No matter how you cut it, the weather has been weird.
We've gone from no winter, to slow winter, to faux winter, even to on-the-down-low winter. Then the cycle repeats itself in completely oddball fashion.
In fact, we've had every kind of winter so far except a Real Adirondack Winter. I don't know if you remember the RAW's, but I do. They began in early November, ended in late April (if you were lucky), and provided snow and sub-zero temperatures galore.
So how am I coping with this, being a genuine, dyed-in-the-Pendleton local? Well, I've one consolation: Even if we're stuck with a half-baked winter, we'll still have a full-blown Winter Carnival, and I'll take full advantage of it.
There are certain Carnival events I never miss and one is the Ice Palace Fun Run, taking place this Saturday.
On the hills and over them
The run is a contradiction in terms, since it involves the ice palace, surely but it hardly involves fun.
So why, if it isn't fun, do I enter it every year?
One reason is the fun run was originally my idea. It hit me sometime in the early '80s. Since I loved to run and I loved Carnival, I figured why not combine the two? Of course, coming up with the idea was the easy part; the hard part was getting someone else to do the work. Luckily, my pal Clark Knight fit the bill perfectly.
Since Clark organized the summer fun runs, he knew exactly what he was doing. Then when I asked him if he'd do the Winter Carnival run, he readily agreed (in addition to his work ethic and organizational skills, he had an agreeable disposition - obviously).
We had the Winter Carnival fun runs for a bunch of years. Then Clark retired and moved south, and the fun runs did the same. They were gone for a decade or so, until revived by my prodding and, more importantly, by my buddies Bill and Lynda Peer's hard work. Then a few years ago, they handed off the torch to Patti Peebles and Dave Stasziak, who still run it.
Another reason I never miss the Ice Palace Run is the same bunch of crazies is there every year, so it's a social event where I meet up with old friends. Of course, in our past Carnival days, we hung out in the bistros and buckets-of-blood. But that's when we were all young enough to hit the long ball. Now, instead of us knocking back brewskis into the wee hours, we shuffle around the race course in the crisp, post-Metamucil morn.
Beyond that, the fun run hosts a sacred tradition: Every year since its revival, I've had the honor of coming in last.
Do I do this on purpose? Of course not. No one comes in last on purpose, except a real loser. No, I come in last for two reasons.
One is the course itself, which is a real challenge. It's 4.3 miles and goes from the ice palace to Kiwassa Road, then around Riverside Drive, up and around Indian Pass and then back. The thing is there are hills a'plenty for almost half the course. And if you don't know the route, you can take my word that the hills are real hump-busters.
The other reason I finish last is because that's where I belong. When I say I belong there, it's not a statement about my rightful place in the status hierarchy. Nope, I belong there for the best reason of all - I can't run any faster.
There was a time when this wasn't so. Back in my running prime, I burned up that course. I sprinted off the starting line and virtually flew up the hills as if my trusty old Bike No. 10 had been snagged by a pair of sky hooks. I was no flash-in-the-pan, either: I could maintain that pace the whole way and finish in a respectable 32 minutes and change, not the least bit winded.
Lasting to last
But that was then, this is now.
Then, the running life was just a breeze. Now, it's a world of pain.
This is not to say the pain is unbearable, disabling or horrific. But it is ever-present and ubiquitous. In some ways, it's like a grab bag - I never know what kind of pain I'm going to get, or where. It could be a sharp one in my right knee; a dull one in my left ankle; a pulsating one in my back; a sporadic one in my thigh. The only thing I know is I am going to get pains.
Then again, let's get real: The only pain-free 65-year-old is a dead one. Which is why the percent of 65-year-olds who run is a whole lot smaller than the percent of 35-year-olds, or even the percent of 55-year-olds. There's some strange calculus in effect: Decline, like growth, at some point becomes exponential. Childhood seems to last forever; then suddenly adolescence explodes on the scene and you go from being a shapeless little wiener to a real, honest-to-God boy. And before you can process that, you're a man, spelled M-A-N.
And it's the same on the other end of the spectrum. It seems you're just cookin' on gas for decades, and the next thing you know you've got diminished muscle mass, receding gums, and arthritis of the everything except your mustache.
And that's why I run, even though it's no fun. It's a challenge, pure and simple.
Now, running's had all its nonsense stripped away. There's no consideration of what place I'll take, what my time'll be, how long a stride I can take, how well I handle the hills or anything else except one biggie -Will I finish?
Over the past 40 years, I've run hundreds or races, of all sorts, from 5K's to full marathons. Early on, my time was the only thing I cared about.
As of maybe 10 years ago, my sole goal changed to just crossing the finish line. Thus far, I've always done it, even though a bunch of times I came across the finish line long after the awards dinner was over and the parking lot was empty, except for my car. No matter. At least in the race results I've never had listed after my name those dreaded initials - DNF (Did Not Finish). That, and that alone, is now my greatest source of pride as a geriatric runner.
And it's no small deal.
Bill Rodgers is one of the all-time great marathoners. Among his feats are winning both the Boston and New York marathons a remarkable four times, each. But catch this: He also DNF'd at Boston twice.
No matter how you cut it, world champions are not like you and me. And how could they be? Their athletic highs are so much higher than anything we'll ever know, as are their athletic lows.
So I'll never be able to feel elation like Bill Rodgers felt after he won his world-class marathons.
On the other hand, Bill Rodgers will never feel as good as I will for coming in last at the Ice Palace Fun Run.