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When the lunchtime jogging trail gets crowded, speed walk to the deli

Mark Rutledge 2
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Mark Rutledge


By Mark Rutledge

Friday, March 1, 2019


The community college where I work is about to field its first cross-country track team. If they start using my lunchtime jogging path as a training course, all I ask is that they run in the opposite direction.

Being lapped by a herd of skinny teenage boys does nothing for one’s self-esteem.

I’m known around campus as the guy who jogs during lunch. To the casual observer, I might pass for an aging athlete slowed by the ravages of time.

In reality, I’ve always jogged at about the same pace. Except for a couple of brief and delusional bouts of competitive spirit during elementary school, I have never sought to outrun others or win races.

Physical education classes at Town Acres School ended with the coach sending the boys out for a race between the playground and the ballfield backstop. Rick Gray, who runs competitively still, was the fastest runner at our school and most often came in well ahead of the pack.

I was never the last nor the first to cross the finish line. But on one glorious day, I somehow finished ahead of Rick. This inspired the notion that my long and lanky legs were destined for the junior high school cross-country team.

Jimmy DeSilvey, who was a year ahead of me in school and already on the cross-country team, became my personal trainer during the summer between grades six and seven. We used the one-mile loop around our neighborhood for building endurance.

I can still see Jimmy’s bouncing hair and bony frame fading in the distance. My goal was to complete two miles without being lapped by my mentor.

On tryout day, prospective team members were instructed to run the roughly one-and-a-half-mile distance from the high school to the Jiffy Market and back again. I fell behind early and met the other recruits — the “Rick Grays” of their respective elementary districts — on their way back to the high school.

A few of the boys, I later learned, had even taken a water break at the store.

I used my water break to revisit that glory day when Rick Gray ate my dust. And I began to recognize his subpar performance as the likely result of something else he’d eaten before the race.

I decided to walk on home, and I don’t think the coach or the other kids ever considered that anything else could have been behind my disappearance.

Those memories from a short-lived track-and-field career flooded back this week when a young and fit math professor came high-stepping into my lunchtime jog.

We passed each other the first couple of days moving in opposite directions. That made the pleasantries short and the difference between our relative speeds less obvious to the casual observer.

On the third day, I heard his footsteps before I saw him. As quickly as he’d overtaken me, he was disappearing like Jimmy DeSilvey behind the Technical Education building.

I quickened my pace and made it twice around the campus without being lapped again. It felt just like 1973, but without the blind ambition.

If the new cross-country team swarms in, my carefully crafted reputation for choosing noontime fitness over food will be in peril.

On the other hand, it might give me a good opportunity to explore the virtues of speed walking. Or maybe even lunch.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.