Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Will You Still Need Me? Will You Still Outrun Me?

There's a guy who lives down the hall (and a flight of stairs) from me who can run a 4:13 mile. I try to tell people how fast that is, but they don't get it. He's kind of a god to me for it. I mean, I used to stare up at really fast runners with sparkling little freshman eyes, thinking "I could never do that". Those guys look up at this guy and think the same thing. Guys like him made me believe that you needed to be born with a huge heart and killer lungs and calves of steel to be someone's hero. Turns out I was wrong, you just have to be totally, utterly indefatigable.

Looking through race results for a local 5k the other day, I saw something that caught my eye.

68 52:14 Bruce Kurtz 72 266th consecutive race

Last place, 52:14 for a 5k (about 16:50 miles). But the guy was apparently 72 and still running, which would be impressive if not overshadowed by the 266 consecutive part. On Tuesday, I had honor of actually meeting this guy, first grumbling about people taking his parking spot, then while warming up.

I jogged up to this old dude hobbling through the woods while I was warming up. Remembering the old results, I asked if he was that guy who'd run those hundreds of races. He replied proudly with a litany of consecutive races, here, elsewhere, running, biking, triathlons. There were races of ungodly distances (well, anything that involves swimming seems ungodly to me) that he'd been doing for longer than I'd been alive. He'd didn't really have to tell me though, you could see it in the way he talked and ran. He didn't really run, it was more of a hustling, hobbling walk. But he did it without shame. Despite the fact that I'd finish in a third of the time, I felt intimidated and humbled listening to his stories of 2-hour swim workouts (without stopping).

Here I was, 19, fit and healthy, yet hardly able to get myself motivated enough to run while this 72 year old man with an impressive list of health problems was still running 3 races a week, every week. I think I'll die still wishing I was him.

He knew his race pace (evidently the same as his warm-up pace) off the top of his head: "17 minute miles, I couldn't care less". I really care about times and trophies and arm candy that digs runners, but this guy couldn't care less. Perspective much? He said "I go by people and say 'I'm 72' and they go 'What?!'". What indeed. He didn't go by me, but as I jogged off all I could say was "what?!". That line went through my head every time I picked off another racer. "I'm 19 and I'm so alive. Say 'what?'."

I was about to ask how he did it when he told me. I don't know if he sensed my question before I asked it or was just eager for someone to listen. "My wife went through five hospitals and died in my arms". Want to know how you get tough? Cradle your dying wife. I bet that makes a 5k seem a little less painful. "I don't want to die like that. I'm 72, I have an enlarged prostate, I've had five biopsies; no's the active cells that keep me alive. You hear about people dying swimming, biking, running. I want that to be me". I was pretty much speechless-I'm still speechless. All I could do was shake my head and say "amen", as if I could understand. As we parted ways, I found myself hoping, for his sake, that he wouldn't make it back.

He said he didn't bike down near where I live anymore (an hour by car) because if anything happened, he'd have no one to call. Yeah. Next time you think you have a problem, think about that and say "What?!"


The Juicy One said...

Apparently pennance, slightly unbalanced psychology, and personal drama are themes not only reserved for cross country runners. Who knew...

PS- runners get arm candy?

dr_koopon said...

You'd be surprised juicy... kinda like I am, but hey, as another runner I'm all for it.

All I have to say about this story is...
Well, I might not be speaking for days. Time to get dogged.

We are not worthy.

Terra Shield said...

I'm not a runner, but I find that 72 year old guy to be somewhat motivating!

Orhan Kahn said...

I think it is sweet that he wants so much control over his life and death.

Anonymous said...

Peter Harrison is SO FAST