In the late 90’s in and around the Greater Hopatcong Middle Schools area, there were two distinct groups: The Skaters and The Jocks. These two diametrically opposed groups were very similar in concept to Greasers and Socs in The Outsiders. It’s easy to imagine a jock, so I won’t go into too much detail. They were most likely to play football or aspire to play football. Played basketball. Soccer was bizarrely popular in my town; we have about 3 soccer fields for every one resident. The Skaters, on the other hand, involved themselves in extreme sports and lived on the fringes of teen and pre-teen society. At the time they wore super baggy Jnco Jeans. Their hair was longer and had bleached tips that their mothers paid to have done. They had piercings. They skateboarded and rode BMX bikes with backpacks that had skateboards strapped to them. Inline skating really wasn’t cool anymore, but some kids had Soaps shoes that allowed you to slide down benches like you were an inline skater grinding a sick rail. They had possibly experimented with smoking. Both groups listened to punk and worshipped Blink 182.
I yearned to be a Skater. Living outside the law. Raw attitude, loud music, fast skateboards and faster women. I tried. I had a few skateboards. Bought way too baggy pants. Listened to Less Than Jake. But, that’s the thing with trying – when it came to the social strata, I wasn’t going to make the grade no matter how many Warped Tours I went to. I liked reading and learning, even though I didn’t like doing homework (but, who does?). I wasn’t going to experiment with smoking – I just wasn’t. I had a penchant for listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons while my family ate dinner. I liked to swim and golf and the idea of sailing. So, pretty much I was a nerd. In short order, by the time we reached high school in the early 2000’s, the Skaters morphed into just general scumbags in my mind, and the Jocks either remained Jocks or became a splinter cell called Preps, where my affinity for khakis and blue polo shirts was better suited.
But, back in the pivotal summer of 1999, something bitchin’ happened. Late in the afternoon of a beautiful summer’s day when I should have been outside swimming or practicing my golf swing, I was parked in front of my tv in my room watching the Summer X-Games. The sun was setting poetically over the half-pipe and Tony Hawk was pursuing his dream of spinning 900 degrees (2.5 rotations) and landing it successfully. After many failed attempts, his time officially ran out, the crowd said screw it and allowed him one more attempt. Hawk glided down one side, up the other, launched, spun, spun, and landed, his arms flailing for balance, but, he stayed on his board and skated away. In the months and years afterwards, many other people have landed the 900 on a skateboard, though it is still a very difficult trick. The same thing happened in the pursuit of the sub-4:00 mile. Once Roger Bannister got half a breath under four minutes, elite milers started doing it fairly frequently and it is now the benchmark by which serious milers are measured because of its difficulty and effort.
In both these instances it took one person to prove it could be done in order for others to believe it, too. Mental barriers are miserable things. They are the parts of our brains that tell us we can’t when we really want to. Desire, ability, mentality, the weather – all of these things and more when running conspire for success or cruelty, depending on the day.
As I had noted in a post about three weeks ago, I finally broke 20 minutes for my 5K time. Although I was excited to have done it, I was left immediately wondering what was next. Sub 19:30? Below 19? And then there are longer distances, too. What will my next Super Sunday 5 Miler look like? Can I go below 1:30 for the half marathon? And the big one, how can I Boston Qualify? It’s exciting and it makes your stomach tense and it makes you want to go out and do all these things tomorrow. Hell, today!
But, running, above all else, is a sport of distances. And they have to be measured in small increments – in meters and in miles. In shaving a few seconds off splits bit by bit. In maintaining a regular training routine. Taking breaks when you need to. Eating right. Eating wrong some days because, well, Taco Bell isn’t going to stay open on their own. But there’s a job that requires more than 40 hours per week. And I need to relax, watch a movie, enjoy a beer, spend time with friends so they don’t forget about me. Like distance, time is measured in small amounts that add up. And I only wish I had the time to go the distance. A healthy lifestyle is a tradeoff. My body is the broker on the exchange bidding down my 5K times at the expense of so many other things.
But, there is one thing I know now for certain. I am a sub 20 5K’er. I’ve done this convincingly twice. My mental barrier has been broken. When I went in to last night’s final Summer Series 5K, I knew I could and I did, in 19:46 – lowering my time by 9 seconds over all. And I also know I felt good, really good, and could have gone faster if this one guy I kept trying to pass on the narrow sidewalk had actually let me pass him instead of always speeding up and blocking my path (I did eventually pass him).
As long as I can keep a balance, strike a deal with energy and motivation, I know, in time, I can do everything I want. Because the only person telling me I can’t every now and then is me and the fact is, I know I can.