It’s a sad fact that I have never really raced against other people in races. I’ve raced against the clock, checking my watch a moronic 58 times over the course of 3.1 miles. But other humans? Whatever. If I pass them or they pass me, what do I care? Maybe once, when I was in 4th place and was miraculously getting closer to the 3rd place chick, I actually made an effort to pass a live human being rather than gluing my eyeball to my watch the entire time.
That’s what made this past weekend’s 5k so much fun. I actually raced a person. Let’s call this other person “JK” (utterly random name). Some months ago, I found myself betting JK a beer that my time at Boston would be better than his time at the I-Can’t-Qualify-For-Boston-So-I’m-Running-The-Lame-Ass-Country-Music-Marathon. (Note: Please ignore elevation charts when comparing these two.) I was so certain that I’d beat his time that I upped the ante to a case of beer. Any kind at all. Sure! Go ahead and pick Corona if you want! Loser.
April came and I ran 3:40:16 at Boston. Two weeks later, JK cranked out a 3:38* something. I really can’t be bothered to remember the exact time.
Humiliation. Despair. And, worst of all, a serious dearth of the Sam Adams I thought I would be enjoying in May. What if we had actually been in the same race? I brooded over a tragic Natural Light. What if I could have kept an eye on him? What if I could have employed race tactics (as if I know what any are)?
What if, what if, freaking what if.
Finally the chance rolled around this past Saturday. A tiny 5k on the absolutely worst 5k course in middle Tennessee. 150-foot climb in the first half mile. Wretched humidity and a non-closed course littered with dog walkers and angry housewives. What a delight.
To be fair (damn it), I should mention that JK was at the end of a ridiculous (some might say “stupid”) Drinking/Running Challenge that involved running 100 miles and drinking 100 beers in 7 days. Race day was day 6 of the Challenge, and he was admirably close to the goal. It pains me deeply to be fair, but let’s face it—if it had been a normal week of running and beer for JK, I probably wouldn’t have beaten him.
JK blasted ahead of me at the start, and I watched him get further ahead for the next mile. It was a quagmire of a course, as I have mentioned, with countless turns and even a couple of hideous switchbacks. Therefore, I’d lose sight of JK on and off. However, at about a mile and a half, I noticed that I seemed to be gaining on him. I might as well have not been wearing a watch, because this race was all about racing. Fascinating!
Just before mile 2, the course headed up a terrible hill. As I turned the sharp corner to head up, I noticed JK walking. Walking. Honestly, I was bummed because I thought the race between us was over. But as I passed him, he said, “I hope this tactic works.” Tactic?! Why I oughta…. With less than a mile to go, I tried to pick it up as I crested the hill. I could hear his footsteps behind me. Getting closer. Maybe if I pick it up just a little more…?
At the last switchback, I was ahead by maybe 5 seconds. As we passed each other in opposite directions, JK said, “Nice race!” In acknowledgement of that compliment, I flipped him off. It was the defining moment. It was my “tactic.” The rest of the race was a suicidal downhill, and I could hear JK RIGHT BEHIND ME. Cripes! I tried to think about all those nerdy pointers for running downill efficiently, but mostly I felt like a flailing goon on the verge of implosion. Finish line in sight. Still ahead. Maybe 8 more seconds to go. Can hear his big feet flapping behind me. Twenty more yards…
In the end, I beat JK by 3 seconds. And, I know, in a normal week, he would have beaten me. Still, that may have been the most fun 5k I have ever run. Okay, “fun” may be pushing it, but it was memorable. Who knew that racing in a race could be that exciting?
* “JK” has informed me that it was 3:37 something. Whatever, asshat.