05 October 2014

Old, Old, and Older

In those heady days of a couple years back, when I was racking up two-hundred-plus months like they were going out of style and my racing capabilities were likewise growing, my racing circle expanded to the headier venues. Running New England Grand Prix events meant getting my butt kicked soundly by massive packs of New England’s best, but a hundredth-place finish in those kind of races was downright respectable and on more than one occasion meant a new personal best, despite the number of speedsters warming the pavement before my arrival.

This year it’s been about recovery. Each time I’ve gone through this cycle it’s been a little tougher, since I’ve been a little older, and I’ve battled the same demons of doubt. In previous episodes, I’ve come out of the tunnel stronger, but this trip’s finale is yet to be written, and the doubts remain despite real progress being made. Predictably, my racing circle has contracted, with a preponderance of local races. The few hot events I’ve hit, like the Level Renner, have reminded me that this is a rebuilding year.

But local races have their charms: little or no travel, easy logistics, plenty of friends, and complete unpredictability of their fields. You just don’t know who’s going to show up on any given day. That wildcard can make for interesting and sometimes fun results, and if nothing else proves the maxim that just showing up is a big part of the game.

When the winds blow the right way, you might win the masters division, as happened back on the Labor Day Laborious Ten Miler, which really doesn’t even have a masters division, but unofficially, I was the first antique across the line. That one was an event that escaped the clutches of blogdom, and for good reason. It was brutally hot and humid, my performance was middling at best, and if I’d had to pepper the column with photos, having stripped off even my light singlet somewhere around mile eight, the resulting visage might have sent you packing, no longer to return here to read another day.

When the winds blow really hard the right way, you might win the whole race. Let’s just say that the winds blew the fast guys off to the next county when the Police Chase rolled around, and you’ve already seen the slightly frightening story of that one.

And when the winds blow hard in strange, confused circles, you get strange, confused results like a bunch of old guys almost sweeping the podium of an entire race. That storm blew in last week at the Forrest Memorial, our local fall race conveniently called a five kilometer, but known by all to be a good tenth of a mile longer. We don’t care, we love it, and the burgers and beers keep us coming back.

Unlike a couple weeks earlier at the Police Chase, I wasn’t feeling at all competitive leading into this one. It was yet another hot day, third race in a row, and I’d awoken feeling like a cross between a limp dishrag and a quaking aspen. Strong wasn’t a word I could contemplate happening. I barely tolerated an anemic warm-up. I didn’t scope the field. It just didn’t matter.

And it really didn’t, more or less, because two things happened. Second, that race adrenalin kicked in like it almost always does – despite how often I expect that it won’t – and while I never felt powerful, I felt good enough to crank out something slightly above middling, while meanwhile the heat pummeled everyone else to the middling level or below. Or almost everyone. Because, first (you were wondering about that mis-ordered list?), the race was over in the first tenth of a mile, and I knew it without a doubt.

Bang, we’re off (well, actually, no gun, but you get the idea), and from somewhere on my right zips an orange streak with a bald spot on top. No starting line euphoria would propel me at this guy’s velocity, and unlike the local posers who so commonly sprint the first few hundred yards of these local races, it was obvious from the fluid stride that this guy was the real deal. By the first turn, when he went the long way around the traffic island, once it was clear he was still turning the right way, I didn’t worry about warning him. It didn’t matter that he’d lost a few seconds because I wasn’t going to catch him, nor, I suspected, would anyone else.

I don’t like to say I conceded by the first turn, but barring a repeat of my rival’s self-immolation of a few weeks back, this guy was not coming back to me. When at the half mile mark, friends on the course gave me the usual, “You’ve got this guy, focus on him!” encouragement, I just smiled and waved and focused instead on not self-immolating myself. I had no idea who was behind me or how far, and I wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of looking back to find out.

By the time I huffed across the line wearing my trademark Death Warmed Over face, the Orange Streak, later identified as John, had thoroughly thrashed me by a minute and a quarter. His winning time was about ten seconds off my personal best on the course, but there’s no doubt that had I been in personal best shape, his result would have been markedly faster than his uncontested cruise. And to complete the slap-down, he was just as much an antique as I. The luck of those winds again, a second place finish and still didn’t even win my age group…go figure.

But as it turned out, what was happening behind me was the interesting part. I mildly thrashed the guys behind me by over a half a minute, but that’s where the battle erupted. Save for a last minute pass, it would have been antique to win, antique to place, and antique to show. Antique number three, also known as Steve, who in fact even had a few more years on the two of us up front, barely got nipped in the homestretch by a mere two seconds by some plucky youngster of thirty-something. The nerve! The lack of respect for elders! Kids these days…

Granted, most of the local youthful talent skips this event due to its placement smack in the middle of cross country season, but in a decent-sized field of a hundred and twenty, it wasn’t lost on any of our aged trio the irony of having the fifty-plus crowd take first, second, and almost third but a close fourth. I’ll take my fun where I can get it, and on a day when I didn’t think I even had a race-pace five clicks in me, second place with a dollop of ironic fun was a great appetizer for those burgers and beers. And therein lays one of the joys of local racing.

The Three Antique-gos…4th, 2nd, and 1st places

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