Well, it was race time this past weekend and this one is made me nostalgic. It started with a delay as we got stalled on the tarmac of the Phoenix Airport because of a mechanical issue, I couldn’t help but think back on the many mishaps of the University of Portland Cross Country teams travels. There was the trip that Coach Conner forgot the trip packet and we had to make periodic trips to the ATM in order to procure our per diem, this trip was also highlighted by the fact that we arrived in Madison and got to our hotel only to find that we did not in fact have a reservation at that, or apparently any hotels in the city. Then there was the time that a trip from Portland to Fayetteville Arkansas took us 20 hours as our direct flight, which we had splurged on, got cancelled and rather than rebook a flight into Arkansas, we were promptly rerouted to Kansas City, Missouri via Denver and then forced to drive 4 hours to the sweaty, swampy, smelly, salmonella infested city that is Fayetteville. So, what I’m saying is, a little delay doesn’t even touch my top 5 travel mishaps, rather, I feel that I should thank my former program for preparing me to brave any travel day. Frankly, I was a little surprised at the groans of dismay that seemed to be universally uttered by my fellow passengers. I’m over here thinking, “Maybe instead of being pissed that we have to sit in these leather chairs for a little bit longer, we should be psyched that we aren’t going to explode into 1 million fiery scraps of scorched flesh and fall down to the earth from our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.” In fact, not long after our mechanical delay, we defied gravity which, over the years has a winning record when it comes to creatures attempting to become airborne and sailed from Phoenix to Charlotte. A 3000-mile trip that took 6 hours, including the delay when the mechanics saved our damn lives. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for all of my fellow travelers, we sat on our asses in leather chairs and used a variety of electronics. I mean, that’s pretty damn cool, you guys! Dohner and I missed our connection but it all worked out. Eventually, we got to the greater Orlando area in time to crushcrushcrushcrush.
While I refuse to lament the fact that a short delay prevented us from being blown to smithereens, I feel completely justified in complaining about the fact that my fellow passengers and I were deprived of our god given right to airplane coffee. A travesty which made me kind of wish we would have blown up in a blaze of hell fire. I mean a two-hour delay for a mechanical issue I can deal with. But no damn coffee is downright unacceptable. As I mentioned earlier, this airplane contraption that I am in has defied gravity and taken the natural laws that govern our universe to the freaking wood shed but, apparently, we can’t make a shitty cup of coffee. I’ve made French presses in the back country of Zion National Park with a 20 year-old Coleman Stove and yet I can’t sip that delicious black nectar in a damn airplane??? As you can tell, I am, understandably, incensed by this travesty and expect compensation from an airline who shall remain nameless but is called American Airlines, and should be ashamed of itself and be forced to change its name to We Are Communists Who Hate Coffee and Beauty Airlines. I don’t even expect the coffee to be good, or even average. I embrace the fact that airplane coffee is swill that tastes like it was filtered through a sweaty sock. In fact, that’s part of the reason I love it. I may wince every time that beautiful black beverage flows over my taste buds but it hurts so good.
Ok, moving on. Another negative about long periods of sitting, is my ass. Well, the tiny little piece of flesh that is taught across my ass bones. My glutes are what one might, generously, call: underdeveloped. On countless flights, road trips, and long movies I’ve envied the badunks (that’s Black English Vernacular for butt) of the typical American. Many of my compatriots sit on a plush pillow of adipose tissue from a lifetime of comfort food while I sit on a piece of parchment like skin stretched across a couple of bony protrusions from my pelvis that feel like the Rocky Mountains digging into my backside. Don’t get me wrong, I love my skinny little ass. It doesn’t weigh very much and seems to be pretty conducive to running at moderate speeds for an extended period of time. However, on long flights I begin to rethink some life choices surrounding my decisions to grab vegetables instead of their less healthy peers, like hamburgers or cheese curds. THIS WAS COMPOUNDED BY THE FACT THAT I DIDN’T HAVE A CAFFEINE BUZZ ROLLING!!! LOOKING AT YOU AMERICAN!!!!
Due to the 2-hour delay where some underpaid mechanics stopped us from being burned alive but unknowingly exposed us to the Hell on earth that is coffeeless air travel (It’s 2015 damn it, we were supposed to have hover boards and now we don’t even have shitty airplane coffee) we missed our connection and as a consequence The Worst Airline in America(n) misplaced my bag. Consequently, I was forced to chill in the Orlando Airport waiting for the flight carrying my bag to descend from the heavens and deliver its contents safely in this weird place that is Orlando. Let me tell you, I saw some things in the half hour I sat there and it was amazing! Orlando is a truly amazing place because you have people from literally every walk of life jammed into one place. It might be the most representative segment of the world’s people one could find. Thousands of people hustle from Disney World to Sea World to Universal Studios to their family cruises. You have families of all ethnicities just trying to hold it together after a long day of traveling with children, you have couples who usually love each other but look like they just want to take a bath and drink alcohol alone, you have guidos, you have a guy who has a shiny white bowl cut mullet that matches his wife’s lady mullet, you have more guidos. Seriously, there are an amazing amount of guidos here. You have international travelers who bark languages with too few vowels at each other and then you have other international travelers who are just trying to find their bags as this smattering of humanity jammed into this airport push and shove their way through baggage claim so they can get to “The Happiest Place on Earth” as soon as possible. Everyone is living like this is the freaking jungle, they’re just going so freaking hard at life and if you can sit back and just watch, it’s beautiful. Everyone is just going so damn hard at everything.
My bewilderment continued on my ride from the airport to the hotel as it became clear that Orlando is just a giant swamp that has been conquered by modern technology and infrastructure where people come to collectively sweat as they experience the tourism capital of the world for $100 a pop. Man, this place is weird and humid and awesome!
The next morning, it was race day and I was excited! The only thing to do now before crush time was to wait 9 hours. Which I did, passing the time by watching Lord of The Rings and the NCAA Cross Country Nationals. Let me tell you, nothing gets the blood pumping like watching Aragorn slay orcs and Patrick Tiernan take the race out in 4:26 and just keep on trucking!
After 9 hours of anxiously watching the battle between good and evil for the entirety of Middle Earth and reminiscing about my past NCAA nationals it was time to race! It was hot and humid, and I was drenched with some unknown combination of water I had poured on my head, sweat from warming up and nervous sweat. My hamstrings were taught, my heart rate was erratic and I was doing my best to not let any of it show. Just another day at the office. When the starter finally granted my nerves mercy and sounded the starting horn it was time to roll. The race went out slow and at mile 2 I took the lead and pushed the pace for a mile before I tucked back in until 5k. At around 3 miles the course went into a neighborhood and we were forced to take a lot of turns so I went to the front and accelerated out of everyone. I pushed the pace until there were only 3 of us in the lead group and then kept pushing until there were only 2 of us and eventually I was all alone. It was a new feeling for me to be off the front and it was scary and it hurt and I really really liked it a lot. It’s a little terrifying to be all alone with a field of good runners chasing you because, presumably, you had to take a chance to get there. This was a chance I had never taken at Portland but I embraced the words that are tattooed onto my back, “Scared money can’t win and a worried man can’t love.” I embraced these words because what’s the point of getting a quote tattooed onto your body if not for motivation when you are about to win your first race as a professional runner, you know? When I made the final left hand turn to the finish I experience pure glee and pride as I took my final few strides towards the finish line. I was a saturated mess, I could feel blood pooling in my sock from a toenail cutting its neighboring toe, my leg muscles burned and I was very happy! I was happy to be about to win this race, and I was arguably even more happy to have not had my muscles fail me and go full zombie in the Orlando humidity and ultimately become an embarrassing but wildly successful Gatorade marketing campaign.
It was an awesome event, and I am so happy to have been invited by the elite athlete coordinator, Chris Hughes, and I was even more happy to come away with the win. It definitely made the post-race shower beer taste better! Now, I am back in Flagstaff, and ultimately not much has changed other than I have a few more Instagram followers (which is cool), there’s a new trophy on my dresser (also cool) and my bank account is looking mildly more respectable. That last one is pretty awesome with the Christmas season approaching because nothing screams independence like having to borrow money from your parents so you can buy them Christmas gifts. Taylor Phinney, a young American cyclist who suffered a horrific crash last year said, “You know, we all live for that moment to win that huge race, but that’s all it is: that moment. You have to understand that that moment is fleeting and that moment goes away. You have to respect that moment and you have to cherish that moment, and you have to keep that moment for yourself. That’s all we’re in this for, for that feeling.” While winning isn’t the only reason I do this, it sure as hell feels good! So now on to club cross with a few extra dollars, some momentum and a new found love of taking risks, and pushing the pace.
Chasing that next moment,