A sweet thing

This really nice article from the Hartford Courant from a while back is about Dennis Lobo, father of Rebecca,  UConn Women’s Basketball’s first transcendent star, a class act in every way, and a big, big name in our house. Granby High School has just named its track for him. Here’s a story:

In the fall of 1995, seven months or so after the University of Connecticut won that first championship, led by Rebecca, who was the national player-of-the-year, our daughter was a freshman cross-country runner for her high school. She was injured for a big invitational meet, but went along to lend moral support. It’s tedious to be at a meet and not be running. Her teammates were stretching, jogging the course, checking footing, and getting ready to race while she sat against a tree and tried to do a little homework. Eventually she noticed a bit of a flurry at some distance, a crowd gathering for no obvious reason. She wandered over and found … Rebecca Lobo, chatting with runners and signing autographs. Dennis Lobo, Rebecca’s cross-country coach father, had brought her along to the meet.

Well.

To H at age 14, Rebecca Lobo was a god-like figure, the peerless exemplar of everything she admired and wanted to be. When Rebecca turned to her and said hello, she was, literally, speechless. She tried to respond, but couldn’t talk. Awe struck her dumb. She remembers Rebecca trying to loosen her up, asking a few questions, making a few comments, but all she could do was nod or shake her head. She did get an autograph, and was able to gulp, “Thank you,” but that was it. Her chance to talk with her ideal, and she couldn’t unstick her tongue.

When she got home, she walked in the door, said to her mother, “Guess who I met at the meet?” and then burst into tears of intense emotion. As unlikely as it seemed, her mom knew immediately the only person who could have elicited this response. “Did you meet Rebecca?,” she asked.

And the story came out, amid tears, hugs, exclamations, and, eventually smiles and laughter.

These days H is  pretty impressive herself. But I think if she ran into Rebecca today, she’d still be briefly speechless. What do you say to someone whose mere presence once stopped your tongue? Whose effort and character helped reinforce your own? Who has remained utterly admirable through triumph and hardship? Probably, another “Thank you” would be about right.


An opinion straight from the ’60s

A chilly morning out there today, and the first time in a couple of years that I’ve been shuffling around in the refrigerated early-morning dark. (Progress!!). I continue to believe that the best things you can wear on your hands for cold-weather running are either those cheap, dark brown cotton gardening gloves or, for colder days (or old-man circulation), a retired pair of ragg wool socks. That worn-through heel doesn’t matter a bit.

(On that hill experiment I wrote about in the last post: I didn’t really expect to be ready, but I didn’t expect to be that not ready. I’ll try again in the spring.)


Motivatin’

A little over three miles from our house, well out of town and around a rising right-hand turn on a dirt road, there’s my version of the runner’s perfect hill. The turn comes after a sweet riverside flat that sets you up to launch smoothly into an uphill half-mile that’s at exactly the right pitch. It’s not steep steep. Let’s call it stern. It allows you to maintain the slightly modified basics of your normal stride, but it requires more effort, more concentration, and more drive. It’s a solid test, and if you lean in and work hard, it pays you back in strength, stamina, and confidence. Decades ago, I ran repeats here once or twice a week as a transition between periods of aerobic base training and sharpening for competition. It was magic.

I’ve been thinking again about this hill. Until pretty recently I’d gradually been giving up on all sorts of things. My body seemed to require it, and my spirit was caving in. My spirit has had it with that shit, and it’s reasserting itself. Of course, pushing 70, I’m fading in I can’t even begin to count the ways. But why make it easy? Lu finally gets off my back in a couple of months. I’m shedding flab (down 18 pounds in a couple of months), working seriously in the gym and feeling reasonably strong and supple. And now I’m actually beginning to feel good on my lengthening runs. I feel like seeing how far all this can take me. So this week I’m going to head out to that rising right-hand turn and (gently, gently) renew acquaintances.


The Lydiard Letter

Holy moly! I’ve gotten close to the bottom of the barrel in the gradually emptying storage space in Weezie’s room. But the other day, Gold!

In the middle of a miscellaneous pile, a letter from Arthur Lydiard, in my mind the greatest middle-distance and distance coach in history, dated October 9, 1978, right in my wheelhouse as a runner. It reminded me of writing to the great man, a New Zealander, who had coached Peter Snell and many other greats, as the result of a small ad in Runner’s World. I told him what a difference his ideas had made in my training and results, and to ask if he thought I was worthy of his coaching me by mail.

He wrote (as I’m sure he wrote to all who responded): “I am prepared at any time, to correspond with you upon a regular basis. The overall aim being to teach you how to continue training yourself to gain optimum results.

“The results will depend upon your sincere application of the training in relation to your available time to train and potential.”

I remember being over the moon. My sincerity was total. My available time was considerable, since I was essentially unemployed. And my potential was reasonable, judged by recent results—achieved using the approach that I’d gotten from his book—that were almost unbelievably superior to anything I’d managed in college, ten years before. (It’s kind of cool knowing you would have kicked your own ass in what was supposed to have been your prime.)

His fee was a modest $240 per year. $20 per month. Less than a dollar a day. Unfortunately (see employment status, above), I couldn’t afford it.

I managed okay (I had that great book, after all) but wouldn’t it have been fantastic?


Goodbye Mr.Chubby: Update

Broke the 170 lb. barrier!

Weighed in this morning at 169.8 (about 77 kg). That’s down 17 lb. since October, and homing in on my trainer-suggested first goal of 163. The holidays may cause blips, but I think I’m pretty well locked in. I’m also on my last dose of Lupron and increasingly feel more up than down, more in control than out. I’m doing  much better when I hit the road for my joggy two-milers three times a week, and I’m toying with stretching one of them a bit to get ready for the Thanksgiving Day 5K that Sweet B and I are signed up for. Things are good.


Rununion, part 3

The big laugh Sunday morning came from the realization that if guys our age had  returned to the the house we visited yesterday when we were living there, they would have been members of the class of 1921. Which to us was so far in the past as to be mythical, hypothetical, and comical.

But today was running day, so onward.

We’re all more or less battered. One of us broke a bone in his neck recently, taking a header over his trail bike’s handlebars on a rough Vermont trail. (Need I say this is the same guy who was tossed off the team 50 years ago for playing intramural hockey?) Having escaped quadriplegia by a hair’s breadth, he’s already out of his neck brace and off his crutches, but not exactly in the pink. We’ve got replacement hips and bad knees and painful feet and weird muscle pulls. Naming no names, I’ll also say that one of us is grossly overweight.

Today, though, we creakily pulled on our running togs and headed for a particular spot near what we used to call “the Sunbowl,” where we ran fartlek workouts on a rolling portion of the golf course. Wonderfully, we were joined by H, who had driven over from Concord with B to do her own scheduled workout and meet people she knew only from old stories.

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Heading down to the river.

Our little pod took a slow spin north along one the most beautiful trails most of us have ever run. Old pines towering overhead, soft, needle-cushioned trail beneath, the gentle Connecticut River easing by to our left. After a while, we turned and headed back. In this direction, the trail was part of our competitive course, and leads inexorably to the first half of  Freshman Hill, a long, increasingly steep 200 yards or so, infamous among generations of runners. At the top, you make a tight 180 degree left-handed switchback, steep enough to tap down with your inside hand, and do it all over again (at least you did in our day—they don’t race this part anymore, the wimps), this time on firm grass and, if anything even steeper. Famously killer at speed, and sobering anytime.

We chatted back along the flat and came to a gradual stop at the foot of the hill. Mumblings. Pacings about. Eyeings of what struck us all as near verticality. Mutterings. Excuses (perfectly good ones). And then somehow we were all toiling slowly upward. We gathered again at the switchback, proud of ourselves, breathing hard and trying to ignore complaints from various body parts. More mutterings. Then gradually off, around the turn and slowly, slowly up to the great view on top before catching our breath and eventually sagging our way back down. (B  caught me here and wanted to race me back to the “tippy top.” She won.)

Did we all feel mighty fine? Of course we did. Totally beat, but mighty fine: beautiful setting, old friends, carefully filtered memories, and a sense of accomplishment. So we headed off to the fieldhouse for a reminder of indoor track.

That bit’s for the next post.

 

 


Rununion, part 2

This was refamiliarization day. The college is a lot bigger. Stuff has changed—hard to believe, I know—since the late ’60s and early ’70s. So there was a certain amount of wandering about in amazement. (And there was this: turn a corner, and here is a space or a corridor or a doorway that had been utterly familiar during an intense part of our lives, but that we hadn’t seen or thought of in almost half a century. Boom. Right back to our college job, or English seminars, or evenings studying in a personal favorite quiet space. Or evenings goofing off when we should have been studying.)

Four of us had lived in the same house as seniors—for all of us, one of the best years of our lives—and we met up to wander over, chatted up some current residents and spent a half-hour poking around the place, loudly noting all the changes. The grandfather clock has migrated from the entrance hall to the living room. The first room on the right has been made into a small common sitting room. The attic, which we had called “the tunnel,” where the south window was never closed (“frigid” doesn’t begin to convey the winter temps), and where most of us slept in barracks-like squalor, is now a brightly-painted study-bedroom room for one or two, and actually looks fit for human habitation. The kitchen is well-equipped, bright, and probably even hygienic. There are facilities to wash and dry clothes. Amazing! Of course, the place is co-ed now, and that might have something to do with its civilized look and feel.

The two pairs of us who shared the same room one year after the other met the current resident and decided that the space actually was pretty much the same, but that we almost certainly had had more fun in it. We (more accurately, our nearly hysterical partners, some of whom had had virtually no idea about the place) eventually found our photos among the hundred-plus group pix hanging on the walls. I believe the hilarity had to do mostly with our clothes and our hair, but admit it may have been enhanced by the supercool attitudes we were trying to project. Of course, we are super cool. Believe me.

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That’s a puppy under my sweater. I was keeping it warm. Really.

We eventually headed for the early seating at a community dinner out in the gorgeous autumnal Vermont countryside. Think church supper and you have the idea. Turkey with all the fixin’s and terrific home-made pies and cider. We filled one of the long tables and continued to learn more about each other’s others. I’m not adequately conveying how enjoyable all this was.

Sunday was running day. More on that coming up.


Rununion, part 1

We were in New Hampshire this past weekend for a not-quite impromptu small reunion of college teammates who mostly hadn’t seen each other for decades. We missed friends who couldn’t make it on short notice, but five of us had a spectacular time.

Four of us appear in this 1967 shot from the college files. (The fifth thinks he’d been temporarily kicked off the team for playing intramural hockey, something the rest of us vaguely remember.) I like this photo a lot because it lets me say, “I’m Number One!,”—which I do even though the digits were assigned alphabetically. Attendees included numbers 12, 5, and 10. Along with Number One. Of course, we all still look exactly like this.

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Cross-country teams can be pretty intimate groups. A relatively small number of pretty competitive people, all doing (or trying to do) exactly the same thing, all well aware of each others’ struggles, strengths, and weaknesses, all competing both with and against each other. Off the course, we even took some distributive classes together, outside of our various majors. (Competition there was intense.)

We had plenty of time over the weekend to meet each other’s significant others, learn about kids and grandkids, and to catch up on careers, interests, travels, and travails. People change, of course, but a lot of the basics don’t. Same fundamental characters, same senses of humor, same little tics. And a whole set of shared memories and common connections.

We started on Friday evening with hugs and handshakes, but progressed quickly to jokes, jests, and ancient insults placed like banderillas—all the usual. At dinner’s long table it was more family talk (lots and lots of family talk—we need to know about each other), mixed in with memories, questions about memories, arguments about memories, and, of course, laughter over memories.

Saturday began in a great old Vermont house’s cozy kitchen, with a long, casual, more or less continental breakfast, before heading off for a good look around the much-changed campus. It’s always good to stop after a donut or two, or maybe a couple of croissants if you’re a sophisticate, so I’ll do that now and pick this up tomorrow.


Goodbye, Mr. Chubby?

I’ve been going to the gym regularly since my sojourn at Mayo last fall. Six weeks in Minnesota, and now 10 months at home. I’ve been fortunate in my trainers. Especially working with J here, we’ve strengthened my lower back to the point that I can once again lift, twist, and sit up (with effort but no pain) from a supine position. I’ve gotten generally stronger and more flexible, too. So I’m very pleased with all that (except for the effing mirrors).

I had not, however, been losing weight during all this, because when I’m emotionally down, I eat. And drink. And thanks primarily to Big Lu, I’ve been emotionally down. A little less than a month ago, I weighed in at 186 (84 kg), which finally got through to me as repellant, revolting, and repulsive. Enough was enough. I went on a diet (Weight-Watchers, more or less). Ta-da! At the gym today, I was 176 (80). I can fit again into what I think of as my ”regular” jeans. I can actually run a bit, rather than rumbling and tumbling. J took a body fat measurement, made a few calculations, and told me my proximate goal should be 163 (74). So that’s what I’m shooting for now.

I carry a few weights around in my mind. I ran in high school at a lithe (or perhaps cadaverous)126 (57 kg). In college I weighed in every day for four years at 132 (60). My training diary from the late ’70s, when I was in the best shape of my life, tells me I was stable at 143 (65). Naturally, then, my theoretical goal is to get back to 143. Being realistic though, I’ll throw a big party at 163 (virtuously watching the guests eat and drink, while ostentatiously nibbling on an apple and sipping sparkling water) and be utterly thrilled if I can drive on down to, say,155.

Of course, next week I head back to Minnesota for a check-up that will include a reunion with Big Lu, so things will bog down a bit. But I think this may be my last injection. (Remember Peter Lorre in Casablanca: “Addio, Casblanca”? For me, it’s going to be a gleeful. insouciant, “Addio, Leuprolide.)

Hoping to hang in there with this.

 


Neville Marriner

Neville Marriner died yesterday at the age of 92. I came to classical music first, in 1965 or so, through a magical (mono) Pierre Monteux recording of the Beethoven 6th (still have it tucked away somewhere), and then, more solidly, through a slew of records by Marriner’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. My entry points were the  Mozart concertos, always with such stylish and elegant soloists. I loved the clarity and subtle precision and the space they always left for you to enter into the performance as a listener. This was a new and fresh approach at the time, and it really spoke to me. Later, I had a wonderful few years introducing our daughter to  music. Vivaldi was her special fave, and the Academy did wonders with him as well. Neville Mariner enriched our lives, for which I am profoundly grateful.

 

Here’s a little something. For H.