Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Duel of the Son

The Fruit of My Loins Showdown

My colt is not a runner.  He plays sports.  Specifically, he plays lots and lots of soccer.  For my fellow Americans that may not be aware, soccer involves a significant amount of running at times.  It also involves a significant amount of players falling on the ground acting like they broke their leg in overly dramatic fashion every few minutes but that’s not relevant to this tale.

He runs…but only after things.*  When I come back from a long run and casually mention that I just knocked off 14 miles (really, only 8 but what does he know?) the response I normally get is “why are you doing that?  That sounds so boring.”  A runner, he is not.  Not yet at least.  I spent my youth running after balls too.  Well, not balls per se…well, kinda balls per se…you know what, you can all go to hell, you know what I mean.  Balls!

As a requirement for his high school soccer, he has to meet a fairly challenging two mile time goal of 12:45.  Two miles in 12:45?  Guess what 42 year old blogger just made a high school soccer team?  For Mr. Look Down His Nose at Boring Runners though, this was going to be interesting.

I haven’t seen him just plain run that far all at once.  Sure, I gently encouraged him.  I even got in a few humblebrags about how my own dedication and hard work made something that seemed difficult become easy.  It was during the discussion of fartleks where the conversation ended with a “ you know what, if you aren’t mature enough to say fartlek without snickering like a toddler then maybe…okay, okay very funny, stop snickering…I know the word ‘fart’ is pa-….that’s right, I just said ‘fart’ again.  STOP LAUGHING.  Fartleks aren’t – okay, it’s just a SWEDISH WORD SO STOP….HEY, IS THAT A NEW PIMPLE ON YOUR FOREHEAD???”  The rest of the drive home in silence.  Kids today.

Eventually he agreed to head up to the high school track so I could dump some long-overdue fatherly wisdom on his unsuspecting teenager ass.  Also, maybe show him a thing or two about running that I’ve learned over the past 13 years.  You know, real condescending father-teaching-na├»ve-son bullshit.  

I decided to start him slow – a couple of 800’s around 3:00 pace, separated by a 90 second rest.  I thought that might just be enough to break him.  And, when broken, that’s when I reintroduce the whole fartlek discussion.

I heard him breathing heavy following my lead but his footsteps kept right on my heels both sets.  I kinda expected to lose him during the second 800.  He was wearing a COTTON t-shirt ferchrissakes.  But, no, there was the typical non-runner slapping of the feet right behind me, overwhelming my perfectly tuned low-impact, barely audible stride. 

He did it though.  Two 800’s in about three minutes each.  Oh, his hands were on his hips and he was sucking in wind like a canklesaurus that just climbed a flight of stairs.  I threw in a little comment about how “this is good warm-up for me.  I usually do 4 to….18 of these.”  I could barely get the sentence out before descending into a gasping, coughing fit due to lack of oxygen that I explained away by blaming the huge fly I just sucked in.

I didn’t think he fully got what he needed from this session.  In other words, he wasn’t defeated.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running over the years, it’s that it is best used to show up, humiliate, or injure an inferior runner.   Since he was none of those things – just a bit tired – I decided to go for the kill.

“How about one balls out** 400 meter before we head home?” I suggest with pitched tent finger tips slowly tapping together under an evil grin.

Sure, he responds, unconfidently.

YES!  I wish I brought my shovel…cause I’m going to need it to scrape that ego up that I leave smeared all over the track. 

In my most condescending manner, I suggest to him that he shouldn’t start out in a full sprint.  Start the 400 comfortably hard then, at the 100 meter mark, start gently accelerating until the hammer is down at 200 meters to the finish. 

Unspoken?  Wave goodbye to Dada.  He’s gonna rip your will to run right out from you, sweetie.  There’s nothing more enjoyable then shredding the fruit of your loins into ribbons meter by meter!

With that sage strategy in place, we line-up to start our balls out 400 meters.***  I know he’s going to follow my advice because he foolishly looks up to me (I think).

Off we go!  And I’m GONE.  Fuck this if I’m going to let some 15 year old hang with me for 100 meters gathering confidence every step of the way.  The hammer is DOWN immediately.  Whoosh!

And I pop into a nice little lead around the first bend.  His footsteps – SLAP SLAP SLAP – grow distant behind me.  We hit the 100 meter mark and I’m in the lead by a good two seconds.  The fool followed my advice!  Now, just a little work over the last 300 meters and the Master will head home to modestly tell Mrs. Nitmos how the boy is still trying to learn the Art of Running.

But then the footsteps get louder again on the back straightaway.  He’s on my heels.  Did he follow my advice?  It was good advice but, really, it was designed more for me to get a lead and hopefully break his spirit than to actually, you know, help him win. 

By 200 meters, we are neck and neck.  And he’s in the second lane.  I glance at my watch and we are at 33 seconds.  I’m not normally a good sprinter and this is about as fast as I’ve ever gone.  I’m hoping he sprinted himself out trying to catch me as we head into the second turn. 

Turns out, he’s a fast little fucker.  I’m huffing and puffing through the turn.  He’s SLAP SLAP SLAPPING away – cotton t-shirt flapping in the wind - through the turn across the 300 meter mark oblivious to the need for a Garmin, specialty running shows and moisture-wicking….everything.   The arrogance!

We hit 300 meters and he shows no signs of letting up.  In fact, is that a kick down the home stretch?  Now it’s me and my barely audible, perfectly tuned stride that starts to fall away.  It’s painfully obvious that I’m not going to catch him.  Is he a machine impervious to exhaustion?  Is this the same kid that spends 8 hours a day playing Call of Duty and FIFA ’13 and doing rails of sugar off the TV? 

Truly, I underestimated him.  But if there is a lesson to be learned, I should be the one delivering it. 

In the final 100 meters, mid-stride, I change strategy.  Now, there is a lesson to be taught about winning gracefully, respecting elders, exemplifying modesty, and congratulating a competitor on a well-run race.

But I’m not going to deliver that message.  This ain’t an after school special and I’m not Oprah. 

“Aaaaahh!” I scream out.  I figure I have a second or two before he looks back…just enough time to gently ease myself onto my side on the track as if I’ve fallen hard.  I hold my leg in the air and grab my hamstring.  He finishes and circles back in an arrogant, non-exhausted jog. “What’s wrong?”

Here, I go for the two-fer:  (1) Rob him of his clean victory and (2) blame him for my “injury”.

“Well, I was just about ready to go for my hard finishing kick (grimace-grunt) after my warm-up 300 meters when you carelessly kicked some loose gravel into my lane. (grimace-facial contortion) I slowed up – you had been doing that the last 100 meters or so – to get around it (uggghhh, grooooan) but it slid under foot causing me to twist my leg funny in an attempt to avoid it.  I did the best I could but, man, you screwed me over.”

After a suitable amount of time selling the injury, I popped up and, feigning sportsmanship and general humanity, patted my son on the back and said, “Despite the rather large asterisk looming over it, that was a nice job you did there – including spewing gravel in my lane!”

And then we drove home…as only I could do of the two of us.

Happy trails.

* Meta Alert: I know, I know, WE run after abstract concepts like physical fitness, health, happiness, and PRs.  Tell that to a 15 year old.
** Look I don’t have a ‘balls’ obsession, alright?  It’s an expression.  Don’t get teste.
*** Stop it already.

Postscript:  My colt made the time with a nice 12:26.  The preceding story was entirely true up until the 300 meter mark at which point it diverted into Hey This Would Make A Better Blog Post Ending.  In truth, I finished 3 seconds behind him despite running my best 400 ever. 

The little shit.