Some truth to this tale: everything I write about running, and how I felt about running is at least next door to being true. I was pretty good... but not good enough. I could have won half the state championships in the half-mile but there were four guys on the team that were faster than me! So I ran relays. And I kept running until my knees gave out a few years ago.
Don't ask me where I get these ideas — I don't have a clue! But be aware, this is a story I wrote for myself... I know - that's self-indulgent! This is not a story for everyone. If you have ever read Alan Sillitoe's "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" I think you might like this story (for the lazy amongst you, it was also made into a movie.)
Thanks to Techsan for his editing assistance. He is the best!
I was a runner. From about the time I could walk I ran everywhere and all the time. We lived out in the country, kinda north of Wichita along the Little Arkansas River, a nice area called Pleasant Valley. It was about five miles across wheat fields and under barbed wire fences to get to school for the first and second grade. (Years later I measured it with a car and it was one and a half miles.) Well, I would run it most days.
During grade school none of the kids would run with me. In the seventh grade, Douglas, somewhat of a bully, started at the school. He heard what a great runner I was supposed to be and challenged me to a race. We set it up at recess one day. We would run to the little airport next to the school and back. He never made it to the fence.
Schools then were grades one through six, seven through nine, and ten through twelve for high school. The school I was at for the ninth grade wasn't big enough to have any sports teams, but we put together a half-dozen guys to go into town and run against the real schools — coaches and all. I'd never run anything competitively before that. I ran in the 440 and I'm here to tell you that was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life! I 'bout died.
We moved into town during the summer before high school and I wound up at the largest school in the state! I turned out to be a pretty good half-miler, down around 1:58, which was good for that time. But, hell, we had a world class and a couple of national class runners ahead of me! I wound up with three scholarship offers: KU, University of Wichita, and Ark City Juco. Well, I stupidly picked the Wheat Shockers (later to thankfully become the Shockers — imagine a sports team that uses a shock of wheat as it logo). Either of the other schools would have been better; things weren't great at home.
I wound up in the army after the first semester: at wonderful Ft. Leonard Wood, commonly known as "Little Korea." One day while doing bayonet practice in the snow during basic training, they asked that everyone interested in Airborne should fall out front and center to go to the post theater for a movie. I didn't give a shit about becoming a paratrooper but getting out of the Korea-like cold sounded great.
To this day I don't know what happened but they insisted that I had signed up to go to Ft. Bragg. When the army insists, you learn to go along with them. I wound up with the 82nd Airborne in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Don't tell anyone but I thought the physical training was a joke. Think about it: I weighed about 130 pounds and was coming off a season of college level cross-country competition. I had a perfect score on every PT test and ran a mile in 4:50 in jump boots! Jumping out of a plane was much less scary than being at the starting line for the state championship race.
Later I was stationed in Germany making jumps in France, Denmark and all over Germany. I got out early to return to school though I didn't go out for track again.
I didn't run for a few years, maybe six or seven, but then I got married and put on twenty pounds really fast. I started running again — five and ten Ks mostly and did pretty good. We moved to Denver and I fell in with some evil guys at work that tricked me into running a marathon. Well, hell, I liked it! I started doing a marathon about every three or four months and gaining weight was not a problem.
About this time I turned forty and started running on the Corporate Relays. I was on Honeywell's national track team as an "over forty" runner. I did damn good. I ran a quarter mile in 55 seconds and a 220 in 25 seconds, which I was really proud of. If it weren't for the 40-year-old psycho that broke 50" in the quarter, our team would have won first place. My weight was down to around 145 from 175.
So I was pretty happy, right? Wrong! My wife was from Chile and went to visit her mom who was somewhat sickly. She never came back. She met a guy while she was down there and... hell, I don't know what happened. The damn guy was probably a communist! Life goes on.
A couple of years later I got tired of the corporate BS and went out on my own as a freelance technical editor. I'd go all over the US and frequently to Europe, mostly to London. I'd write the manuals for new products: anything from a C Compiler to user manuals for bank tellers for their online application. I didn't really get tired of the travel because the assignments were usually around four to six months... sometimes a little longer.
I was forty-five then and working on a data base user guide for a software company I'd done a lot of work for. I really enjoyed the life style: no wife and no kids. I made pretty good money — not enough to lead a life of leisure but if I wanted a first rate dinner at a nice place I didn't have to think about it. I had a variety of relationships; some short, some longer, some occasionally recurring. Don't get me wrong; I was actually very careful with whom I spent my time. There were times I'd go a few months counting flowers on the walls, but I did have my standards.
The place I was working at was really interesting. I'd been there a couple times before and it was great. The company was based in Dublin, but had a sales and support office in London. They only had about twenty people based there so they didn't want a huge amount of space. They had found an old hotel that had been part of a chain. When the chain was bought out the new owners didn't want this property so it wasn't too pricey.
It was a beautiful old building. If you have ever visited the Abbey House B&B (look it up on the internet if you are curious), you have a pretty good idea what it's like. It was four stories and they converted the lower two to offices. The top two floors they kept as mini-suites, figuring that when they had people in from out of town they could save money by putting them up right at the office and the space was always available for future expansion. It was close to Hyde Park and the underground station. People from the home office could fly in to Heathrow and take the tube right to the office. They had a contract with a cleaning company to do the offices and, when a suite was occupied, that also.
It was fantastic for me. I could work any hours I wanted to except for meetings I had to attend. Sometimes I would work in the quiet of the night, maybe opening the dormer windows to get the sounds of the London night so I wouldn't feel too lonely. I could take off anytime for one of my daily runs. Across the street was Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Running in London anywhere but in parks is problematical... and very dangerous! So it was sweet to have this across the street.
In a weird way coming to London was like coming home. Wichita was founded in 1861 — Hyde Park was created in 1536 on some land the famous Henry VIII had taken away from the church. The sense of history was everywhere you walked, but I think it takes a Yank to really appreciate the long, living history.
Running around the two parks was a little over four miles. I could stretch it to seven miles by including the adjacent St. James and Green parks. It was just after the first of the year and I was training for the London Marathon in April. I needed to do a long competitive race in February and was looking at The Stamford Striders' St. Valentine 30K race. (Isn't it odd that we Yanks have lost the Saint in Saint Valentine's Day?) So I really needed to do around fifty miles a week. Of course these parks were honeycombed with trails so I put together whatever distance I needed.
I particularly liked to run in the early morning, even in the winter cold and wet. It was always peaceful, with very few people out, not too much traffic on the street. There would frequently be some ground fog casting a mysterious darkness on the parks. Every day my run would almost be like a tourist's wet dream: running by Albert Hall and (my view) the gaudy Albert memorial, always slowing down by the speakers corner (a favorite place of mine on a sunny afternoon), by Marble Arch and the Princess Di Memorial Garden, on past Kensington palace.
On the longer runs, I would also pass by Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and 10 Downing Street (how many hours have I spent reading John Le Carre books where the agent would visit the Prime Minister, always late at night).
In the mornings, early, the squirrels hiding in the tall grass would scatter as I slogged by. As I ran by Long Water I would slow a little, always fascinated by the geese and ducks, and the beautiful swans. On the misty, rainy mornings (like, every day) the swans would be almost ethereal, white shadows in the white mist floating as a mirage on the cold water.
.... There is more of this story ...