Too young to remember the Doublemint commercials? Bite me.
Yes, the startling rumors you’ve heard are true; the same “JK” (totally random name) that I beat at a 5k six weeks ago, beat me at a 5k two weeks later. For those of you who really could not care less and have no desire to read all the self-involved and tedious details, here’s the synopsis: We ran. We actually raced. Changed leads 6 times. JK finally won by 2 seconds. I hurled at the finish. It was caught on video. Posted on YouTube. Laughter for days. Revenge sworn.
Want more details? Then….
Smyrna Parks 5k, August 9th
The madness began at 7:00 a.m. Everyone was warming up on a big loop, some people going in one direction, others going in the opposite direction. I was feeling pretty good. In the distance, I saw JK headed toward me. As we got closer, there was no polite waving or words of encouragement. In fact, no words were spoken at all. Nearly simulataneously, we flipped each other off as we passed and calmly continued the warmup. I then changed into my racing flats, because (as I’ve tirelessly pointed out in my blogs) I’m a dorkwad who truly believes that shiny shoes can make you faster. (They worked for Michael Johnson, so cork it.)
At the startling line, I could not escape JK. He kept appearing right behind me. My “tactic” was to lose him in the crowd at the start, find him, and then tail him for most of the race. At the last minute, I was able to hide behind a gaggle of screaming teenagers wearing grass skirts and wigs. This was not relaxing.
The gun went off. I mostly saw a friend of mine who is not particularly fast blazing away like a freaking meteor way ahead of me. This was my First Moment of Panic. As the crowd thinned out a bit, I noticed that JK had not started off as quickly. I top-secretly got right behind him and ran this way for the next mile or so thinking that I was being truly wise and sneaky. (After the race, I discovered that JK had known I was there the entire time. Sheesh.)
The first mile went by in about 6:30. Second Moment of Panic. This would have been a nice first mile when I was 28. At 47, it was monumentally not nice. I saw JK look at his watch about 3000 times for the next half mile and wondered if he, too, was worrying about that first mile being too fast. At about a mile and a half, we began changing leads. I kept thinking that if I could just get ahead by 20 yards or so, I could beat him. This is where I discovered that being in the lead is harder and requires not only strength, but also confidence. So, naturally, I fell behind JK.
Mile 2 went by in about 13:15. Less panic, more nausea. At about 2.3. miles, we were running side by side with a young man wearing only running shoes and tightie whities right in front of us. No sarcastic comments were made, not even a quick eye roll. Yes, it had become so deadly that even a teenager running in undies directly in front of us could not alter our focus.
Around 2.8, JK made what I think was a “move.” He blasted ahead for about 3 and 1/2 feet. Although this didn’t really move him too far ahead, I have to admit that it made me nervous since I could have absolutely in no way done anything close to a blast of even 4 inches at that point. Let’s call this the Third and Final Moment of Panic. Shortly following this was my realization that JK had enough left to pull ahead in the final .1 and beat me. Oh, the horror.
As the finish came into view, the clock was at 20:00 and I said, “Looks like we’ll both break 21:00,” and JK just said, “Yes.” We were still nearly side by side. Then I said “Hold hands over the finish line?” making a terrific effort to sound sarcastic and failing entirely. Then everything became a blur because, mostly, I think we were both trying to finish under 21:00. But I vaguely noticed, as though he was a thousand miles away, JK reaching out his hand to me just before the finish and saying “Come on!” Big stupid sappy JK.
In the end, JK finshed 2 seconds ahead of me–21:01 to my 21:03—a PR that I would never have come close to if JK and I hadn’t been racing. I semi-hurled at the finish, but nothing particularly substantial or impressive. Still, it was something I hadn’t done since I was in the heyday of my 5k and 10k days two decades ago. It felt just like old times. It was great.
This was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable 5ks I’ve ever run. Even if my nemesis did beat me (by only two seconds after I beat him last time by three making me the overall winner timewise. Thanks).
Franklin Classic 10k, September 1st
Don’t you just love it when a truly wretched song is stuck in your head for the entirety of a particularly grueling race? Labor Day dawned like a big damp washrag. Humidity on a bun and HOT. I walked out on the deck at 4:45 a.m. and here was my thought process: Hot. Hot here and hot in the city. Hot Child in the City.
And there you have it. The anthem for that day’s 10K would be mind-numblingly atrocious 1978 song by that freak, Nick Gilder. If you’re not familiar with that song (because you either have good taste or you’re under 40), you really owe it to yourself to trundle on over to YouTube and torture yourself.
Anyway, Cheryl and I zipped out to Franklin as the big, red, hot sun was coming up. Last year, Cheryl hated this race more than words can accurately describe. It was a living hell of humidity and fat chicks in running skirts passing her at mile 5.9. So, of course, she signed up for it again this year. We got there early enough to sit in the car sipping AMP and asking in a monotone, “Why are we here so early?” about 8 times. It’s a nice tradition.
I warmed up. It was nearly 80 degrees with 80% humidity already. But I WARMED UP. Hilarious. I was drenched just in time to start the race.
I’ll admit that the first mile wasn’t bad. It was sort of downhill, a nice cemetery ( I love cemeteries) on the left, still in the shade, adrenaline. But just as quickly, we rounded a corner into massive sunshine and a series of uphills. Hot. Hot Child in the City. Running Wild and Looking Pretty. (Not.)
I passed the 5k mark around 22:20 and immediately did the “How much can I slow down and still not have a worse time than last year?” calculation. I had hoped to do this 10k under 45 minutes, but I had already sweated out all my confidence. I was, in fact, beginning to look behind me for the Large Hotdog Man. This is a man who dresses up like a hotdog in a bun every year and, even so, runs a halfway decent race. Still, one does not want to get passed by Large Hotdog Man. One feels that having a Hotdog Man zip by you in the last mile of a 10k is demoralizing.
At mile five, I wanted to perform a self-decapitation to get the Nick Gilder song out of my head. But way off in the distance in a blurry desert-esque oasis of shimmering heat and cattle skulls and tumble weeds was the finish line. A very fat man on the side of the road looked at me and blared, “You know you can do it if you just TRY!” I can’t be certain that if I had had an anvil at that juncture that I wouldn’t have hurled it at him.
Somehow the finish line floated ever nearer. One more quick check behind me for Large Hotdog Man. Brief consideration of how tragic it is to be racing a hotdog. And suddenly it was over. 10k in 46:21–30 seconds better than the year before, but no joy in it. I know you’re supposed to be happy with any PR, but I had hoped for maybe a minute or more faster. It was a PR, but not a peak (more on this stuffy, elitist terminology later).
The race was well-organized and efficiently run, but it was, as always, a hell of heat, hills, humidity, and human hotdogs. This year’s added bonus was the lovely 1978 anthem. And yet…I know I’ll run it again next year. The allure of this race, oddly, escapes me.