Codger column: Walking the walk

JULIE LANE PHOTO Codger triumphant!
JULIE LANE PHOTO Codger triumphant!

Codger woke early on Saturday, hoping for a bomb cyclone. He’d settle for a small snowstorm.

But it was mid-June and the sky was blue. It was going to be a lovely day.

There was no way out.

He hadn’t run in years, hardly even walked since Cur died in January. Forget about it, he thought.

C’mon, he replied, what better way to pivot into summer?

But the new season is bringing disquieting omens, even here. The mere possibility that Chase might pull up stakes presaged the Island as a financial as well as a health desert, without a national bank or consistent medical coverage.

Recent crimes, as disparate as a home invasion homicide and the decimation of dozens of trees on public property, remained unsolved, raising questions of public safety. We haven’t gotten to the possible local fall-out of immigration policy.

Go back to sleep, Codger, he thought.

Nine hours isn’t considered enough anymore.

No, get up and start stretching. And hydrating. Old men need to be watered frequently.

If you make a gesture of affirmation, everything is going to work out. At the least, you’ll hurt in new places, proof you’re still alive.

What would Crone, the well of all advice and permission, say? Thirty-eight years ago, she came here to run the second annual 10K and was enchanted by Shelter Island. But Crone was out of town, visiting a sick friend.

He decided to let the day reveal itself. Early returns were negative. The roads bustled with tailgaters, two abreast bicycle loiterers, stout beardos on motorcycles, texting joggers, stop sign deniers.

At the crowded IGA, he stood in a long line reading a newspaper that depressed him while a couple in front of him took turns guarding a cart and darting out for more hot dogs and chips.

Driving past the growing tent city on Crescent Beach, he wondered who really owned the sand now that Sunset Beach was colonizing it. He considered a new plan: Instead of running or walking, how about organizing a sit-in?

That lifted Codger’s mood enough to get him down to the school gym. Rebecca Mundy and Jackie Smith were welcoming without seeming surprised. Maybe he was supposed to be here.

He registered. Non-elite. 5K Run/Walk. He got a shirt, a backpack and a number — 5611. He’d play it at the pharmacy if he came back on his feet.

Survival was the prize, finishing a lagniappe. He wasn’t going to be competitive. That phase had ended 20 years ago on the tennis court.

On the school lawn, he was buoyed to see his Pilates teacher, Suzette Smith, leading pre-race stretching for hundreds of thin people he had never seen before. He couldn’t match their pretzel positions.

On the fringe of the crowd, he spotted a substantial couple with race bibs scarfing pizza. He would let them be his pace-setters. But once the race began, he never found them again.

Codger stayed near the back of the pack, to give the running kids and skinnies their room, but somewhere between the Fearing-less Presbyterian Church and the bells of St. Mary’s, he realized this was not a good idea. He was already hurting in new places.

He decided to do a mile or so, then tear off his bib and cut across to his car, cleverly parked near the Reporter office. Who would know?

Somewhere near the Whale’s Tale the one-mile sign blinked 18:21. It wasn’t exactly the 12-minute Boy Scout mile to save a snake-bite victim that he could do in the middle of the last century, yet … maybe another mile.

He spotted an ambulance and felt tightness in his chest. Probably just muscles. Heart’s a muscle. He laughed and felt better.

He didn’t know anybody around him, couldn’t have talked anyway, passed some limpers and baby carriages and dogs, was pleased to see there were no political caps or T-shirts. At 2 miles his time was 36:24. Getting faster.

He concentrated on his stride. Suzette said the legs begin at the core, not the hips, so he tried to let his belly do the walking. Figuring that out took Codger a half-mile of not thinking about hurting.

Then, turning onto West Neck, Bob DeStefano, doing play by play, spotted Codger and made him seem like Justify on the rail. What a boost!

The finish was perfect; someone called his name, a girl gave him a medal, a Porta Potty was free. He had survived. He had finished. What more could there be?

There could be stats. They were waiting on his computer.

Codger thought about ignoring them. Who cares? This wasn’t a competition. Codger had finished 227th of 252 men in the 5K. There were two guys older than Codger and they both finished ahead of him.

This year.