Monday, July 22, 2013

Rumble in the Jungle: Regaining the Heavyweight Title (7/18/13)

Heavyweight crown!
photo by Urvi Mujumdar

Race: Jim Kane Sugarbowl 5k
Place: South Boston, MA
Goal Time: 19:30
Actual Time: 19:20

This week was hot: jungle hot someone told me.  The average high for the week was 92F and full on Houston level of humidity.  Regardless, the show must go on and I had one of the traditional summer races – Jim Kane Sugarbowl, put on by L-Street Runners in Southie.

4 days after my first birthday, in a little known country in equatorial Africa, Muhammad Ali attempted to regain the heavyweight title against the baddest man on the planet – George Foreman.  (Foreman, my cousin Jason reminds us, was not only an inventor of small kitchen appliances but also a boxer.)

“I done wrassled with an alligator
tusselled with a whale
I done handcuffed lightnin’
Thrown thunder in jail”

Ali, stripped of his title outside of the ring for refusing induction into the military, had been working his way back through the ranks to win back his title he originally won by knocking out Sonny Liston in 1964.   After many wins – and notable losses to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, Sr. – Don King got Ali and Foreman to fly to Kinshasa, Zaire for the now famous October 30, 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle.”

I lost my heavyweight title when L Street changed the distance of the Jim Kane Sugarbowl race.  In 2011 (and for the 23 years prior), the race was a five-mile race.  With what was then a personal record, I came in 74th overall and won the heavyweight title (200-224lbs) with a 37:25.  In 2012, as I lamented last year, they changed the course to a 5k.  I’m definitely better against in the Clydesdale (or Heavyweight, or Linebacker) division in the 5 to 13 mile ranges.  So, with a decent but not great 19:40, I finished in 58th overall and 3rd in the Heavyweight division.

The average high in October in Kinshasa is 88F with 80% humidity – relative temperature, 106F; Thursday, the high in Boston was 92 with 70% humidity – relative temperature – 112!

Fortunately for Ali and Foreman the Rumble in the Jungle was fought at 4 am; fortunately for me the Jim Kane Sugarbowl 5 miler kilometer was raced at 7 pm. When I stepped out of my office at 4:30 it felt like Kinshasa, Zaire Democratic Republic of the Congo.  But, by 5:15 when I left to meet Marc it must have been 5 degrees cooler and an ocean breeze had picked up off the Harbor.

“Just last week, I murdered a rock
injured a stone, hospitalized a brick.
I’m so mean, I make medicine sick.”

Ali decided to beat Foreman by letting the inventor-cum-boxer “punch himself out.”  This strategy – later named “rope-a-dope” – was to let Foreman tire himself by blocking and dodging his punches.  And then, when Foreman was exhausted, Ali would pounce.

While you need a strategy going into a heavyweight title fight, Sara Saba has argued (maybe incorrectly) that there is no strategy for a 5k.  You just go run hard and hope you can keep doing that for 19 to 20 minutes.  While that is not TOTALLY a crazy idea, I find that I have a problem meshing an equilibrium between that hard first mile and the two to come.  So, with the Kinshasan level of heat/humidity and my general fear of Amped-up Jesse screwing everything up, I decided to consciously take the first half mile on the easy side and play a little rope-a-dope with him.

With a cool breeze in my face, I went out and ran the first half mile at 6:30 pace and then finished the mile at 6:20.   I was amazed at how much easier (and better) the second mile was.  Then with one mile left I was ready to pounce!

It was like the 8th round in Kinshasa.  Foreman started to tire and spent the first 2 and a half minutes throwing weak, meaningless punches.  At one point Foreman struck Ali with all his might and Ali said “Is that all you got, George?”  Foreman later said when Ali said that, his internal answer was “Yep…that’s about it.”  In the waning seconds of the round Ali pounced.

As the third mile started on Carson Beach, I started a progression run, increasing speed every quarter mile.  I was at near sprint with 1/10th of a mile left.  I latched onto the back of a group of 4 or 5 and rode their tail in for a 19:20.

“I’m so fast, man,
I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet.
When George Foreman meets me,
He’ll pay his debt.”

Foreman was counted out and Ali “shocked the world” again – regaining the title at 32.  My 19:20 was enough for 42nd overall and a three-minute victory in the heavyweight division to regain my title.

As Don King would say: “Only in America” (Or Zaire Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Jim Pawlicki and Kieran took 2nd and 3rd in the 35-39 age group
Joe Lauer was 3rd in the 25-34 age-group (that seems like the most unfair age group)
Karen took 3rd in hers
Sammy Voolich won the Super Heavyweight crown

SRR teams won second in the women’s (Karen, SoRad and the Goat) and men’s (Kieran, Anthony and I).

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