my mind’s ear while intervalling around the track. I can hear that great coach, Kreese, shouting STRIKE FIRST. STRIKE HARD. NO MERCY with his outlandishly dimpled chin. When races roll around, I am ready. I am ready to run hard. If need be, I am ready to bully new students with a generally frail physique. Canes? Consider them toppled.
But then I’m yawning at the start line. I’m relaxed; I’m confident. Hell, I’m bored. Where’s the fire? Am I overconfident? Did I leave the burning hearts on fire at the track? I’ve arrived at each 5k and marathon this year thinking a PR was in the bag only to come up short. Immediately after finishing, I’m left with a confused feeling of what just happened? like I took a sudden – and ethically questionable - Crane Kick to the head.
As I watched the final, tragic act of The Karate Kid unfold, I realized what I was missing: Sweep the leg. Johnny is forced to counter the mystic’s illegal paranormal healing tactic, under Kreese’s expert orders, by sweeping the under trained puppets already injured leg (i.e. attacking his weakness. Smart strategy, no?) in an effort to win the match.
SWEEP THE LEG. Sweep the frickin’ leg!
That’s it! On race day, you have to come prepared to push farther than your training. Backed with adrenaline and untapped energy, you CAN and WILL do more than your peak training levels indicate – if you are willing to SWEEP THE LEG. To go to that extra level. Run angry. Run to maim. Run to WIN.
I’ve been showing up at races thinking that all of the work I put on the track and roads made the race result a foregone conclusion. Like folks were going to be maimed just by my very presence. The truth is, I haven’t been running to win on race day. I haven’t been prepared to push a bit harder, to pass my normal bounds of exhaustion, to SWEEP THE LEG both figuratively and, in a few cases, literally (I had my chances on some pimpled high school kids along some back roads, believe me). I’ve been sweeping the canes at local malls for years. Why haven’t I been sweeping the leg – albeit in a metaphoric sense - on race day?
When you arrive at the starting line of a race, you have to assume that the clock is operated by a sorcerous Japanese cheater willing to use supernatural healing methods to keep you from your goal. And every other runner is a potential Crane-wielding Daniel-san. Are you willing to push the boundaries past your training to obtain your goal? Will you SWEEP THE LEG? Starting immediately, this is my new race mantra. Sweep the leg, sweep the leg, sweep the leg. I’m going to arrive at each race assuming that I’m under trained. I’ll need to bring all of my training –and more – in order to achieve my goal. Legs will be swept. Spitting may occur. If need be, pony tails may be tugged violently backward (I doubt Kreese’s philosophy is gender specific). Exposed Achilles of lead runners may be stomped. I’ll assume that my training is inadequate and that I’ll need to push harder.
Sure, you might be floored by an ethically questionable Crane Kick mid-race, like Johhny, but at least you went for it, right? Besides, what are the odds of most folks landing that kick?
Don’t be a Johhny in your own race day tragedy. Run to win. Sweep that leg.