29 September 2008

Another (Good!) Day as Groomsman

It’s a under a week till Wineglass, and my prediction yesterday held true. The Weather Channel 10-day forecast has indeed changed already, from rain showers to perfection on race day, literally zero percent chance of rain, cool, windless, and bracketed by more perfect days. This is too good too soon, I’ll bet it will change again. Meanwhile, today was my last speed tune-up…

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Yeah, but I’m of the other gender, so that doesn’t work, and nobody every says, “Always a groomsman, never a groom.” Guys just don’t see it that way, I guess. But from a racing perspective though, it fits me well. Another race today, another 2nd place. At my age, I’m not complaining. But it’s a notable phenomenon.

Today’s event was a local favorite, the Forrest Memorial. The field was reduced a bit by both apparent and real rain. I say apparent as tales emerged of great downpours in other parts of our small city which discouraged at least one friend of mine from showing, but we were spared the deluge and raced under only a light drizzle with 140% humidity, thanks to tropical air dragged north by Hurricane Kyle passing to our east. Nevertheless, the usual local suspects appeared, our club was well represented, and Dick and Rick Hoyt, a couple of the most amazing humans on Earth, made their annual inspirational circuit of the course.

Now, other than obvious biggies like Boston, other marathons, and a few bigger events here and there, I run mostly small, local races. There’s plenty to keep me busy within a tight radius of home. Big races are exciting, but they’re also logistical challenges, and you can easily start blowing big bucks if this habit gets out of hand. Local stuff is more like going to a picnic with your buds, which is, of course, precisely what breaks out at events like the Forrest. No stress, low cost, good race, lots of fun afterwards.

This puts me squarely in the position of being a moderately sized fish in a small pond, which means not too much competition at my pace, but there are always a few to challenge me. And that’s where the groomsman analogy shows up. Out of sheer chance, you’d think that one of these days I’d hit one of these races where enough people don’t show up that given day so as to let me claim it for myself, plant the flag for Team Cattarin, or perhaps Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand or something like that. But it never seems to happen.

Two years back, I skipped the Forrest, as I’d joined the folk group at our church playing what I call bad guitar, and didn’t think I could make the race in time after our Gig with God. That year, the winning time was a minute plus slower than what I knew I could turn on the course. Now, nothing saying that with a challenge, that winning time might have been considerably faster, but it makes you wonder. The next year I high-tailed it over after church, and of course got smoked by a ringer from two towns over. Never fails.

And so has been my story, repeated ceaselessly. Before today, I’d raced 13 times this year. Excluding the larger events, of the 10 local races I’ve landed three 2nd-place finishes and five 3rd-places. But other than a pub run, which really doesn’t count, I’ve never had that Golden Moment. Nor would I today, because there milling around pre-race was my new running friend Chris, of the Great Cross Country Muck Adventure. Chris is about half my age, fresh off a strong college career, and, well, kicks butt. The gun sounded (well, a bullhorn, close enough), and within a hundred yards he was gone. I shouted to wish him a nice run, and settled in to work the rest of the field.

The race itself went well, which was a bit of a surprise, considered I’d felt a bit like a wrung-out dishrag. Recall the weekly bad guitar Gig with God, well, this week for the first time my lead guitarist was out. No place to run to, no place to hide, just me and the piano player leading the choir. To say I was a bit nervous was an understatement. I was literally shaking when it was all over (no major screw-ups, pleased to report). All that good adrenaline that I could have used for the race, burned up and gone forever, and the gun went off a mere hour later.

But adrenaline is produced, so crunch all you want, we’ll just make more. Approaching the mile mark, Chris was in another county, and I was shadowing someone with a notable bald spot which screamed “Master! Get this one!” I’m a hill guy, so at the first hill at the mile point I cranked it up and slid decisively into second, though not, in my mind decisively enough to be sure to hold it. After a few more hills, there’s a screamer downhill at mile two. I’m not a strong downhill racer, and I had to force myself to open it up. Trailing footsteps are a big motivator to remember to open it up.

Those footsteps trickled to my ears a few more times, egging me on to a notable improvement on my course PR, a near 5K PR (adjusted for the long course), and second place by 20 seconds over Mr. Threatening Footsteps. Chris smoked me by a full two minutes, but he’s a youngster, so I retained my non-esteemed title of Fastest Old Fart within a Few Miles on This Particular Day.

Another second place. Another day of being a groomsman, not the groom. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I’m old, and these guys who win are usually kids. And I know darn well I wouldn’t be placing second or third in significant events. I’m happy with the abilities God’s given me, and I’ll work with them to do what I can.

But just once it would be really cool if the fast guys didn’t show up!

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