My legs were spent. After just 6 laps running around an oval track situated on the rooftop of my “Club”. I was done. Panting and pulling at my side. Wondering how in the world can I play basketball for hours but I can’t run a mile on this damn track. My feet hurt bounding around in my basketball shoes. I had no idea what running shoes were at the time. I figured I got up and down the court just fine in these old Adidas high tops, certainly I can do 10 laps around this little track in them. I was just following some advice from an article I read in this new magazine I found, called “Runners World”. It was the summer of 1982.
My “Club” was a newly built fitness center on the outskirts of the San Fernando Valley. I was 19 years old. Done with college after just a semester, except I forgot to formally drop out of school. I just simply stopped going to classes, I outsmarted myself and took my GPA to task by flunking each class. School was an afterthought; it was getting in my way of making enough money to get to the beach every day and play basketball every night. Throw in beer and girls and I was living the good life. Barely at home, always sleeping on a friend’s couch or floor. Life was good. Except for the time I came home to find all of our furniture had been repossessed by the local rental outfit. Or the time I took a baseball bat to my Stepfather who was yelling and screaming at my Mother for the last time, I decided, as I gripped the bat, threatening to hit him like a hanging curveball over the middle of the plate. Or maybe the time I overheard enough of a conversation to know that my Father just committed suicide.
“Life was good” is all about perspective. When I hit 18 I was rarely at home. Ready to be out in the world. I had long mastered the art of blocking everything I deemed “painful”. I was a freaking fault. I had built so many emotional walls, I was tight as a drum. Until I wasn’t. When things got a bit much, I exploded. A fist through the wall. Road rage at the drop of the hat. Drinking. One sided yelling matches with God. I was stable, until I wasn’t and that could come at any moment. To say basketball was my outlet is an understatement. I was addicted, l had to have my basketball fix to release the anger, the frustration, the built up hurt. Playing relentless for hours, trying to sweat it out, beat it out of me for just one night. Knowing it would just replenish the next day. Basketball took me to places I never knew I would go. That’s a story for another time.
The “Club” was complete with racquet ball courts, weight rooms, saunas, pool, showers and the crown jewel - a basketball court. It was our home turf. It was our haven. There constantly, especially during the golden hours for pick up basketball. We ran as a tribe. We took anyone and everyone on. Basketball was the thread that bounded us together. We played everywhere and anywhere. That’s all I did at that point in my life. Played 6 days a week. I would have played on the 7th day but no gyms were open on Wednesdays. It was somehow declared Volleyball Day in the Valley. Basketball was my outlet. My point of exhaustion when I needed to let life bleed out. I took my aggression out during those 5+ hours we would play. Sometimes non-stop. I could run full-court all day. Not a problem.
I never really liked to “run”. Hated running the dreaded “mile” in gym classes. Anything on the track was a drain. Track was for geeks. I was a basketball player, and I ran like one. No sense of what “pace” was. Just hurdled myself down the track until I got that damn stitch in my side, running out of gas just yards from the finish. Running to me was “suicides” and “bleachers” and pickup games. It was what you had to do for basketball. It sure wasn’t laps or fartlek’s or easy or hard pace runs. It wasn’t 400s or 800s or 5Ks. Running was what it always was, it was something you did while playing a game or sport. Never thought of running, just to run or running anything beyond what was required. I was 100% fast twitch and 0% what ever was needed to be considered a “runner”.
Then one day I was watching the Wide World of Sports and this strange contest came on, called a Triathlon. People were swimming, biking and then running. What? Then I saw a segment on the Tour de France . A bunch of guys cycling up mountains in France. For days and days. What? Then I caught a glimpse of a marathon. Then highlights of this thing called the “Great American Bike Race”. It was their inaugural ride in 1982. Now called RAAM – Race Across America. Holy crap, people were riding bicycles from coast to coast. No sleep, barely able to hold up their necks. Some using duck tape to keep their neck above horizon, high enough for them to see three feet in front of them. But then they showed them riding in the mountains, at sunset, at sunrise. It all started to take a different tone. I began to get mesmerized by it all. The romantic notion of taking your body to the limit began to light a flame. A flame I had no idea how to fan, how to grow and feed it. It was all new and confusing. All of these events began to churn in my mind. No idea what actual “endurance” was and what it took. Here I was gasping after a simple mile. But able to play basketball, seemingly all day. I had “endurance” I rationalized. Certainly, if I could play basketball for hours I could do one of these “endurance” things. Certainly, I could run a marathon. Certainly, I could swim, then ride a bike, then run a marathon…holy shit that sounds hard. After all I grew up riding a bicycle all day, all over Queens and Ft Lauderdale. Certainly, that would and should translate into riding across America. I had no sense of scope and magnitude of what I was contemplating. But I was 19. I had pain to push down and pain begets pain, so why the hell not.