OK, we got motivated. Ryan, Joe and I were humbled in the Fasig-Tipton 5K. Not necessarily by our time, Ryan and I made the first page of results, but by how we felt. I felt like a lead pony by the last race; hot, tired, getting bumped around, spur marks on my side, steel shoes heavier by the step, wishing for the finish.
For the first time in history I couldn’t run down Ryan. He beat me by a couple of seconds, sprinting across the line while I wheezed and huffed. Varmint.
Asked how it went, Ryan answered succinctly, “I beat who I needed to beat,” the 16-year-old varsity cross country runner said.
We’ve run every day (but one) since the race. That’s what happens when you get humbled. Needless to say, this newfound motivation will pass, but for now, we’re runners.
Ryan and I went out at noon Sunday. It might as well have been Baghdad. The air hung like spaghetti sauce and the sun beat down like a light in an interrogation room. My legs felt like they were pumping sand instead of blood. Fasig-Tipton’s Dennis Lynch saw us, while stopping for a sandwich at Pepper’s.
“I didn’t know you were training for that race,” Lynch said.
“We’re a day ahead of schedule for next year,” Ryan said.
Monday wasn’t much better, simply miles logged. We skipped Tuesday. Wednesday we ran at 11 o’clock at night. It was either go for a run or go to The Parting Glass. Joe and I needed to blow off steam from Deadline 19 and Ryan needed to remove himself from AP Chemistry’s summer curriculum (I now understand why I didn’t get straight A’s). We decided to run, air out the deadline blues. One thing about being sober in Saratoga is your desire to walk in the Glass diminishes. We drive past each night when we’re heading home from the office, I see the same old tired faces telling the same old tired stories. So we went for a run.
Running in Saratoga takes on a different light than running at home.
Robert Cutler, assistant for Tom Voss, pedaled his bike down East Avenue, heading back to the Annex. Cutler had listened to Kevin McKrell sing Irish ballads at the new Irish bar, Irish Times. We ventured up East, darker by the block. Three sets of feet slapping off the macadam, one bike chain doing the work for the fourth. Robert pedaled and talked about cashing a ticket in the late double (he had it for $1) and how how much it would mean to win the Mickey Walsh Memorial – Thursday’s jump race named in memory of Robert’s former boss and forever mentor.
Joe, Ryan and I had been running for about a mile and a half, we labored through the conversation. That’s no problem to Robert.
I thought about the time Robert unsnapped the shank from Talkin Butter for the 1991 Sandhills Cup at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase, Walsh’s hunt meet in Southern Pines, N.C.
“In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never won the Sandhills Cup,” Cutler said to a 21-year-old bad-riding kid, as Talkin Butter bolted to the start. He won, Cutler had his Sandhills Cup.
This is what happens when you run, your mind goes adrift, back to 18 years ago riding some forgotten jumper at a defunct meet during a different era – 30 pounds, concussions, careers, deaths and births, stops and starts.
We said goodbye to Robert, who wished us luck on our run. We told him we’d see him in the paddock, as best we could through tired lungs.
About 14 hours later, Left Unsaid rallied to win the M.G. Walsh Memorial and there was Robert, hosing off the promising youngster and then sprinting to get in the trophy presentation. There were coats, ties, dresses, silver and Robert. Nobody belonged there more.
All I could think about was our run.
“I’d sure like to win M.G.’s race tomorrow. It would mean a lot to me,” Cutler said, over and over, like we could do something about it.
Robert is the most at-peace person I’ve ever known. And he doesn’t even run.