10 October 2014

Her Day, Not Mine!

It is fun, and in a way a relief, to write of someone else’s adventures once in a while within these lines of prose. It takes the pressure off writing about myself without coming across as a cad; trying to share the highs without boasting while relating the lows without whining. When someone else is the center of attention, I can pretty much say whatever I want, within the bounds of propriety. And this time, Dearest Daughter the Younger has earned her spot in these column inches.

Yeah, but we’ll get to that later. Back to me for a while.

I can’t tell you if I’m surging back into top shape or mere weeks from death. Inconsistency is the title of my training log. Speed is a memory, or at least speed as I knew it just a year and a half back. But as you’ve seen, since mid-summer, I’ve taken a ‘damn the torpedoes’ attitude and plunged back into the racing pool, even if mostly in the shallow end, and in the head of someone as twisted as I, that means a fall marathon is a fait accompli. It’s just what we do, right?

I’d entertained thoughts over the summer of dipping my toe into the fresh waters of a new race. Hartford stuck out, being relatively close, of reasonable reputation, and, interestingly, teasing top-notch racers with mini-elite packages. I spent about an hour thinking about that; after all, my 2013 Boston, still recent on my resume, ranked pretty strongly on the senior circuit, as did a few other outings before the Achilles slap-down, and hey, maybe if they wanted a competitive field in each age group…since maybe by fall I’d be back in that kind of shape…

Sanity caught hold, and I dropped that idea hard and fast like a heavy chunk of granite. Seriously, it would have been a stretch anyway – I’m no two-thirty-marathon stud, nor even, at my age, in the running for the overall masters column. And as the fall crept closer, and that inconsistency as well as various other woes continued to prevent solid training, practicality followed. Seriously, why was I doing this, anyway? In my shape it wasn’t to win anything, so why travel? My fall goals were simple: improve my seed time for this next Patriot’s Day, and land a qualifier for the one following, which – if that happens – will be number ten, a golden ticket that makes future Bostons just a little bit easier to get into. So if a decent time was the only goal, why play games? Just hit the local favorite and be done with it.

Except that the local favorite, it turned out, was all but sold out by the time I came to this conclusion. With literally no time to spare, I grabbed one of the few remaining slots, only to discover hours later that the annual race to honor my lost friend John Tanner had been moved to that same morning. Missing that was not in the plan and was not a happy thought, but the deed was done, and Bay State – for my fourth time – was booked. Though as it creeps closer, I can’t say that improving that seeding time is a strong likelihood, based on training, racing, and an utterly horrible final attempt at one more long one before coasting into a taper. At least today’s set of Yasso 800s, traditionally my last hard workout before a marathon, went reasonably well.

But before we got here, last weekend there was one more hill not to climb, but to descend; a race that for years I’ve avoided, either by racing out of town or working it as a volunteer or even, last year, power-walking it in the walking cast boot after the Achilles surgery and the Clotty Adventure. After all those years, it just seemed like it was time to tackle the Marlborough Main Street Mile.

It’s not my forte. It’s only a mile (it’s a hair short, but close enough), and I’m barely warmed up after three. It’s all about speed, and even in my good years, that’s not my finest quality. And it’s downhill – almost entirely save a couple of flat stretches. I’m an uphill guy. Strike one, strike two, strike three, and you know why I’ve avoided this one for years.

Confront your demons.

But first, I promised this would be about DDY. Remember that, a page back? I keep my promises.

Said offspring is enjoying – thoroughly enjoying I might note – her first year on the high school cross country team, made doubly fun not only because she’s finding new gears she didn’t know she had, but also by association, having landed on a team that, at last count, was something like eight and one. Winning feels good.

A couple cross country meets a week pretty much rules out weekend racing, which, as you read, worked nicely to the advantage of a bunch of old guys at the Forrest a week back. But a mile? Just a single mile? Her agonizing decision to run or not got downright tense the night before. I wasn’t much help; knowing my need for a ludicrously long warm-up for a race with the word speed in its description, I wasn’t sure how the logistics would fall out. I dithered on the choice as well, despite my bias toward prodding her to run, until she made the game-day decision to toe the line.

If nothing else good happened that morning, at least we had the joy – after three consecutive steaming bake-fests – of a perfect fall racing morning. Cool, crisp, calm, colorful, and a crazy-fast course. We shook out the cobwebs together on a first warm-up; then I left her to her devices while I tried to coax the old bones into readiness for something rapid with a few strides and such. It really was, as expected, a futile effort. I’m just not that rapid, but it contributed to my overall goal which was not to break anything two weeks before the marathon.

Now, this is supposed to be about her, but I can’t tell you much about her race. She came in almost exactly a minute behind me, but I didn’t see it. A minute after running that mile, I had yet to emerge from my post-race delirium. Oh, what I missed.

Before that moment came about – the moment I missed – there was a mile to cover. You’d think it’d be over in a flash, but it was the longest mile I’ve run, despite being the fastest mile I’ve run since high school. There’s exactly one turn, just before the quarter mile. By the time I hit that turn, I was already burnt toast. I was cursing myself for having failed to measure out quarter-mile reference points ahead of time. Guessing split locations in a race like that would be utterly meaningless. It sounds ridiculous, but despite having run that road hundreds of times, I found myself in utter denial of how far away City Hall – the finish line – still lay. I was beyond burnt toast. I was wreckage. My strides slammed the ground with uncharacteristic violence, to the point where I felt it in my back, a never-happens kind of event. And the final stretch – the final flatness where, now past wreckage and into disintegration, no longer with any hill left to drive me…and they’re taking pictures of my pain, far worse than usual…

There’s a reason I’ve avoided this race. A minute after I finished, I was still in no condition to notice that DDY was holding off a pack of females bidding for her slot, not just leading the youth, but leading all of the females. All of them. And holding them off, barely, but enough, across the line, over a minute faster than any mile she’d ever run, impressive even if it wasn’t all downhill and a hair short, yes, winning the whole shootin’ match among those with two X chromosomes.

Once I figured out what I missed, the fact that I nipped under a benchmark time was entirely irrelevant. I didn’t win a thing – not the race, not the masters division, and not fast enough to boost her performance to take the parent-child team award. But she won it hands-down, sweeping up not one but two sweet trophies since the fastest of each gender from our own city also earn swag. Better, she walked off with a couple hundred pounds of freshly delivered confidence, and melting skin from the beaming pride of her parents.

And to think about that choice, do I run or not? Nothing happens until you step on the line.

Now, I’m not entirely sure about my daughter being called, “The Fastest Woman in Marlborough,” but I think I’ll get my mind out of the gutter and enjoy it.

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