01 December 2013

Plan B

I spent Thanksgiving in the Witness Protection Program. With Turkey Trots nearby in all directions, and the local high-school-versus-alumni-versus-local-club cross country race a mere mile from my door, and free to boot, I’d like to say that the temptation to show up at a race was as irresistible as the aroma of our meal later that day. Truth is, it was nasty windy, nasty windy and cold, nasty windy and I’ll just stay in bed and enjoy an easy morning not racing on Thanksgiving for a change, protecting myself from the inevitable urge to run hard – and perhaps hurt myself – once the gun went off, no matter how much I’d have told myself that I’d take it slow and easy.

Spared from stupid injuries, I did head out at noon when it was still nasty windy, and put in what was, at least at present for me, a decent distance at a relatively decent pace, still pathetic by my normal standards, but better than the week before. But sadly, the state of the recovery is at best tenuous. I’m touched that so many ask my status and seem to give at least a minor hoot, but I’m tired of not having good news to report. The bottom line is, it still hurts. Sometimes more, sometimes less, and running does seem to do it good as Dr. Foot Doctor said it would, but not good enough that it seems like actual progress. I remain cautiously optimistic, and will encounter a new Physical Terrorist soon in hopes of actively bludgeoning that ankle into painless submission.

So I’m not doing what I expected to be doing by this time, but that’s sometimes how things turn out. I have to be cool with that, and roll with it as it comes. It’s a universal lesson we can all absorb. This morning, a whole lot of people found themselves not doing what they expected to be doing at that time, and the great thing was that they were all cool about it, and rolled with it as it came. It’s refreshing to see no kvetching when the world is forced to turn to Plan B.

Since racing is out, there was no chance I’d run our local club’s “Tough Thanksgiving Ten-Miler”, a fest of the best of my local training hills. Instead, Darling Daughter the Younger and I set out this morning to work the race volunteer side. Our ten-milers (nine-point-eight-five for your OCD types) have been held for years, through heat, cold, rain, and snow, and they’ve always come off, one way or another. We had no reason to think otherwise this time, as the forecast called for high thirties, overcast, and rainless. But a quick glance out my window on rising hinted that the meteorological supercomputer cabal of the world had missed slightly, since the roads looked damp.

Stepping out for the newspaper a few minutes later, I nearly flew off the front porch, bringing back really bad memories of having executed that very stunt many years ago, at high speed, bouncing off each concrete step…All…The…Way…Down…imparting bruises that graced my hips and hind quarters for months, but that’s another story. This morning wasn’t high speed, I caught the rail, and took note that the surprisingly iced-over morning wasn’t as we’d expected.

It’s under two miles to Ghiloni Park, base of operations for the Ten Miler. Edging cautiously onto the public thoroughfares, it seemed the hazard was local to my north-facing down-sloped lot, not an uncommon occurrence, and I gradually gained confidence as we motored carefully down what appeared to be wet but ice-free roads – until about a quarter mile from the park, that is, when we found ourselves on the wrong side of the road, twice. Holy Yikes! (Not what I said at the time.) Creeping into the park, it was instantly clear this wasn’t a normal race morning. As our runners likewise crept into the park, each told their story of the dangers they’d endured and wreckage they’d avoided en route, none carrying a pretty story, one nearly reduced to tears. Wreckage. Over by the skating rink. Downtown Northborough. Route Nine in Westborough. And sixty-five cars and a bunch of trucks on the interstate in Worcester. It was seriously ugly. Seriously “I’ve run and raced in almost everything including blizzards but this is downright dangerous” ugly.

This was the kind of day when one is eternally grateful not to be wearing the tag that reads, “Race Director”. Our event leader had a serious quandary on his hands: Nearly a hundred runners, and a major safety problem. The roads right around us seemed acceptable, just wet. But we’d all experienced the nightmare of arriving. It felt like the temperature was rising, but cold spots would persist, and roads don’t thaw immediately (and we’d later confirm that it wasn’t getting any warmer, we were just growing more numb). Send the runners out, and all might be well. Or a car might take out a tree trying to avoid a runner on a patch of ice. Or worse, a runner might slide into a car. We’d be dealing with an instant tragedy, and worse, probably an instant lawsuit and an instant ban on future races, because we’d have known about the danger. But send the runners home, and most wouldn’t be too happy, despite the danger. Runners are, after all, a hardy lot. Damn the torpedoes, right?

Race Director Mark wisely devised Plan B. We were, after all, in a large park, a park graced with a half-mile dirt track and numerous trails, a park where every local cross country team, including the one coached by our race director as well as the one I used to coach, both trains and competes. A few heads knocked together and the plot evolved, starting with twenty-one laps of the track (it’s a bit less than a true half mile), and evolving into what was thought to be about a mile loop incorporating more of the park, times ten.

That’s when the coolest part happened. Save for a couple of folks who had to bail simply due to time constraints (we’d delayed the start to allow stragglers to arrive and hope conditions improved), not one person complained or second guessed the race director’s call. Eighty or so people who expected a hilly ten-mile road race lined up for a relatively flat ten-lap park circuit. And they didn’t even complain when we realized due to runners’ GPS reports that our loop was only nine-tenths of a mile, and announced on lap two that it was now an eleven lap race, or that we had no practical way to count their laps and just left them on their own, to their own memories and honor. Not a peep of discontent. In fact, with the water stop now available every few minutes, bathrooms handy, and race staff ready to grab unneeded clothing (creating a colorful display on the fence), and, for a few, the convenience of saying the heck with it when the time had come shy of ten miles, everyone made what could have been a tragic and horrible day into a terrific, albeit cold and wet, one.

Call it Thanksgiving spirit. Our club doesn’t charge for this race. The entry fee is a sack of food for the local food pantry. Our pickup truck was loaded to twice the height of the bed and riding low with literally a ton of food. Our runners come to enjoy the run, but also to give back this way, and to their credit, their giving frame-of-mind extended to a whole lot of tolerance when we were forced to take the safe route and involve Plan B. They ended up not doing what they expected to be doing, and they were all cool about it, and rolled with it as it came.

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