By Scott Douglas
Scott is a regular columnist for Marathon & Beyond, anchoring the writing duties for our "On the Road" column.
© 2000 42K(+) Press, Inc.
November 27, 999: Ran easy as the sun moved from one thumb above the horizon to about half a hand higher. I think this is about the same amount I ran yesterday, but who can say for sure? Someone needs to invent digital wristwatches so that I can keep more accurate records.
Legs still a little beat up from weekend race in Northfarming-hamshire. Road was even muddier than usual after the heavy rains lately. (People are saying the recent torrents portend the apocalypse, but I don't believe that stuff.) Had a good bleeding with the local barber the next day, but a few vile humors must not have escaped, as my legs are still achy today.
Ran through the town square and was joined for a little while by the village idiot. I like the guy—after all, before he showed up, everyone called me the village idiot because I run everywhere—but I found his Y1K doomsday scenarios as predictable and tiresome as ever. If he really is the village idiot, then most of the villagers are idiotic, too, because so many believe the world will end at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 1000. This is sheer nonsense. For starters, until those digital watches are invented, we can't know when midnight is. Even allowing for a few minutes this or that side of the millennium, they couldn't be more wrong. At the worst, some of the older abaci might not be able to account for a four-digit year.
Everyone in his right mind knows that the world will end not 1,000 years after the birth of Jesus, but 1,000 years after his death. This gives us another 33 or so years—at which point, what do I care? The average age at death here in Westdorchesterhamandeggs is 42, so I'll have met my maker long before then. (By the way, it sure was a lot more fun to think about the afterlife when we were pagans, what with the drinking and singing in Valhalla, compared to a potential eternity of fire and brimstone).
As it is, I often feel like death these days. Have been gearing up for my entry into the masters ranks next year, but the body just doesn't recover at age 24 like it used to. At 19, I could work hard in the fields all day, then head over to the castle for some hard repeats around the moat. Now I'm so tired all the time, even with the more frequent bleedings and some good sessions on the catherine wheel. Ethelred the Energized is simply amazing—still going at it hard, and he just turned 32! It will be interesting to see what happens to his motivation next year, though, because he believes the world will end this year, so keeps thinking, "Gotta train like there's no tomorrow—because soon there won't be!"
December 2, 999: Hard session at my weekly club workout with Ethelred, John the Jaunty, Melvin the Overpron-ator, and Bob the Guy Who Always Runs Six Inches in Front of You on Easy Runs. During his military service, John had come into contact with Swedish soldiers and learned from them a training method called "fartlek," which we tried tonight. It was a good workout, for sure—we alternated hard and easy runs around the fallow field, waiting for coach Jack Mead to blow the ram's horn to signal the next repeat. But I predict this "fartlek" will mostly be the source of endless bad puns.
Melvin was impressive. He had strained a hamstring earlier in the fall while lunging after an infidel in the Battle of Southcornwallclarkkent, and he couldn't run for a few weeks. To fill the time, he volunteered a lot at the church, hauling many crosses into the Graveyard. He says this cross-training kept him fit.
December 3, 999: Very cold today. Should have run in the wool hairshirt.
December 7, 999: Race in East-gloucestertorringtontaliashire. I hate getting up before the rooster on the Sabbath, but because this was a long race, they had to start it early to have the road clear before the church traffic starts. Ethelred says these early starts are all the fault of the followers of Geoffrey by Way of the Gallows—they're often quite slow, because for every five minutes that they run, they stop and pray for one minute. Ethelred says that anyone who takes six or more segments of the sundial to complete a race isn't really a runner. At his advanced age, of course, he's to be allowed a certain nostalgia for the hardcore days of the '80s. Me, I think it's great that, with the influx of these faith, hope, and charity runners, many races now have 20, 25, sometimes even 30 participants. Tried the new wheat-flavored PowerGruel. What did we do before this stuff was invented? I never took well to prerace corn, especially after I lost my last tooth last year.
Got the usual junk in the race's "goody" sackcloth. I immediately threw away those Breathe Big hooks, the ones that you attach to the sides of your mouth from your ears on the theory that this will help you take in more helpful humors. Everyone is always looking for an easy way out. John has said how some of the Roman soldiers he's met think they can run better by going for a good bleeding, then, on the next full moon, putting that blood back in their bodies! As if all the vile humors that the bleeding unleashes somehow leave the blood before you drink it.
Race was hard. Ethelred, Marcus the Moor, Frank the Short, and Steve the Scurvied let me set the pace through the first two towns. Then Marcus ran up a hill as if he had been shot from a crossbow. These Moors are winning pretty much everything these days. John has said that they run every single day; contrast that with what the devotees of the Geoffrey do, hoping to get by mainly on faith.
Anyway, I couldn't catch Marcus and was none too happy about placing second. Coach Jack Mead tried to make me feel better by telling me that I had run the course six Mississippis faster than last year. But I don't know what a "Mississippi" is, so his encouragement was kind of meaningless.
Behind us, there was a big to-do. A damsel who thinks that maidens should be allowed to race signed up as K. the Spritzer. Not until she was in the hills around Eyeofnewton was she discovered. She was dragged off the course and given the witch test in Lake Woebegonegetouttahere. She was dunked in the lake with rocks attached—if she floated, she was guilty of being a witch; if she drowned, she was innocent. As with every time I've seen this test administered, she was found innocent. Her family must be happy that she wasn't a witch.
As usual, the awards took forever. And to think how the proponents of that new scoring system, in which you tie a rock to your foot, said things would be simpler with its introduction. Inevitably, some people's rocks fall off during the race, or their rocks don't get scratched at the checkpoints along the way. And the abacus at the finish always malfunctions, meaning that the sun is several hands higher by the time the results are official. Ethelred says it was a lot simpler in the '80s when you would just scratch your name on the sheepskin when you finished. To make things worse, I joined Marcus the Moor for a short run after the race—he said it would help to speed the release of the humors—and by the time we got back, all of the goat had been eaten.
December 11, 999: First run since race. After being beaten by the Moor, I resolved to start running every day, but that next morning, I slept through the rooster, then my liege made me stay late in the fields. As it is, I haven't felt good all week. None of the barber's ministrations have helped, either. We can put a Viking in the Newfoundland, but we can't cure the common vile humors.
December 19, 999: Still not feeling well. These humors are the vilest ever. Could it be that the end is indeed nigh? Nothing the barber has done has helped, even after I sprang for treatment with leeches. My only hope is tomorrow— Ethelred got me an appointment with a running barber over in Avondale on the Red Bank.
December 20, 999: Saw the running barber, George of HeHand. Strange barber. Kept saying how it's important to figure out how you got the vile humors in the first place, rather than just bleeding them out. Quoted "Beowulf" and St. Augustine a lot. Then went off about how, in running, the first 30 minutes are for the body, the second 30 for the soul. Not sure how we're supposed to keep track of that until someone invents a way to measure minutes. He told me I needed to put the play element back in my running; then he sent me on my way. For that he charges two chickens? When I got home, I had to have wife Sigrid the Haughty give me a good bleeding.
December 21, 999: Not sure if it was the bleeding, George of HeHand's incantations, or what, but I felt great when I got up! Blew off church for a long run with Ethelred, who said I had the stride and vivacity of a 22-year-old. Don't I wish!
Bit of a row with Sigrid when she got home from church; she's worried the running is making me ungodly. The priest there is taking this Y1K thing way too far—he read the tenth Blickling homily yet again today, the one titled, "The End of the World is Near." So Sigrid came home spouting lines like, "No man need think that his body may change the sin-burden in the grave. He shall rot to dust and there await the great event, the Doom, when the Almighty will bring this world to an end, when He will draw out his fiery sword and smite all this world through and pierce the bodies, and cleave asunder the earth. The dead shall stand up, then shall the flesh garb be as transparent as glass. Nothing of its nakedness will be concealed."
I told Sigrid to have some Christmas meadnog and lighten up. Plus, like George of HeHand said, "I used to be a Christian; now I'm a runner." Sigrid didn't like it too much when I said I was just following the good barber's orders.
December 22, 999: Joined again during my run by the village idiot. Found out why he's been running so much. Toward the beginning of the year, he received an ancient formula from one Hal of Higdonnybrook: "Thou shalt increase thy running gradually, and the amount of thine increase shall not exceed 10% per week, lest ye fall prey to madness and a poorly dispensation."
Following this formula worked well for the idiot at first. He progressed from five trips around the town square each week to 5.5 trips, to 6.05 trips, to 6.65 trips and so on. But by the time of the corn harvest, the ancient formula dictated that he complete 453.2 circuits of the town square each week, and these days, he pretty much has to run all day every day to keep from breaking the commandment. I can see why the idiot is eager for the world to end in nine days. Things sure were a lot simpler before we switched to a base-10 number system.
December 25, 999: Had Ethelred over for Christmas dinner. As always, the talk turned to why Denmark doesn't produce more good runners. After all, the kingdom is the richest, most powerful realm in the world. Its population is about one million, twice that of Sweden and ten times that of Norway, even though King Svein Forkbeard's land is one-tenth the size of Sweden and one-seventh that of Norway. Ethelred said the people who put on races there should do more things to attract the big crowds that gather to watch log-tossing contests, and that this will somehow cause more people to want to be fast.
I said it's more of a lifestyle thing—those Danes take horses everywhere! I've heard that some Danes fire up the hearth as soon as the first frost appears, that the children consider 12 hours in the field to be a hard day's work, and that some of the upper classes take a bath every week. Is it any wonder that a country that has gone that soft doesn't produce good runners? You don't see the Moors living like that.
December 31, 999:Tried to make it a normal day, but impossible with all the Y1K hoopla. The town crier has talked about nothing but "the end of the millennium" the last several weeks, and the prince has taken to saying that he's going to party like it's 999, whatever that means.
Had a nice run by myself around dusk. It was supposed to be a full day in the fields, but my liege has sheltered himself in his castle with bushels of dried corn and salted fish, so we cut out of work early. Declined Ethelred's invitation for a run just before midnight. He said that because the world is going to end then, he wants to be running, so that he can die with his sandals on. Instead, I plan to have a quiet evening at home with Sigrid. If we're still up at midnight, maybe we'll go over to the town square and watch them drop the big rock from the steeple.
January 1, 1000:Apocalypse my butt. Even I was a little disappointed that last night was so anticlimactic. Between all the hard running lately and a surfeit of mead, I was asleep soon after dinner. Let's face it—now that I'm 24, I just can't stay up late like I used to.
Of course, being 15, Sigrid can. She says that she tried to rouse me before midnight, but that Succubus's grip on me was too strong, so she went alone to the town square. Says there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but mostly because the village idiot happened to be running by when the rock was dropped from the steeple, and he was crushed. Suppose that solves his problem of how to keep following the ancient Hal's formula.
Quick bleeding when I got up to release the excess mead, then ran over to Ethelred's. To tell the truth, I thought he would be upset that the world hadn't ended, because the supposed impending apocalypse had given such shape to his running. But he was more enthusiastic than ever! Said that now he can focus on getting those age-33 records set long ago by the legendary William Roger the Disheveled. Showed me a new sandal he said would help him run faster—theory is that he gathers helpful humors, then releases them onto the sole of the shoe. Said it's like running on air. Also showed me a small hourglass that he can strap to his wrist to time his repeats around the moat. It's not a digital wristwatch, but it's a start. What an age we live in.
Scott Douglas can be reached at email@example.com.