07 January 2018
Who Was That Masked Man?
On a good day, I can run into someone I’ve met many times and be utterly clueless as to their identity. That’s why, as Dearest Spouse likes to remind me, I went into a sales-related job (engineering, mind you, but still sales engineering). My local clubmates will confirm this failing; it takes at least four or five meetings of a new arrival for me to recall them, and God knows I try. My more distant clubmates who I see only infrequently will laugh even more heartily. Every time I show up for a Squannacook event, it’s like meeting a whole new crowd. They tolerate me anyway.
That’s on a good day. But it’s been absurdly cold of late. So add multiple layers of clothing including face-obscuring and ear-muffling headgear, blinding sun mixed with eye-slitting wind, and perhaps a good dose of fogged-up shades, not to mention enough fabric to disguise the most basic body shape clues, and all bets are off. I could run – and chat – with you for a couple of miles and still not have a clue who you are. Don’t believe me? Ask my CMS clubmate Scott, with whom I did just that while warming up for yet another go at the Freezer Five on New Year’s Day. I swear it didn’t even sound like him, let alone was it possible to see who was hiding under all that breathable fabric (note, that’s me, mid-race, under the blue fabric and the red hat, but you’d never know). Only two miles later did I figure it out, much to my chagrin. Let’s just say I’ve grown accustomed to the embarrassment of my typical delayed revelations.
As it turned out, it mattered quite a bit, and even more after a surprise sweetener was piled on a bit later. But at the time, all I knew was that I was dragging a pair of legs that had just run a marathon the day before through a five miler that started at five degrees into a biting and sapping headwind. By the end, at least I had that wind to my back, but on the final small hill – usually my strong point – the masked man I was chasing put ten yards on me and I momentarily figured I was frozen toast. But we’ll get back to that.
Yes, I’d run a marathon the day before, and yes, I counsel all my running friends not to race for a while after a marathon. But let’s be clear; that marathon, the rapidly-increasing-in-fame Groton Marathon, was by no means a race, so none of the requisite micro-tears lacerating various muscles, none of the quad burn, none of the typical damage that the body-consuming effort of a raced marathon brings on. Still, it was twenty-six miles on the legs.
And I should note that running the Freezer – my seventh outing on that icy venue – was a fallback of sorts. For the last month or two I’d entertained the somewhat whacked idea of following up Sunday’s marathon with another on Monday – another casual event to be sure, but still fifty-two miles on the legs. Groton is held on the Sunday after Christmas, and the New Year’s Boston Marathon run is held, as you might guess, on New Year’s morning. This year’s calendar put them back-to-back, offering up a special challenge for the feeble of mind. But when Monday morning’s forecast was for four below zero and significantly devoid of the warming power of sunlight at six in the morning, I opted to defer this year’s Boston run and await the tropical five-degree sun-drenched (and windswept) relative warmth of the Freezer’s eleven o’clock start.
It really wasn’t the thought of launching on another one only seventeen hours later that stopped me. Nor was it the thought of having to rise at five in the morning to do so (full disclosure, Dearest Spouse and I did not make it till midnight on New Year’s Eve, so I would have had plenty of sleep). It was the thought of doing that at four below zero in the dark that pushed me over the edge. Five extra hours and nine extra degrees was a Faustian bargain – because by running the Freezer, I’d actually have to try to run fast – but I bought in.
Whatever, I bought in; it was too late to change my mind.
Outbound was uneventful. After The Sorting (the inevitable settling after the mayhem of the start), I crept past one Gore-Tex puffball and then just held my turf into the headwind, picking around patches of black ice stubbornly hanging on since our last storm. After the lollipop turnaround, the wind became a bit of an ally, but not a cooperative one. At one point, trying to emulate those mysterious one-car crashes that make you scratch your head and say, “How did they do that?” I nearly fell off the road thanks to a combination of steep crown, black ice, and a surprise gust. Nobody around me. Nothing in my way. Would’ve been good and embarrassing.
But all in all, this was just a race for the day after a marathon. The split markers were uncertain, but even if marginally accurate, my split times weren’t spectacular, which was fine, because, as I said, this was just a race for the day after a marathon. Start the new year, get one in the books, go home empty-handed but feel satisfied and smugly superior to all those hung-over blokes.
Still, coming up on mile four, there were three guys (guys? people, gender undeterminable) in a line not too far in front of me. That racing gene kicked in. Oh damn, I just can’t not do this, can I?
First one, seemed to be fading a bit, clicked him off fairly easily (yes, they’d all turn out to be hims).
Second one, took a little more work, had some time to chat. I think telling him that I’d run Groton the day before made him just say, oh, hell, this dude is off the scale, just let him go.
Third one, this guy wasn’t going down easy. Three quarters of a mile to go. Slight downgrade, into a vale of sorts, I crept up on his shoulder. Third of a mile to go, last bit on the course that resembles a hill, and I’m a hill guy, this was my time to move. And he put ten yards on me. That’s what twenty-six the day before does to you, even if you didn’t race it.
Topping the rise, staring at his back, this is where you have that, “Do I really want this?” moment. Do I care? Or, as I’d been thinking only a few minutes earlier, do I just go home knowing I’ve kicked off the new year in the right direction and be happy?
And then you have that, “Whatever…” moment and the racing gene kicks back in.
In other words, we had ourselves a real-live race. He’d put up a helluva’ fight. And then I went back into clueless zone, more or less the theme of this story.
The usual post-finish mutual pats-on-the back commenced, each of us congratulating each other, the vanquished uttering kudus, the vanquisher exclaiming how we couldn’t have finished that hard without each other’s push (entirely true), thankful that the situation turned this from just a nice way to check off New Year’s Day into a real racing story.
And I have no idea who I just raced to the death and who I’m talking to.
In fact I have no idea who that wrapped up athlete was until I’m back inside, raiding the goodie table, he walks in, and I realize not only that it’s my CMS teammate Phil, the very guy who’d greeted me when I first arrived at the race (and I hadn’t really connected who he was at that point either), but I’m also chatting with his wife who’s tending the post-race comestibles.
And I still haven’t figured out why any of this is significant.
So I can’t tell you that if Phil had been in shorts and a singlet with fully visible features that I’d have known I had to take him down for that cotton garment. Thus I’ll stick to that racing gene. If it’s in front of you, I’d advise that you go for it. You never know.