Earlier this week, for the first time in 2014, I went running outside. Fine. It was the first time I went running at all in 2014. I was cold, I didn’t make it very far, and I moved way too slowly. Still, I am hopelessly addicted to running. Well, I guess I’m not anymore; but I was last summer/fall/early winter till I gave up and ate a bunch of Christmas cookies, and I intend to be again shortly.
I have been a runner for a year. I ran cross country in high school, entirely for the social aspects (read: it was how I made friends). I slowed down (running pun!) for several years afterwards, most of college. Then, on a cold, February afternoon I decided to sign up for the Chicago Marathon on a whim. “I’m in decent shape” I reasoned as I bit through half a doughnut. “Even if I don’t train, I could still run 26 miles. It would suck, but I could finish.” I received confirmation for my entry and promptly forgot about it. Eight months later, I crossed the finish line in Grant Park with a time I was proud of. I am now certain that would not have happened without dedicated training throughout the summer and fall. This is the story of how I began that training.
I never get sick. Ever. Sure, I get a headache every once in a while, but it’s nothing a few aspirin can’t dispatch quickly. You can imagine my surprise when one Sunday, I awoke from a lazy afternoon nap shivering, with a 104 degree fever. I refused to admit that I could possibly be ill. I crawled into a rather large pile of blankets to help break the alleged fever quickly, and settled in to watch an episode of The West Wing. Eight episodes, three nurse hotline phone calls, and one Google search later revealed that the worst method for putting an end to a fever is to hunker down under the Mount Everest of assorted bedsheets, blankets, and pillows. The revised plan included well . . . the opposite of everything I’d been doing. For the record, to break a fever you’re supposed to wear loose clothing, and sit in front of a fan with a cool wash cloth on your forehead. My fever was gone within the episode. Unfortunately by this time my nose resembled Niagara falls, and despite my best efforts, several globs of nasal discharge still disappeared into the similarly colored cushions below. (Don’t worry, that couch is gone now. It has hopefully been burned.) Additionally, my throat was in sore (hehe) need of some cough drops.
I sent texts to two out-of-town friends that were, at that very moment, driving from New York. I suggested they find alternate lodging as my apartment looked like the set of Contagion. But these are either very good friends, or very stupid ones. At 10am the next morning, Tom and John knocked on my door. “Welcome, make yourselves at home. I’m going to get a strep test at CVS. Feel free to eat anything, read anything, do the dishes, clean my room, et cetera. But for the love of everything good and holy, do not sit on, touch, or even think about going near the couch that looks like it’s from the 80’s! One strep test later, I stumbled back into my apartment and collapsed onto said 80’s couch.
I would like to take a brief moment to curse CVS Minute Clinic for taking advantage of feverish, delirious idiots who, despite the fact that they may have recently graduated from college, still don’t understand anything about insurance and that a reasonably priced strep test should not cost $175!
Several hours later, I woke up from another nap. But despite the exhaustive regimen of pills the doctor prescribed, I still had a massive 104 degree fever. This time, as I played the role of Job, I had friends to sit with me as I
suffered watched Netflix. Sadly, even the hilarity and drama of The West Wing, can grow dreary after twenty or more episodes. Eventually conversation disintegrated into guess what the thermometer will read. There, in the throes of misery, as I stared at a reading of 103.1°F; Tom saw fit to mention the incredibly interesting fact that prolonged fevers over 102 degrees can cause lasting brain damage. Jerk.
The direct result of my burning, deranged brain was that, for the next few days, I missed the telltale signs that my car was rapidly falling apart. I first noticed that my car was making horrendous scraping, grinding noises whenever I touched the breaks several days later. I was relieved to discover that by simply turning up the radio this problem went away. After several more days, the crunching noises reached the point that a trip to the auto-mechanics was inevitable. That is how I found myself sitting on a stool with a picture of some famous Nascar driver in the front office of the local auto shop. “Yes, I know the whole car makes an obnoxious clanging sound every time it moves . . . No, I’m not worried about that. Yeah, I realize that just opening the door sounds like boiling a witch alive. I don’t care about that either. Really I just need to know if you got a chance to look at the breaks and how much they’ll cost.” I finally gave in and accepted that in addition to new brakes and brake pads, I needed a (completely unrelated) new radiator. Grumpily, I wondered how many additional months I would have to spend eating peanut butter and jelly in order to pay for the repairs. I was driving away before he finished explaining why it would cost thirteen hundred dollars.
A phone call to a family friend/car wizard solved the issue. He graciously promised to do it for six hundred bucks. Sadly, he lived near my parents, 200 miles away in rural Wisconsin. As fate would have it, the aforementioned parents were in town to visit me and celebrate Easter. My ever obliging dad even volunteered to drive the car back, using the breaks as infrequently as possible. My parents were kind enough to let me borrow their tire pump so I could inflate my bike tires, which had deflated over the winter. It was bright pink, so I used it once and gave it back.
After an eventful Easter weekend, I settled in for a week of biking until I could take the train to Wisconsin and get my car back. Come Monday morning, I ran through the halls wondering if it was unreasonable to believe I could bike the four miles to work in eighteen minutes. I burst into the rarely used bike room, grabbed my bike, and was out the door without noticing that my front tire was less than enthusiastic about the upcoming trip. I began to grow suspicious when the whole bike began protesting. At first it was just grisly, creaking noises. A short time later I saw bits of rubber marking the path that I’d just ridden. Eventually I stopped, inspected the bike, and saw that my front tire was utterly devoid of air.
Okay, that is not entirely true. Whatever air remained gusted in my face for a few seconds until the tire was just flabby rubber loosely clinging to a metal frame. This tire was more flat than the Illinois suburbs through which I rode. After a moment of consideration, I determined to press on. What other choice did I have? How much harm could three more miles on a flat tire really do? Quite a lot as it turns out.
I’m sure you, dear reader, have never been dumb enough to ride anywhere on a flat tire. I have. I don’t recommend it. The first mile was pretty rough. By the end of the second I felt as if I’d already run a marathon. At the end of the mile number three I seriously considered calling work, quitting, and passing out on the side of the road. I pedaled on. The fourth mile began with a car horn and an impatient scream “Good fuck, get a car!” and went downhill from there. But only in the metaphysical sense. Physically the final mile included the only geographical feature in the state of Illinois that remotely resembles a hill. The appropriately named Summit St. contained quite a climb; but in a feat of unparalleled audacity, which I’m sure will be the subject of many future ballads and epic poems, I managed to conquer that hill. After a triumphant roar at the peak, I received a bewildered, slightly concerned look from a postwoman.
As I rolled into work half an hour late, and was greeted by a coworker. “Did you bike here? I thought I saw you on my way here. I honked and yelled ‘Good luck, It’s not far!'” My manager quickly followed that up with her own comment. “The kids you were scheduled to work with today didn’t show up. You can go home. You really didn’t even need to come in.” Damn.
I decided to leave my bike at work. It clearly wasn’t going to make the return journey. The only option left was to run the four miles back to my apartment. In jeans. And so began my first run of the season which led to the completion of the Chicago Marathon and a personal dream.