LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
I couldn’t believe the little punk.
I knew he was a punk because who else would run past a man my age smiling that way. A smile that said, “Your better days are past you gramps. You’ll never catch me.”
I don’t know who sent him, could’ve been Jesus or the devil. I think it was the former, because I would soon find myself praying.
To give you a little foreshadowing of this story, since my vacation in July I have gained five pounds and rarely found motivation to run. Although motivation does come in increments relative to the numbers on the scale, at this rate I might have to hit 350 before I get dedicated. You want to look good on vacation, but after that all bets are off.
So I was trying to run smooth and effortless. It was more like painful and burdened, a mule pulling a plow. I thought about quitting after the second mile. My blood pressure has been up a little this week and it felt like someone had replaced my head with a mush melon, legs with Jello, and lungs with damp sponges.
Then I saw him. The punk glided past me at a Usain Bolt pace. I did not hear his quiet steps for my plodding stomps and labored breathing.
As he passed me he turned and smiled. Courtesy? I think not. Just a punk being mean to an old man. He probably holds the door open for ladies at the post office and then lets it go just as they reach the threshold. I bet he trips babies too.
So after weeks of poor running and no motivation, I had found my running muse. I matched his steps for a half mile and gained a little. I noticed his stride was starting to change, a sure sign that maybe his pace had been more than he could handle. When it almost became a stumble, I gave it all I had. I didn’t so much pass the kid as leave him sitting like he was broke down on the side of the road. At this point I could not breathe, but I could not stop. I turned and smiled. Despite legs burning like my veins were filled with honey bees. My lungs sounded like I was being gut punched every time I exhaled. Then there is that asthma thing that added a tea-kettle whistle to every breath.
I turned a curve and got out of his sight. I think he may have stopped from exhaustion or embarrassment. I will accept either one.
My final mile was almost two minutes faster than the pace of my first two. I was still in full stride when I made it back to the truck. In one smooth motion I opened the door, dove inside, and prayed that I would not die here on the seat of a truck, covered in sweat, and too tired to dial 9-1-1. My car keys weighed 1,000 pounds and I think all the bones in my body had melted from exertion.
I thought what if the punk happens to be the one that finds the body. I willed myself into a seated position and scalded the tires out of there like the truck was stolen. I checked the heart rate monitor and it said 200. I had never felt better.