I get by on my birthday with a little help from my friends
On a whim way back during the Ford Administration, I decided to celebrate my 25th birthday by running a mile for every year. Either euphoria from over-stimulated endorphins or hypoxia that robbed my brain of an ability to think clearly led me to make the ritual an annual event.
Early on, I promised myself I would continue increasing the mileage only until age 30, after which I would begin reducing the running distance by a mile each year so that, upon reaching the ancient milestone of 60, I would have to do nothing more strenuous than kick back on the couch with a bowl of ice cream. It sounded good in theory, but I should have realized that you can’t trust anyone over 30 (including yourself).
Rather than gradually trimming the post-30 mileage, I’ve continued adding distance, with a catch: I introduced kayaking and bicycling to the mix. One exception — when I hit the half-century mark, I reverted exclusively just that year to a 50-mile run. Lately, though, I’ve been keeping the running and kayaking distances to 5 miles each and covering the rest of the ground more expeditiously on a bike.
Some years, I complete the ritual solo; more frequently, various friends and family have kept me company on one or more legs.
The 30th birthday run was a favorite because Johnny Kelley, the former Boston Marathon champ and two-time Olympian, joined me from his home on Pequot Avenue in Mystic into the hills of Ledyard, North Stonington and Stonington and back. Our meandering colloquy matched the route’s twists and turns: We sang verses of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” recited Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” discussed how Thoreau would view contemporary civilization and debated whether Nixon would be regarded as the worst president in U.S. history.
Before the two of us knew it, we were at the crest of Quoketaug Hill in Old Mystic, preparing to pound down the steep slope toward Route 27 and River Road — the home stretch.
I had befriended Kell eight years earlier, when I moved to southeastern Connecticut to work as a reporter for the old Groton News, and I often joined him for workouts with the Fitch High School cross country team that he coached.
One of the best competitors on that state championship team was a skinny, longhaired kid who was sort of a wise guy. A menacing St. Bernard often lurked near a path we frequently traversed, and this runner would sprint ahead, shout at the dog and leap across a stream to safety. The monstrous canine would then chase the rest of us.
Anyway, fast forward to last Saturday, my birthday. I had already finished the run and the paddle, and was 20 miles into the bike portion when the heavens opened up. Cycling in the rain isn’t just misery, it’s dangerous, especially when thunder and lightning erupt, so I high-tailed it for home and holed up for a couple hours.
Finally, the sun reappeared, and I resumed pedaling for another hour or so. Uh-oh. More dark clouds.
Kaboom! A thunderclap sent me scrambling.
After another lengthy rain delay, it occurred to me I wouldn’t be able to finish the final 26 miles before dark on busy roads that were still wet. Inspiration: Load the bike in my car and head over to the deserted, asphalt track at Grasso Tech in Groton.
It would be incredibly boring, not to mention hamster-like, pedaling more than 100 laps around a quarter-mile track after sunset, but at least I’d be safe.
The rain had diminished to a drizzle by the time I drove up about 5:30, and noticed a couple walking a dog nearby. The man looked familiar, and I rolled down the window.
“Wayne! Is that you?”
Sure enough, it was Wayne Jacob, the former Fitch standout (and one time wise guy) who went on to become one of the region’s most celebrated runners, having won the Tarzan Brown Road Race an incredible 20 times. He and his girlfriend were out for a stroll.
“What are you doing, going for a track workout?” Wayne asked.
“No, a little more complicated,” I replied, and explained my itinerary.
“Happy birthday!” Wayne exclaimed, and began walking to his home nearby. I unloaded my bike and started pedaling on the cracked, puddle-pocked track.
Ten minutes later, I noticed a bicyclist approaching. It was Wayne.
“Figured you might want some company,” he said.
As the sun dipped in the east, an exquisite double rainbow materialized. It slowly faded, and for nearly two hours, Wayne and I rolled around and around and around.
We talked about Kell, of course, who died in 2011 but will forever inspire us along with so many others. We talked about those 10-mile runs with the team through Haley Farm and around Bluff Point. We talked about the Red Sox, Yankees, Patriots and Giants. We talked about Nixon and Trump.
When darkness descended, Wayne clicked on a headlamp. After a while, I lost track of the laps it would take to equal 26 miles.
“Wayne, do me a favor and shine the light on my odometer.”
He aimed the lamp at the digital device on my handlebars.
“Twenty-five point nine-four! Yahoo!”
We rolled our bikes another few yards. Done!
It was wonderful of Wayne to join me on the last leg of the ride, but all the same I hope it doesn’t rain next year.
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