Dinosaur's Graveyard

December 11, 2001 (www.slowtwitch.com)

It takes a long time to turn into coal, but I can feel the process has begun and frankly I'm not happy about it. I've had glimpses of my body’s future through examining the bodies of my contemporaries and therefore I've decided to put a halt to the process.

Recognizing that I’m now at least historic (if not prehistoric), you’ll understand that I’m feeling the beginnings of fossilization (can one turn into both coal and fossil?). One sure sign is that you can't move. The phone sitting ten feet away rings and you know that you can't get there before the answer phone picks it up. You lay awake in bed wondering if you can hold onto those few dribbles of toxic seepage or will just pee in bed.

The second thing you recognize is the weight and build-up of that which turns one into a fossil: mortgage, kids, job, relationships––responsibility. The tonnage begins to slowly compact the bones.

My defense mechanism is to run on the track. Might sound a bit ludicrous to you but it is is the season in which a few of my friends race the length of New Zealand. This takes a month! So in comparison a little bit of track racing doesn't seem so big a deal.

There was a time when the thought of running 400's in anything over 75 was inconceivable. Now running anything under 80 would be a miracle. Looking at the spikes sitting at the bottom of the shoe pile next to the hiking-boot-like orthopedic trainers is a daily reminder of youth and speed in the distant past. How long has it been since I laced them up?

Last week I decided I was going to race on the track again to fight the rapid degradation taking place inside me. I'd love to feel fast again. They have a dinosaur division for all events on the track. It’s called the "veterans". So I'm going to get out there and run some 1500's and some 5K's and even some steeplechases.

Before that I'm going to do plyometrics and plenty of speedwork. I'm going to stop making every run a plod around the hills and forest. I'm going to end my runs with some barefoot stride-outs on the beach. I'm gonna fly.

The city council has just laid down the lines for a grass track in a field about a kilometer from home. It’s in a great, green valley and I often go there to do a bit of steady running on the grass. There's a house overlooking it that Pauli Kiuru (triathlon’s version of the Flying Finn) rented for six consecutive summers. He used to do a bit of running there, too, but went over to an all-weather track to run his hard reps. He used to do 6-8 times one kilometer in about 3 minutes flat every year just before going over to IM Australia and crushing the field (with an 8:04 or so). I was fortunate enough to get to do a few of those sessions with him and can still see his ghost floating around that field when I go to run there.

Last summer I decided I was going to do some bike racing. The goal then was to see if it was ever possible to go fast on my bike again. I ended up doing about thirty races including three stage races. By April I was starting to ride allright and even stayed with the bunch through a couple of criteriums. It was pretty hard to manage as I was shaking like a leaf, but I held on. The momentum I gained from racing led me to, and then through, two IM's in May and August. So I'm hoping that a decision to run on the track might also give me a bit of a lift and lead to something else, although at the moment I don't have a clue what that might be. But it doesn't matter. Just to glide around the track through some 5-minute miles would be heaven.

The idea of racing on the track dawned on me one night sitting in Sammy's Jazz Revue listening to some old geezers wailing out their rendition of "Route 66". Average age of these musicians was about 62. They were having a great time most likely playing tunes just like they have for forty years. I was envious. Why can't I still be doing MY thing as I've always done? How did I choose a vocation where one becomes a fossil so quickly?

I always thought old rockers and musicians were too immature to grow old gracefully. I could never condone the ridiculously bad behavior––like chasing down some Brazilian beauty half your age––although I'm a bit envious of that too. Now I listen to folks like Bob Dylan and Neil Young with quite a different ear. If you've listened to Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" with its story of aging and impending death you'll know that his skill and craft are still improving. What a fantastic feeling that must be! It’s been a few years since he came up with that album and now he comes up with another gem Its a new album titled "Love and Theft." On it he sings "Feel like a fightin' rooster, feel better than I ever felt." And why shouldn't he? He's able to enjoy his craft and get on stage and live it up. He recently said in an interview that, "A lot of people can't stand touring, but to me it’s like breathing. I don't care who you are, you are going to be disappointed in daily life. The cure for all that is to get up onstage, and that's why performers do it."

I can certainly relate to that. But it’s not all about being seen by a crowd. It’s more about putting yourself on the line and trying to deliver the goods. I must say I really felt for Dave Scott after his very unspectacular grinding to a halt in Kona. I had spent quite a bit of time training with him in Boulder in August and his ailments were really getting to him. As we ended a 2-hours and 50-minutes run one Sunday you could literally hear bones grinding. He had put aside other commitments to have the time. His engine was up to the task and he certainly has the motivation. But the wheels were literally falling off.

Things wear out, and there's not many things more frustrating than bones rubbing each other to bits in an old dinosaur. So when does an old dinosaur just give in to the ravages of time and distance and keel over and die? I think while you're out doing it, like Jim Ward did. Keep trying to manage with any means available––massage, anti-inflammatories, analgesics, surgery and morphine if necessary. So what if I go down looking like Keith Richards or Neil Young? Young's lyrics, "Better to burn out than to fade away," has been one of my guiding motto's for twenty years already. If I can still be out doing my thing as long as he's been able to do his, then I'll die a happy man.

My mentor––he's quite a bit older than me––ST (Tinley) has probed the depths of the dying dinosaur mind on more than a few occasions. He'll send me a manuscript or thesis on one aspect or another from time to time––anything from two to two-hundred pages about complicated issues like "manifestations of fossilization." He didn't actually write that, but it sounds like something he might write. He writes about facing change, mid-life crises and prostate problems. Maybe not in those exact words but you know what I mean. Dinosaur topics. For the most part I try not to let the unappetizing prognosis of struggling with these issues for years get to me. But trying not to face that reality is getting harder, kind of like the way I shave every day so that I don’t have to see how gray my beard is getting.

When ST went to race an indoor mile on the track a few years ago I thought it was one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard of. You don't have to fall too far behind to get lapped on an indoor track. And here I sit, following in his footsteps once again. With just a bit more understanding (once again).

So with plantar fasciitis in my left foot, a calf that's prone to pull every time I even look at my racing flats, hamstrings tighter than fencing wire, the bones in my feet grinding away like a rock polisher and a few extra pounds jiggling in all sorts of directions I'm going to figure out a way to race on the track. I'll keep you posted. Terminatorsaurus.