Wanted: Track Maxims

I sure could use some track maxims right now.

After putting it off for way too long, I started running again. First I had to wait until January. (Who starts running midyear?) And then I had to wait until we moved. I couldn’t start a running regimen while stuff was in boxes all over my house, so I had to wait until we settled in. Then I had to wait until school started. Then it was after the painters left, after I got my closet cleaned out, after I kicked my Snyders Honey Mustard Onion Pretzel Bits habit, and after the election.

Ridiculously, I ran out of excuses and so I started running.

Although, started running are such strong words. I ran one day. After two blocks, my lungs started burning, my thighs got hot and itchy, and a bad running song came on my iPod and I was tempted to stop. (There’s nothing like “Love in Any Language” by Bill and Gloria Gaither and Their Homecoming Friends to make you want to give up running and find some cigarettes to smoke. How did that song get on my iPod?)

Track maxims, please. And make it quick. Pre’s ghost is on its way to my house and he’s very disappointed in me.

Track maxims were what my brother, Jeff, used to inspire him to run. Jeff was an awesome track star when he was in high school. He set records that put his name up on our gym wall for years, he went to State, and he got mentioned in Tony Angelo’s sports column in the Hubbard Eagle.

Jeff was a distance runner, so the inspiration he was looking for had to get him through more than just burning lungs, hot thighs and bad music. He would look up inspiring sayings and write them on paper with marker and tape them to his bedroom wall.

Today’s track maxims are what we see on the back of high school track team members’ t-shirts. They’re not as much inspiring as they are sarcastic, in-your-face statements that track runners are better than everyone else.

“If You Can Read This, I’m Faster Than You.” (This only works if it’s on the back of the tee.)

“Fast Girls Have Good Times.”

“Excruciating pain cannot break those who are willing to die.”

"Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever."

“The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle - when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."

Sheesh. Take a pill, whydonthcha.

I was always half aware that my brother was a little bit of a local celebrity because of how he ran. Everyone saw him running through town in pouring rain, hellish heat and in icy snow. I think if there was a mural painted of Hubbard, there would be a little flesh-colored guy with long brown hair running in the background. That would be Jeff.

And then he got the Howard Slemons Award, this big athletic award in Hubbard that goes to the best overall athlete of the whole year. I think the Howard Slemons Award usually went to a football player, so it was a pretty big deal that Jeff was getting it.

And it was a surprise.

I walked into the kitchen one night and my mom and my sisters were all at the table, their voices were all giddy and excited, so I knew something was up. “What’s going on? What happened?” I asked. I was the youngest and always the last to know what was going on in the family.

“Jeff’s getting an award!” Kathy said. And then they went back to being all excited, pumping their fists, somebody was writing some stuff down and my mom made a pot of coffee.

I stood there like frozen cement. I thought Kathy had said, “Jeff is going to the war.”

This was 1967 and the Viet Nam War had normally calm people all bent out of shape. We used to watch the draft number drawings on TV, kind of like a sick version of the lottery number picks, except when you heard your numbers announced, you didn’t win 17 million dollars that you could divide among your office mates, you got a gun, a shaved head and a trip to the jungle. The fear that Jeff would get drafted right out of high school and sent to Viet Nam was an underlying presence in our house, something my mom and sisters and I thought about almost daily.

I thought my family had lost their flipping minds.

Reenie and Pam were giddily laughing and everyone had these huge grins on their faces.

“How can we get him there in a suit without him getting suspicious?” I heard Kathy say. Oh dear God in heaven, they were going to send him to the war as a surprise. Apparently Jeff was being sent to Viet Nam via the Roosevelt School gym after a big ceremony. I wondered if they would pack a suitcase for him and hide it backstage and put him right on the bus from there.

This is no way to tell someone he’s going to be a soldier in the Army, I thought. But, hey, I was 10 and stranger things had been done by seemingly smart adults in the past, so I believed it.

It was like something out of a bad I Love Lucy show during a writer’s strike - double meanings, my sisters and mom talking about Jeff’s big honor and me thinking he had gotten drafted and my family had lost their senses through a sudden hemorrhage.

Eventually someone noticed that I was still standing rock solid in the middle of the room with my mouth open. Eventually it was all explained to me and I relaxed. We all laughed about what a stupid little kid I was.

I have a good track maxim that would have been perfect for Jeff’s wall: “If you’re asked to get a haircut, put on a suit and get on a bus, run. Run like the wind.

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