“How was your break?”
The responses to this question are usually duller than watching paint dry. Asking the bland question itself is a social tick of sorts, however one must accept that its asking is to be expected, usually in abundance. Is it the question that makes this brain numbing salutation so boring? I argue that it is actually the habitual response that incriminates “How was your break?” It is rare that to experience a reply that doesn’t start and end with “Good…”–which devalues the entire conversation to a predictable game of catch– a sequence of syllables that we are so familiar with that it hardly provokes the firing of a single synapse.
The sad truth is that the fleeting days of winter break can pass by in a few bites of Grandma’s cookies and a season and a half of House of Cards. For many, there is hardly more to say than an obligatory one sentence quip about being excited to start classes. The rest of us, however, seized the opportunity winter break gave us to devise the most enticing response to the notoriously unavoidable question as humanly possible.
I, personally, had the honor of competing in the most highly acclaimed holiday-themed event in the country: The USATF Egg Nog Mile National Championships. Just kidding. It was just an eggnog mile put on by a handful of washed-up, ex-track/cross country, shadows-of-their-former-selves, can’t-let-go-of-the-past high school alumni. Nevertheless, it was a race for the ages.
For those of you who do not know, an eggnog mile is the pinnacle of the sport of track and field. The Olympic committee banned it from the games because it was literally too grueling of a race for athletes to compete at the highest level in. Just kidding again. But it is hard, trust me. The race is run around a 400m track and concludes after four laps have been completed by the runners. The rules of the race state that 12 ounces (not 11.999!) of eggnog must be consumed before each subsequent lap is started. So, to put it in simpler terms, drink, run, drink, run, drink, run, drink, run… Vomit.
At this point a lot of you may be wondering, “But Rod, what IS eggnog?” To be honest, I don’t know. So I am going to turn to Wikipedia for a second.
According to the most trustworthy encyclopedia in our advanced day and age, “Traditional eggnog is made of milk or cream, sugar, raw eggs, and spices, often vanilla or nutmeg. Some modern commercial eggnogs add gelatin and other thickeners, with less egg and cream. There are variations in ingredients, and toppings may be added.”
For those of us like myself, who have fallen victim to the unforgiving veracity of natural selection, these ingredients pose a serious threat to our feeble, enzyme-deficient intestinal tracts. One can only imagine what 48 ounces of a lactose-infested beverage could do to our genetically inferior, lactose-intolerant bodies... I’ll just finish that thought there.
Now back to the race. There I was, toeing the line with twenty other fine-tuned, equal quad-to-calf ratio'd, aerobic machines, who have also probably spent the majority of the last few years off the track and on the couch throwing back soda after soda, conditioning their gastric stretch receptors instead. This had them equipped with all the perfect attributes needed to be a true Eggnog Mile Champion. Among them I was just a boy with a weak stomach, and a dream.
I quivered in my track spikes as I peered around observing the size of some of my competitors’ bellies. “There is no way I stand a chance”, I kept muttering to myself. I tried hard to visualize the last time I chugged a glass of milk, but before I could conjure up the memory, the official called us to the “drink zone” that still haunts my dreams at night. Each one of us walked up to a red solo cup filled to the brim with the pungent off-white cow juice. A racer turned to me and longingly whispered in my ear, “Pick your poison”, winked, and gave me a light yet assertive tap on the rear. I cried. Finally, the official raised the gun in the air. I felt the glare of the spectators’ eyes pierce me. For a split-second I felt as if my legs had no strength at all. But then the pistol cracked and my heart nearly exploded as I downed the cup of eggnog in under four seconds without even knowing what had happened.
I bolted out of the drink zone in fourth place belching my insides out. As the turns around the oval passed, I found myself on the heels of third place just as I entered the drink zone for the second time. A volunteer shoved a red cup in my hand and before I could catch my breath, 12 more ounces of nog was traveling down my esophagus. I left the drink zone and started the second lap now in third place and 15 meters behind second. 200 meters in and second place grabbed his side in pain. I saw this as a sign of weakness and made a surge. We entered the drink zone together and he took some time to recompose. I nearly hurled as I tried to chug my third cup. I still, however, managed to leave the zone ahead of him with my eyes set on first place 20 meters up.
As a miler in high school, I was always taught that the third lap was the lap to push. The fatigue really starts to kick in and it is easy to fade if you lose focus. The last lap is all heart: you won’t remember it but you will get through it. On this day I found out that this principle does not apply in the Eggnog Mile.
The instant I left the drink zone on my third lap I made an enormous surge I would soon regret. In thirty seconds I had caught first place and held on for dear life until we entered the drink zone for the final time. “GIVE… HEEEEE… ME… HEEEE… A… HEEEE… CUP… HEEEE” I wheezed. I grabbed for a cup; dropped it. I grabbed for another; dropped it. Another; DRANK (it). I looked up and first place was already out 10 meters in front of me. I took off and the rest was a blur.
All I can remember next was that I crossed the finish line, immediately went to my hands and knees, and regurgitated 48 ounces of eggnog. But I was a champion. I won a Garmin Forerunner 220, which I ended up selling to second place for $100 anyways. But. I. Was. A. Champion.