Sorry about the dancing candy cane. It’s really annoying.
Anyway, I ran one of those holiday-themed 5ks this past weekend. There were close to a dozen Jingle Jog Snowflake Stomp Reindeer Run Ho Ho Hurls Ass Freeze Blowouts to choose from, so I looked for the least competitive one with the outside hope of actually winning it. Some may call this “cherry picking.” I call it “mind your own business and let me win one more damn race before I’m too old to have a prayer in hell.”
So I came across a 5k not too far away that had a history of women’s winning times in the 21-somethings. Lame? Yes. Immediately signed up for it? Yes. There was no guarantee that I’d be running a 21-something 5k as my last one was 22:10, but I wasn’t in the midst of marathon training, I was fairly rested from a couple recovery weeks, and I hadn’t been walking down the stairs sideways for nearly 3 days. So I figured I had a shot.
When I got to the race, the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t recognize anyone. None of the truly fast chicks who happily humiliate me regularly were there. I carefully took inventory of any women who looked severe, focused, nervous, geeky, or pissed. None! Most of them were chattering away about cookie recipes and looked like they were getting ready to have a facial or a nap. The only remotely jittery looking types was a group of 12-year -olds stretching in the corner. This was too good to be true!
As we gathered for the start, I took one last glance around. Yes, I was the only weirdo. I was going to win this thing. And then we were off. The first mile had some serious downhill in it, so I was afraid to look at my watch at the one mile marker. It felt 6:45ish, but I’ll never know. I had passed a bunch of women in the first half mile and even elbowed one chick who kept leaning in toward me for inexplicable reasons. At one mile, I could see there was only one other woman ahead of me.
Or, I should say, one other child ahead of me.
One of the 12-year-olds was cranking it up the hill, all knees and flailing arms. She was even wearing the long-sleeve cotton race shirt which came halfway down her legs. I have to say that I felt a little bad about the fact that I was going to blow by her at any moment. I mean, I knew she knew she was in first place. But I’d seen kids in a lot of races, and after about a mile of fireworks (at the most), they fizzle out.
So, as I pulled up alongside her, I wanted to encourage her. You know, let her know thatI thought it was cool that she was out here running and everything. I smiled and said something.
No response. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence. She stared straight ahead and entirely ignored me. Damn, I thought, she must be really bummed that I’m passing her. Alas, us winners have to do what we have to do. It’s a tough row to hoe, but the win goes to only one. She who falters in the moment of…
The girl blasted by me as we went back down the other side of the hill and I was lost in my reverie of self-congratualtions. Okay. Calm down. She’s bound to give it a last gasp effort. I’ll shake her before mile two. As mile two approached, we changed leads nearly five times. As she tucked in behind me when we hit a bit of a headwind, shook her arms out to relax, and neatly ran the tangents, I began to get a little nervous. Perhaps she actually knew what she was doing.
For most of the last mile, we ran side by side. She never once looked at me. People watching cheered us, and more than once I heard someone say, “That must be her mother.” Sheesh. It was, however, gratifying to witness the horror of the several men we passed in the last mile. It’s one thing to get chicked. It’s another thing entirely to get double-chicked by Mother Time and a grade-schooler.
At 2.5 I was considering how utterly attractive it would be for a 48-year-old woman to give it everything she’s got to crush a 12-year-old at the finish line at a festive family Christmas run. Perhaps, I thought at 2.8, I should just let her have it. We were still side by side at 2.9. Maybe I should just…
In the end, it didn’t matter what I thought. The fact was, there’s no way I could have beaten her no matter how hard I tried. At 2.9 we could see the finish and both began to crank it, but right away I could sense that her crank was a lot bigger. Sloppy shirt, elbows akimbo, knees and all. Before she pulled away, I touched her shoulder and just said, “You’ve got it.” Finally, there was just a hint of a smile, and off she went.
She crossed the finish line 4 seconds ahead of me, jumped up and down and then hugged Santa. When I came over to her to congratulate her, the competitor was completely evaporated, and she was just a shy 12-year-old holding on to a candy cane.
“That was a great race,” I said.
“Yes ma’am,” she said with a little giggle.
And that was the best way imaginable to end a year of racing. A win would not have even come close.