Final Frontier? No, just the final runner of the 10K today.

6 09 2009

My “Run Less, Run Faster” training program for the Disney Half officially started today.  Since this week’s agenda called for a 6-mile run and there were a lot of Labor Day races around, I decided to enter the Buffalo Grove Stampede 10K.  The excitement of a race always keeps me moving when I want to slow down, so I happily signed up for this small race in a town about 60 miles from home.

I worked a 10 hour shift yesterday and spent the night in a motel near the course.   As I unpacked I realized I’d forgotten my iPod but I shrugged off the annoyance of it.  This morning I got up early, had my usual pre-run breakfast of coffee, a banana and a protein bar then headed over to the park.  At every race, I look for runners who are older and/or fatter than me because  it gives me a little extra hope to see someone who appears to be more of a longshot than I am.  The crowd today however was virtually scintillating with the young, the fit, the athletic—-you know, the opposite of me.  I did manage to pick out a couple of  fat guys, one  lanky aging-hippie type with long wavy grey locks and a few of what I call  “old runner chicks” (lean, angular AARP-aged females with determined sun-weathered faces framed by pixie haircuts—-there’s at least one at every race).  I was a little intimidated but I thought I’d be okay.  I never expected them all to be faster than me!

I lined up near the back of the pack as always and when the whistle blew, took off with the rest of the runners.  Man, did they haul ass!   For a while, I brought up the rear along with three old Japanese ladies and a white girl with a limp.  I kept thinking somebody would slow down for a little walk-break at some point but nobody did.  Eventually when I thought my lungs were about to burst, I began to intersperse walking and running.

The race wound through a neighborhood, turning corners and crossing streets, so it didn’t take long for me to lose sight of the pack.   I pursued them as best I could but eventually reached a point when I couldn’t see where they had gone.  I turned left and kept running until I saw someone wearing a park district shirt and asked him where the 10K course was.  He pointed about a city block behind me to a streetlight and said “you were supposed to cross that street and go through the nature preserve.”  So back I went to the corner where I had to wait for the light to change before I could cross the street and attempt to rejoin the race.

By now I guess 3-5 minutes had been lost but I forged onward anyway.  I figured I could ruefully chortle “I got lost!” if anyone commented on my miserable position as the last runner.   I found the course and followed it but didn’t see any other runners until I reached a spot where people where coming back toward me from the turnaround at the end of the trail.  A few shouts of “you can do it”, “good job”, and “keep going” made it painfully obvious that everyone knew I was last.

I wanted to cry, I wanted to disappear, I wanted a hat and sunglasses to fall out of the sky and shield my face from public view and I almost wanted to quit—-but I didn’t.  I kept going.   I reached the turnaround point at least 5 minutes after the rest of the runners.  They were starting to take down the water station there but there were 2 cups left, so I drank one.

With a mere 3 miles left to run back to the finish line, I began my return to the park whereupon I noticed I was being tailed by one of the security guys driving a jeep.  I figured it was his job to follow behind the runners, and since I was the last runner he was going to follow me.  As I plodded ahead accompanied by the mechanical purr of his jeep motor instead of my favorite iPod tunes, I kept picturing him staring at my huge rear end rolling in front of him, but I didn’t turn around.  I stopped at various water stations, and smiled at the guys calling out splits:  “49 minutes”, “an hour 10”, “hurry up you lumbering fat-ass”…..well, they didn’t actually say that last bit but I assumed they were thinking it.

It was somewhere around between the 4 and 5 mile marks that I was joined by two First Aid volunteers on bicycles.  “Wow, I’ve never had my own entourage before,” I said, deciding I might as well speak to them so they’d know I wasn’t about to have a heart attack.  They circled me a few times (and yes, the word “vultures” did come to mind) and then kept a respectful distance.  Jeep guy kept putt-putting along, silently urging me forward.

Along the trail, up and down hills, over a bridge, across the street and back to the park I trotted.  Rhonda, the bicycle lady, told me I was making their day because I was such an inspiration.  Hal, her partner, said “you’re going to have a huge cheering section when you cross that finish line and we’re just starting it for you.”  I looked around, hoping I’d see a taxi that could bear me away toward anonymity, and briefly considered peeling the chip-timer tag off my shoe and throwing it in the bushes.  That last thing I wanted was more attention.

But finally there it was:  the finish line.  Almost 1 1/2 hours after starting, I scampered across to be greeted by a smattering of applause and a proffered bottle of water.  I hurried into the crowd and was doing a quad stretch when Hal approached me again.  “I want to take your picture,” he said.  “I’m the official photographer of the event today.”  I smiled lamely and posed, trying not think of a dozen disparaging captions that might accompany a photo of  The Last Runner to Finish the 10-K, then made my escape.

As I drove back to the motel, I thought about John Bingham’s tale in his book “The Courage to Start” about how he once finished last in a race and was followed by an ambulance.  “At least all I had was a jeep and two people on First Aid bikes,” I thought, and then gunned it down the road toward the motel’s  breakfast buffet.

It’s a good thing I don’t discourage easily or I wouldn’t be sitting here already planning my next race.


Catching up on last week’s training:

Saturday was a day off.

Friday I rode my bike about 10 miles.