(originally written, November, 2008)
My girlfriend, Patti, and I just completed the Long Beach half-marathon – in preparation for a full marathon we will complete in December. This process, the preparation for, and including a full marathon, is to be the Mt. Everest of my adult life. The half-marathon Patti and I completed this weekend went well. We felt strong, and very fit throughout – because we ran our race, and keeping true to one’s own pace for such a distance matters.
Every fitness enthusiast has their own story of non-fitness – whether they admit to it or not. This might be mine:
In my adult life I’ve competed in many athletic endeavors; power lifting, ocean-going paddle board racing, springboard diving, sprinting, bodybuilding, and cycling. I have never been though, a distance runner. This year, I have become a bit of a distance runner because my girlfriend is a bit of a distance runner. That is, if my girlfriend became a cross-dressing, Nazi bowling, pole-vaulter, I believe it’s reasonable to suggest that I too would partake in cross-dressing, Nazi bowling, pole-vaulting events. To be fair, it’s really Patti’s friend Kindra who coaxed us in to this. I hate Kindra.
On arrival at the race, it quickly became clear that this was not a garden variety, nor even a friendly neighborhood 5K as I had assumed. No, this was a race open to a couple of dozen track clubs from the San Diego and Orange County area, as well as some high school cross country teams. I was outclassed and outmatched by simply arriving. Realizing this, I knew immediately I would not pace well or be competitive in this group. In fact, I soon began to visualize myself crossing the finish line last and alone, with only a sea of crushed paper cups in the dirt to cheer me on.
Withthis competitive set in mind, I thought it best to identify someone who appeared to haveless of a chance here than me – someone withless than a runner’s body, and try and pace with him. This way I could assure a modest pace through the race, and hope for a strong kick at the end in order to run a time inside the perimeters of embarrassment. Gazing the crowd of runners’ bodies it was very hard to identify such a soul, but eventually I did; a man I had been introduced to earlier by Kindra, who I hate, perhaps in his mid-30s and looking, if not soft, not too athletic. He possessed no great deal of muscularity to his legs, and looked as though he spent his 40-hour weeks moving papers from pile A to pile B. Clearly this was my guy. I approached him.
He would be confirmed as my guy moments later as I witnessed him reach into a cooler and extract a bottle of Guinness, and slam it – at 6:55 in the morning! This was definitely my guy – for surely I could pace with a soft looking, Guinness slamming, white collar type. I approached him and asked if I could pace along side him. He said, “No problem,” and a partnership was formed. We made a dash of small talk as we headed slowly with the crowd to the starting line, and he finished his beer. My running mate did no warm up whatsoever except to run to the port-a-potty, and immediately after took his place at the very back of the starting pack, further confirming my choice that this was my guy. When the gun sounded, he and I began to jog – for about 30 seconds. And then, depression set in. Lungs-a-fire would soon manifest.
From the very back of the pack we were mid-pack within 2 minutes, and all of a sudden, I knew this was not my guy. Hell, at this point I wasn’t even sure if he was a mortal guy. I hung on. Slight conversation ensued as we strode side by side. More conversation from him than from me, as I felt just this side of the South Col at Mt. Everest – gasping for air. As we ran, I thought to ask hard questions of him which I knew would keep the onus of the conversation on him, and provide me greater opportunities to breath. One and a half miles in he was done answering all the questions I could think of; about his family, job, background, etc. He then asked me about my job…
…how hard is it, do you suppose, to explain to some non-fit looking, beer drinking runner, who is seamlessly gliding across the hilly terrain, expending no breath and seemingly no energy whatsoever, that “I am a fitness trainer, that’s what I do for a living”, as I gasped for each breath, grunted, twitched, and paused between words? Exactly.
Still, I pushed on. I was just about to lay up and allow him to go on when we approached a local high school cross country team running as a pack. We passed them. We freaking passed a high school cross country team!!! Never before had I done that in a race, and the urge to quit disappeared smartly. For a moment, I was now Edmund Hillary on Everest, and I kept on. My running partner and I came across the 2 mile marker. He was talking of work, wife, and BMWs – I was praying for an earthquake. Not a profound nor damaging earthquake, just one strong enough to ensure the race would be called off instantly. No such luck, we continued.
Mile marker 2.5; that was it for me. “Hey, I’m gonna lay up a bit if you don’t mind?” I asked my pace master shamefully. “No problem” he said, and I slowed up as immediately as he began to speak. As I slowed up, it was obvious that his pace increased. In that, I realized that I wasn’t keeping his best pace, and that he had been holding back all along – for me. Wow. I began feeling very guilty that I might have held him back even though he told me earlier he was “not running for time.”
The last ½ mile I was all but alone on the course, it was reflectiverunning at its best. Instinctively, I knew I had been running my fastest pace in a 5K ever. Aesthetically, I knew I had been beaten by an office guy with a soft chin. The fuzzy, warm tingling of mediocrity had woven its way through my veins like a Demerol IV as I spied the finish line. Despite my lack of air, I kicked and kicked hard. I even passed another school team enroute. Then, I saw a gray haired man a couple of hundred yards in front of me, crossing the finish line – he looked to be in his late 60’s. Suddenly, my inner Edmund Hillary morphed into Beck Weathers, and I felt more like a Special Olympian, just off the short bus, in quest of an honorable mention.
Time: 24:55. My best 5k ever, but not even competitive in this group – unless I had been entered in the 65 and over class, and at that I would have only placed 4th. Later, I would learn my running partner was the president of his chapter of the San Diego Track Club. He had previously run a full marathon in less than 3 hours, and was a damn good runner. Never judge a book by the shape of its legs.
I was a Schmuck on this day, and a humbled schmuck at that. On this day, I chose to run someone else’s race and not my own, and in that there is a lesson to be learned. Not just as it applies to running, but a lesson in life. When one learns to run their own race, at their own pace, inner freedom will pace with you, stride for stride. I hate Kindra still, just not as much.
This Saturday past, June 20, 2009, Kindra and her track club invited me to join them in their incarnation of a beer mile. A beer mile is…. well, exactly as it sounds. It’s a race. A beer is chugged, a 1/4 mile is run, another beer is chugged, another quarter mile is run, and so-on. Four beers, four 1/4 mile sprints, and hopefully no vomit. Kindra, who is currently training for the Boston Marathon, is a great runner. I, who am currently training for life with gray hair, am I hack runner at best. I beat her in the beer mile — by over a minute. Read ino this what you will; The beer mile has two components, running and drinking. If I’m not a good runner and still beat an elite runner, I must be good at….. Be well, and enjoy a few beer mile pictures.
- A beer mile is a dressy affair…
- Dressed like Kenny Chesney, but scrambling like Kenny Stabler — my first beer mile…
- What I lack in running skills, I make up for in…
- And the award for Best Newcomer goes to…
- Patti and Kindra; my best friend and my bets enemy 🙂