17 June 2009

Crawlin’ With Cops

Yeah, it’s an overused joke, but this was no ordinary local police chase race. Sunday saw the 32nd annual Massachusetts State Police Chase, which draws law enforcement from across the state. It’s really quite a seriously excellent event. And for me, it was a heck of a chase. I’ll get to the race in a bit. First a little history.

The Mass State Police Chase – and the accompanying fabulous family fun & food frenzy day – isn’t really a fully public event. The public is welcome, but it’s not publicized outside of the law enforcement community. Fair enough, it’s their day and they deserve it. But one of our club runners is a state trooper, so we’re the thankful beneficiaries of his annual informal invitation, and get to enjoy the day’s hospitality, festivities, and feast. Burp.

But hanging with the Massachusetts State Police isn’t entirely foreign for me. Though none of my immediate relatives are in law enforcement, my wife’s family history makes us fit right in. Her grandfather, Charles T. Beaupre, Sr., was one of the earliest recruits to the Massachusetts State Police. He signed on with the first recruit class of 1921 – according to family lore, the second man to sign up (that’s him on the left of the motorbike squad, circa 1923). His career with the State Police spanned a dozen years and such notable events as breaking up a KKK rally in Sudbury and overseeing security for the famous Sacco and Vanzetti affair. But he also left a bigger mark, highly visible today throughout our fine Commonwealth.

Rising through the ranks, Beaupre was the second man to hold the highest uniformed office, Captain and Executive Officer, taking over from Captain George Parker, the first leader of the force, in 1925. Beaupre held that office until his retirement from the State Police in 1933. During that time the force attended to some of the finer details of their existence, and Captain Beaupre, recalling his fondness of the French military uniforms he saw during his service in World War I, selected the troop’s uniform style and now famous colors, French and Electric Blue. Adopted in 1933, they are to this day the distinctive color, instantly recognizable, of the Massachusetts State Police.

So the next time that state trooper pulls you over in Massachusetts, besides cursing your bad luck (perhaps deserved?), look in your rear view mirror and say, “What a fine set of wheels you’ve got there, officer, and I just love the colors!” And thank Captain Beaupre, a.k.a. Grampy to my wife.

I didn’t marry into a fortune, but marrying into history is much more interesting.

So amidst the antique MSP cruisers on display, after the kids ran their races, about 160 runners lined up for the day’s test. The Police Chase used to be a 5-miler, but like many other races, they shortened it to 5K to broaden the appeal. That decision might have been influenced by last year’s 97 degree heat and the ensuing misery it brought. This year’s course was a two-lap affair, giving us the fun of passing through the police headquarters grounds and the crowds at the halfway mark.

After my nineteen-and-a-half minute run on the hilly West Boylston 5K a week earlier, my goal was to get back below nineteen, the next step of my post-surgery recovery, and hopefully a stepping stone back to last year’s sub-eighteen. Placing and medaling weren’t high on my list of goals, but then again, you never complain if that happens. This race had a twist: there were age-group awards for law enforcement runners, but just one big open category for everyone else. Top five medaled, the rest went home with lunch and a T-shirt. Fair enough, this is their day.

Out the gate a pack of five bolted at breakneck speed well beyond my capacity. With no age groups, the fact that they all looked young, usually a comfort to us old farts, meant nothing. I settled into sixth, working harder than it seemed I should be for the unknown pace – unfortunately, no mile markers for splits – and with the sound of footprints close behind. Again, nineteen minutes, that’s all I cared about. But gosh, sixth is a bummer if there are five medals. But if only one of them is law enforcement…? With no way of telling, I just labored on.

Through the first lap we maintained our positions. The footsteps behind me backed off a bit, and one of the lead packers was lagging, edging slowly closer to me – his slowdown, certainly not my speed-up. I was closing on him, but didn’t expect to catch him, simply didn’t have much more in me, even though he was making the age-old mistake of looking back – a sign of weakness. Then to my shock, at the top of a small rise with less than a half mile to go, he stopped! That’s something you just don’t expect in the lead ranks. And I was past him, like that. But instantly I heard him start up again behind me, and I knew he was a youngster. Trouble.

At my age you don’t win the sprints, simple as that. You win through endurance. You win through strategy. You win with mental toughness. You don’t win in a knock-down drag-out lung-busting sprint to the line. And I knew that’s what I had coming.

Never look back. But I heard the cheers for him closer and closer to those for me. And rounding the last turn, 100 meters to go, someone shouted, “You’ve got company”, which of course, I knew. Here we go, kids.

Now, let’s remember. This wasn’t for the race. This was for fifth place. And yes, the top five medaled, but as I said at the outset, I really didn’t care. Sub-nineteen was the goal, and on the show clock I could see that sub-nineteen was nearly a foregone conclusion. But who doesn’t love a challenge? I couldn’t just let the kid take it without a fight!

Fight we did, mightily, mad dash, exchanging the lead several times, crowds cheering, mind calculating ability for more push versus likelihood of implosion, legs flailing, going on forever through what? – twelve seconds?

And he got me by a nose. Luckily not the same kind of nose effect as last year at Wineglass, just a real live inch or two difference at the line. Beaten fair and square, and not at all unhappy about it, just thrilled to have had the chance to race the kid like that. Wow, that’s living!

Of course, he sauntered through the chute while the race officials rushed to me with that look of, “Oh crap, we don’t want any deaths on our hands” on their faces. Being an old guy and racing like that does that to people. Given a couple minutes of wheezing, I was, of course fine. And happy. Ten seconds below my goal, and sixth place of 160, six months out of surgery. As far as I could tell, places one through five were all open division, no law enforcement, so no medal, but no worries. Had a nice chat with the kid who beat me – a babe of 17 – who admitted he’d screwed up and didn’t realize he had a second lap to go, messed up his pace, and cramped at that small rise. But of course still had plenty on recovery to kick my butt. Ah, youth.

And a funny thing happened later. They gave the winner a trophy, and then gave out five medals. So I got one anyway. And let me tell you, the Massachusetts State Police Chase medals are high quality, customized, extremely cool, simply the best. Thank you, officers.

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