Running A Fever

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on October 20, 2011, and in the Fairfield Sun on October 27, 2011, both in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

Jogging is right up there with chainsaw juggling on my list of favorite hobbies. Unlike chainsaw juggling, however, I keep trying to talk myself into liking the jog.

Like most things in my life that I consider failures, I like to blame it on my upbringing. (Keep this in mind for the future, kids: Works every time). Growing up as one of seven children in the “sticks” of Greenfield Hill in Fairfield, my mom logged thousands of miles shuttling us to our various swim and soccer practices. By the time we reached fifth grade, we all understood that if it wasn’t raining, we were on our own to get where we had to go. Our coaches must have wondered why the Walsh boys always arrived to soccer practice in a lather, never realizing we’d just biked six miles to get there. When our bikes were broken, we had only our feet upon which to rely.

As a result, my two older brothers decided to become triathletes, and I decided to become bitter. Instead of using this situation to its best advantage (using this travel as training sessions for their future races), I took it as an opportunity to whine every time I walked to work at the beach.

My brother Chris began pinning articles about Mike Pigg, a famous triathlete, all over our shared bedroom bulletin board. I retaliated by creating Mike’s fictional younger brother, Tim, and tacking up my own “articles” and “inspirational” quotes. Where Chris posted Mike’s quotes such as, “Whether you’re first or second, you have your pride,” I posted Tim’s: “Running hurts my toes and takes away from Twinkie time.”

I cultivated my snarky attitude toward fitness even as I desperately tried to “catch the fever.” Figuring prominently on the family bookshelf was a copy of Jim Fixx’s “The Complete Book of Running,” the seminal text of the running craze of the early 1980s. I leafed through it many times hoping to discover the zeal of the recently converted, only to put it down and grab another cookie. Not even his death of a heart attack (at the end of his daily jog, no less) could free me from the nagging notion that I should be out there running if I was serious about staying in shape.

What followed was about 20 years of sporadic “training,” three or four-week bursts in which I’d attempt to convince myself that running could chase away those unwanted pounds. Many of these bursts ended right after a series of kind souls pulled their cars over to the side of the road as I was running — to ask if I needed help, or maybe an oxygen mask.

It’s not as if recent news is helping my self-esteem as I try my hand at running again. Last week, even as I pounded away on my treadmill in a desperate attempt to complete a 2-mile jog, Amber Miller finished the 26.2-mile Chicago Marathon while 39 weeks pregnant. She gave birth a few hours later to a healthy baby girl, saying, “For me, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”

On Saturday, Mark Ott finished the Hartford Marathon and did a handstand: He’d just finished his 51st race, one in every state and Washington, D.C.

As if this weren’t obnoxious enough, on Sunday 100-year-old runner Fauja Singh earned a spot in the Guinness World Records as the oldest person to complete a full-distance marathon when he finished the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. In my early 40s, I lose my breath when looking for the TV remote.

One thing keeps me from giving up, though, and that’s my brother Chris. He went from reading Mike Pigg’s inspirational quotes to becoming an inspiration himself as he fought off the ravages of colorectal cancer. Rather than rail at the injustice of getting this disease despite a lifetime of clean living and elite athletic training, he responded by preparing for his next marathon even as the radiation and chemotherapy robbed him of energy. Even when surgery threatened to permanently end his pursuit of Iron Man triathlete status, he found himself running in a series of events to support other cancer survivors. Today, he is not only a cancer survivor himself, but also one of the world’s foremost cancer care consultants (cancertreatmentsurvival.org) and, yes, an avid triathlete. Let’s see Mike Pigg top that one!

So I keep buying blister pads and trotting onto the treadmill in the hope I might someday be able to run four miles without stopping. While I’ll have to trade my Thanksgiving Day goal from the Pequot Runners 5-mile Road Race (pequotrunners.org) for the more attainable Stratford 5K Turkey Day Trot (hitekracing.com/turkeytrot), I keep training in the hope that someday running will grow on me. At one point I hoped to be able to match my brothers and finish one full marathon. At this point, I’ll be happy if I make it to the Thanksgiving table without a side trip to the emergency room.

I’ll keep training, though. Fauja Singh ran his first marathon at age 89, so I figure I have a few years to get this whole running thing down. Even Tim Pigg would have to admit that’s within reach.

Parenting (is) A Bitch

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on October 6, 2011, and in the Fairfield Sun on October 13, 2011, both in my  “Walsh’s Wonderings” column.)

I’m a sexist, no doubt about it. At least, I’m a sexist when it comes to my dogs: the Walsh clan has a strict “no Y chromosome” policy. Like a holiday sale at Anthropologie, we’re girls only. It’s not that male dogs are bad; in fact, two of my favorite dogs growing up were dudes. It’s just that getting older has caused me to get picky, and one of the gifts of old age is the propensity to perpetuate unsubstantiated stereotypes without apology. You know, like Glenn Beck.

For instance, when it comes to doing “number one,” I prefer the dainty female squat over the lifted leg of the male. Our girls empty their bladders all at once, an important consideration for those freezing January mornings when you’re dressed in nothing but your faded flannels and moth-eaten Led Zeppelin sweatshirt. The male dogs I’ve had in the past tended to dole it out a little at a time, making sporadic deposits as if handing out tips at the country club. Females are said to be able to “hold on” longer than males, which was a nice surprise for me: car trips with my wife turns into an impromptu tours of the local rest stops if we’re on the road longer than 20 minutes.

Female dogs are also supposed to be easier to train, and frankly, I need all the help I can get. Long ago, I accepted that the women in my life are all smarter than I; we’re not recruiting any more players from the losing team. Females are less distractible, a truly male trait if ever there was one. Speaking of distraction, it’s cheaper to spay a female than neuter a male. They also seem less angry afterward. This is important because the males have a stronger instinctual urge to roam, a la Tiger Woods, and I don’t need any teen moms in this house.

Like any protective father, I’m not a fan of potential suitors for my girls; no dog will ever be good enough for my pups. No matter how great he might be, nature has endowed him with an extraneous appendage that clouds the thinking of all of us so afflicted. The unexpected visit of the “red rocket” can turn a merry family gathering into an awkward lesson on anatomy (I guess that’s true for humans, too). I prefer to saddle the poor middle school health teachers with the birds and the bees, thank you.

Still, dogs crave the company of others, and I can’t protect them forever. We continue to seek out doggie playtime even though every trip to the dog park at Lake Mohegan finds me politely asking someone, “Could you please get your dog to stop humping my spaniel?” After all, my girls can’t help it if they’re hot. We seek out the company of responsible dog owners at places like the 6th Annual Fall Festival to Benefit Animals at Paradise Green in Stratford. Held this year on Saturday, October 8th, from 10am-5pm, it’s an amazing combination of dog walk, craft fair, and puppy playdate (additional information available on starsfest.com). After that, we’ll continue to hope for a permanent dog park in Stratford (check out “Residents for a Stratford CT dog park” on Facebook for information and petition).

In the meantime, I’ll smile at the males—I’ll pet them, praise them, throw the odd tennis ball or two—but I’ll keep a wary eye on them. After all, it’s a bitch to have female dogs.