We've all heard the age-old question, "Why did the man climb the mountain? And it's most obvious answer: "Because it's there."
That explains why I tried, for the fifth time of my life, to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park on June 13. I had to abandon the cables a quarter of the way up because of slick shoes.
"Because I can" could be the explanation of why I intended on Friday to hang-glide over the surf in San Francisco but couldn't for the marine fog that blanketed Fort Funston. That "bucket list" activity will be rescheduled soon on a clear day.
But what possesses a man to run a half marathon, especially if it costs him $100 to do it? The answer that best fits is "to see if I can."
Besides, there's the bragging rights.
If you're not a runner, the thought of pounding pavement for 13.1 miles non-stop is enough to make you grab your chest and feign a heart attack like Red Foxx used to do on Sanford & Sons. Just know that when you're conditioned for it, it's easier than you might think.
I did it once before, but that was three years ago. For me, the challenge will be: See if I can do better at age 53 than I did at age 50.
"Better" as in faster. On Aug. 27, 2011, I completed the 13.1-mile course from AT&T Park through Fisherman's Wharf to Chrissy Field and back at 1:56:14 (that's one hour, 56 minutes and 14 seconds). I placed 639 out of 2,455 runners (the 26th percentile). In the 50-54 male category, I was 20th out of 62 runners. Strictly by gender (men tend to be faster than women), I finished 424 out of 1,050 male runners. Not bad for someone used to running solo among the cow pastures, canals and almond trees.
I suppose I should have rested on my laurels that I beat out 1,816 total runners that day in San Francisco. But I focused more on the 638 who were faster. The fastest time went to a 24-year-old man who finished at 1:04:51.
"Better" as in don't fall down in the 11th mile. Past the Farmers Market building I went down in a slow-motion blur that jarred my left wrist, removed a half-dollar sized piece of skin from my knee like a cheese grater and thwacked both ankles. It was not only embarrassing and hurt but I lost time.
Lots of people don't get running. In the movie "Back to the Future III," three veteran cowboys in 1886 ask Doc Brown what people in the future do for fun. When he says they run, actor Pat Buttram says, "Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?"
Even some of us who run don't understand it.
I've found that runners generally have this love-hate relationship with their sport. You can both hate doing it and love doing it, even during the same run. You know once you quit you will not feel as good physically nor as good about yourself. I find this drive to beat my body and make it my slave because I know that giving in can lead to other lacks of discipline.
I used to really hate running in high school. I'd get those side pains - I was told they were caused by "air bubbles" - so I didn't start running until 1999 after succumbing to this nagging feeling that I needed to get physical. I was tired of feeling like a banana slug and running was something I could do without cost. I laced up and could barely get two blocks without thinking, oh, man, can't do this. But I didn't quit. I tried again and again, going greater and greater distances. It became a personal challenge, a discipline of sorts.
Running for me now is my way of staying fit. It's my time to slip away and take charge. My pace. My music. My route. My health. My pain. My gain.
Like Forrest Gump who, for no particular reason "just ran," I decided to embark on my own quest to see how far I could actually run. Possibly out of boredom from routine, I set out six years ago to run a desolate stretch between Waterford and Oakdale, a distance of 11.2 miles. I had to stop a number of times and resorted to walking the last three miles on legs that felt like rubber. The next year I managed to make it all the way and felt like I accomplished a great feat. In 2013 I ran non-stop and did it in one hour 42 minutes. The distance was just two miles shy of a half marathon and I told myself, no sweat. I ran it again in April with less problems than before.
I have yet to make the big leap to a full marathon but believe one is in my future.
I have exactly 67 days to prepare for the half marathon Giants Race in San Francisco. I'll keep my maintenance running in early mornings to escape this horrible summer heat. I'll have time to prepare my iTunes running song list. I'll have time to prepare my mind. I'll know not to start out too fast. I'll prepare for the anticipated hill at Gashouse Cove past Ghirardelli Square and trust that this year I'll be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge.
Anyone who wants to run the race has a deadline of July 14 without a price increase. Go to www.race-sfgiants.com.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.