09 October 2015

Wind At Our Backs

Mayhem starts seem to have become the rule this year, first at Clinton, then at the Police Chase, and again this past weekend, where an oddly narrow start lane created when the timing company laid out only enough mat for about four of us to toe the line became even odder when a faint shout of “GO!” emanated from somewhere behind us and started the stampede. No race officials out front of the pack, no ‘Runners Set!’, no warning whatsoever. The two youths (or ‘two yoots’; I simply cannot write ‘two youths’ without thinking of My Cousin Vinny) standing beside me took off like banshees as yoots are prone to do. I could stand there, argue that that might not have really been the start (and probably get trampled), or just go with it. Be free, spirit, just run.

Thus started the third annual John Tanner Memorial 5K, and thus I found myself instantly playing catch-up, ten to fifteen yards behind. Wizened Old Goat Mentality quickly calculated Option A, these yoots were for real, and if so, there wasn’t much I could do about it, or Option B, these yoots were typical yoots with unbridled enthusiasm that would burn out within a mile. As it would turn out, there was an Option C which would come to pass, being a bit of both, as they’d end up coming in numbers two and three, but only after a taste of Option B and a display of some yootful indiscretion.

A quarter mile out, Yoot One came back quickly to me and was dispatched, but Yoot Two held his lead. Another quarter mile and I’d erased that to pull even, in doing so prompting his indiscretion. While ours is generally a gentlemen’s sport (was it only two weeks back I called out to correct my competitor’s wrong turn, leading to my own thrashing at his legs?), it’s still a good idea to stay a bit aloof, and keep your intentions and your mental state somewhat to yourself. Ah, the follies of yoot. On pulling even, he blurted out, “Man, your fast” (or maybe ‘Damn’ but I won’t irritate his folks by recalling the exact word) to which I simply replied, “No, I’m old.” Mystery gone, it was clear we were in Option B mode, and merely a half mile in I already knew it was time to put him away. Another tenth up, with a small rise and a turn coming, one small surge opened the gap which was never to close.

That didn’t, of course, eliminate the possibilities of someone else picking off said yoots behind me and settling their crosshairs on my posterior, or even a yootful second wind, so even when I was able to see the considerable lead I’d built by the turnaround, it was no time for rest by the weary. But the cool thing was, I wasn’t really weary (not that you’d guess that from the typically horrid shot of me approaching the finish – courtesy of Racewire). I don’t think there was much more in the way of speed on the throttle, but by and large, this race felt pretty good. Hard work? Of course. Worried till the end (needlessly, finding out later that my margin of victory was nearly two minutes)? Of course. But firing well on nearly all cylinders? Yeah, for the first time in a long time.

Not surprisingly, I haven’t won a lot of races in my running career. But of the few I’ve won, I can’t recall any that were on a purely out-and-back course. I have to admit that the experience of leading all the way through the back half of the out-and-back was, frankly, a lot of fun. Many times I’ve grunted a cheer when the leader, who’d already made the turn, passed me by. This time it was my day, and once past the few running breathlessly near the front of the pack, nearly everyone chimed in with a huzzah or two – or a bit more, like the folks walking outbound, cracking jokes (about themselves) about seeing me already returning before they’d hit the mile mark. Their support was a big lift – and also a solid clue, since I didn’t hear any cheering behind me, hinting there weren’t any yoots – or anyone else – sneaking up for a last-minute surprise.

Given any other day on any other course, number one probably would not have come up on the dial. I hit the line twenty seconds ahead of my last outing two weeks back and more like forty when adjusting for what appeared to be a slightly long course, but while relatively good for me, I’d have been relatively toasted – by quite a bit in fact – in most fields. This was no Grand Prix event, so winning wasn’t a fabulous feat. But on any given day, it’s all about who lines up. And while it’s nice to notch a win, it was even better to notch a win at John’s race. Having sat out the first edition, volunteering but injured and out of the action, and having missed the second due to a conflict with last fall’s marathon, it was about time to run the race honoring my dear lost friend, and extra sweet to come home with a trophy emblazoned with his name.

After all, this one really wasn’t about the competition, it was about John, and John’s passion for a little boy suffering and succumbing to from a rare disease. It was about that boy’s family and extended family – including John’s – continuing to come together to bring about some good in the world in working toward a cure. Readers of this column know that I’m not a fan of races designed solely to extract dollars from runners for a cause. That’s because nearly all of those races have nothing to do with a runner. This one, on the other hand, is very different. These folks didn’t decide to hold a race just to raise money. They decided to hold a race to honor a passionate runner, who himself was passionate about advancing the cause to cure Batten’s Disease. In light of that, a little mayhem at the start is trivial; it merely adds character to an event well executed.

And John was, in a unique and special way, literally there with us. A brave soul named Cheryl made the trip from Pennsylvania to run (run/walk, but who’s counting?) her first 5K with her son…and a piece of John’s foot bone transplanted into hers, curing an injury that previously had refused to heal. We think of donating a heart, a liver, a kidney, but John and his family’s generosity offered up all usable tissues – and Cheryl was living, running proof that gifts like that make a big difference. In truth, John’s wind was at all of our backs.

But there was yet more fun. Dearest Spouse, always fit but typically not one with a hankering for running, made the exception and gave in to our special obsession, and in John’s honor, made this her goal race. She has, in fact, been hitting Couch to 5K sessions now for over a month. Despite having not yet graduated the program, and having not yet exceeded twenty minutes of straight rapid propulsion, she kept herself in gear for over thirty to finish in an ironic time of thirty-one-oh-seven. I rarely quote specific times here, but this one deserves it and is worthy of the label ironic because if you do the math, five kilometers happens to be exactly three-point-one-oh-seven miles. Exactly ten minute pace. Yes, you just heard me mention that the course measured a bit long, so she was really going a bit faster, but it’s more fun to ignore that for the moment and enjoy the coincidence.

The belly laugh moment of the day was reserved for the ride home, and came from my neighbor who’d joined us for the trip out and stoically withstood his chronic hip pain to turn in a respectable showing on the course himself. As he related it, when I sailed past his outbound trek on my inbound leg, the woman he happened to be running with at the time let out a simple, “Whoa!” to which he replied, “Yeah, I’ve gotta’ ride home with that.” Somehow the use of the objectified ‘that’, rather than ‘him’, struck me as seriously funny. If it doesn’t hit you that way, well, trust me, it was, and you had to be there.

Meanwhile, on Another Topic: The official Boston Marathon results book arrived in my mailbox a month or two back and I’ve been meaning to point out two fun bits since then

First, though I’m sure there are plenty of typos in a results listing of this scale, it just so happened that the person listed three slots above me finished in the rather unusual time of 2:58:81. Perhaps just for a moment the world of timekeeping decided to go metric, and that was eighty-one tenths of a minute? (It’s also notable that nine of us – count ‘em, nine – all chalked up the identical time, to the second.)

Second, in the team competition, I found it rather amusing that in a race of over twenty-five thousand people from all over the globe, not only did three Massachusetts-based Masters teams – Greater Springfield, Greater Lowell, and Greater Boston – finish sequentially (among seventy-one scoring teams from all over creation), but that I could count the entirety of two of those sequential teams as friends: Mike as a professional colleague, Ken as a teammate, E.J. as a friend and perennial rival (not that I’ve given him much completion of late), and both David (known in this column as The Brit) and Issam (known in this column as He For Whom No Blog Name Has Ever Stuck) as frequent training partners. Yes, it’s a world-class race, but this chunk of the results just happened to be our very neighborly corner of the world. Just to make my sister laugh, I have to say that I guess it is a small world after all.

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