Shoes in the mail

October 13, 2010

A delivery box with new shoes awaiting you on the front porch in the late afternoon light, few things in the world possess such beauty.

When I started running in junior high in the early seventies, it was hard to get decent shoes any other way than mail order. In Illinois and much of the Midwest our supplier of choice was  Dick Pond Athletics in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. There was no catalog, no web page, just a couple of Xeroxed sheets listing all the shoes he had in stock. Nikes: Cortez, Kenya Red, Obori, Pre-Montreal, Road Runner. Tigers: Jayhawk, Bangkok, Spartan-B… to name a few.  After calling in the order, waiting for them to make it the 150-or-so miles down I-57 from Glen Ellyn was the sweetest anticipation. Then the thrill of coming home from school to find the brown-paper box on the porch, tearing it open for that first whiff of new shoe smell, and a test run down to Blair Park.

Those shoes pictured above go back to that era. Adidas Gazelles, marine blue. They were the warm-up shoe for the Illinois track team back in 1972 and I always wanted a pair of my own.  Now I have them, forty years later when they are retro cool. I didn’t go to Dick Pond for these, but to Zappos, and I didn’t wonder when they would arrive since I could follow their travels on UPS tracking.  Times change, I knew they would be right there on the porch waiting for me. (Yes, as a matter of fact, that is a little sad.)

I don’t know if Dick Pond is still alive and well, but his business is and has multiple outlets in suburban Chicago and seemingly a thriving mail order business. Check out the site, cross-country spike closeouts especially.

Dick Pond Athletics

Even Sammy wobbles

October 11, 2010

Sammy Wanjiru looked other-worldly strong finishing the Chicago Marathon yesterday. But in the attached video it’s reassuring to see how spent he is after he crosses the line—that spew captured so beautifully in the morning light, the wobble, the sinking to the ground like one of those little jointed toy figures that collapse when you press a button on the bottom.

I’m also intrigued by the ominous silence of this video clip. That silence, it seems to me, makes the pain these guys are feeling more real than if we heard the cheers of the crowd.

Link to video. 

Update: May 16, 2011. I’ve just read of Sammy’s death. Condolences to his family and friends. The world has lost a great runner.

Chasing Charlie Wustman

October 8, 2010

This is going to take a little while to get to Charlie Wustman and today’s tiny kernel of running wisdom. But please hang in here with me.

Chicago’s O’Hare airport, crossroads for the country, feels like a place where you might bump into anyone. I’m always on the alert there for spotting a friend from home, or from my past or, yes, a celebrity. It’s a strategy that has served me well. In the celebrity category, I’ve netted autographs from assorted college basketball players. It was a one-time catch when the U.S. team was on the way to the World University Games. Grace and Arline were very young then and one of them had a precious little edition of “Mrs. Tiggwinkle” by Beatrix Potter.  It was my only paper on-hand for a scrawled signature. No doubt we have the only existing copy of a Beatrix Potter book that is autographed by both Duke’s Christian Laettner and Syracuse’s Billy Owens.

But the biggest catch at O’Hare by far was Michael Jordan. We’d just come through the tunnel connecting concourses–you know, the one with the neon tubes on the ceiling and the trippy “Rhapsody in Blue.” Riding the escalator up, I looked over and saw The Michael riding down. It was the year of his first NBA championship and though his celebrity was running very high then, particularly in Chicago, it wasn’t yet off the charts. Except for an escort from the airline, he was alone that day, and I seemed to be the only person who recognized him or was shameless enough to act on that recognition.

I had the ride to the top of the escalator to decide what needed to be done. It was an easy decision. I tossed the bags and baby Grace to Sheila, ran down the escalator, and chased MJ all the way back to the other concourse. I got the autograph (addressed, at my request, to Grace in an attempt to appear as good father rather than large dork), mumbled something to Michael about the fact that Grace has a poster of him in her room (my choice, not hers, she wasn’t old enough to have any idea why there was a picture of that large man in her room) and touched the sleeve of his long black leather coat. No doubt, Michael liked me and remembers the exchange as clearly as I do.

Charlie Wustman is not Michael Jordan, but bumping into him at O’Hare this summer also ranks high on my scale of chance airport meetings. I’m usually on the lookout for Charlie, a friend from high school and college, on a United plane or in O’Hare’s United terminal since he’s been a pilot for the airline for years.  Like seeing Michael on the escalator, I saw Charlie while riding the moving walkway. The longish hair and  sideburns still looked a lot like the guy I knew in high school. The pilot’s uniform closed the deal. While I was figuring all this out, Charlie was pointing at me and mouthing the words “Are you Tom Weaver?” He was coming to terms with the fact that we was seeing my dad,  “Mr. Weaver.” OK, we get older.

It was more than thirty years ago that I was chasing Charlie around the indoor track at the University of Illinois as we did speed workouts. Charlie was a few years older than me and a good deal faster, just what I needed to help me improve my mile times. I remember willing myself to stay with him through the quarters or whatever workouts we were doing, and it helped me drop my mile time about 20 seconds down to the mid-4:30s. I’m guessing that places me as approximately the seventy-third fastest miler in Urbana High School history, but the 4:37 is a PR that I’m still proud of.

As much as that time in a race is a happy memory, so are all the workouts that helped me get there. Seeing Charlie this summer brought them all right back, taking a deep breath, never deep enough, before heading into another interval and desperately trying to hold on.

So, thanks, Charlie. I’ll be looking for you next time through O’Hare.

Gloves weather

October 3, 2010

I remember reading a post-race quote from Bill Rodgers a long time ago. It was after he had a poor run on a hot day. Typically a cold weather runner, Rodgers said, “no gloves, no good race.” True enough, if you think of the iconic pictures of Boston Billy, in most of them he’s wearing a pair of floppy white painter’s gloves.

They were the glove of choice for runners in the seventies, years before someone in R & D at Nike or Asics figured out that you could sell runners thin pairs of gloves with features such as absorbent “wiping surfaces” along the thumb and back of the hand, a key pocket, pebbled palms for gripping. Before the $25 running glove there was the $3 running glove, the entirety of which was one glorious field for snot.

I’m with Bill Rodgers on the gloves races. My best times have always come when it’s almost too cold for shorts. And so I’m happy to see it turn to the chilly mornings of October, happy to dig out my fancy black Brooks gloves or the brown jersey ones from the Cumberland Farms store. Either will do to give me that particular sense that I get when I run in gloves for the first few cool days of fall. It’s a sense that I’m equipped, in uniform, ready to get down to some work.

Gore Road, AKA Montzoar

October 3, 2010

Gore Road is not as brutal as it sounds. It’s named for Buel’s Gore, a little wedge of land that doesn’t belong to any particular town. There are a few of these in Vermont, most of them uninhabited or barely inhabited. Wikipedia tells me there were twelve people in Buel’s Gore during the 2000 census. It also tells me that Major Elias Buel, who was involved with this land grant way back when wanted to name the area “Montzoar.” A tip of the hat to Major Buel for being self-effacing and knowing how to create a great place name.

Montzoar it is.The thing I like about this road is that it is one of the closest places to Burlington where you can ride a bike and feel far away. The Gore Road goes from Huntington Center into a rolling climb up to Rt. 117. From there, you can take the left and head up about five kilometers to the top of Appalachian Gap.

I rode it by myself last Saturday and enjoyed again how the houses are few, the flora takes on that raw, northern look as you climb. Heavy winds and rain the day before had stripped a lot of the trees, making it feel that much closer to winter on a cloudy, 50-degree October afternoon.  On the way back I stopped and sat on a pile of logs by the side of the road, drank my Gatorade, and ate my pumpkin muffin from the Hinesburg General Store. The muffin was amazing, but it might just have been being in Montzoar in autumn.