19 September 2008

Cross Country Season!

Fall is in the air and that can only mean nasty politics. And cross country season! We old farts tend to forget about the fun we had in high school slogging over the fields and through the woods, but I had the pleasure today of re-living it in two very distinct ways: coach-mode, and muck-mode.

Cross Country – Coach Mode: My daughters are of middle school age and we send them to a small Catholic school here in town. Working with a limited budget, most of the extras are done on a voluntary basis. That makes me Coach Cattarin. Or more accurately, Assistant Coach Cattarin, since Hal, the “real” coach does all the dirty work – the administrative stuff and so on – but he’s not a runner, so I show up with marathon cap on head and try to motivate the middlings to muddle through the mud. Though there really hasn’t been any as the weather’s been fine (Ike ignored us), so they all look at me a little strange when I tell them how cross country is really all about getting yourself caked in mud and not getting in trouble with your parents about it. One of these days it’ll rain really hard and they’ll get it. Meanwhile, they’re out moving and burning innocent unsuspecting calories instead of zoning out in front of a screen, so they’re all winning as far as I’m concerned. And, hip-hip hooray for the home team, there are lots of them this year; we fielded full teams for both the boys and the girls.

This being year #2 of our (Hal’s and my) cross country coaching careers, we figured we’d put our other foot into the pool and actually stage our own meet, rather than just mooching on the other schools like last year. I had the opportunity to design the course, of course (pun intended) with a good hill near the end. Hal, as usual, did the dirty work (with aplomb, mind you) and snared us the park use permit and, more importantly, a visiting team. We had a few tense moments when game time came and went, but eventually they arrived for the festivities.

Nobody died, nobody got lost, and best I know, nobody rolled in the poison ivy, though we won’t really know that for a few days. Hal’s new stopwatch arrived in time, our parental draftees dutifully executed the course marshal posts we doled out, the popsicle sticks did their jobs without complaint, and in general, we pulled it off. And for a final bonus, the sun dropped low behind the eastbound finishers giving us some really cool hair a-flyin’ photos as the kids pushed to the finish – even of my daughter, who normally has her Boston Marathon cap welded to her follicles.

Cross Country – Muck Mode: Coincidental meeting are becoming a habit of late. When that visiting team arrived, their coach seemed somehow familiar, because he was. Only took me about a minute to connect the dots. Chris was the winner of our Labor Day race a couple weeks back. The last time I’d really seen him was at about a half mile mark, after he’d prodded me to a way-too-fast start that turned into my 3rd-place finish, master’s win, and a wicked PR. He’s a young kid from my perspective, closer in age to the middle-schoolers than to me, but a heck of a runner.

Once the kids had cleared out I decided to forego my club’s speed workout tonight and join Chris running the trails from the park back into the state forest. A maze of twisty passages, all alike. Real cross country! We dodged and darted, climbed, explored, got turned around, general woodsy stuff. A twisty maze of passages, all different. We burst out onto the roads for a few miles, then back into the forest to get back to the park. A maze of different passages, all twisty. Twilight. I’ve been on these trails but not that much, and there are plenty of them. A twisty different maze of passages. Disorientation. So what, just keep running. Trail ends, reverse. Hmm, looks different. Well, who cares, these woods aren’t that big and I know the perimeter roads, so…

Critical moment. We burst from a small trail onto a wide abandoned road-like trail. I think I’ve got a bearing. A moment’s thought, yes, this way. Chris follows, the fool! A few yards down, a grassy patch, a big stride in, oh crap, that’s not really a meadowy spot now is it?

Ya’ know, it hasn’t rained much lately, so where’d the swamp come from?

There’s a mental process that happens here. Sort of a denial. First foot in the muck. Didn’t see that coming. Next footfall spot looks OK, take the next stride. Physics commits me to the downstroke, and I can see just before I hit that there’s no solid surface there either. Lather, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Each subsequent stride appears to be heading for grassy firmness. Each is just going in deeper.

Must’ve been a good fifty yards of this. By about 20 I was resigned to the Total Muck Experience and was just going with it. By 30 it had become fun. By 40 I was wondering if my brain worked, because it still looked like the next step would be firmament, but it kept not arriving. I think we skipped that verse in Genesis, you know, where He created the firmament. No firmament. And it was getting deeper.

Of course, it stopped, it always does, and the good news was that between us we still had four shoes. No super-suction shoe removal action. Good thing, since my car key was tied to my laces! Though I considered abandoning my car and simply running home, as my toxicity level made me question the wisdom of getting inside even my old rust-bucket.

Conveniently my camera was in the car, having brought it along for the kids’ meet, so an innocent bystander documented the environmental impact to our shoes. Yes, those socks had been white. And I thought the tuft of grass was a nice touch.

Did I really say there wasn’t any mud earlier in this post?

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