Escape at Fort Zinderneuf.

I want to run more 5Ks this year than I did last year. (Not necessarily run them better; just run more of them. That’s easier.)

So I dragged myself to Lehigh University’s lovely Goodman Campus this morning for the Centennial School 5K, my second race of the year.

It’s not a very big race, and it’s cross-country — both of which I like, or claim to like. And it was a gorgeous morning for a race, dry and sunny but not humid.

Alas, I did not rise to the occasion.My legs felt weak and heavy for most of the first mile, which I thought I ran OK at best.

Then I died on the second mile, which, mentally and physically, was as weak and craven a mile as any I can remember racing. If this had been the French Foreign Legion, I would have been dragged behind Fort Zinderneuf and dispatched to the merciful angels with a single shot.

At the end of mile two, I even stopped twice for five-second walking breaks, just to catch my breath and try to find a rhythm. I haven’t done that in years.

Then a funny thing happened. I looked behind me after the second walking break, and there still wasn’t anyone within 500 feet of me. (This is a hazard of smaller races: You sometimes end up in a pocket where the person behind you and the person ahead of you are both distant blips, and you have to generate all your motivation yourself instead of having someone else to inspire you forward.)

I thought to myself: If there’s no one you can hand this race to, you might as well claim it for your own.

Surrender not being much of an option, I tried attacking. And I ran one of the better, stronger third miles I’ve ever run, complete with kick at the end.

It felt good. I was, within reason, even proud of it.

In the end, I finished ninth overall and second in my age group, in a time of 24:42. That’s about 30 seconds slower than the road race I ran in March, but considering how lousy I felt, I think I salvaged a decent time by my standards.

I had two epiphanies afterward that left me feeling good as I walked away:

– A couple minutes after the race, I thought randomly to myself, “I’m 40 years old, and I can still break 25 minutes in a 5K.”

For the non-runners in the crowd, that’s really not very impressive. I know any number of 40-year-olds (and older) who could roll out of bed at 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day and break 25 minutes in a 5K.

But, for a guy who was never much more than a middle-of-the-pack runner in high school, I am pleased to still be challenging myself and racing at some modest competitive standard all these years later.

There are a lot of people my age who — thanks to injury, slack or some other reason — can’t run a 25-minute 5K. It pleases me that I can, and I am resolving to keep that up as long as I can.

– The guy who won my age group finished eighth, one place ahead of me.

I was a little frustrated about that for a minute. I think I ran a stronger third mile than he did, but I’d given up so much ground during my lousy second mile that I couldn’t catch him.

I talked with him a little bit after the race — one of those hey-buddy-nice-run kinda chats.

I told him I’d never run this race before. And he said, “I ran districts here when I was in high school.”

I imagined the guy driving home with his first-place certificate, thinking to himself, “I’ve been running this course since I was 17 and I can still kick its ass when I want to. Yeah, I’ve still got it.”

That thought made me feel better; I didn’t mind having lost. If I can contribute to somebody else’s not-old-yet moment, that’s as good as having one of my own.

I’m not signed up for any more 5Ks so far. I’m going to have to find some more, so I can improve on my weak moments — and maybe find some more good ones to quietly celebrate.fat man with certificate

Paper cuts.

One of the big rivalries around here is Lehigh University vs. Lafayette College. It’s more than just an annual football game — Leh-Laf (or Laf-Leh, depending on your loyalties) spills over into other areas of student life.

Both schools have searchable editions of their student papers online — The Brown and White for Lehigh, The Lafayette for Lafayette. Both date back to the 19th century.

College papers, while laughably bad sometimes, are also barometers of American youth culture. You’ll read about issues and cultural events there that you won’t find in professional daily papers.

So here’s a new twist on the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry:

I took 10 terms from the past half-century of American college life and youth culture, and searched the archives for their first mentions in both papers.

I was trying to determine which campus has been hipper over the long term.

As I saw it, if one school’s paper was consistently the first to mention youth culture or alternative topics, its campus was probably in the lead, culturally speaking.

So who’s cooler? The Mountain Hawks or the Leopards? Let’s see what the papers say:

Pizza: The definitive college food was first mentioned in both papers in 1949, thanks to advertisements from local restaurants. Colonial Pizza and Spaghetti House, which advertised in The Lafayette, helpfully subtitled its ad “Pizza (Tomato Pie).”

But which was the first to mention it in staff-written copy? After exhaustive research, I conclude that honor goes to The Lafayette, which mentioned in its Dec. 9, 1955, issue that a student injured in a car accident was “dying for pizza” instead of hospital food.

Marijuana: How do you think college kids get so hungry for pizza? (Well, OK, there are multiple ways; but pot is one.)

Lehigh’s Brown and White was the first of the two papers to refer to marijuana, in its Sept. 26, 1939, issue. An anonymously written opinion-page column opined: “You will have most trouble with sophomores, the faculty and sophomores. Together they will contrive to make your life so inexpressibly happy that you will sooner or later come to know the joy of arsenic, the charm of marijuana.”

The Lafayette didn’t get pot into print until April 16, 1948, again in an opinion page column — this time about the music of jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet.

(It occurs to me now that I might have gotten different results if I’d used the archaic spelling “marihuana.” Not gonna take time to do it again, though.)

Velvet Underground: One of the most influential bands of all time, the Velvets’ sound has echoed in college/underground/alternative rock for decades.

The Lafayette did itself proud, running a staff-written review of The Velvet Underground and Nico in its April 21, 1967, issue. It’s kind of a lousy review — quoting the whip-verse in “Venus in Furs” and calling it “pure poetry” — but it was still far ahead of a lot of other people and publications in noticing the band.

The Brown and White has mentioned the Velvets five times in its history, the first as a passing mention in a Jan. 16, 1973, review of Lou Reed’s Transformer. (“Have a few drinks and enjoy it.”)

Doonesbury: Before Garry Trudeau’s comic strip became as entrenched and familiar as Peanuts, it was the first strip of its generation that commented satirically on current events and sympathetically depicted long-haired young adults.

The strip entered syndication in 1970, but it took eight years to get mentioned in the local college papers. The Brown and White was first, putting a front-page tease into the Sept. 26, 1978, issue to announce it had picked up the strip.

The strip was first mentioned in The Lafayette on Feb. 8, 1980, in an article announcing Trudeau as that spring’s commencement speaker.

Quaalude: A friend of mine who attended the University of Massachusetts in the latter half of the 1970s once nostalgically told me, Those were the days of ludes, ludes, ludes.” So I’ve chosen the depressant to represent all of ’70s and ’80s campus drug culture.

Whaddya know: The first reference to Quaaludes in either paper is, once again, on the front page of the Sept. 26, 1978, Brown and White. A story mentions that former Presidential adviser Peter Bourne, coming to speak on campus, faced charges for writing a false prescription for the drug.

The Lafayette has mentioned Quaaludes three times, all between April and December 1993.

Punk rock: College kids were probably the first group of Americans to warm to punk rock. And they’re still listening to it today, in different guises (pop-punk, anybody?)

The race to get punk rock into print was a close one. It was won by The Brown and White with scarcely three weeks to spare.

Lehigh’s paper ran a review of a local punk concert on Oct. 4, 1977, while The Lafayette mentioned the term in a disparaging review of a Stranglers album on Oct. 21.

Condom: College kids hook up; everyone knows that. Condoms can also be a controversial topic on college campuses, when the student health dispensary either provides or refuses to provide them.

So which was the first paper to call a French letter by its real name in print?

Well, The Brown and White ran an advertisement for mail-order birth control as early as Feb. 5, 1971. Almost exactly two years later, the first reference to a condom in staff-written copy appeared, in a story claiming that “Many Women Remain Ignorant of Information on Birth Control.”

Lafayette women apparently remained ignorant for another 15 years: The first reference to a condom in The Lafayette appeared in the issue of April 17, 1987.

Michael Stipe: Few bands were as synonymous with college radio in the ’80s and early ’90s as R.E.M., and frontman Michael Stipe was the most visible member of the band.

I thought a search for R.E.M. might be difficult and time-consuming — for instance, what if the writer spelled it REM? — so I decided to search for the singer instead. Certainly, any reference to Michael Stipe would have to occur in the context of intelligent staff-written copy.

As with the Velvet Underground, The Lafayette was in the vanguard, mentioning Stipe in an October 1985 review of Fables of the Reconstruction. The Brown and White wouldn’t mention the singer until October 1994, in a review of Monster.

Kurt Cobain: When I was in college in the first half of the ’90s, no band was bigger on the college scene than Nirvana. Everyone knew Nevermind song for song. If you didn’t own it, your roommate did.

I found it rather surprising that neither paper mentioned Cobain until after he killed himself. The Lafayette mentioned him in passing in a nonsensical column in its April 15, 1994, issue, while a letter to the editor in The Brown and White of April 22 included his name.

I’d call that a draw, and not an especially impressive one.

Fuck: No, this isn’t a uniquely youth-oriented term. But college kids tend toward salty informality, especially after a couple beers. And God knows they like to test limits. So I figured I’d search for one of the seven dirty words and see where it showed up first.

(We won’t count a mention of “Fuck ’32” in a track meet summary in The Brown and White from April 1929. Presumably that was actually the guy’s last name, or a misprint of same.)

Once again The Brown and White led the way, running a police blotter item in November 1982 in which a luckless Sig Ep said someone threatened to “fuck up his car.”

Nine years later, The Lafayette dropped its first F-bomb, in a May 3, 1991, column by Frank Puskas.

The final verdict? Over the years, The Brown and White seems a touch more cutting-edge than The Lafayette — though the Easton paper seems to have an advantage where music is concerned.

Quiet period.

Preoccupied with this, that and the other so I haven’t had a lot to say lately. I’ll be back on the horse pretty soon, I imagine.

Went to a college basketball game today. My alma mater came to play Lehigh University for only the second time in history.

BU won the first game, in the 1968-69 season, 81-56.

Today’s game was considerably closer. Lehigh held a 66-65 lead with a few seconds to go. But BU’s D.J. Irving hit a pair of free throws with two seconds left to put the Terriers back on top, and a desperation shot by Lehigh didn’t fall in.

I’m guessing there were maybe 2,000 people, tops, at Stabler Arena. Everyone else in the world missed a good game.

I usually dredge a couple of sociological observations from my trips to sporting events. Not this time. It was just an athletic event. An entertaining and well-played athletic event. No deeper resonances of what it means to be American, or any of my usual shite.

A few happy pictures just to pad this out:

The matchup of the game: Lehigh's Mackey McKnight vs. BU's Mo Watson Jr.
The matchup of the game: Lehigh’s Mackey McKnight vs. BU’s Mo Watson Jr.


BU coach Joe Jones makes a point.
BU coach Joe Jones makes a point.
Final score.
Final score.


On ice.

I went to see some college kids play hockey today.

This could easily be one of those blog posts that rants about how the NHL owners and players are all worthless greedheads, and how they are shooting themselves in the feet (if not the head), and how hockey played by unknowns for a crowd of 20 in a rink that smells like teenage socks is somehow purer and more righteous than that played in the NHL.

That would be bushwah, of course.

Grass-roots hockey is often sloppy and imprecise and frustrating to watch.

One of the players I saw today — I’ll spare him the embarrassment of identification — was so clearly deficient in passing, puck-handling and skating that I winced whenever the puck reached him.

The teams combined for 13 goals, one of them an own goal by a defenseman who chipped a bouncing puck the wrong way in front of his own net. That one made me wince too.

I’ve seen a couple club-level (sub-varsity) college hockey games, and there always seems to be one guy on each team who can outskate everyone else. That’s frustrating, too.

Seeing a big-league athlete take a game in the palm of his hand is magical. Seeing a bush-league athlete dominate just makes you think he should have gone to a school with a better hockey program.

All that being said, I enjoyed this afternoon’s outing. I expect I will go again, numerous times, between now and February or March when the local club squads pack it in for the year.

I would even go so far as to say that college hockey as played by the economics and engineering majors at Lehigh and Lafayette is one of the small undiscovered pleasures of the Lehigh Valley. It is low-key, spirited, and accessible. Free, too.

But, no lectures about how I don’t need the NHL when the humble local kids take the ice.

Amateur pluck has its place. So do the crisp laser-like passes and jaw-dropping finishing moves that only the very best can pull off.

One will hold me. But I still miss the other.