Two Running Vignettes

Part One

Most every Saturday of my life that I can arrange it, I spend the morning teaching others about the Bible, and then devote the afternoon or more engaged in long runs of varying dimension. At least that was my habit for the last twelve years before I moved to Columbus. While I’ve made significant forward progress the last month, things here have not been entirely rosy on the running front.

One factor that has not helped is no longer having membership in a club with a short track or even treadmills I can run on. One benefit from my job that has supposed to have been forthcoming since before I left Arizona is membership in Athletic Club of Columbus (ACC), just a short walk from my office, which would certainly solve my midweek training crisis overnight. For a variety of disappointing reasons I won’t go into here, it just hasn’t materialized. As a result of that, along with the winter weather, my running program has collapsed and crashed almost completely. I’ve gained two pounds a month since November, and until a couple of weeks ago, have run only on the weekend, often on only one day, and when the weather permitted it. I’m in terrible shape.

Poor me. Poor fat, slow, aging, angry and frustrated me.

So today was a Saturday. I had sort of hoped to do a twenty-mile run, but because of a quirk of scheduling, I had to go into the office to do some work—pretty much working for free, in fact, because yesterday and today the snappy, efficient little firm I work for moved its offices from the fourth and tenth and twelfth floors to the entire ninth floor of the building we inhabit. The construction workers have been banging away below me since January. We’ve been anticipating this move eagerly for a long time, and it has finally happened.

So I had moving tasks to accomplish today, and waited until our office manager phoned so I would know the stuff I needed had been carried in by the movers. My expectation was to go in, get things done, make myself useful for a while, head somewhere for at least a short run, and finally travel far to the north of town for some necessary shopping.

My commute is fairly short—about ten to twelve minutes from engine on to engine off—and I figured on a Saturday morning, it would be a breeze.

Imagine my surprise when I got off the I-70 at Fourth Street and found myself immediately in bumper to bumper gridlock, a mile and a quarter from where I would be able to park. And what do you suppose was causing the delay? When I arrived at the first intersection and looked west, there they were—hordes upon hordes of runners lumbering thickly south on High Street. The density of the crowd suggested the race was still young and I was somewhere not far from its origin, though I still do not know what race it was. (When I lived in Phoenix I at least knew about every race, certainly every one bigger than a tiny 5K and every ultra.) It was not until twenty minutes later, when I had advanced the six blocks to Rich Street, that I realized the runners were running westward on that street, crossing Fourth, the street I was on, then turning south on High. Therefore, the police were on duty, and letting through just a few cars at a time, conducting traffic as the runners would wish for to, holding it back until there were suitable breaks, but as yet there weren’t many.

After crossing Rich, I managed to move quickly for a few blocks, figuring I was done with it, until I got to Spring Street, and what did my wondering eyes behold? Walkers, lots of them, all of them pretty slow, many of them elderly, headed eastward. I supposed they were part of the same race, and that these participants were far behind the others we had waited for, and that they were going to turn south and then double back on Rich before long, but the fact that I did not see one person actually running in this pack made me wonder if walkers were dispatched separately.

Eventually I managed to find my way to a parking spot (fortunately free on a Saturday), and got to the office close to a half hour later than anticipated.

The experience was enough to make me appreciate why it’s necessary to have reasonable cutoff times in urban road races. Slower runners and walkers would like to be able to have all the time in the world to run their races, but the logistics of needing to put police out there to stop traffic, and the inconvenience and irritation to those who don’t care a whit about the race and just need to get somewhere at a certain time, and also the impact on businesses along the route, cannot be ignored.

Years ago I read a quote from a Chicago journalist who took up running himself for a while, but later apostatized. In the article he said, speaking to self-absorbed running zealots so impressed by their newfound sport that it’s all they can talk about: “You probably think that others are as interested in your obsession as you are. They aren’t.”

It was interesting to be on the spectator side of that scenario for once. I certainly wasn’t upset about it, and frankly, the thought occurred to me immediately that I’d have rather been out there running with them than stuck in traffic waiting for them, even though I’m not much interested in that kind of race any more—the ones where I run down a street and finish 12,423rd out of 14,021 runners—although depending on how things go the rest of this year, I just might plan on running the Columbus Marathon, which also runs through the downtown area.

However, today it happened to be cold and intermittently rainy, not a nice day for a run. Not only that, the forecast is for worse to come, with lots of rain and temperatures around freezing the next few nights. What else is new? It’s Columbus.

But wait, there’s more …

Part 2

Being at work is no problem for me. I genuinely like all my colleagues and my job, and there was important work to be done by means of which, for once, we would be benefiting ourselves, moving into fancy and comfortable new digs. But when I finished what I had to do I really needed to get out of there, so I did.

In Phoenix I logged well over 10,000 miles on a 155-yard track at a Bally’s gym near my house. When I moved to Columbus, I learned there are two Bally’s in town, one very near where I stayed the first four weeks I was here. I went to it on November 14th, my first day at work. I was shocked at how disgusting the premises was—on an awful, busy street, less than a third the size of the gym I’d frequented, stinking, filthy, dangerous looking, and smack in back of an establishment with a sign that said ADULT 24 HOURS in two foot letters. After lasting only two miles on a treadmill and ten minutes on the weights, while worrying about the safety of my gear in the locker, I concluded my tenure as a Bally’s gym rat was over. I have not been back.

The other Bally’s is in the far northeast corner of the city, and I’d been warned that there, too, was probably not a good part of town. Since receiving that warning, I’ve gotten to know the city much better, and while I had never been to that exact locale, I tended to doubt that it is a rough area.

Furthermore, I stumbled across my Bally’s card last week, thinking I had shredded it. Knowing that it is due to expire very soon. I asked my record-keeping wife if she knew when. Yes—April 17, next Thursday.

So with the funky weather and disrupted schedule today, and needing to head north on errands anyhow, I figured I’d try to locate that Bally’s to give it one more fling. After all, how bad could it be? A couple of miles on a treadmill and a few minutes of weights would be better than nothing.

It was not difficult to find the gym. It is indeed in a vast area of typical urban/suburban commercial properties that stretches for miles, but in a perfectly safe and tidy neighborhood, unlike the one in southeast Columbus, in which I lived four of the most miserable weeks of my existence, and would not recommend to anyone.

That’s when the surprise came. As I approached the building and saw not only the familiar logo and blue and red and gold paint job, I saw also the very same architectural structure used by two of the Bally’s back in Phoenix, including the one I used to attend—a two story layout, with the main gym floor upstairs. Suddenly I felt like a ten-year-old boy seeing the McDonald’s Golden Arches after crossing Antarctica on a dogsled.

Could it possibly be?? Don’t tell me—is this gym structured the same as the one I inhabited for so many years, and does it even have—my heart almost skipped a beat—does it even have—an INDOOR TRACK?

Yes indeed, it most certainly does, and is pretty much like the one I used to run on! As I stepped onto it I just couldn’t believe it.

The external architecture of the building is almost identical to the ones in Phoenix. The internal layout is somewhat different in specifics, but in general is the same. I had no trouble finding anything. The locker rooms, pool, main office, and child care center are downstairs. The main room is upstairs. (They also have an elevator, but I never once saw the inside of it in Phoenix.) It seemed darker at this one, despite several more and larger windows, but I think that’s because Phoenix is usually sunny and cheerful, whereas Columbus is dark, gloomy, and dismal most of the time, as it was today.

The organization of the Columbus Bally’s upstairs is substantially different from my old gym. The stairway comes up to the middle of a side rather than to a corner. There is an aisle straight through to the other side. The machines and weights are older and well used, but certainly functional.

But the track itself is essentially identical—that is, it’s like it was before they remodeled in Phoenix two or three years ago, which included resurfacing the track. (I think I wore it out.) This track has a stripe down the center, and also some words painted on it in two places that suggest walkers and slower joggers [sic] should use the inside lane. The direction policy is the same as Phoenix’s—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday counterclockwise, all other days clockwise—a policy that is much different from a standard high school 400-meter track, which is always run counterclockwise, with the inside lane reserved for speedsters.

When I arrived I just stood there and gaped at it for a couple of minutes, not believing what I was seeing. I walked three laps, then ran three miles, reliving the memories, following which I did my first weight session since I was in Phoenix. It felt sooo gooood! But I could stay only about an hour because of my errands.

Tomorrow it is going to be miserably cold and rainy, and I am going back to do a twenty-miler. It will be my last, because my membership will expire next Thursday. This club is much too far away for me to visit regularly, so I will not be renewing my membership. By strange coincidence, though, it is 0.65 miles closer to a house Suzy and I were interested in than my house in Phoenix is to the Bally’s I went to there. (2.60 miles versus 3.25 miles.) And while it is true that I would not have been able to get up to this club in Columbus very often over the past several months, I am absolutely certain that I would have gone a few times when I simply did not go out on a weekend because the weather in Columbus is so dog bad all winter long and prevented me.

As for now—my hope of salvation for my running program remains that anticipated membership in Athletic Club of Columbus.

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About Lynn

o Writer and Editor o Computer Technologist o Composer o Ultrarunner
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