STILL CATCHING UP WITH RACE REPORTS:
Summer 2014 was a cool one with temps well below average in my little corner of the world. Because I don’t enjoy running in extremes of weather, I do a half marathon or two before July 1 and then pretty much call it quits until fall (except for the occasional evening 5k). This year the weather was nice and, looking for something to do in mid-July, I signed up at the last minute for a small half-marathon in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, a town in the center of the state. When you have problems with impulse control and a belief there is no such condition as “too much of a good thing”, you sometimes do things without really thinking.
So I perused my favorite race website runningintheusa.com, checked the weather forecast, picked an event, signed up, arranged a hotel and only then investigated the race a bit further. Looking over results from previous years I discovered there are usually less than 50 entrants in the half and every single one of them runs a lot faster than me. FACE PALM!
That’s right Captain Picard, I am one dumb bunny.
Noting that, I dashed off an email to the race director saying I would likely be finishing in 3:15 to 3:20 and offering to withdraw if it posed a problem in keeping the course open. She responded that it would not be an issue, and stated I was most welcome to join them. So I stayed in it.
Now as anyone who knows me (or any one of the 10 people who actually read this blog) is aware, finishing dead stinking last in a race is one of my phobias. I have done it before and it was so exquisitely painful that I have gone to great lengths since then to avoid it. But here I was pretty much volunteering to be the last runner. OK, I figured, I’ll make it my job for that day and act like it doesn’t matter.
Race Day arrived, a refreshingly cool and sunny mid July morning, and I lined up with the rest of the runners on east Bridge Street in New Lisbon. While waiting for the gun to sound, I struck up a conversation with another racer and at some point sheepishly mentioned that I’m very slow and would be coming in last. She and I shared a laugh about it, the race started and then we took off — all 45 of us.
As the course wound on through greenery and gently rolling hills, I soon got absorbed in the experience and stopped thinking about time, pace, standing or any of that other competitive stuff. It was just me and the road in harmonious union — the whole zen thing I love about running.
There were not a lot of aid stops but there was a table or two, each with a porta-potty nearby, somewhere along the route. No bands, entertainers or any of the other glitz you pay $85 entrance fees for, but it was a nice race with a very reasonable price. Closing in on the end, there wasn’t even anyone following closely behind me like they usually do when you’re bringing up the rear. A police officer in a car showed up every couple of miles or so but he would always give me a smile and a wave which was quite pleasant. I was really enjoying myself.
Maybe 12 miles along, the route left the countryside and the end approached. Padding down the paved streets of the town, I began to anticipate the usual scene that greets a back-of-the-packer like myself: winners already home bound bearing trophies, volunteers taking down banners, tables being folded, maybe a couple of bananas waiting in a box along with a few water bottles for me and the other slowpokes. Honestly, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me any more. It’s like living in a shabby house. Perhaps others are unimpressed, but we who dwell there call it home.
Instead, as I turn the corner off the bridge and cross the finish line, there are DOZENS OF PEOPLE flanking the sidelines smiling and applauding. I’m like “What? Who? Me?” as they stand there doing the slow clap reserved for The Unlikely Hero Who Manages to Survive Against All Odds. With beaming faces full of respect, admiration and awe they all stare at me as I gaze back with my frozen smile and wonder how I ended up in the Twilight Zone.
Then two people with cameras jump in front of me and take my picture. Now I’m certain I must have dropped dead back there on the road someplace and this is Heaven.
Finally the lady I talked to at the start of the race comes running up saying “YOU DID IT! Even after the accident!” And I start looking around. “What accident?” I say, “I didn’t see an accident.” “No,” she responds, “YOUR accident. They told me everyone was waiting for the last runner because she was in a car accident and never supposed to walk again but ran the race today.” And it hits me like a lightning bolt. Oh no, they think I’m this Miracle Woman! Holy cow, I’d better get the hell out of here before they find out I’m not. So I smile back at her and say “I’m sorry, they were mistaken, that’s not me,” and rush to my car like the devil was chasing me so I can haul ass out of town.
A few days later when I checked online for the results and any information in the local papers about the race I found an article about the real Miracle Woman who must have been somewhere behind me the whole time. God bless her. She did have a terrible accident and, against all odds, had survived to run a half-marathon. Her triumph over adversity and pain was well worth all the glory and my fervent hope both then and now was that every one of those people waited for her after I fled the scene. I wish I’d remained myself just to tell her how awesome she is.
So the race I planned to come in last ended up with me not being last after all. And when the time keepers reported my finish (no timing chips), they somehow duplicated the stats of the previous runner which made me look way faster. It was a day for strange twists of fate. Go figure.
Photo Credits: Art Slater and Brittany Slater
The Achilles tendon rears its ugly head and alters my fall plans.
An old story retold.