Tag Archives: track

Four hundred meters

“On your mark, get set … go!”


As the coach said that last word, his arm went down, and Billy and I were off. Four hundred meters, four laps around the track. I don’t how this race ever wound up happening in the first place. Billy was clearly the better runner. And yet here we were, both of us coming up on that first turn, the top-left of my right sole always feeling on these curves like it was shouldering too much of my body’s weight as I tried to maintain speed. I don’t know why we always had to run counter-clockwise around the track. It would have been nice to go in the opposite direction, even if just once in a while, to give that right foot a little bit of a rest, maybe build up the left foot muscles, which, I could never notice a difference between the two, but I always felt it, like on molecular level, they just had to have been a little bit weaker in the left.

“You’re an idiot,” Billy said to me, and now I remembered why I’d taken this challenge in the first place. Because great, you’re the fastest runner Billy, that’s awesome. Do you have to be such a jerk about it? Couldn’t you be a little cooler? And not cool, but like, you know, nice, not a dick. If I’m in the locker room and I ask you a question about performance running socks, do you have to make it into a joke, you and your elite running lackeys repeating everything I say in that stupid nasally voice? That’s not what I sound like, by the way.

I wanted to say something back to him, but I couldn’t. I was putting everything I had into just keeping up, and we weren’t even halfway done with the first hundred meters. Hopefully I didn’t outwardly look like I was giving it everything I had, because I had the suspicion that Billy was doing just fine, that he was taking these three laps pretty easy, ready to just tear off at the end.

And then I thought, what if he was only running as fast as I was running? If I were in a four hundred meter race against someone who I was pretty sure that I could beat, I’d probably only try to match my opponent’s speed for the first few laps. Because why waste any energy? Why not let him lead, and then I could sprint away at the end?

So I waited until we turned the next corner and I slowed down just a little bit. It worked. Billy totally took it down a notch to match me. “You getting tired?” he taunted. We were passing the row of bleachers on the final hundred meters of the first lap, that straightaway where all of Billy’s friends were hanging out in their warm-up suits. I could hear them calling my name out in the same stupid voice they used to make fun of everyone who presented an easy enough target, the high-pitched whine, sucking their cheeks in and sticking out their teeth, smiling and laughing, celebrating even, both at the perceived humor in their jokes as well as the contented belief that they’d never have to be on the receiving end of such verbal abuse.

I put them out of my head and concentrated on what I had to do. I felt OK now, like I had a chance at pulling this off. But there were still three laps left. I’d have to maintain this pace for two more, crank it up at the last lap, and then give it everything I had for that last push toward the finish. Would I be able to do it? Doubt started to creep into my fleeting sense of what now felt like misplaced confidence.

Almost on cue, my legs started to tighten up, not a lot, but it was enough of a physical sensation to give my growing doubts some actual weight. My breathing must have picked up, because Billy looked at me. We were approaching another turn and, so far he hadn’t even bothered to get in front of me. He ran right alongside, not worrying about the extra distance he’d have to cover by staying in that further lane. And I could tell, he really wasn’t worried. “You know I ran a four thirty-five mile last month, right?”

And he actually said it. I still wasn’t at a point where I could get words out, my lungs were right now exclusively working toward supplying my blood with the oxygen necessary to maintain my current pace, a pace which was slower than my initial pace, something that, if Billy didn’t have a problem with a four and a half minute mile, this must have been nothing. What was my best time, five and half? Five forty-five?

I had to slow down again and hope that he’d stay with me. As I pulled back, I could hear him laughing, mocking me, “Still two more laps. You sure you can finish?” and again, I wanted to say something, but my breathing was so controlled at this point. How was Billy able to have what sounded like casual conversation? This pace, was it that easy for him?

For the entire third lap, I had no choice, I had to drop my speed. And on the first hundred of the fourth, Billy started running backwards right next to me. From where we were at, the bleachers were all the way on the other side of the track, but I could still hear everyone laughing and calling out in that mocking voice.

As we approached that last hundred meters, I thought, did I have what it took to race him in a sprint? Probably not. But could I at least put up a good fight? Could I somehow will my feet do what they had so far been unable to do, to pose somewhat of a threat to Billy’s dominance?

I wouldn’t be able to find out, because right as I started sprinting, Billy wiped out next to me. He fell to the track, hard. When he bounced up a few seconds later, I was about halfway to the finish line. I looked over my shoulder to see if he could still make a run for it. He probably could have. In fact, for a second I swear I saw all of his muscles twitch, like he was ready to pounce. But then he just stopped. He stood there, and then he started walking.

I crossed the finish line, but nobody said anything. All eyes were on Billy. And just as he was in earshot, I heard him say, “Whatever, I wasn’t even racing. That doesn’t count. Didn’t you see me running backwards? What a joke.”

And I looked to the coach, hoping he’d at least validate my accomplishment, just name me the winner, please. But he looked more concerned with his star runner. “Billy, you OK? Anything hurt?” he was walking in his direction.

“Nah, I’m good. I wasn’t really running that hard anyway.”

Everyone started laughing from the sidelines, and the coach said, “All right, let’s get out of here everyone. Showers!”

Barefoot running

I wish we didn’t have to wear shoes. Like every day, leaving the house, going to work, wouldn’t it be cool if we could just lead barefooted lives? Every day I get home and the first thing I want to do is take my shoes and socks off. And then after that, it’s like my feet have been cooped up for so long, the abrupt exposure to the air is jarring, it’s like having the lights turned on in the middle of the night, your eyes are too dilated, it hurts even to look around.


I read this book where the author talked all about barefoot runners, how as animals we’re supposed to be running around nude below the ankles. So I went to the park and I took my shoes off and I started gunning out some laps. But after like ten minutes it really hurt. Like, I think I might have stepped on a pebble, a really, really tiny one. But it just kind of sent this current of pain surging up my body. I made this face, like a really dramatic pained expression, and I think I may have audibly gasped a little too loudly.

And of course, I was at the park, there were a ton of other people there. Anybody that had been paying attention to me, I mean, it’s not unreasonable to think that I wasn’t turning at least a few heads, I was definitely the only person exercising without any shoes. But right when I stepped on that pebble, I stopped, I was in the way of all of the other runners. This one guy trotted up beside me and said, “What did you expect?”

And I don’t know. This didn’t really jive with how I envisioned it all going down in my head. But after I thought about it, I realized that it wasn’t my feet’s fault. No, if anything, it was my fault. I was the one who’d kept them hidden inside of my shoes my whole life. Of course they’d grown weak, the skin on the soles way too sensitive to brave the elements of the natural world. I just had to endure the pain, fight through the discomfort. If I could get myself to run barefoot for a couple of weeks, a month, I don’t know, I was sure that my feet would grow calloused enough to handle a few tiny pebbles, maybe even some bigger pebbles.

I mean, you think about our ancestors, right, they didn’t have fancy running sneakers with patented gel nimbus soles to cushion each step. No, they didn’t have anything. They didn’t even have paved roads. I’d definitely be fine, I just needed to give it some time.

I went back to the park the next day, but I don’t know, it was even tougher than the day before. Because while previously I’d made it like five minutes before the pain became too unbearable, now it was hurting right from that first exposed step. I hoped that nobody was watching me this time, although they probably were, because like I said, it’s just weird, right, you see some guy head to a track in the park and take his shoes off, I mean, I’m not looking for attention, but I even have to admit, it’s just something that people don’t normally do.

And maybe if I actually knew how to run barefoot, maybe I’d be able to get past all of that nonsense. But like I said, this second day, I could barely even stand. Some guy came up to me after a minute and was like, “Hey buddy, are you all right? You need some help?” And I shook my head no, “That’s OK,” I told him, “I’m trying out this barefoot running style.”

I actually made it like halfway around the track, I wasn’t running, not really, and the pain level hadn’t yet reached critical, but some guy in a Parks Department uniform came over and told me I had to put some shoes on.

“Come on dude,” I protested, “That can’t be a rule.”

But it was a rule, it was right outside of the track, screwed onto the chain-link fence that bordered the furthest lane, “Park Rules.” And yeah, it said something about shoes. I couldn’t believe it. What is this, a police state? You’re going to mandate that human beings have to cover up how they naturally are?

I made a big stink and stormed out of there in a huff, holding my shoes in my hand as if to prove a point, like fine, kick me out of your track, I don’t care, the world is my track. And I started jogging home, on the pavement, but this only lasted like half a block or so, because while I thought that the track was bad, the paved street was much, much worse. Like I was acutely aware of the gravely texture, and all of the twigs and dirt and debris that you don’t even really see on the sidewalk, but it’s there, right on the street, right before you get to the curb.

And then I saw a bunch of broken glass like ten feet ahead and I thought, fuck this, and I put my shoes back on. But man, if only I got to live like a thousand years ago, that would have been awesome, no shoes, just awesome hard feet.