Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Running On

BY Rick Rantamaki

“Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.” – Eric Liddell

Saturday morning, just after sunrise, I found myself standing on the cool grass of the steeplechase field at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, GA (the exact location of the 1996 Olympics’ steeplechase) with a timing chip strapped to my ankle and a number pinned to the front of my shirt. (My number was “180” and though randomly drawn, I couldn’t help but think of how perfectly it symbolized the past year my life). Over a hundred runners huddled together eagerly awaiting the start signal to compete in a 10K (6.2 miles) trail run through the woods. [Cue Vangelis] Each of us there for our own purpose, our own reason.

I’ve never competed in a running competition – of any sort: not a hundred yard dash, not a 440, not even a potato sack race. (Sure, I had to complete a mile “run” while in boot camp, but the time limit imposed by the military was so bloated you could visit the mess hall and spit-shine your boots and still finish comfortably within the alloted time.) So, I had no idea how events like this unfold. I just wanted to run with folks who shared my desire to dash through the woods. Thus, my mindset was simply to run my own race – in the company of others.

I shook each foot to ensure my legs were still beneath me, then fluttered each arm to remind myself to relax.

An electronic blare from a bullhorn signaled the start of the race and the mass of runners sprinted from the makeshift starting line painted across the grass.

The open field was just long enough to permit us to sort ourselves out as we approached a narrow opening in the woods. The opening funneled down a gravely slope and onto a sandy roadway which ran along the banks of the Yellow River. I could see the leaders up ahead, but I’d let several folks pass as I settled into a comfortable pace. No sense in over-exerting myself; I wanted to make sure I finished my first race.

The sandy drive along this opening-mile stretch was riddled with hoof prints – a stark reminder we’re not the primary runners on this trail. Thus, the footing was a bit precarious.

I soon found myself trailing a pack of guys who seemed to be going just slow enough to hamper my progress – and based on a course map I’d studied before the race, I knew before long the trail would narrow down to a single path, so I politely slipped passed the guys one at a time.

Sure enough, after climbing a short but steep slope, the trail turned sharply onto a slender path, which descended deeper into the woods. With all of the twists and turns, and my complete unfamiliarity of the trail, it didn’t take long before I had no idea which direction I was going or where the next turn would lead me. (Thankfully, the course workers painted directional arrows on the ground to guide us along, or I might still be wandering those woods today.)

Amidst the tangle of trees, I was finding my rhythm. Keep my strides short, take an extra step rather than lunging over obstacles, and keep my arms relaxed. I leapt a muddy stream, climbed an embankment and found myself in a gas line clearing (imagine a giant mower cutting a single, 25-foot wide line through the woods). I could hear someone on my heels, so I move aside and waved him around. He thanked me as he passed. The trail then twisted into the woods on the opposite side of the clearing.

I could see a number of other runners slipping through the trees on another trail (none of whom looked particularly swift) and for a moment I thought, there must be more folks ahead of me than I thought, till I realized those were the 5K runners on an adjacent trail.

Now, I don’t consider myself a runner, per se, but rather someone whose feet happen to move while he meditates. Real runners wear stopwatches and heart rate monitors while sporting the latest in high-dollar running gear and sipping highfalutin energy drinks. I’m just a newbie. Why, only nine months ago I couldn’t run the length of a football field without being completely winded. And trail running, heck, I just started that a few months ago, for a change of scenery.

Somewhere near the second mile, I was winding through some trees and needed to clear my throat. As a courtesy to any runner who may have been behind me, I glanced over my shoulder before spitting. But before I could get my head back around I was suddenly on the ground rolling over my shoulder and popping back up on to my feet – all in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, since I’d already glanced back, I knew I wasn’t in the way of oncoming runners, so I took a moment to quickly assess the damage. The toes on my left foot were screaming. My hands and elbows were covered in dirt, both of my ear buds had been yanked out and the other end of the wire had come unplugged from the mp3 player. No time to deal with the non-essential items, so I balled up the wires and stuffed them into my pocket. Another glance over my shoulder assured the path was still clear as I started running again.

What the hell was that? I wondered. It must’ve been a rock, or a tree root. My toes sure felt it. Well, I can get a better look at them. . . in about four miles.

There was a water station at the half-way mark. A solitary girl was offering me a paper cup as I approached the table. “You’re doing great,” she said. I’d slowed to almost a walk to ensure I grabbed the water cleanly (no need to showcase my tumbling skills. . . again) and thanked her. Then I tried to run and drink at the same time. This is tricky enough on a smooth paved surface, but add in a twisting undulating trail and, as I found out, you end up wearing most of the water.

The one lengthy hill (which was a bit longer and steeper than I’d expected) sapped most of my energy. So, once again I adjusted my pace to ensure I could complete the event running. As I continued along the trail, I took whatever opportunity I could to reassess my status. I brushed my hands and elbows and couldn’t find any abrasions beneath the dirt. So that was some good news. My foot, however, felt as though I had kicked a fire hydrant. Glancing down at my feet spinning below me, the toes still appeared to be attached, so I pressed on.

The sound of cheering, from wherever it emanated, meant the end was near. Sure enough, I broke out into a clearing and could see the finish line. By now the sun was out in full force and the temps had climbed another 10 degrees since the start. The runners had strung out so much over the length of the course that we were trickling in one at a time.

Immediately upon crossing the finish line, the timing equipment folks stepped in to retrieve the timing chip from my ankle. As the girl knelt down to release the Velcro strap, she asked if I was okay. I thought, is this a standard question they ask at the end of these runs? “Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied, then headed for the water station.

I poured myself a drink (one I intended not to wear) and watched a few runners cross the finish line. Then I focused on my foot. Though my toes still stung, I was able to wiggle them – a good sign, but what caught my eye was the trail of dried blood on my shin. Apparently, I’d scuffed my knee during my roll at mile two. Oooh, THAT’S why that girl asked if I was alright.

I got some more water and rinsed the blood from my leg – no point in unnecessarily grossing anybody out. Then I headed to the scoring table to find out how I fared.

The timing sheets were separated by age groups. I scanned the "Male 40-44" sheet and didn’t see my name. There were already a dozen guys listed on it for my age group alone. Sheeze, I didn’t think there were THAT many guys ahead of me. So I waited around while they handed out medals to the top finishers in each age group. . . for two reasons: 1) to applaud those who finished up front, and 2) to see if I recognized anyone I may have passed along the course (thinking that might give me an idea of my finishing time).

The emcee was handing out medals for the top three male finishers in the "45 to 49" age group when I heard him say “. . .from Dacula, GA. . .”

Huh, I thought, someone else is here from Dacula. Whaddu know.

Then he said, “. . .Rick. . . Ranna. . .”

Holy crap! He’s trying to say MY name! Turns out I finished third in the "45 to 49" age group (they bumped me up an age group because my birthday falls within their race season – in fact, my time was good enough to have finished second in the "40 to 44" age group) and I finished 18th overall! I was stunned and thrilled.

When I slipped out of my running shoes before leaving the horse park, I discovered two of my toes were already black and blue and the outter half of my foot was swollen. Nice. And I can hardly wait to do it again!

Copyright 2011 Rick Rantamaki

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Holiday Travels (Part I)


This year, in an effort to minimize travel time, I choose to fly to my Holiday destination – a decision I would question later.

I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors about the latest, invasive, TSA screening procedures – given only to select travelers (i.e. me). That’s right, after essentially disrobing down to my socks, I was diverted from the standard metal detector line and into the chamber of desecration, whereupon my body was subjected to radiation and electronic inhalation, to be scrutinized by a voyeur sequestered in a secret sound-proof room (to stifle the laughter, I presume). All the while, I was trying to maintain visual contact with my belongings as they rolled along through security without me.

The TSA officer then asked me to step out of the chamber and directed me to stand on little yellow footprints painted on a black rubber mat. The officer then redirected his (or her – I really couldn’t tell) attention to the lady who had passed through the chamber before me. Via a shoulder-mounted two-way radio, the officer informed someone that the woman’s pants included decorative sewn-on buttons near each hip. As this exchange took place the woman looked at me with disbelief. With my hands still in the air and an eye on my belongings (which continued to merrily roll along), I gave her a “don’t-say-a-word-we’re-breaking-outta-here-tonight-via-the-sewer-system-so-you’re-gunna-have-to-crawl-through-some-stuff-you-won’t-wanna-talk-about-afterwards” look back. She got the message. Another few awkward moments passed, then the woman was finally cleared.

The TSA officer then turned his/her attention to me. A little electronic chatter spurned the officer to ask me what I had in my front left pocket. I pulled my eyes from my belongings (which were enjoying themselves at the concourse bar and grille) and asked if I may drop my hands. “Yes,” he/she replied. I slipped my hand into my pocket and discovered a familiar object. Damn, I thought, this is going to incite further probing. I pulled it out and revealed it to the officer, “It’s the key to my truck.” One key attached to a remote, this might just shut down the airport. I cringed.

The officer repeated my words over the radio. Then slipped his/her hand into my pocket. Hello! Once satisfied my pocket was clear of anything inorganic, the officer wrapped both rubber-gloved hands around my left thigh, then slid them up to my groin. Am I going to have to leave a tip? I wondered. Not unless there’s a happy ending, I convinced myself.

The officer then stood back and said, “You’re okay,” and waved me on. You don’t know me very well, I thought.

I caught up to my belongings just before they boarded the plane.

Fortunately, the airline I was flying permits passengers to select their seats when they check-in online. I chose a window seat (I’m easily amused with windows). As I approached my row I discovered the only row on the plane without windows was mine. “There’s my ‘window’ seat,” I mused to the other two passengers seated in my row. They looked at the windowless wall and chuckled, then began ribbing me about my prowess at seat selection.

“Don’t be so quick to laugh,” I warned them, “I just drank a liter of beer and I have an overactive bladder.” They eyed me uneasily.

I sat back and waited for the flight attendant to drone her way through the safety instructions. Only an hour and a half and I’ll be at my destination, or so I thought. Unknown to us, another plane had decided to circle back after experiencing mechanical difficulties. We waited on the tarmac for another half hour. I stared at my missing window as I wondered why the airlines are so paranoid about mp3 players during takeoff and landing. Last I checked, my mp3 player doesn’t have aileron controls (and “shuffle” doesn’t seem to scoot the plane down the runway either).

A baby began wailing, or was it my psyche. This is how my vacation attempted to get off the ground.

(more to follow)

Copywrite 2010 Rick Rantamaki

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Pile of Ruminations (watch your step)

  • Right. I'm not to mention anything about our office's Subway-sponsored production of "The Tempest" in three-part harmony scheduled for lunchtime today.
  • [From the Rickisms file] Songjà vu (song’ zhä vü) noun 1.) Psychology. The familiarity of an album’s, or media player’s, sequence so much so the listener can hear the subsequent track moments before it actually plays; a forehearing. 2.) Slang. You’ve been listening to this album way too long.
  • Dear U.S. government, there’s this new-fangled thing called the “Internet” which might be a more cost-effective, “greener” method of checking your commodities (i.e. census). Please consult with Mr. Al Gore (the Father of the Internet) for details. Signed, Middle-Class America.
  • Uh, yes, I have a question. What if, say, a friend goes to a wild party and has sexual relations with several unfamiliar partners, only to discover the next day his shorts resemble the inside of a used handkerchief. Should that friend be concerned, or will this go away before the big party next weekend?
  • Failed pickup line No. 138: “Bet you score high on the Wonderlic exam?”
  • Septic guys are in the parking lot repairing our sewer woes. I asked them if they’ve heard of a game called “sinkers floaters”.
  • [RE: Newborns] It's like riding a bike. A bike that burps, poops, and cries - sometimes all at once - and leaves you floundering alongside the freeway of life, drained and sleepless. Congratulations!
  • You can catch flies with honey, but you'll need a jigger of whiskey to snare yourself a Leprechaun. Just sayin’.
  • I’d thought I’d let you know (while I’m still coherent) that in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities, I’ll be gettin’ me Irish on with this here half-pint of whiskey, then shortly afterwards I’ll be gettin’ me shamrocks off all over town. Consider yourself warned.
  • Care to debate my lineage, or would you rather wear this mug? ‘Cause you’re given me good reason, to throw you from this pub. Now I have mind my manners, put my differences aside. But another swig of whiskey, and you’ll feel me Irish pride.
  • “Only a moron would pick this team to advance in the tournament – given the overwhelming, previously undisclosed, information we’ve been spouting since the tipoff of this wildly lopsided game.” (Is a loose translation of what the announcers are REALLY saying about my March Madness selections.)
  • When do we stop calling them basketball shorts and start calling them capris?
  • Back in my day (when milk came in cartons), running with the basketball was called traveling: a violation which awarded the other team possession of the ball. Today, however, a player who carries the ball from the top of the key, past 27 defenders, thru concession alley, runs under the basket for a reverse layup, is called a big-time player.
  • The weatherman says it’ll be a clear, sunny, and dry hump day – so, that must explain why I’m on top of my game.
  • I just read an article which listed tips to keep your keyboard clean. I don’t think it’s the keyboard that’s dirty; I think it’s the phuckin’ words I’m typing.
  • The Feds already determined the honey bee population is perilously low. I guess the bees had to have their Census Forms turned-in earlier than us.
  • It’s quite remarkable considering the doctors said I wouldn’t live a day past my 7th birthday – on account of my alcoholism. Who’s laughing now?
  • Archaeologists recently unearthed a 3,500-year-old door to the afterlife in the tomb of a high-ranking Egyptian official. Upon opening the door they were surprised to find the tattered remains of my March Madness bracket, which was described as being, “grotesquely misinformed.” After flushing their eyes with an ancient remedy (urine), workers fled the site in fear of an eternal curse. Oh the humanity.
  • I failed to stifle an inappropriate laugh when confronted by the latest wave of door-to-door mega-church recruiters, which, I guess, explains why they backed away as though snakes were crawling from my eyes.
  • If you’re keeping score, I’m pointless.
  • Just discovered the asterisk on my I.D. indicates, “Mentally challenged, but pretty high functioning in some respects.” Ouch. And I thought the lady at the DMV slipped me the handi-capable plate ‘cause she was flirting with me.
  • I had the new-hire read the opening paragraph of the employee manual, then I told him to rip it out. “Be gone ol’ mission statement entrenched in yesterday’s ideals. We are not a stagnant office content with status quo. No, my new friend. We ride the wave of new technology to the ever-shifting sands of tomorrow.” Then we discussed bathroom etiquette.
  • “Here is where the magic happens,” I told the new-hire, who was respectfully noting my orientation. “Here is where ideas meet the pipeline.” I then stood back and let the automatic urinal flush.
  • I'm prepared for anything, unless something happens.
  • Yes, your child is adorable - the way he flails his arms around while listening so intently to our conversations – now can you get him to stay in YOUR booth?
  • A new baseball season is underway, which can provide some entertaining background – for those of you scoring at home.
  • Whoa, hold on there John Deere. Just because your yard is a lush undulating green expanse during an otherwise dormant season for warm climate grasses, it's not because you’re blind-eye method of neglect has magically rewarded you with the perfect lawn. No sir-ee. Those are called weeds. Yep. And they’re having an orgy ALL OVER your yard.
  • Doc says I have a club foot, I say I’m improving my lie.
  • When the judge said take a 30-minute recess, I naturally assumed there’d be a playground out here. I stand corrected. Now, may I please have my kickball back?
  • My son’s enticing pleas of “tasty bait” and “c’mon, it’s good for you” immediately shifted to his Schwarchenegger impersonation once he set the hook, “Ahhhhh! You ah dinnar to me NAW!” (I don't know who was more surprised: me or the fish.)
  • I’m Busy writing another commencement speech for graduates of the ICS Medical Transcriptionist correspondence program. (They hang on my every word.)
  • Y'ever laugh at something while forgetting someone in the room actually likes Coldplay?
  • Ate a whole roll of Smarties this mornin' and I gotta say, I'm just not feelin' it.
  • Sometimes you gotta wonder; is it the medication, or lack thereof?
  • A salesman approached as I was scrutinizing a high-tech washer/dryer combo and offered his assistance. As I peered at the price tag atop the washing machine I asked, “Is there some reason why these prices are marked in pesos?”
  • For those classmates who voted me, “Most likely to purchase energy efficient appliances,” I have finally fulfilled your prophecies.
  • An Ohio death row inmate tried to delay his execution by claiming he was allergic to the anesthesia used in the lethal injection. Really? Wouldn’t that be like trying to convince the hangman your allergic to rope?
  • I know we’ve been going in circles for some time now, and I may have dumped on you a time or two when no other options were available and you could’ve easily erupted on me, but you didn’t – you held your ground and I respect that. So here’s to you Mother Earth. Have a happy Earth Day!
  • A 41-year-old Wisconsin woman was arrested Wednesday for shooting pedestrians with blow darts from her minivan. When authorities contacted the woman’s “representative” he reportedly said, “Look, she’s new, alright? Obviously, we have a conflicting interpretation of the term ‘blowjobs’.”
  • Fading to a commercial break, the camera focused on two guys wildly applauding in the studio audience. Both were wearing dark-blue v-neck sweaters over buttoned-up polo shirts, and both had heavy-product-Twilight hair. I remarked, “Hah, they’re dressed exactly alike.” To which my wife replied, “They came out of the same closet.”
  • George W. Bush will be releasing a memoir soon. It’s rumored to be loaded with pop-ups and press-n-snickers. I think they should title it, “They Misunderestimated Me.”
  • Turkish scientists claim to have discovered the remains of Noah’s Ark atop Mt. Ararat. Much to their surprise, they also found James Cameron filming a scene in one of the Ark’s many stables. “Funny,” the Turkish scientist mused, “but I don’t recall the bible saying anything about Noah’s wife posing for a nudie-portrait.”
  • If the Census Bureau knows response is lackluster, doesn’t that indicate they already have a headcount?
 © Copywrite 2010 Rick Rantamaki