All Comers
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All Comers

All Comers

by Bob Babbitt

I am clutter challenged. Always have been, always will be. I don't believe in file cabinets or hard drives. My organizer is the floor. I lose my keys five times a day and am perpetually hunting around the office sunglasses that are on my head or missing papers that are in my hand. That is why this black and white photo is so amazing. Sort of like a recently paroled relative, it just won't go away. It sits in my pile of clutter but, no matter how many layers end up on top of it, no matter how long it has been submerged, this modern-day Jacques Cousteau somehow, some way, claws its way back to the surface.

Like that cockroach under the bed that refuses to die, it lives to annoy. There are five figures in the stop-action photo. Four of them are runners, and their legs are a blur. They would all fit under the category of smooth, lithe, flowing. One figure trails the other four. What he is doing could be categorized as running.

The photo was taken at a 200-meter all-comers race last summer. Along the top of the photo, there are finish times for the assembled group of five. I have to admit that the last person in the photo is yours truly.

I had driven to Balboa Stadium on an errand for a friend. Knowing that the traffic would be lousy going home, I figured I would hang out and watch the track meet for awhile. Then I thought, what the heck, I should run the 400 and the 200-meter dash. I mean, what's the big deal? Half a lap and a full lap around the track? I could do that in my sleep.

The key word here is sleep, which is something I didn't do much of for the next few nights because my legs were still in what-the-heck-were-you-thinking shock. We were called to the line for the 200 and I settled into the blocks. All of a sudden I noticed that, just like when a group of us 10-year-olds toilet-papered Mrs. Avrech's house and the police showed up, I was left in this really weird position and all the other guys were gone.

I glanced to my left to see a smoking gun. The other runners were already on their way around the curve. I was still in the blocks, twisted up like Harry Houdini, looking for all the world like some modern-day hood ornament.

I extricated myself from the blocks and eased my way down the track. My heart was pounding like crazy, my head throbbed and lactic acid was rapidly flooding every compartment of my body. I felt like the Titanic in its last throes. Sinking fast.

Two hundred yards became an eternity. The gumby-like cheetahs in front were obviously an entirely different species than my own. In the photo, they are all strong and upright as they hit the line. The winner crossed the line in 25.3. The fourth place guy was 28.7. I am dead last in 30.3. The comparison is stark.

Let's use landscaping to help the viewer at home better understand the look of each individual, shall we? Runner #1 looks like a tree. One in need of a little food. Runners 2, 3 and 4? Also trees. Upright, strong, toned. Runner #5? What every lawn needs. A boulder. A big, fat boulder.

As I approached the finish line, the first four runners had already showered, gone to dinner and taken in a double-feature. The announcer, though, had stayed until the bitter end. I could hear him in the distance as I plodded towards the finish.

"26, 27, 28!" he shouted. Then I came into view. "Tuesday!" he laughed. "Wednesday...Thursday...Friday!" You get the idea.

One part of the photo makes me chuckle. While all the trees run upright all the way through the finish, our friend the boulder has his upper body bent over at the waist. It looks as if he is searching for loose change on the track.

This boulder couldn't care less about the trees blowing in the breeze and kicking his sorry ass. Just like you, I'm out there for me, for the high I get from a great sweat and the adrenaline I'll carry with me for the rest of the day. In my warped mind, I'm not off the back in a different area code. I'm out-leaning Michael Johnson to win the Olympic Gold. The fact that he didn't bother to show up to accept the silver is his problem.

I once quoted six-time Ironman champion Mark Allen about getting 100% out of yourself no matter what you have on that particular day. If you're 50% of your optimum condition, work with that. Jump in a race and get 100% out of that 50%. When it comes down to it, it's just you against you.

So challenge yourself. Jump into a race you might not feel ready for. Do a workout that seems a tad beyond your means. Remember, you can never fail when you try. You can only fail if you don't.

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