Coach Wiseman, who also happened to be the head football coach at East Rome, offered up the same sage wisdom and advice so many coaches and mentors do albeit in an altered form.
The wisdom says to find the attribute or task or body part that is your weakest and work on it. Applying tons of effort and toil to improving the weakness can change it to a strength or at least offer enough improvement to where it’s not the weakest point.
For some reason I took Coach Wiseman’s words to heart and over the next few years charted tortuous training runs over crazy courses and ran them when the temperature soared into the 90’s and the humidity made it fell like I was running in a thick, sticky, creamy broth.
And so we come to one of the many banes of my existence – the Gary Tillman Clocktower Road Race. On August 19 of this year, I traversed the course for maybe the 10th time. I say maybe, because I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve run the race.
ON A WARM DAY in the spring of 1990, East Rome High School track coach Danny Wiseman offered some advice. He talked about how when he trained for 10K road races, he picked out the most tortuous course, which included some monster hills, and ran it at the hottest time of the day.
The thought process, besides being crazy, also remained sound. By choosing the toughest possible course and practicing while facing the worst possible weather, the race itself seemed easy.
Let’s be honest. I hate the race. Before everyone
gets upset, I love that it raises tons of money for a good cause and that it also honors the name and spirit of Gary Tillman.
I also love seeing the throng of people braving the tough course and hot weather conditions that seem to be as much a hallmark of the event as the signature hill which is part of the name.
If you’ve never run it, let me get this straight. While runners fight, jog, walk and possibly crawl up the notorious and steep Clocktower Hill, it’s not the deciding factor in the event. In fact, the landmark hill comes just after the mile mark in the 3.1 mile race.
Don’t get me wrong. The hill looms large, pun intended, but it’s not like it comes in the final half mile of the race. Now that would be brutal.
Instead the litmus test, at least for me, comes in the final mile running around the backside of Myrtle Hill while the heat and humidity creep across your skin like a thousand crawling ants trying to drive you crazy. It feels like you’re trying to breathe
through a mask. Everything hurts. Each time I run the race, I wonder why I subject myself to it. Over those last six to seven minutes, the true test of this endeavor becomes clear. No matter how hard or how much I’ve trained, I’ve never done enough.
No matter how much I tell myself I won’t kick it in at the end, somehow, from somewhere my body summons reserves from an unknown location; I dig deep and I surge to the finish line. Mind you my surging looks more like a two-legged turtle trying to cross the road – awkward and just this side of funny.
At the finish line, I feel terrible. It takes a good 10 minutes to begin to feel normal and during those long, agonizing moments I utter words unprintable in this or most other magazines. I promise myself it’s over. This was the final one. Clocktower has won, and I won’t be back.
But crazily enough, I’ve returned to tackle it at least 10 times. Finishing Clocktower gives me a boost, and when I think something is too daunting, I recall the race and the pain and remember the place where I managed to dig deep and finish.
As a runner, crossing the finish line helps pave the way for whatever fitness endeavors await me the remainder of the year and beyond. Maybe the marathon I promised myself last year will actually
happen this time around. The race serves as a weird sort of New Year’s Resolution, because when it’s over I look ahead and begin planning for the next obstacle.
That’s what this race represents – an obstacle. Not all of us run. Not everyone will strap on shoes and finish the race, but each and every one of us has an obstacle or numerous ones. They’re not easy, and I’m sure many are far more important than a road race.
But you see this is mine. And on those hot summer days when I’m running and my body begins to remind me that I’m now closer to 50 than I am to 40, I need Clocktower. There will be a day and a time when the race will win. I will finally wave that white flag, untie my running shoes and put them in a box in the back of my closet.
Not today. Not this year. I finished Clocktower. My time was slower than I wanted, but the chance of good things to come lies on the horizon. And my hope is that everyone out there tackling their Clocktowers not only finish but do so in style.
And hopefully they finish in a style far more graceful and less sweaty than I am at the finish line.