My wife had been wanting to run this race for quite some time. It was only a mile race at the local community festival so I thought, “What the hell. Why not” Never mind that we are both in arguably the worst shape of our lives. But, we’re both former track athletes who enjoyed a lot of success in our heyday. So, when our minds decided to run, our bodies were forced to go along.
We got to the race about thirty minutes prior to the race. We found the registration table and paid our entrance fees. We were handed our numbers. In our pre-race mindset, we were too distracted to notice Andrea’s bib number for the omen that it was. Instead, she pinned 911 on her chest and we warmed up together.
Up until then, my biggest comfort was that there is safety in numbers. I knew that no matter how bad of shape I was in, there would be plenty more who were in worse shape. I knew I could blend in and finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. As we warmed up along the race course – the same stretch of road that would later host the parade – we began to realize that there weren’t that many runners around. Andrea commented on this, and while I realized she was right, I struggled to admit this out loud. Instead, I commented while looking down at my own bib number, “There’s got to be at least 910, right”
We then started to jog back toward the finish line. As we got closer, with about 5 minutes before race time, it was clear that there were not a lot of runners. As we mingled at the starting line, I started to size up the competition. I was glad to see some guys with baby joggers. Perhaps they were someone I could beat. I glanced behind me. There was an old lady who looked like she was in pretty good shape. There was another couple who were also commenting on the small group. I gave them the once over and liked my chances of beating someone.
As the starter called us to the starting line, he began speaking to us through a bull horn but quickly abandoned that as he realized how ridiculous it was when clearly the 25 of us could hear him just fine without it. He explained the course was a half mile down the road, where we would turn around and finish right back where we were standing. He also told us that the men’s winner and women’s winner would win $100. He also mentioned that if a man beat the course record of 4:16 or a woman broke the course record of 4:50, then they would win $500. I smiled to myself at the impossibility of that statement but quickly focused as the starter called us to the line.
“GO!” He shouted. We quickly started running and I tried to get into a rhythm. Andrea quickly joined me and together we watched the majority of the group begin to pull away. I fought to control my pace as I knew going out too fast would be a problem. It didn’t matter. About 1/4 mile into the race I started to realize that there may be a chance I could not finish. My legs were beginning to tighten up and my chest started to burn. I could feel Andrea to my left and I saw a young teenage boy running awkwardly to me on my right. I decided to try to keep up with the boy as Andrea began to fall off the pace. We neared the 1/2 mile turnaround and for the first time, I noticed that there were people watching. Parade watchers were beginning to line the parade route. As I began the return to the finish line, I fought to block the pain out of my mind. And as the teenage boy pulled away, I made a mental note to kick Andrea in the rear after the race for making me do this. Of course, it would have to a long time after the race because clearly I was going to pass out when I finished.
The burning sensation in my legs and chest got stronger but I concentrated on pumping my arms and relaxing. I figured if I looked good running, people wouldn’t focus on how slow I was running. It was then I heard a sound that I had heard often at the many races I have attended in my life. I had never heard it while I was running – but it was unmistakable. I was getting my first pity clap. For those of you not familiar with running, the pity clap is the clap people give to those who bring up the rear in races. So, instead of wallowing in their pity, I turned, smiled and waved. “Look how much fun I’m having!” was the message I was trying to convey. I don’t think I pulled it off.
As I neared the finish I could see the majority of the group already finished. The four men with the baby joggers were already changing diapers and possibly planning to take their babies to college by the time I finshed. I crossed the finish line and looked at the time on the big clock. It read 7:23. Ouch. I ran through the chute, and turned to watch Andrea get passed by the old lady. Poetic justice, I thought as I staggered toward the water jug. Maybe I wouldn’t have to kick her in the rear after all. The old lady had just done that for me.