Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chapter 37: Hot Run

Beads of Sweat is a book about running, high school xc running.  This chapter is something we have all experienced: a hot, miserable run.  Enjoy!

     -This Indian Summer is killing me.
     -Can you even say that anymore?
     -What?  It’s hot as hell out here.  Look!
     Smitty stopped in his tracks and bent down.  From his squat position, he pressed his left thumb a quarter inch deep into the sun fried asphalt.
     -I shouldn’t be able to do that in September.
     -Late September.
     -I’m sure they’ll be out here somewhere with water.
     -Don’t be on it.
     The thirteen of them carried on in misery, feeling more and more sorry for themselves with every passing step.  Jenkins was in the pool doing a workout and the boys lamented his good fortune.  He gets a day in the natatorium and is no doubt complaining that the water’s too cold.  The nerve of him.  Here they are out for seven and a half dogs, the sun beating them like an unwanted stepchild, the humidity vice-gripping their necks, and Jenkins wants to be in it with them.  What a sadist.  The temperature hovered near ninety which isn’t that bad but made to feel that bad due to the sixties and seventies they’d experienced over the last couple weeks.  Running in ninety is always tough but over the length of a summer one’s body can acclimate.  Get a hot day in autumn and a boy’s body is sent into a tailspin of dehydration and cinderblock feet.
     Hartman wrote “Chestnut Lollipop” on the clipboard.  He heard the weather forecast and felt a steady aerobic effort was best for his team.  He’d put off the The Michigan for a day or two.  So, today, the Chestnut Lollipop.  The first and last mile and a half was the same, the stick of the candy.  The middle four and a half consisted of rolling, bucolic roads that didn’t see much vehicular traffic.  Bikers, walkers, and runners frequented Chestnut Street in larger numbers than cars.  It was the type of road that on the right day and time became a no man’s land, a real ghost town.
     An unspoken tradition on this run occurred at the top of the lollipop stick.  The team split itself into two groups that would inevitably cross each other.  In runs past, each group kept the other honest.  They kept on pace or even pushed it for fear that their counterpart would hit the midpoint before them.  Not this year.
     They splintered unevenly.  To the left: Gales, Smitty, Coetaine, Wallan, and Spider.  To the right: Hamz, Torres, Deo, and Paws.  Buck and Lee would run the length of the stick and back at Hartman’s orders.  They would only hear about the pursuant drama secondhand, which led to both privately wishing they had run the entire distance.  In the future, they’d petition their coach to do the full team workout. 
     Misery loves company.  Two, maybe three kilometers, into the circumference of the lollipop, Gales launched a pejorative.  Three to be exact: two adjectives and a noun. 
     -No shit, Spider seconded.  He hated long runs in the first place.
     -Look at my fuckin’ shirt, Smitty said.  Drenched in sweat and frustration, he peeled the shirt from his skin and wrung it out with his hands.  He then twirled it into a rat’s tail and snapped Sellberg’s ass with it.
     -Asshole, the Berg was bold enough to say.
     -Come here you little shit, Smitty used his last ounce of energy and the two of them broke into a short lived sprint down Chestnut.  When he caught Sellberg, he rubbed his pungent armpit into his head and neck.
     -I don’t think I can make it the whole way.
     -Are there any shortcuts?
     -We could try cutting through the woods.
     -Fuck that.  Let’s just walk.
     The pace slowed but they kept jogging.  Their run had transitioned from a tempo to a recovery to one of survival.  They were just looking to get back to the Dank at this point.  The road has become quiet and lifeless.  Like a desert before a duel.  Not even a wind.  No witnesses either.  They hung tight together and their legs colluded with every passing step.  Just say the word.
     As they rounded a sharp bend, the word came in the form of a ten percent grade hill.  That hump manifested into the straw that broke Gales’ back.
     -Fuck this shit.
     With that eloquent decree, Gales started walking.  To his left and one step behind, Coetaine followed suit.  They fell like dominoes: Spider, Wallan, even Smitty.  Sellberg kept a jog on but did not run in front of them.  He thought this might be some kind of test.
     -What are you doing?
     He shrugged.  Wallan, also unsure of what exactly was happening, started to jog again. 
     -You two.  Start walking.
     They looked at each other and reluctantly complied.  The grade steepened and the walk came as a welcome relief. 
     -Just to the top of the hill, Smitty said.
     -This is wrong.
     -Shut the fuck up.  We just beat Dansville 15-50.  Shutout. And Hartman has us running a Chestnut.  He’s fucking crazy.  It’s too much.
     -Oh so you think you know more than Hartman?
     -I know my fucking body.  I’m in it.  Not him.
     -Listen.  Dude’s right.  Hartman’s old.  We’re young.  He forgets.
     -We have a big meet this weekend.  This isn’t helping me get ready for that.
     -Oh.  It’s state’s this weekend?
     -Whatever lets you sleep at night, how plucky of Wallan.
     Four of them rationalized their walk to the point that they felt justified.  Two felt guilty, yet succumbed to the pressure.  They knew that the other group would be on the horizon soon enough and wondered what would happen next.
     The quartet saw them before they saw the quartet.  For Sellberg and Wallan it was akin to having a hand caught in the cookie jar, and they instinctively started to jog again.  Spider and Gales looked at them and mumbled something indistinguishable but hard.  Smitty thought they should’ve come up with some phantom injury to justify what they were doing to their teammates.
     -What’s going on, Torres asked.
     -What’s it look like?
     -Why are you walking, he said it as if the thought of doing such a thing had never crossed his mind (and it hadn’t).
     -Because we’re toast.  Because it’s one hundred fucking degrees.  Because Hartman’s a deranged sociopath.
     -Or because you’re fucking pussies, the tone mimed.
     -Lame, Hammond added.
     -Lame?  You know what’s lame Hammond?  You.  You running by when I’m on the ground with the guy who tried to trip you.
     -I didn’t ask you to do that.
     -You’re a coward.
     -You’re a dumbass.
     They got to within fist’s reach of one another.  Torres and Deo jumped between them. 
     -A fucking freshman had to fight for you.
     -How ‘bout I fight you right now?
     They jostled the boys that held them back.
     -Let’s go pussy.
     Hammond freed himself from Torres’ grab and made it a step and a half before Torres regrabbed his right side and Deo his left.  They kept gesturing toward one another but their teammates would not relinquish them.  They breathed heavy and swore.  Their taunts heightened once they knew the grip of their teammates would not relax.  They were just like any other boy who posed to fight when he damn well knew his friends wouldn’t let him.
     Witness, Paws stood incredulous.  He couldn’t believe two teammates stood ready to draw down on each other.  Couldn’t decide that half his team decided to quit in the middle of a run.  What a confederacy of losers.  How could they win anything with that willpower?  Where the hell is Jenkins, that one man kangaroo court, to restore law and order with this team?
     -Sellberg.  What the hell are you doing, Paws said.  He could only attack a fellow PFB.
     Sellberg shrugged.
     -Why you walking?  I didn’t think you were a lame ass pussy.
     -Shut the hell up Tinkerbell, from Coetaine.
     -I think you’re all pussies.
     -Who the hell do you think you are?  You’re a freshman.  You ain't shit.  You ain’t even got hair on your balls.
     -He’s got more balls than you.
     -Listen we better start up again or Hartman’ll know something’s up.
     -I’m not running no more.
     -We’re not walking, Deo said.
     -Fine.  You’re all just goodie two shoes.  Go ahead.  Run away.  We don’t give a shit.
     They paused and sized each other up.
     -Is that Hartman, Deo pointed far into the offing.  He knew it wasn’t him but said it anyway.
     -Oh shit, Coetaine said and started sprinting down the road.
     They all followed suit.  Only difference between them being that one group picked up an extra two runners.

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