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Running Jokes: The Stories Behind A Few Fleet, Funny Moments

July 25, 2013
Sharing poems and stories with The Spoken Word Group

Sharing poems and stories with The Spoken Word Group

The other day, I had the pleasure of being featured reader before The Spoken Word Group in Laguna Woods, Calif. I read for about a half-hour from my new book, Backroad Melodies, as well as from my other three poetry-essay collections. It felt great to bring out the voice of the material, as well as revisit two of my old favorites, “Appoggiatura” and “Ode to Sunrise,” from my 2007 book, Coyotes in Broad Daylight. 

The greatest moments of levity came when I trotted out “Running Jokes,” a 12-poem suite from Backroad Melodies that celebrates how quirky and random long-distance running can be, especially when spread over a number of years, locations, and situations. I wrote these pieces after runs ranging from caddying ultramarathoner Pam Reed in 130-degree Death Valley heat to long, moonlit pre-dawn runs in 5-degree Munich weather. All of them had funny moments, judging from the crowd’s reaction.

So, to lighten up the atmosphere a little bit, thought I would share a couple pieces from “Running Jokes,” and give you the backstories behind them:

He looks at me like I’m

the dumbest creature on earth

for running through a desert wash

In summer at all,

let alone without water—

not clever & coy, like him.

He turns to his pack, sticks his tongue out,

hunkers down behind a bush

after a night of rabbiting.

This run took place in a desert wash outside Tucson, Arizona. I intended to run eight miles on the roads near my friend Charlie Redner’s home on the Omni National golf course, but overextended the distance. I had to get back to make an appointment on time, so I took a shortcut — through a dry wash. While plodding through the thick sand wash, the previous winter’s rushing waters a buried memory, I imagined what I looked like in the eyes of a coyote that I passed. Didn’t have to imagine very hard: it was written in Running_01his eyes.

Loping along Highway 60, ten miles into a run,

sirens blaring ahead,

pursuing a Sunday appointment with Epsom salts,

donkey feed, my sofa and NFL football.

I pass an old orchard,

owner in front sets up a yard sale, yells:

“Why you runnin’ so hard?

The cops are AHEAD of you.”

This one doesn’t need much explanation. When he said it, I burst out laughing.

One-thirty a.m. An eighty-five degree wet blanket

passes for air beneath the football lights.

Fourteen hours into a 24-hour relay, and they’re on me:

A blonde on one side, a blonde on the other,

looking up, screaming at me for making them

go to bed and rest.

“I get to stay up!” one yells.

“If she can stay up, I can stay up!” the other shouts.

“You’re tired. You’ve run eight miles each already.

You’re both eight. You have to sleep a little.”

“We’re on the team as much as you,” they yell, in unison.

I throw in the towel.

Ten minutes later, they’re sprawled in the tent, asleep.

When I was coaching cross-country, we held a midsummer 24-hour relay to raise funds for the program. These 24-hour relays can be wacky affairs. Teams of ten band up, with each member running a mile before yielding to the next person in line – for 24 hours. Sometimes, like at 1:30 a.m., they don’t answer the bell, so who gets to run? The coach. The two eight-year-olds in this piece ran 13 miles apiece. Now five years later, one of the-then eight-year-olds, Elle Buser, is the fastest seventh-grade miler in Kentucky, running a 5:29 at her 2013 regional championships and then racing in the state high school championships.

A hundred thirty degrees, the dash thermometer says,

so I jump out of the van,

away from the four-foot block of ice in back,

and pace her, Miss Ultramarathoner –

She’s doing one hundred thirty five miles,

the first fifty through Death Valley.

I’m doing six to keep her company,

all pumped up for my morning on Mercury,

toughness confirmed by being here.

Less than an hour later, I crawl into the van,

lay on the ice, parched as bones in the Panamint Range,

never to run in Death Valley again…

She carries on, for twenty-four hours, wins the race.

This is the story of the day I caddied for ultramarathoner Pam Reed in the Badwater Ultramarathon, one of the most insane races on earth. Competitors run from the bottom of America to the top, from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, a distance of 135 miles – in mid-July. I enjoyed a number of memorable runs with Pam, one of which was the aforementioned 5-degree run in Munich, before I interviewed her at the ispo SportsDesign Forum. The long-time director of the Holualoa Tucson Marathon, Pam has won Badwater five times.

There’s more. A lot more. Twelve of these segments run in Backroad Melodies, but there will always be running jokes, so I have chosen to make it a work-in-progress. Will share a few more pieces in the next blog.

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