There are few times in a person’s life when they feel truly special, when the universe lines up accordingly and shines a big spotlight right on them that says, “This person, right here, is Awesome with a capital ‘A’”. The interesting thing is that sometimes these moments happen secretly, unknown to the viewers that stand idly by while witnessing greatness—that is to say, the audience doesn’t always know that they’re the audience. Today, for me, someone cued the spotlight and for several seconds I basked in it like a fat kid at a buffet.
It started out like a normal run, checking the weather, the stretching, and the mental argument with myself over whether or not running today would be enough to pull be out of a mental slump and sustain my self-esteem for the next 24 hours. Last night had been a creative disaster as I drank my way through 2 beers while obsessively composing the intro of a song. Two hours later I had only finished part of the intro and decided that I’d rather not continue to pretend that I was making progress.
Having weighed my options—be lazy and feel like crap all day, or run and feel productive in order to absolve myself of guilt for being lazy later on—I decided to lace up and give it my best. So, after loading up some music I headed out. The familiar rush of blood and adrenaline fueling my muscles was of comfort to me, reminding me still that I had life left to give. Moreover, running past casual pedestrians carried the added bonus of feeling much more physically fit than they were. In the desperate times of a weakened ego, these small mental victories are all a person has to keep afloat and are relatively harmless to say the least.
These the same kind of detours that spontaneously invade the main plot of our lives, only to end up defining them more significantly than those higher education degrees—and the mountain of debt they’ve left you with. I’m talking about that time you won the raffle prize, which turned out to be just a fruit basket, or the time you found a $5 bill lying on the ground in the parking lot of your favorite liquor store. Each one sends out a universal message, a shockwave that can be understood even in the most remote corners of the universe: I WIN. Really, it’s the feeling of those golden moments that we try to preserve and relive daily, so we cherish them when they happen.
By the time I reached the park about a kilometer away from my apartment, I felt great. I wasn’t very winded, and despite a short absence from the road, I had made great time. I entered the north entrance and careened onto the track, joining several seasoned runners in the familiar choreography of one foot in front of the other. The majesty of this physical ballet was only surpassed by its score: the symphonic rhythm of lungs breathing to the pace of feet meeting the ground.
Though I was listening to music and concentrating on my breathing, it was clear that this was no ordinary day on the track. Along the side of the track there were men posted about every 5-10 meters, standing with stopwatches and clapping at the runners. Further out toward the far edge of the track, behind the watchmen, people seemed to be watching me and the other men sweat. To the left among the spectators, I could see a young man about my age, sweating all over a numbered tag that was fastened to his running jersey. At this point an older man in his 40’s pulled up next to me. Donned with standard running attire, he appeared to be an ordinary runner trying to escape the beer belly that pursued him, except for a blue sash that crossed his shoulders and was held together at the hip. As I watched him pass me, the other runners came into my awareness and they, too, were wearing the blue sash.
It became apparent that this was some sort of coordinated event in which the watchmen and the runners were involved with each other. Having also observed regular citizens exercising around the track, I also concluded that this must have been some sort of practice session of a local running team. I continued running. While rounding the halfway mark, the watchmen appeared more frequently along with a denser crowd of spectators. Two men that had previously passed me were now suffering the backlash of poor judgment and a lack of pacing, as they now hunched over the tender steps of their tired legs. Though I was beginning to feel the intensity of my workout, bullied by my pride, I decided to speed up and pass them.
Approaching their heels in the sights of the watchmen I fantasized about their subsequent calls after my victory. Obsequiously, they would approach me with pleads to join their running squad, showering me with gifts and complimentary dinners and drinks to buy my love. After eating their food and drinking their ale, I’d tell them that I’d have to check with my agent to be sure that being an American running for a local Japanese team wouldn’t disqualify me as an Olympic hopeful for the U.S. team.
One of the watchmen shouted something to the second runner I was scheming to overtake. “The American is coming! Here comes the American! Don’t let him pass you!” he seemed to shout with vigor as he clapped his hands at the broken athlete. Maybe he didn’t say that, but he was right: the American was dangerous and would not stop until he had attained victory. I passed him.
Coming around the final turn before the straightaway that lead to the end of my workout, the crowd increased greatly. People were now densely packed on the sides of the track, creating two walls that enclosed the runners. In passing them, some members of the crowd wore blank stares and wrinkled brows at my arrival, some looked confused, and others cracked big smiles. Those who smiled began to clap and shout, meeting my eyes with theirs as I pushed past them with all my strength. Soon everyone began to cheer and clap as the American pushed past the Japanese runners and onward toward the finish line where glory awaited him. I was painted in the pale glow of the spotlight.
About 200 meters before the finish line, a man who looked important picked up a bullhorn and spoke into it. Although I couldn’t understand his language, the tone of his voice and direction of his words conveyed a message that was most likely similar to, please get off the track asshole. The Japanese are very polite.
Crossing the finish line on the outskirts of the track, away from the crowd, I retired to a crouching position to catch my breath, all the while, watching the spectators behind me. But none came. There was no prize or flowers, no cameras, no autographs, no questions, and no medal to be won. It had been my own special moment.