Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Magical Crazy Time

It's 8 AM on the last Saturday in August.  For thirty straight years this was  a magical, crazy time  in my life. I would get up very early, before the sun rose to blind me from my bedroom window and start a ritual.   The normal routine of most days like teeth brushing and hair combing was interspersed with once-a-year procedures. From the precisely laid out ritual offering of the night before, I draped myself in silken shorts, a sleeveless top and well worn shoes. That could have been nothing special but the labels on the clothing were a little off the normal brands I wore, which were usually store branded. These items for the magical time bore the monikers of New Balance, Asics and Bill Rogers. 

I then would tie my hair up, somehow getting it under a hat or in a braid. I didn't want to deal with it for a few hours. As I donned my shoes, I made sure to dab bits of emollient between my toes, pulling my socks tight and double tying the laces. In later years, I also added a plastic tag to the shoe, so someone somewhere might keep the numbers straight. At least I thought that was part of the fee I paid to be a part of this magical time.  The last part of the early morning ritual was the adding of the paper bib to my chest.  I now was really a number! 4 safety pins, one per corner (one always with a dollar bill poked thru as a safety net). 

I set off for the 15 mile drive, sometimes thru extreme fog and redirects thru town for parking. The magical time originally started on the main road leading into the local community college.  Over the years, it became so crowded, it was moved into the downtown area for both the beginning and the end of the magic. The bright blue line that guided hundreds and then thousands of locals, all 50  state visitors and Olympian internationals of all colors and talents, was a year round presence for us, and a stepping stone to conversations for anyone who inquired of it.

This was the quest. The red bricks of Saginaw Street was the end of a long and winding road thru Flint. Nearly every economic level of life in the area had a neighborhood that correlated to the paychecks and you would run, walk, crawl and dance thru each one. 10 miles. Never one step less. The magical time was 8 AM on the last Saturday in August. The event was the Bobby Crim 10 Mile Road Race. The prize (at least originally) was a wooden Popsicle stick, handed to you as you crossed the last painted wedge at the end of the blue line. In later years, you were handed a metallic amulet on a bright ribbon. You had earned the right to wear the totems of the magical time, including a brightly embossed shirt, and the metal totem. You also earned the blisters and the bruises and sometimes, even a trip to the local medical tents and forced fluids by IV.

Many would plan for months for this magical time, spending hours a week getting faster and thinner by running in neighborhoods in their own cities and towns. Some ran on tracks at high schools, some ran on trails along the river or local wooded areas. Many took to marking the sides of their local blacktopped roads as they made each foot plant count toward a weekly total that climbed as the months passed. Some who had to deal with detrimental weather like heat and ice, ran indoors at the local gym or high schools, keeping track of each mile, along with the temperatures, what they ate before running, even what music they had on  cassette players, which segwayed into Cd's, and later iPod. There were many rituals for each participant. 

One of the rituals was to NOT have new shoes the day of the magical event. You had to have the shoes broken it, with hard earned asphalt miles making tiny cracks in the bottom, which made for better gripping should the day be hot and humid, or in one case, turn into a monsoon, where rain fell by the inches per hour, and everyone was glad for a dry towel at the end.

The anticipations of the participants each year were quite unique. Some were looking for glory , often coming thousands of miles for the chance to set a world record for time, and in the process picked up thousands of dollars in prize money along with the cover of Running Times or Runner's World. Some used this as a warm up for a fall marathon or "light" training for the next year Olympics. Quite often the challenge was just to finish, STANDING UP and being able to talk about it after the fact. In between were dares, celebrations and tears.

My first year of participating in the magical crazy time in August 1981, I told no one. I snuck out of the house before sunrise, entering the challenge only the day before, when I had seen an ad in the local paper and wondered what it was.  I had only run one 10 K before that, (and promised myself I would never run one again!), but something drew me to this event. In part, it was the fact it was a fundraiser for Special Olympics. I have always felt blessed I had healthy kids both mentally and physically, so I emptied my pop bottle cash jar, tore off a check and entered the unknown. Pure guts got me thru it, even though I had been running for quite some time.

I sit here at my desk, with tears in my eyes as I type this. The magical crazy time is not on my calender this year.  I decided that 30 years of toeing the starting line was enough. I have been dealing with a knee problem for awhile but I could have toughed it out, even if I did more damage to it, eventually the darn thing will need to be replaced, as I have fallen so many times on it. I have been thru much worse, including a trip to the hospital after one event.  The decision to stay home came not by my body giving me a challenge but from the loss of what should have been a small recognition last year. I don't ask for much. I don't like anyone citing me for something I have done that is positive for them. If I gift, a quiet thank you and smile work for me. I even am accepting of hugs, but really I don't need much. 

The decision to give up the magical crazy time, started a few years ago.  At that time, I came across a newspaper memo, asking that those who had participated in 25 years or more of the magical toeing of the line, contact a person to get their name and years of participation. I did this and at that time, I was informed that at least 4 of the years I did run, they had no record of. These included the first two years of my participation (long before electronic mats and  beaming of info from a chip on your shoe or embedded tags sent times at various check in points along the route). Everyone originally got the same start time, even in years when the participants took up to 8 minutes to cross the line on the bricks.  Popsicle sticks and later tear off tags were the only way to keep you in order as a giant clock ticked off the seconds over your head.  

The hardest to deal with were the missing participation of one, the year I had my second best running time and the tear off tag was handed to a person at the finish line who did not like me. Sounds petty but my finish never even showed in the local paper, and I knew from instinct, she disposed of the tag. I never thought it would matter. I knew I had run, I had my finish medal/certificate and I was off to see dad, who always called me his wet rat after being doused with sprinklers for 10 miles. But the most hurtful run, 1995, was the last time I saw my dad. I stopped over after finishing the race, showed him my medal and never saw him alive again. He didn't call me his wet rat. And I turned and said "Bye Dad", as I left the kitchen at my childhood home. I knew.

Somehow I still kept up my streak, thinking it was still a streak. Thru a two year illness with multiple hospitalizations, loss of friends, lingering lung and pain issues, I kept ticking off the years, dedicating each magical crazy time to those who were no longer with me, either at the start or the finish. But I was heartbroken when my participation could not be verified, as this was such a personal achievement for me. I did this for me! So last year as the names were called, and mine was not one of them, I decided that along with the fact hubby was no longer working and I was unable to make my normal large donation to Special Olympics due to medical expenses, I was done. The last Saturday in August was no longer mine to anticipate and the magical crazy time was history. I was at the mercy of the keeper of the records. No amount of cancelled checks, credit card slips, t shirts (now being made into a quilt), finish certificates and medals can find the missing and restore the official. For me, it was like going thru school and getting set for graduation and they say you can't, because they can't find your records. So no diploma. It hurt and still does. So I decided to end the run on my terms. 

There will be no more laughing thru painful hills at the sideshow of humanity, who show up each year, and cheer us on or are puzzled by the craziness of the day (or the ordinary of the day).

There will be no more piles of cups from lukewarm water that tastes as if it comes straight from the Flint River which is dispensed by volleyball playing frat brothers from GMI/Kettering.

There will be no more dispensing of the beer at 8AM at the Peanut Gallery, a large group of obnoxious drunken friends (I don't say this with affection, as they are very hurtful verbally to those who are struggling), and the cloud of smoke won't be missed one bit.

Altho I may still have to occasionally drive this road known as the Bradley Hills or a trip into Hell-this is just the first of the three hills rising up toward the halfway mark of the race-I will not miss the debilitating pain in my quads and being forced to run backwards to get the cramps out of them.

This sign that marks the halfway point of the race, on the west side of the city, was always a topic of theft. There were years when my friends David Jones and Bryan Coleman conspired with me to steal it. We could not finalized cutting it down or unbolting it, and seeing as Bryan was a city cop, well, I don't think I would have gone thru with it and ruin his career.  But it was great conversation and at least you felt sort of grand knowing you got halfway thru the race and it was all downhill from there (a lie! a big fat lie!).

The mass of humanity, both from those participating and those who volunteered hours and days to help us achieve our day of magical crazy spread over the city, singing, preaching, dancing, banging drums and spraying you with water from hoses and buckets of ice cold Gatorade. It would not be the success it is, without all of them. 

And it was all done to get one of these. A cheap piece of metal with a colorful ribbon, a totem to display around your neck as you puked in a bucket at the finish, or stood under a shower in the middle of the brick road. Sometimes you found a cold beer or a melting Popsicle to share with others who had the same quest of the magical day. Just to finish and have a good time. 

The day of magical crazy will go on for others and perhaps there is another streak to be had for me in another town on another day on another last Saturday but today I call it a wrap. The wet rat will be dry but the memories linger. I would not have had the times of my life without so many wonderful people. My kids Courtney and Ben started doing shorter fun runs to later accompanying me on the crazy, even doing one year on a dare for a hundred bucks with no training (I still have the photo on the mantel Ben). The entire Bentley family Jennifer, Michael, Jamie and Amanda (the above twins) and big sis Jessica who could not be seen with us stragglers were always just plain fun, but mostly mom Karen, the person of courage with the Crim on her bucket list that I was a witness to and thru the next 12 years, I carried a yellow rose in my pocket in her memory as I dedicated the race to her. The photo of her family and mine crossing the finish line in 1998 is still on my mantel. Then we have Jim Blackhurst, a participant of many years who let the entire clan invade his yard and pool post race along with his wife Karen, the keeper of the kidlets while we ran, and let them all swim in the Flint River with the carp! I certainly will not forget the pasta dinners the night before the race, imbibing a bit too much and having hangovers at the start line. All those strangers along the race route, the silly conversations with old, young and the littlest ones shoving cups of water and high fiving-and really, who had the biggest grins, them or me? How about Earl from Hurley Fitness barking his Marine commands for me to get my ass in gear at the 6 mile mark after he could not run anymore because of health reasons. Of course, the Shriner's clown who saw me struggle only to pull a  trophy out of his pants and pass it to me as I ran the last half mile  would know it's now a 20 year dust collector on my bedside dresser along with a running shoe dipped in plaster holding all the medals received. All the crazy weather, the time I lost my shoe, the frat boys with the beer wagon and the Marines in cadence with full gear.  The guy dribbling the basketball for charity and the former soldier who carries the POW flag for every DAY he runs and every MILE he runs. These people and events never leave my mind.

Mostly, there was hubby, who made me do the last two miles one year even when I begged him to go get the car. He was a spectator that year, hanging out in front of the School for the Deaf, and telling me it was far easier for me to finish (it was all downhill from there -more lies!) but that kept the streak going past 15 years, and later he joined me when I feared to do it alone, as I recovered from illness. He had the nerve to say hi to Don Williamsom! The nerve!  But I got to 30 because of him, so I guess I will forgive him. 

This band aid will be used someday, should I have another foot blister as I know it WILL occur. I will keep looking for more magic and fun somewhere on the roads or streets of Michigan or wherever I hang my stinky shorts. The magical crazy of the Crim is worth your dedication should you so choose it, just think of me at the five mile mark-as it's all downhill from there (lies, lies lies!).