Classic Chronicle Archives
Originally published in Runner’s World Magazine February 2000
The Popeye Syndrome
People are always calling me names! I've been labeled a Baby Boomer, a Hippie, a Yuppie, Cool, Uncool, With it, and Clueless. I'm also, it turns out, a part of the Television Generation.
It's true. I spent time every week with Roy and Dale, The Lone Ranger, Pancho and Cisco, and Sky King. I learned about truth, justice, and the American Way from Superman. A guy, who, by the way, ran around in a red and blue leotard wearing a cape. I thought families looked like Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleavers. Well, I thought other families did, because mine reminded me of the Munsters. Loving, but a little strange.
I watched the cartoons too. I watched the ones for kids, like Huckleberry Hound, Deputy Dog, and Mighty Mouse and the ones that were WAY too sophisticated for children, like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Beanie and Cecil. If you know who was "smarter than the average bear", you are a part of the television generation too.
One of my favorites was Popeye. Of all the heroes on TV, he seemed to have the best system. Any time he was in trouble, [which nearly always centered and Bluto's overattention to Olive Oil] all he had to do was reach into his shirt, pull out a can of spinach, squeeze it into the air, and catch it in his mouth. PRESTO. Instant muscles, instant strength, instant solution.
That was the part I liked the best. Instant solution. No matter what he had done, no matter how huge a mistake he had made, the help was only a squeeze away. Get to the spinach, Popeye, and you'll be fine. And so, I began to look for my spinach.
I wasn't as bright as Popeye. I figured that caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine would work just as well. So, when I got in trouble, I would just reach for one of those. It kinda worked. Caffeine would wire me up so I felt stronger, alcohol made me think I was stronger, and nicotine, well, that made me worry less about how strong I was. Sometimes, if I was in REAL trouble, I'd reach for ALL of them.
Then I would play the mix and match game to try to stay in between level and the edge.
I was a Popeye runner at first too. There wasn't a spinach substitute that I wasn't willing to try. I looked for vitamin spinach, supplement spinach, shoe spinach; you name it. I was the guy at the expos looking for the latest, the newest, the most sure fire way to become leaner, fitter, and, of course, faster. I have a closet filled with instant solutions.
When I ran a mile in less than 10 minutes for the first time, I went out THAT DAY and bought racing flats. Shoe spinach. I wouldn't have to train better, or smarter, or harder. I could just put on the shoes and viola; I could beat all the Bluto runners.
When I read that a certain chemical would reduce fat on my body, I bought it by the case. Popeye pills. It seemed a lot better to just be able to take a pill rather than actually monitor my food intake. It worked for Popeye. Why not me?
Why didn't it work? Because I'm not a cartoon character. My progress as a runner was a frustratingly slow process of small gains. It was a matter of inching my mileage up and my pace down. The only magic in my life as a runner was the magic of consistency. If I was willing to do the work, even when I couldn't see the results immediately, I was ultimately rewarded.
I understand myself well enough to know that I'm still looking for that can of spinach. I scoured the articles and books for some previously unknown potion that will speed up my transition. My adult self knows it's not out there. But, the child in me remembers Popeye.
While I'm waiting, though, I'm going to train. I'm going to pay my dues on the road and at the track. I'm going to search for the limits of my body and demand that my spirit not give up on me. I'm going to take what I've got and make the most out of it. I'm going to make myself an athlete one workout at a time.
At least then, if Bluto does show up, I'll be able to out run him!
Waddle on, friends.
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