Monday, May 30, 2011

Chapter 30: Senior Meeting

Beads of Sweat is a book about a high school cross country team.  This chapter is about the coach's meeting with his senior runners.

They knew it was coming.  Every year it happened about this time.  Nobody could predict the date for sure but when it happened, Hartman was finally recognizing them as members of the senior class.  The leaders.  At the senior meeting they set the agenda for the season.  Hammond, as Hartman knew he would, arrived first.
            -How are you, Paul?
            -Good Coach.                                                                                                            
            -How’s the body holding up?
            -Not bad…I mean pretty good.
            -You and the other upperclassmen are doing more this year than you ever have before.
            -I know.  I checked my log from last year.  We’re up eight, ten miles a week.
            -You guys have done the work.  Progressed up to it.
            -I’m feeling pretty strong.
            -The core work and the summer base will pay off.
            -I hope so.
            -I can tell you put a lot into it this summer.
            -Tried to.
            -Good.  Good…how are things at home?
            -How’s your dad?
            -He’s good.
            -I mean how are you and your dad?
            -Good…okay…I guess…he’s coming to the Starkfield State meet.
            -Is that going to make you run better or worse?
            -Better I hope.
            -Me too.
            -He just wants me to do my best.
            -We all do, but listen: I know you try your best.  I know it, and I can see it in a way a father can’t always see it.  Know what I mean?
            -If you ever need me to say—
            -No thanks Coach.
            -You have my email and phone number.
            -I do.
            -I will never put pressure on you.  You get enough of that on the inside, he tapped his sternum.  You are the epitome of a team runner.  You’ve built three years of trust and have been integral to making this team what it is.  Deo is nothing without you.  Torres and Galiozzi wouldn’t even be on the time without you.  You get them to practice.  You make sure they’re at the Dank.  You think I don’t know that?  You’re the glue.  I’m already worried about next year.  You’ve helped the team enough already.  Anything you do this year is gravy in my book.  You’ll do great.  You’ll run varsity, and I’ll be thinking it’s all gravy.  Got it?
            Hammond nodded. 
            -Good.  Now where the hell are Smith and Jenkins?
            After a hiatus of a good ten seconds, Hammond restarted their conversation.  In another ten, they were immersed in best times, favorite courses, and stories from last season.  Hammond was just saying how he wished he could’ve seen Mebkay cross the finish line with his own eyes and how pumped he got seeing that still on the jumbotron when in sauntered the two tardy boys. 
            -Better never than late.
            -Are we late?
            -Hamz is always early.
            -Hey, my dad’s military.  Five minutes early is on time.  On time is late.
            -You guys know why I called you hear?
            -We’re seniors.
            -That’s right.  You’re my three seniors.  Let’s get down to business.  First things first: you know this team doesn’t have captains.  No hierarchies.  No egos.  That said, as far as I’m concerned you’re all captains.  When you fill out your college apps, and you will be filling out college applications, you say that you ran cross and track and that you captained your team.
            They looked at one another.  Jenkins, who would be the most perturbed at Hartman’s decree, looked around one time and said, Cool.
            -Now that we have that covered, let’s talk about the team.  I need you guys.  You’re my eyes and ears.  If something’s going down, you tell me.  If somebody starts to stumble, and I’m not talking running, you let me know.  If Galiozzi drinks one sip of beer, you tell me.  If Spidestrom is flunking tests, you tell me.  You owe me that.  You owe your team that. 
            -That’s cool Coach.  We get it.
            -Good.  Now, we’re a fast team, but we’re not deep.  We can’t lose anybody.  Including the three of you.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  You guys will have difficult choices to make this year.  Parties, dances, girlfriends, the whole bit.  This is your first and only warning.  If you screw up, I will kick your ass off the team.  No second chances.  Underclassmen are young and stupid.  They get second chances.  Right Reggie?  You don’t.  I need you to lead by example.  It’s part of being a senior.
            -That’s kinda harsh isn’t it Coa—
            -Don’t give me that bullshit.  The team looks up to you three.  Sellberg clings to your every word.  Paws takes what you give him and comes back for more.  Ryan, did you know Hideo has all your PRs memorized?  He does.  You need to show them the way.  You guys have all taken minutes, not seconds, minutes off your freshmen times.  They need to know that.  They need to know that they can do that too.
            The three of them weren’t quite expecting Hartman’s tone.  They weren’t use to hearing him swear and he did so with such aplomb.  No pauses for effect or stumbles.  Nothing.  Just said those words and kept on going. 
            Hartman knew his seniors would respond well to tough decrees.  Anytime he gave them a choice workout – nine quarters or twelve three hundreds – it was an indecisive debacle.  These three needed to be told what to do and how to do it.  Once they knew what they were doing, they did it well.
            -I expect this team to police itself.  The little stuff, you guys can take care of that.  I don’t need to know about it.  The big stuff, you get me involved.  If I find out something’s going down from someone other than you, it’s your ass.
            He paused.  They nodded.  Then he went on to tell them that he abhorred this conversation.  Loathed it.  He said that this was the first and last time he hoped he’d have to discuss such things.  A necessary evil, he called it.  He let it sit for a few moments more then transitioned to the upcoming season.  He asked Hammond what he thought.
            The boy paused and mulled over his words to be careful not to say anything that would jinx the team. 
            -We have a chance to be real good, he said.
            -Real good, Smitty said, we’re gonna be the best in the state.  State champions.
            -I think we can run with anybody.
            -I do too.
            -Me too.
            -Well, we’re all in agreement about that.
            -Paddington will be right there.
            -So will Woodbury.  Did you see their results from Saturday?
            -Oh I know.  That win will give them the number one ranking in the state.
            -That’s okay.  Remember: we peak in November, not September…Let me ask you this: what planet is Coetaine on?
            -He thinks he’s a high jumper now. 
            -He got a girlfriend this summer.
            -Yeah but, he’s been better lately.
            -That’s true.
            -He was one of our top seven last year.  We need him.
            -I think he’ll come around.  Peer pressure will do that to a guy.  Besides, he said his IT-band is better now.
            -That’s good.  We’re gonna need him.
            -You have to admit, though, Deo and Spidestrom are looking strong.
            -I think they’ll both be top seven.
            -Add Torres to the two of them and us three and that’s our class team.
            -I know you don’t like counting on freshmen, he looked at his coach, but Paws could be a help.
            -Sort of like Spider last year.
            -Maybe better than Spider. 
            -They’re two totally different types of runners.  Adam’s a speedster.  Justin’s a workaholic. 
            -Hey coach, how come speedsters are never workaholics?
            -Don’t get me started.
            Their conversation continued for almost another full hour.  They talked about the class meet course, getting enough sleep, eating right, individual goals, Coetaine again, key workouts, the whole gamut.  Hamz and Smitty talked about Jenkins’ chance at winning state.  Ryan and Hartman smiled and listened.  They already had that talk.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter 29: Skyhawk Jamboree

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a high school cross country team.  To access prior chapters, click on the fiction tab at the top of the page.

Saturday morning and high schoolers from across the state and beyond congregate to the campus of Stonehill College for the annual Skyhawk Jamboree.  In the whole nation, this is the only cross-country specific event of its kind. 

Still, Hartman debated its merits.  His reservations lay in that attending it meant losing a quality day of training, but ultimately and with the cajoling of his athletic director and even some upperclassmen—Galiozzi in particular—he decided to take his runners to The Hill, as those familiar with the college nicknamed it.  He rationalized that the outing provided an opportunity for his boys to hear about training from somebody other than him, and it also allowed some of them to visit a college campus and hopefully get the bug for collegiate life.  If they didn’t get the bug at Starkfield State during camp week, well maybe this little liberal arts school would do the trick.

            The two-hour morning session consisted of informational workshops and seminars all related to particular aspects of training and racing.  The Stonehill coach was instrumental in setting up these stations and recruited other college coaches (mostly assistants) to help facilitate the workshops.  Her team members aided those coaches with anything they needed. 

            The Yellowjackets split themselves according to their own interests.  Hartman let them know their choices on Friday.  You get to pick three he told them.
·         How to Pick the Right Shoe for You
·         Stretching: What to Do and When to Do It
·         The Finishing Kick: Pick up Valuable Points in Your Final Sprint
·         Learning to Ward off Mid-Race Apathy
·         Cross-Training: Do the Right Stuff
·         Your Core is Not a Bore: Get a 6-pack and Run Faster
·         Film Study: Watch the Great Ones

After the seminars, all the teams gathered in plenary in the field house.  The indoor track and tennis center was a marvel in itself and if Johnson set this whole day up for the sole intention of recruiting, taking them to the Jennings Memorial Field House was her coup de grace.  A four lane banked track, stadium seating, a jumbotron and track meet specific scoreboard.  Wow!

            Over forty teams attended and when they all field in and took their seats, Heidi Johnson gave a brief speech.  She spoke mostly in motivational clichĂ©s to the affect of work hard and you’ll do great.  She told them that someday—if they worked hard enough—she might be knocking on their door and offering them a full scholarship to run for her.  As proof, she then delved into an anecdote about Michael Nye and how he transformed from a fat, lazy frosh who joined the team on a lost bet to a svelte senior who took the last qualifying slot to become an All-American.  The kids hooped and hollered when she finished her speech, mainly because they were enjoying the experience as opposed to the effects of Johnson’s single monologue.  When the cheering waned, right on cue she brought the house lights down and directed everyone to the jumbotron.  On it scrolled a slideshow of high school cross-country runners, a montage of last season.  The kids screamed their cords off when a runner wearing their singlet appeared on the screen.  The images were set to music but one couldn’t possibly hear it over the ululating surges of the crowd.  The Jackets clapped and stamped their feet and shouted as loud as they could when a picture of Mebkay, hands in a V, crossed the jumbotron.  The runners breathed life into Jennings; he was once again alive and electrified.  One team’s enthusiasm fed on another’s and another’s.  By the end of the fifteen minutes, everyone in the place, coaches included, was primed for a PR.  Hartman smiled that twisted smile of his.  A football crazed city, his Springfield boys often suffered a Napoleon complex.  Here they got to see a place where cross was boss.  He knew he made the correct decision.  Even if Woodbury was off at the MacIntyre Classic and winning it hands down. 

            Straight from the bleachers Johnson led them out of the track and tennis center and into the bright sun for the day’s concluding activity: a run over the women’s 6k cross country course which just so happened to be the sight of this year’s NCAA Division II national championship meet.  Johnson’s own team, both men and women, joined the secondary schoolers for their jaunt.  For the only time this year Hartman joined his crew, and they did the whole 6k together as a unit.  Keeping the reins on Smitty, Coetaine, and Pawgoski wasn’t easy especially given that Paddington ran a few groups ahead.  Jenkins, though, still one-stepped his teammates. 

            -Take a good look at their backs now, Hammond said to no one in particular, because it’s the only time you’ll be seeing them this year. 
            -That’s right.
            -Damn right.
            -No doubt.
            -We’ll toast them when it counts.

            The coach enjoyed listening to the bravado but what he relished was arĂȘte.  Quiet, humble runners who spoke with their legs, not their mouths, appealed more to him than the guys who ran their mouths and never showed up on race day.  He’d talk to them about that later.  At least for now he took solace in that their mouths only ran to each other. 

            After two kilometers or so the jumbotron hysteria simmered down and the pace regressed to recovery speed.  The banter, however, kept up and Jenkins couldn’t say enough about the film study class.

            -The videos were pretty badass.
            -What’d they show?
            -A whole bunch of shit.
            -Like what?
            -Ah, I dunno…
            Paws jumped in, they showed Pre’s ’72 Olympic race.
            -Oh yeah, that’s right.  Pre’s Olympic 5000 in Munich.
            -He won gold, right?
            -No.  What place did he come in Paws?
            -He did?  He didn’t medal?
            -Nope.  But he ran his balls off.
            -He knew he didn’t have the kick to match the Europeans so with like two laps to go he started his kick, an all out sprint.  He ran his ass off but lost it in the last 200.  You could tell his tank was empty and he kept pushing but there was nothing left.

            -What’s so good about that?
            -Are you kiddin me?  The dude went for it.  He threw caution to the wind.  He took a huge risk.  He could’ve easily won bronze but he went for the gold.  It was all or nothing with that guy.

            They jogged quietly for a few steps. 

            -The Goucher stuff was pretty badass, too, Paws said.
            -Oh yeah, Jenkins confirmed and proceeded to tell the story of Adam Goucher’s national championship race.  He crouched down on the starting line in this business-like I’m going to war way.  He was giving off this vibe that said don’t F with me.  One of the Stonehill guys even said that the necklace he wore was made of shrunken skulls that represented all of the opponents he would conquer.  Nasty.  Ultimate badass.  He crushed it.  He took no prisoners.  He killed it.

            The story telling was riling up the guys and they passed two teams. 

            -Let’s keep it in check.  We have a long run tomorrow.

            They didn’t slow.  They maintained.  Even Deo, the disciplined one, was having a hard time keeping it slow.  He edged to the front of the pack.

            -Hey Deo.
            -What’s that?
            -Are you wearing two t-shirts?
            -Where’d you get that?

            Deo wore a Stonehill XC Skyhawks jersey over his other one.  A little big for him, the t-shirt hung over his shorts almost like a skirt.

            -I won it this morning.
            -Trivia questions, Coetaine said, the kid’s a genius.
            Gales and Torres offered a few playful shoves before bribing him for his prize. 
            -It doesn’t even fit you, one of them said.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Last 5 Weeks of Cross Training

April 18-24
415 min bike
40 min elliptical

April 25-May 1
390 min bike
70 min elliptical

May 2-8
407 min bike
120 min elliptical

May 9-15
336 min bike
135 min elliptical

May 16-22
329 min bike
181 min elliptical

I have been giving my left arch plenty of time to heel.  It's still not perfect but I'm thinking that everyday of cross training is a day closer to running.  I think I'm at the point where I'm about to try a light jog.  My cardio should be okay due to all the elliptical and bike.  It's the speed and running shape that concerns me.  There is no real substitute for running.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chapter 28: SpringVale

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a cross country team.  Today's chapter tracks an LT run.

The road cambered only slightly to the left and to the right.  Due to its desolation, even in the midafternoon,  the boys ran down the middle of it.  Via shortcuts and backyard cutthroughs, they made it to Springvale in twelve minutes.  Wallan, Torres, and a few others marveled and appreciated how they could commute from the heart of downtown suburbia to backwater in such a short space. 

            When they first turn onto it, the road is paved.  That lasts for no more than a quarter of a mile.  It changes to dirt.  That’s where the houses start spreading farther and farther apart, and the forest gets thicker and more ominous.  It was the type of road where runners hear broods of semidomesticated mastiffs howl and bark.  Their ululations reverberate off rock and tree and naturally catalyze the lonely harrier to pick up his pace.  The good thing—for there was one good thing about this road according to the boys—was that a guy could duck in anywhere and relieve himself.  Just watch out for the unkempt dogs and poison oak.  And the road goes on and on this way for mile after mile through more than one town.  In short, it’s the type of road, that perilous type of road, where the runner often thinks that he is almost done with it but then sees that rock shaped like Snoopy and remembers his true location and realizes that he still has much more distance to cover than he thought.  A real joy of a road.

            A big sweater, Smitty struggled down the road at his LT pace, his shirt soaked and heavy on his chest.  Don’t wear cotton next time, a voice in his head.  The devil on his shoulder told him to slow down and relax.  He almost complied with one of these very many requests.  He hated Springvale because of what it meant: LT runs.  Lactate threshold runs.  Runs just at the brink.  They were not his forte.  He ran here and always found himself alone and always found himself struggling to resolve the mind v. mind v. body conflict.  On this day he slowed down.  The devil smiled and fell silent.

            That same devil had exiled himself from Jenkins’ shoulder after four years of unsuccessful pleas.  He killed this workout.  He killed his devil.  Today it was four on Springvale, later in the season it would be six, last year it was five; it didn’t matter.  He pounded it and left a baker’s dozen of guys in his wake.  Spider tried to hang for the first mile and so did Hamz and Torres and Smitty.  Tried but dropped.  Two miles out Hartman stood in the middle of the road legs splayed under bike.  Wordless, Jenkins pinned around him and looked up to see where the others were.  Hartman told him to keep it at LT pace.  He surged to make the gap that much longer.  After fifteen seconds Spider came into view followed by the pair of Hammond and Torres.  All three of them shouted at Jenks.  He offered nothing in return except the slightest of bobs.  He was working it hard and couldn’t spare vociferations.  He had rhythm that he didn’t want to break and this made him untouchable.  Shouts of encouragement?  When a runner entered a zone like this none of that external stuff mattered.  He knew he was rocking it and knew he would keep rocking it until he reencountered the street sign.  Sometimes a boy gets going and even though he’s in a pain tells himself that there is no way on earth that he could possibly slow down.  The boy doesn’t want to go any slower.  He wants the pain; that’s how he knows he’s alive; the more discomfort the better the living.  Ironically, man as machine.  Men as machine.  I am a machine.  Nothing can stop me.  An internal monologue of ceaseless badass chants.  Some not fit for print.  Chants keep legs on cadence.  He only broke form once or twice to look straight down at his feet and ground.  The kid in the train peering straight down through a crack in the floorboards and marveling at the speed at which the railroad ties passed.

            Not everyone enjoyed this workout as much as Ryan Jenkins.  They were one team but they all had their specialties.  Spidestrom has the NMT, Smith the LSD, Wallan devoured hills, and this just happened to be the work that validated Jenkins’ dreams of an individual state championship.

            Before long the Springvale sign came into view.  One could spy it from a long way off but the letters remained indistinguishable for quite some time.  Step after step his vision became less myopic.  First he could see the S and then the V.  He never noticed it before but there was something strange and out of place with that V.  As he got closer, he realized that it was capitalized.  That’s odd, he thought, is that a compound word?

            When everyone gathered up at the post for the cooldown back to the school, Jenkins pointed out his find to them.

            -Did you guys notice that, he gestured to the sign.
            -Notice what?
            -The V in Springvale.
            -So what?
            -It’s capitalized.
            -You’re just noticing that now?  After four years?
            -Stop being such a nerd.  Who do you have Miele for English?
            -No.  I noticed it too.
            -Coach, why is the V capitalized?
            -I don’t know.
            -Let’s say it’s for victory, Torres offered.
            A few eyes rolled. 
            -Do you want a noogie, Adam?  He made a quick move toward him then Sam.
            -Okay, okay, Hartman said.  We come to this road and we work hard.  That’s our thing.  The V stands for our victories.

            After a few more cups of Gatorade courtesy of Pereira the team started their jog back to the high school.  Unbeknownst to Hartman, they all cut it short by doing a little more backyard sideyard running than they should have.  They cut a good half mile.  Jenks and Smitty, as seniors, led the way.  They felt justified after a killer LT.  Paws didn’t know what was going on but he followed.  All the way home they replayed the workout without a thought about their course.  Torres told of how he and Hamz gobbled up Spider because he went out too hard.  Coetaine said he felt strong but Hartman made him stop.  The underclassmen didn’t say much of anything.  Between the likes of Gales, Coetaine, and Smith getting a word in was just about as challenging as the workout.  Hamz and Torres were in nasty shape right now and their excitement along with Jenkins’ outright domination allowed the team to think and talk championship.  Little did they know Paddington and Woodbury were kicking just about as much ass as they were.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chapter 27: Brian Sellberg

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  Once every six chapters or so, a character gets his own chapter. This is Brian Sellberg's.

When I look back at my high school years, I think about my travails on the cross country and track teams.  For my own self-preservation, I have blocked out many of the other experiences: namely dances and proms.  We all do it.  Black out the bad (unless it’s so bad we can’t) and relish the good.

            Despite all the of work that goes along with school and the school of hard knocks that goes along with girls and all that other important in the moment but tertiary stuff, I always come back to my days on the team.  Sure, Hartman was a manic obsessive coach that monitored our progress as if we were rats in his diabolical lab, but he was our coach.  I recall my teammates with the warmest affections and sentimentality.  On a cold winter night, I’ll sit down with a tumbler and recall how Pawgoski dragged me over those damned hills.  He had a drive that few of us do.  Myself included.  I just happened to be his friend and clung onto his heels for the ride.  From our first summer of structured running, the summer after eighth grade, I did almost all my miles, thousands of miles, millions of steps, with my best friend Paws.  Of course, he did many more miles than I did but when I ran, I ran with him.  And as we soon found out, running often turned out to be just a small part of the experience.

Back when we were freshmen, I remember the old ice cream parlor and walking in on a hot summer night and having the older guys embarrass us by addressing Paws as Tinkerbell and me as Buttercup.  We were both frustrated and abashed—I had to hold Paws’ arm so he wouldn’t swing—but I think we understood, even though we couldn’t name it at the time, that we were undergoing a necessary rite of passage.  Beat us, haze us, berate us internally, and defend us, support us, protect us against any other team or outside threat.  Funny how those ice cream parlor moments of loathing evolve into moments of appreciation over the years.  Hell, when we were seniors, we did the same thing to the bluebirds.  Even called them the same names.  Vowed we’d never treat freshmen the way they treated us, but two, three years later that covenant was broken.  Those same guys who did it to us probably made that same pact when it happened to them.  Oh the things time can do.  And it goes on and on.

I remember my frosh and senior years the best.  Those middle years get lost in the haze of middle age.  I’m good with the beginnings and endings of things; it’s the middle that gets me.  So, in the beginning I remember being fat.  Not fat in the way one goes to the doctor and is told to lose thirty pounds.  Fat in the way of a cross country runner.  I had a little pudge.  Baby fat.  Love handles.  Nothing horrible.  Even after a summer with Paws, I still had what the guys called my momma fat.  Said I still suckled my momma’s teet.  I hated that.  I wanted to be a post pubescent man, but I was still a little boy with hardly a hair in his pit.  The guys chided and teased me.  Pinched my handles in the lockerroom.  If I were a girl, I’d be either bulimic or anorexic.  Still, I took my ribbing and didn’t do much about it.  Back them I ate like a hedonist.  Just everything.  I didn’t know any better.  I thought the running would take care of the pudge.  Oreos, whole milk, pizza, ring dings, ice cream sundaes.  My mom loved to bake, always had something in the house.  Dessert equaled happiness in the Sellberg abode and there was a whole lot of happiness among my parents and siblings.

But then it happened.  He waited until the end of September to pull me in.  He did it with all the guys.  He had one-on-one meetings with each of us over the course of the season.  Moreso with the upperclassmen than the greenhorns.  He only met with me once my first year.  I think he waited until the end of September intentionally.  By then he figured I was getting tired of the fat jokes, and it gave him time for me to buy into him.  He also needed to size me up just right and determine his approach.  Our “conversation” probably lasted three minutes.  After two, he cut to the chase.  He did all the talking and told me he knew I didn’t like having the highest BMI on the team.  He told me he could fix that.  He didn’t ask me what I ate but he told me to stop eating the junk that I was.  I had no clue at the time but he drew a line and connected the dots between running and eating.  You need the right fuel for the tank, he said, you’re clogging it up with donuts and cupcakes.  He told me what I should eat and what I should limit.  I was pissed at him but I listened.  I crossed my arms and I listened.  So, much to my mother’s chagrin, I slowly started substituting apples for chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter sandwiches for marble cake.  I didn’t end up losing weight in high school.  As I grew (puberty final came), my frame thinned out and my times started to drop.  The foods he recommended helped out with my energy too. 

That was the way with Hartman.  He never told me I was fat or that I needed to do this or that.  You just talked and somehow by the end of the conversation you had in your head that you agreed to something you weren’t quite sure of.  Then you had to follow through with it.  He knew just how to manipulate intrinsic guilt.

Then there was my senior year.  The four horsemen made it all the way through: me, Paws, Buck, and Lee.  We had such good times.  Real glory days.  We knew each other so well.  We pushed each other’s buttons in good ways and bad.  Pushed Hartman’s too.  I mean the four of us spent twelve seasons with the guy; you had to get a little fresh sometimes.

My proudest running memory came in my final cross country season in high school.  Things were never quite the same after that.  I went on to do other things.  Kept running but didn’t prioritize or only did in fits and starts.  I put it together my senior year, and like I said, I owe it to Paws.  That whole summer leading into the season Paws and I trained together and he would get in my ear about going all conference and finishing in the top ten in the class meet.  You gotta want it.  You gotta picture yourself duking it out down the final straightaway.  For Sebastian’s sake, the kid was a mini-Hartman.  Well, he was a major pain in my ass, but it worked.  I ended up making the all league team and two weeks later the unthinkable happened: I pr’d by a minute oh three and came in the top ten, tenth.  I collapsed in the chute.  Never been happier to be so dead.  Paws gathered me up and put my arm over his shoulder.  He walked me over to coach and passed me over to him.  Hartman actually hugged me.  I cried.  What a day.  One of the best of my life.  I still replay it from time to time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chapter 26: New Martindale

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a cross country team.  Today's chapter recounts the team's second duel meet; more particularly, one runner's experience on the starting line.

A white line spray painted across a dirt, crushed stone macadam marked the start of the New Martindale course.  The fresh paint was laid by a shaky hand as evidenced by the crooked row of toeboxes inched behind it.  Forty plus feet poised and ready for takeoff upon the crack of the starter’s pistol.  Of all the sneakers attached to feet and feet attached to runners who could determine the fast from the slow?  One curved arch could be a champion, the other a hack.

 Twisting the ball of his foot in a quarter moon arc, one runner demarked himself prepared.  He spat and grinded his foot into the ground like Clint Eastwood would a butt of a cigarette.  Then he crouched down low and brought his arms akimbo.  He looked down at the ground onto which he spat and started an incantation of incomprehensible mutters.  Incomprehensible to anybody but himself.  The outsiders could hear a low cadence to his words but the words themselves were for him and perhaps his god.  No one else.  When he finished, he remained crouched and brought his right hand to his neck.  There he fingered what could only be a talisman and ran it on its twine first to the right ear and then to the left before recentering it at the vulnerable spot just above the sternum.  He remained bent low balancing all of his weight on the balls of his feet.  A small stone in his hand now, one good for skipping, he carved two sharp lines into the area just in front of his toes.  Those two crude lines crossed each other and in a moment he effaced his work by passing over it with his hands and taking up any loose gravel into his palm.  An ancient Spartan, he rubbed fisted grains of dirt between the base of his fingers and the fleshy part of his thumb.  As he pressed his fist together and felt the gravel ensconce into his calluses, he stood up prostrate.  Erect, he touched that fist to his head, abdomen, and both shoulders.  He looked down and opened his fist.  He clapped remnants off with his other hand before wiping open palm at the hipbone of his shorts.  He gestured his head out in front of the spray painted line and looked to the left and the right strangely as if he were a young boy crossing a busy street.  He made eye contact with the teammate to his left then right and grazed pass one New Martindale runner on each side to tap a Jacket’s fist.  No words from either party, just a silent tap and a head nod.  To watch this ritual was to be intimidated...

            Zoom…and he was gone.  One last strider before the race began.  He ran hard for thirty then brought it back down to a jog.  With tunnel vision, he walked all the way back to the line.  Pereira shouted something.  He heard it, registered it, but paid him no heed.  He did not look at Hartman either; he might as well be invisible, a figment.  Some runners need coddling in the moments before a race, not him.  His coach knew this and left him alone.  He could take care of himself.  

            The gun in the sky ten seconds from firing.  He stared straightaway.  No need to look at it; he would use his ears.  His legs loosened then tensed.  Tan skin covered ectomorphic muscles.  One heel lifted from the ground.  The ballbearing at his ankle defined itself as did the soleus and gastroc.  Smooth skin, hardly a hair on his legs, so strange for a teenage boy.  Unknown to him beads of sweat, molecules ever so small, manifested themselves onto his stiffened leg.  The sun bore down hot but they were even too small to glisten.  In his angst he tapped his heel four times yet it never touched the earth.  Like his plates on the nautilus in the dank.  A trickle warmed the skin at his loin.  He desperately wanted off the line to move forward, but a man in a yellow jacket with red forearm sleeve held him captive.  A bailiff taunting him with a key.  Manacled to a poorly spray painted white line, the entropy in his inertia mounted.  So much internal, static momentum gained just from following certain rituals, patterns, thinking certain thoughts.  Dream the dreams of other men and you will be no one’s rival.

            The coach worried that he took these races too gravely.  Look at him; this was not a war; it was a Wednesday afternoon in a park.  He brought him into his office to council him.  Hartman so concerned about his intensity made him prove these afternoon duel meets were worth his efforts.  The runner defended himself, told him it was a part of his process—visualization and mental preparation (tenets of his coach’s philosophy)—that he needed.  I run to race, he said, not train.  You gotta race the right ones and have something left for November.  I will I will.  They came to a gentlemen’s agreement.  He could run them but Hartman could withhold at his digression when he thought it in the team’s best interest. 

            The started announced set.  He got still.  The tap ceased.  He held his forearm flexed in the air.  He became a statue.  A statue ready to throw an elbow once animated.  The only motion coming from his body now was the slight heave at his chest.  The slight, furtive movement acted as an internal pendulum.  And on the backswing, always on the highest point of the backswing, the gun smoked.  He ricocheted himself from the painted line.  The smell of the miasma siphoned into his nostrils.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chapter 25: NMT

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a cross country team.  To read previous chapters, click the fiction tab at the top of the page.  

On the clipboard: NMT, Track.  Underneath those two words, he grouped the team into fourths. 

Spidestrom                   Hammond                    Smith                            Buck
Jenkins                         Kimihara                      Galiozzi                        Sellberg
Torres                          Wallan                          Pawgoski                     Lee

Coetaine: bike

            As they did their one and a half mile warm-up over the grass perimeter of the athletic fields, Hartman explained the rationale of the workout to Pereira.  Told him all about neuromuscular training and the benefits of tapping into fast twitch muscle fibers.  Told him about how bouts of short fast running improves form and strengthens the leg muscles.  Hartman never had his runners lift weights with their legs, (despite all the Dank Tank workouts) just body weight.  He preferred to build power and muscle endurance through hills and speedwork.  Pereira listened intently as Hartman rambled on for what turned out to be the rough draft of the speech he’d give to the team when they returned.  The coach had learned quickly in his first few years never to hold things to close to the vest.  Giving a teenager a why, letting them know the plan and the reasoning, produced better results.  When a sixteen, seventeen, eighteen year old boy is asked to complete an arduous task, he’s more willing to do it and do it well if a reason accompanies that task.  Hartman gave it to him. 

            The boys returned to the track and started their dynamic stretches.  Many of them grabbed a mouthful of water and a couple underclassmen peeled off their shirts.  The seniors policed them.

            -Team rule: shirts stay on.
            -Oh come on, Spider said, it’s friggin hot out.
            -Plan on running bareback in a race?
            -Nobody wants to see your scrawny ass body.  Put those ribs away.

            Good thing for Spider, Sellberg, et al that the girls’ team wasn’t on the track.  The ribbing would’ve exacerbated tenfold.  As usual, the ladies were on their daily perimeter in nothing but short shorts and jogbras.  Oh the humanity.

            -Here we go.  Two miles NMT today.  Neuromuscular training.  We do this for a few reasons.  One, to improve leg speed, to improve your sprint.  Two, to improve your efficiency, your form.  Three, to cultivate faster muscle fibers.  And four, we’re doing this because I’m the boss and I said so…Let’s get to it.

            He told them their groups and staggered their starts.  He reminded them that this workout appeared easy but really wasn’t if you ran it right.  Sixteen 100m windsprints in 3200m of running.  Do not push the curves, he warned, even if you feel good.  Especially those first couple of laps.  The curves are your recovery.  If one group runs into another, one of you is doing something wrong.  Pay attention to your bodies; focus on your form.  Don’t race each other.  Concern yourself with yourself.  This isn’t a competition.  That’s tomorrow.

            He got them started.  Once the final group took off, he walked across the infield toward the middle of the far straightaway.  Pereira said that he’d watch them from the homestretch and Hartman nodded approbation.  He told Pereira to watch their arm swings and listen to their footstrikes.  Chide them if they’re pounding.

            Spidestrom looked so smooth on the track.  Effortlessly he ran the straights.  He gapped his group by a meter or two and made it look easy.  His gazelle-like form contrasted starkly with Jenkins, who had good form but had to work to maintain it.  Hyperion and Sisyphus.  Torres bobbed between them and kept a light banter on the curves.  After nine straights, Spider stayed as smooth as the first.  He continued to lead the trio.  His foil started his telltale headbob.  Hartman told him to stop racing.  Next time around, Pereira told him of his bob.  The senior glared at the assistant and grudgingly heeded his advice. 

            -Footstrike, footstrike, footstrike, Hartman shouted to his bluebird group.  Drive through the ground and flex your ankle at the takeoff.  Train your feet to pushoff forcefully.

            The troika listened to their coach and ambitiously followed his directive.  Too ambitiously.  Hartman grimaced as he watched Lee slam his foot down into the track.  The pfb risked breaking every metatarsal in his foot just to win the praises of his coach. 

            -Not so hard, not so hard, he shouted at their backs.  Focus on the pushoff. 

            The freshmen need work, Hartman thought, but Kimihara’s passing two groups later reminded him that it could be done.  Next to Spidestrom, he was a thing of beauty.  Wasn’t always that way but was now.  Perfectly efficient.  Nary a wasted movement.  Deo directed every bit of his energy into propelling himself forward.  He could do these sprints on a tightrope or balance beam if he wanted to.  His symmetry amazed his coaches.  Each half of his body a true compliment to the other.  Right knee flexed up, left elbow flexed back.  Some guys had a sneaker that swung convexly coming out of midstance.  Not Deo.  Put him on a tarmac and he’d be ready for takeoff.  From stance phase to footstrike to midstance to swing phase to ankle dorsiflexion to toeoff, every action moved him farther around the oval.  His cadence was hypnotizing and both Pereira and Hartman had to snap themselves out of the trance induced by his stride. 

            -Hey Wallan, don’t swing your arms across your body like that.
            -Yes Coach.
            -Fire those arms like pistons in their holsters.  Don’t cross your body.
            -Yes Coach. 

            In another lap Wallan had corrected his form and smiled at Pereira.  Pereira smiled back at him.  Did Wallan ever smile for Hartman like that?

            Fifteen minutes elapsed and the boys were finished.  They caroused and the chat made its way to New Martindale, tomorrow’s opponent.  They were left to their own memories and speculations as Hartman had said nothing about them.  He ignored their canting and told them to cooldown the same mile and a half they did on their warm-up. A few of the guys had lulled themselves into thinking that they were done but the savvy veterans knew better.  They jogged off toward the fields, the sun still high in the sky.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chapter 24: Dank Tank

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  Click the fiction tab to access previous chapters.  Today's chapter is about a core workout in the Dank Tank.

6:05 and every last one of them on the brink of sweat.  Even Hartman, he did the Dank Tank workouts alongside his upperclassmen.  He called the sets and reps and kept one eye on their form.  They tried to keep up.  Eschewing embarrassment courtesy of what to them was an old, old man remained paramount if they were to maintain any semblance of a high school ego.  They gutted it out hard for this reason.  Sometimes harder than they should have.  Hartman himself would have to backoff if he had a difficult workout planned for the afternoon. 

The regiment was designed to last forty minutes, which gave the boys another forty minutes to shower, change, grab breakfast, and maybe even do a little homework.  They always started with pushups.  Three days a week they did them and each day a different form of them.  Mondays it was straight sets.  Three sets of forty with forty seconds recovery.  This is where they were now.  Set three was about to begin.  In between each, Hartman had them stretch out their backs the way cats do after awaking from a nap. 

-Let’s go guys, Hammond said.
-Last set best set, Torres said.

They did them in unison.  At least the first twenty in unison then things got a little pell-mell.  Smitty started to fatigue then Galiozzi then Jenkins and Coetaine.  Hammond and Torres were the corework paratroopers.  They never flinched.  They stayed right on Hartman’s count.  Torres jumped up and went over to the stereo.  Smitty’s “A Long Way to the Top” was playing and Torres turned the volume knob all the way to the right.

-Come on Smitty, Coetaine yelled.

Torres ran over to him and got down into his ear.  Push it, Reggie.  It’s a long way to the top.

Up on his knees Jenkins said, This song has a whole new meaning to me after Saturday.

-No shit, me too.

Hartman had made his way over to the early nineties stereo.  He put his hand on the volume controller. 

-No, no, not yet, Torres implored, one more verse.

Smitty, now finished with the set, got up from his decumbent position to play air guitar along with Torres.  All the guys yelled “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll” and repeated it a couple more times before they noticed Hartman had reduced the volume. 

-You’ll wake the dead with singing like that…Let’s go.  Next exercise.

The boys continued through their trunk work: planks, abs, bridges.  Awake now, they started to talk between sets.  Unlike in class or with certain cliques, the boys were at ease and worried little about what they did or said.  Sure, they still gave each other a hard time when it was warranted but that hard time never left the Dank Tank.  Seldom did it ever even trickle to the rest of the team.  They told bad jokes, they fantasized about girls, they even talked about what they might do on cross-country courses throughout the state.  Half the time they were impervious to Hartman’s presence.  He said little during the Dank Tank sessions.  He did, however, quite frequently remind them that they were the only cross team in the state waking up and doing the supplemental work.  The work of champions he called it.  He never made guarantees or talked to them as if they were the best, instead he talked about being in “the position.”  And how one gets into “the position” and what one does when in “the position.”  You are putting yourselves in the position, he told them every morning three days per week.  Usually said it at the door as the guys, bleary eyed and far from bushy-tailed, lumbered into the tank.  The man had an uncanny ability to cut things off at the pass.

-Hard stuff’s over.  Let’s get the legs going.  No squats today.  No wall sit today.  Instead we’ll do some more stuff with the hip girdle.

-Oh wonderful, the hip girdle.
-Oh yeah, Smitty, I still have your mamma’s girdle from last night.
-Franklin, let me tell you about your sister’s birthmark…
-The little strawberry, Galiozzi interrupted, right under the…

Torres jumped on Gales then went over to Smitty for the nuggie routine.  In this motion, they crashed onto the mucid blue mats for a round of fire hydrants.  First with two arms for support, then one, then one with arm moving with opposite leg.  They worked rhythmically through the reps, sets, and exercises.  The juniors still needed to get the hang of some of the more technical movements but the seniors were fluid.  After all they had a year’s more experience in coming to the Dank Tank. 

In ten more minutes, they had completed all the leg work for the day.  That part of the corework came pretty easy to them in comparison to the upper and trunk exercises.  Sensing completion of the morning workout, they started talking about who had what for breakfast. 

-I didn’t bring anything.
-I ate on my way here.
-I have some poptarts in my locker.
-I brought a banana but I’m not sharing it.
-Hey, we have one more exercise to do, Hartman said.
-We do?
-Oh no, we’re doing pullups.
-That’s right.  But we’re not maxing out.  We’re doing three sets.  Divide the number you did at the conditioning test by three then add one.  That’s how many reps you’re doing for each set.  The first and third sets, face your palms out.  Face them in for the middle set…To the chinning bar gentlemen.

The tank had three bars on the far wall.  Each had to jump up to grab the bar then jump back down when the set was done.  Whenever their knees swung into the cinderblocked wall, Hartman reminded them of their poor form.  He didn’t watch them today; he was tending to a brown paper bag in the corner by the door.  The boys counted each other’s reps. Hartman remained by the door and from there watched them finish up their sets.  They were done in no time.  They dallied for a minute or two, some of them even voluntarily did a couple of stretches before meandering toward Hartman’s door.  He had the brown bag in his hand.  He reached into it and from it tossed each boy an apple.  Franklin dropped his, breathed on it, rubbed it into his sweaty shirt, and took a bite.  

-See you in a few hours, he said.