The Loneliness of Long Distance Runner

October 11, 2019

How you like me now? “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” a short story by Alan Sillitoe, was published in 1959. I talked about it in my classes most years I taught “The World According to Fredman.” Wednesday afternoon at Polytech, watching 140 high school runners from three schools race on a beautiful cloud-covered fall day, I was back inside the book. A runner is “alone in a crowd,” an individual sport that generates a team score. Runners will be separated by 15 minutes over five kilometers in a high school race. I watch the athletes. They cheer for all runners, especially the back-of-the-pack peloton. The loneliness story is for the runner out front. We all assume that person is happy, and we expect them to stay happy and to keep winning. In the book, the working-class runner simply identified as Smith is yards away from winning an important race when he just stops and lets others pass him. It’s what I call a how do you like me now moment. Sometimes an athlete is just overburdened by continual high-performance expectations, so he or she just shuts it down. I’ve seen it a hundred times, an athlete in the throes of an identity crisis just snaps ... “I don’t want to be the star, and, to be honest, I don’t even want to play. I just want to surf and play the guitar and write music and serve the lord.” I’ve tried talking sense into that athlete and they always reacted the same way, by laughing in my face. And, of course, I laugh along with them. “So, Fredman, what’s the moral of the story?” Write your own moral. This ain’t Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  

Stop and chat guy - In Larry David’s HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry always ducks into doorways when he saw the “stop and chat guy” walking down the street. I’m both sides of the coin when working my sports beat. I can be stop and chat guy or the chat me up guy. I like people and stories; my working mantra is, “I can tell it, but I can’t sell it.” I introduced myself to a race course official at Polytech cross country Wednesday and the young woman just nodded, offering no name in return, then started talking on her phone. It wasn’t a slight because first you have to be noticed to be slighted. Then I had a great time at the finish line listening to Nicole Morey tell me about her freshman son Matt’s foray into cross country. Nicole couldn’t have been happier that Matt beat his best time by two minutes, still finishing last in 31:50 for 78th place. I told my wife when I got home, “I met the greatest mom today.” And when she answered, “every mom’s the greatest mom,” we both  laughed knowing some moms got lame game. 

Snippets - Cape Athletic Director Bob Cilento just reminded me that football players can participate in five quarters in a week, not four as I had written. I asked him for change, five quarters for a dollar. The problem is no one knows when the week begins and ends. There is no participation log, so there is always room to fudge, and I prefer vanilla nut. Cape field hockey, on a journey of close games this season, has been hit hard by injuries to key players. A few years back, Tower Hill field hockey coach and Cape grad Robin Adair said to me, “Cape has a deep bench.” That is true, and coming down the back half of the season, the Vikings are going to find out just how deep. Every president since William Howard Taft in 1910 has thrown out at least one ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. Circle gets the square and has landed right on Donald Trump who has yet to throw out a first pitch. The Nationals are the happiest story coming out of DC since the Caps won the Stanley Cup. Maybe the Great Eight, Alex Ovechkin, can get the honor, or perhaps a Syrian Kurd? There have been some crazy first pitches. The aged arm isn’t made to throw overhand, which leads to the book of underhanded jokes. I’m not trying to be political, I’m just trying to get out of this. The Eagles are three-point dogs at Minnesota on Sunday. Cape (1-4) football is at Sussex Central (4-1) this Friday night. The game is live streamed at 302 Sports and broadcast on 105.9 FM. Winter sports practices begin in one month. If an athlete is sitting around waiting for that start date, it’s unlikely they will make a squad, except maybe the High Tide community swim team. Go on now, git!

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