This Saturday, I earned the distinguished title of second place runner in the women’s 40-50 year old division of the Blue Ridge 5K. I have a certificate to prove it. I hope you are amply impressed, because it won’t last long. Now, I have to tell you that there were only two women in this age category, so I won by default. But as I told Neva, the way I look at it, I actually beat lots and lots of people. I came in before all the hundreds of women age 40-50 who stayed in bed while I was out plugging along my 3-mile plus route. Thus, I’ll take my certificate. I’ll hang in on my wall above the computer in a place of honor, reveling in my accomplishment. Yep. I’m a winner. I showed up.
The night before, it was storming violently. I told Mark I was hoping it would still be raining in the morning so I would have an excuse not to run. I hadn’t told him about the 5K I’d signed up for yet. He sort of lifted his eyebrows and said, “You are going to participate in a race? Good luck with that one.” It wasn’t exactly warm, enthusiastic encouragement, but I understood his surprise. Frankly, he was right to wonder why I’d bother. I’m not, and never will be, a good runner and with all we have on our plate this month, squeezing in a race seems a bit self-defeating.
But I wanted to run, nevertheless, just to remind myself of what I should be doing as someone who professes to be committed to health and wellness and all that rot.
I woke at 6:30, sighed when I saw it was only overcast and a bit of drizzle (actually, I like running in the rain, so this qualified as perfect weather for me) and got ready. Neva stirred and asked where I was going. I told her I was off to a race. As expected, she begged me to let her come. I told her that if she promised to wait while I ran, she could run along the last ½ mile and cheer me on. She dressed in her soccer outfit and put her hair up. It was obvious she was dying to run. The entire drive to the race, she worked on convincing me that she could make it three plus miles. I thought, considering the shape I am in, it isn’t as if she could possibly slow me up, so why not let her try? And when I saw how small the race was, I signed her up. It’s a fundraiser. They could use the extra 20 dollars.
This was the first time this group has sponsored a race in Blue Ridge. There were only 21 people registered. Eleven of these runners were young, fit members of the high school track team determined to outdo each other. Six runners were middle-aged men with long, lean legs who run together everyday at the high school track and do periodic marathons as a team. Professional amateurs, I would call them. There was a couple in their early 40’s, all decked out in spandex and visors, who run every race they come across. (The wife was my division competition – and must I point out that we don’t like this sporty yuppie gal with designer running apparel and scads of experience. Fate sent her just to make me look like a slacker, I think). Then there was Neva and I, and finally, a 65-year-old woman named Phyllis, who likes to run races just to see if she can make it.
I looked around at all these serious runners wondering, “Who will be in the rear with me? There are usually a bunch of second-string runners in a 5 K, new runners and old people and fat people and people with handicaps– something that reveals they are there not to work on speed but just to see if they can finish 3.2 miles. The lack of “back of the packers” did not bode well for out of shape Ginny and the 9-year-old new runner Neva. Yikes.
We saw another nine-year-old girl there with her father. She was wearing a number. Great! We asked if she was running, but she had signed up for the one-mile fun run. She was the only contestant for the shorter route. I asked Neva if she wanted to run with this girl instead, but she insisted she wanted to run with me. She thought a “real runner” would go the 3.2 miles, and she wanted to be a real runner. OK. Can’t hurt to try.
The race began– in two minutes everyone had shot on ahead (all those 6 minute milers) leaving me, Neva and Phyllis to plod along at a normal, human 12 minute pace. They told everyone to follow the orange cones, but at about the ½-mile mark, we came upon construction and there were orange cones everywhere. The three of us stopped. I saw an old man sitting on a porch with a cup of coffee and I asked him if runners had passed this way. He said, “Half went strait, half went up the hill.” The hill seemed shorter, but steeper. I had somehow been appointed leader of our small group, so I chose shorter. So, up we went on this huge incline (and do I need to remind you that the hills kill me?)
As it turns out, all 21 of us were wrong. We were supposed to turn a few streets earlier, but those in charge didn’t mark the course correctly. So everyone in the race ran an extra ½-mile or more. This explains my embarrassing time of 43.10. (Neva ran 43.01 and Phyllis at 43.18)Take off 5 or 6 minutes for the extra distance and I ran my normal 38, which transfers to 11 to12-minute mile. As I’ve told you, I’m a lousy runner. Actually, I think I did well considering the entire course was hills. I complained to one fellow about all this running uphill, and he grinned and said, “No matter how you look at it, half the course is downhill too,” Well, obviously he has a better attitude than I.
This tiny race wasn’t organized as races in more established areas are. They didn’t have water along the route, and no one was placed at mile markers to give encouragement. I passed one guy at an orange cone at a corner, whose job it was to make sure we knew where to go, and asked how far we had come. He shrugged and said, “Beats me, maybe a mile.” We were at 22 minutes so I was certain he was wrong. Phyllis was discouraged, but I assured her we had gone farther. We were just jogging all alone, an occasional orange cone to give us direction with no one around to encourage you or check to make sure you didn’t collapse with a heart attack or anything. It sure didn’t feel like a race, more like an afternoon run on your own. It was comical.
Neva ran the entire way, even though she got a stitch in her side and a blister on one toe. I plodded along, enjoying the blustery wind, the wet drizzle, loving that I could watch my daughter’s ponytail swing back and forth, as she demonstrated her unfailing energy and her desire to try things she never did before. I admire that. I also enjoyed the fact that Phyllis was at my side. Without her, I’m sure Neva would have blamed me for our being last. She has no way of knowing that, at most races, quite a few people run at a leisurely pace, participating just for fun, because it gives them an incentive to meet a personal goal.
At the end, we celebrated with bottled water and a banana and I received my award. They only had awards established for ages 10 and up, which I think was a drag. Neva deserved something for being the youngest person to complete the course, but she was happy enough with her adult large T-shirt. We celebrated in our own way, just the two of us, with a nice breakfast out.
Sunday, I was so sore I couldn’t walk. I was shocked. It’s not as if I don’t still run occasionally, though I’ve been doing two miles instead of three and walking the mountain. Why did I hurt so much? I figure it was the added distance and the hills, which I pushed to keep running. At home, I just walk them. Neva, of course, didn’t feel anything. Man, I hate getting old.
Perhaps my running days are coming to a close. Perhaps it is time I become a walker – or I resign myself to the treadmill or something. But honestly, without the fresh air and the birds to lure me along the trail, I can’t see myself enjoying running much. Then again, perhaps the problem is just that I attended a race. Not everything in life has to be a race. Sometimes, the leisurely, easy pace we set is what is right and true for us, the path that allows us to enjoy the benefits without forcing comparison with others, an unnecessary pressure that may end up discouraging us. Yes, maybe it is time I return to being a closet runner (only outside in the sun, not inside, on a treadmill in a closet) where I run for the joy of feeling the sweat against my skin.
The point is, I ran a race this weekend. It gave me a fond memory to share with my daughter and it was a reminder that I better crank up the workout element if I want to stay in shape. It gave me further evidence that I live in a small, quiet place where all the trappings of suburban life don’t spill over to complicate what is actually simple – living well. This was a better race (maybe “better” is an unfair word – maybe it is more accurate to say it was “different in a good way”) for me than those I attended in Sarasota with all those bodies participating and the packet stuffed with promotional material and the excitement that comes with all the hoopla. I ran quietly, sharing an adventure with my child. I met a friend. I ran further than I planned – even uphill. These are things that make a Saturday special.
We should all race for things like that. But the certificate is nice to have too. If I ever feel inclined to tell a “big fish” story about my running expertise, this will serves as a supporting document. . . Ah, who am I kidding. Neva will let me get away with that.