To Run or Not to Run
WSIU Radio commentator Pete Peterson hasn’t participated in the Pittsburgh Marathon for three years, but that hasn’t stopped organizers from reaching out to him seeking his return to the event held each May.
In this commentary, Pete tells us how the persistent reminders tug at the heart strings for a Pittsburgh native who loves to run.
Before we hear this piece, Pete wants listeners to know a recent health episode has affected his speech, but he’s in good spirits and appreciates your patience as he continues his recovery.
Here is the written copy of Pete's commentary.
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, there were four movie houses on my working-class South Side, so I saw plenty of movies. I loved then all -- the war movies, the romantic adventures, the musical comedies, the biblical epics, the baseball biographies, the hour-long oaters starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, but my favorites, by far, were the science-fiction thrillers, with those invading aliens from outer space and those giant insects and sea monsters spawned by the radiation from atomic bomb tests.
There were so many “creature features” to choose from, but my favorite, and by far the scariest, was called The Thing From Another World. Released in the early 1950s, at the height of the Red Scare, The Thing takes place at the North Pole, where members of a military outpost discover a saucer-shaped aircraft and a nearby body buried in the ice.
They accidentally destroy the aircraft while trying to melt the ice, but they managed to cut the body out of the ice and take it back to their base.
The Thing takes an ominous turn when the guard assigned to protect the block of ice containing the body, covers the block with a blanket, so he won’t have to look at whatever is inside it. Unfortunately, the blanket is electric and when the guard wakes up, he discovers that the ice has melted and the body is gone.
For a good part of the movie, we know something is out there, something that’s killing dogs and humans and draining their blood -- but, in scene after scene, it’s gone before we have a chance to see it -- until finally, when we least expect it, someone casually opens a door and the Thing jumps out.
Those in the audience, including this working-class teenager, reacted in horror, while some got up and ran out of the theater. Looking back at the movie, however, the Thing really wasn’t all that scary. Imagine the Jolly Green Giant reduced in size to a blood-sucking vegetable vampire in human form, played by James Arness, later of Gun Smoke fame, and you’ll see what was waiting behind that door.
It wasn’t so much the creature that terrified us as it was the anticipation, the sense of dread, use to great effect by Steven Spielberg in Jaws, that made the moment when we finally see the Thing so horrifying. In Jaws, we were warned to stay out of the water;
in The Thing, we were warned to look to the sky.
I’ve been living with my own sense of dread lately, but it has nothing to do with vampires from outer space or great white sharks. In 2019, when I turned 80, I ran in my tenth and what I decided was my last Pittsburgh Marathon. That hasn’t stopped organizers, over the past three years, from sending me weekly and sometimes daily notices of the next marathon. Every time I log onto my computer, I hear John Williams’ pulsating music from Jaws as I stare at another email from the Pittsburgh Marathon organizers.
During the pandemic, the organizers had to resort to a virtual marathon, but this past May the marathon returned to the streets of Pittsburgh. While it was easy, for two years, to resist running a virtual marathon or half marathon in my living room, the Pittsburgh Marathon was out there again, waiting for me.
I have to admit that, last fall, with the 2022 Pittsburgh Marathon lurking just a car ride away on the interstate, I did increase my jogging and even ran in a local 5K, but I performed so poorly that a Carbondale policeman stopped in his patrol car and asked if I
needed a lift to the finish line. Though the patrol car actually stopped twice, I did make it to the finish line, but the lesson I learned was to keep my distance from the looming Pittsburgh Marathon.
While the next Pittsburgh Marathon isn’t until May, 2023 I’m already receiving emails
from its organizers and I know that they will increase and intensify over the next several months. I also know that as the marathon draws closer and closer, I’ll be tempted to run again, though, when I told my wife Anita, she just shrugged and said to let her know if I decide to run, so she can notify the Pittsburgh police.