It is surely a pathetic thing to admit, but I never tire of seeing my own name in print.
Five turns at four newspapers (this one twice) and thousands of bylines later, the thrill has not dimmed a whit: I still spring out of the sack like a greedy child for whom almost every morning is Christmas.
But even so, I never would have guessed that one of my most satisfying appearances would be a mere mention on Page 7 ("Page 7!" the editors bark in unison, "when has this broad ever been happy with Page 7?") of the Oct. 11 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
I am one of four Blatchfords under the Bs in a special section of the paper devoted to the 33,125 people who finished the Lasalle Bank Chicago Marathon last Sunday. I was certainly, and by almost an hour, the slowest of those who share my name. Probably, I was also the only one whose running style most generously can be described as Quasimodo-like: By mid-race, no matter how I struggle to stay erect, my shoulder drops precipitously and I lurch seriously to one side.
But I not only finished the 26.2 miles, I also pulled off a dirty little plan that formed in my head last year about this time, when I did the Washington Marine Corps Marathon, my first ever, and found myself feeling oddly out of sorts.
Like many amateur runners, I train with what's called "10s and 1s" - it means you run 10 minutes, then walk one - and like many of my fellows, I also ran Washington the same way.
Now, it's a fabulous way to train, but for me and only for me, what worked so nicely in practice felt wrong in the race.
It was as though by taking scheduled walk breaks, I had cheated something or someone - the glorious history of the marathon perhaps; myself; maybe even my memories of the late Terry Fox, who for months ran one of these suckers every day on one leg. So I determined this year to run the whole distance - slowly, crookedly, incompetently, but run it nonetheless, and I did.
This, for the saner and better adjusted, is what it's like to be a Type-A personality.
Virtually everything is a no-holds-barred competition, and if you know going in that you aren't good enough to win, you then figure out a way to make yourself feel as though you have.
It is demented and exhausting .(even a trip to the grocery store is imbued with performance standards) but it is the way we Type As are. It is for this very reason that I look forward with unbecoming eagerness to growing old: I figure that if I can keep running and live long enough, everyone else in my age group will hang up their shoes or die off, and then I will win. I only pray there's an old fellow or two who also survives, so we can celebrate our respective achievements with a victory shag, which of course we shall rate on a scale of 1-10 afterward.
In any case, these great races are tremendous learning experiences.
Conventional wisdom is that you learn much about the joy of the voyage and the pleasure of pushing your body, etc., and all of that is quite true, if yawn inducing to all but the addicted.
But what you also get is a reflection of the world at a particular moment.
For instance, in my father's day, or even 30 years ago, marathons would feature a couple of hundred rail-thin men running to virtually no attention or interest from the press or the public. These old races may have been but a blip in the life of the planet, but they were wonderfully pure, and the men who ran them quirky outsiders, if not loners.
The best of the big-city modern races, by contrast, have a plethora of corporate sponsors and draw upward of 200,000 spectators and 40,000 competitors, a good number of whom are the polar opposite of thin, not much more gifted than me and relentless, hearty extroverts. Long-distance running hasn't merely turned mainstream, it is the mainstream: There's barely room on the roads for all of us.
For me, it is the cellphone that is the metaphor for what's gone awry, with the world and with the marathon.
Last year in Washington, I noticed a few dozen runners talking on cells, but in Chicago, there were hundreds of them. It was a plague. Everywhere I looked, there was a cretin shrilling into a mobile, "Where are you? I'm at Mile 12! Call you at 13!" I have yet to overhear a single interesting cell call in my life, anywhere. But even measured by this low bar, the conversations of runners are especially banal.
Let us put a few hard truths on the record.
If the effort you are expending is so minimal that you can talk on the phone, let alone talk constantly on the phone, you aren't trying hard enough. It may be that in sport it's the journey and not the result that matters, but the quality of effort bloody well counts.
If you have the breath to talk to your boyfriend or your mommy, you're not going fast enough. Then again, if you believe it is cute or clever to talk to your boyfriend or mommy from the middle of a marathon, you should be dating the guy I saw wearing a chicken costume. If you wear a costume to a marathon, you richly deserve to date the sort of young woman who will phone you every three minutes for the rest of your natural life, and hers.
If you can't draw sufficient stimulation from the modern race and its accoutrements - the blare of bands, ghetto blasters and choirs posted throughout, the roar of cheering crowds, not to mention the periodic beep of dozens and dozens of heart monitors and watches - then it is likely you are very nearly dead in any case, and should stop running immediately.
My view is that no one but doctors on call and those with life-threatening medical conditions should be allowed to carry a mobile in a road race. Anyone else caught actually using one should be immediately stripped of their race bibs, barred from competition for a year and preferably given a boot to the head.
One of Toronto's two marathons is tomorrow. I plan to lurk in the weeds, ready to leap out at cellphone users, and all who love them.