The highlight of my year thusfar, running-wise -- well, and pretty much otherwise -- came in a 5K when I finished first in my 40-44 age group, or as I affectionately refer to us, "aspiring Medicare recipients."
That's right, I'm finally competing against the over-40 crowd. I've been waiting for this for years! I knew eventually most of the other guys would get fat, lazy, or married -- busy with kids, wives, actually having a social life, or being productive members of society.
I know people say, "All that matters is that you finish."
Maybe that's all that matters for your very first race. But after that, all anyone talks about is PR's and their new GPS watches and "Are you guys doing the color run in June?" When all I really wanna do is get my free t-shirt, win a trophy in my age group, and call my Mom the next day to see if my name is in the newspaper even though no one reads newspapers anymore anyway... except for my Mom.
Oh, and enjoy my runner's high, of course. I do believe the runner's high exists. I have found that for me, it usually follows the five stages of grief.
There's the this-isn't-gonna-be-so-bad denial, the Oh-my-God-we've-only-run-two-miles anger, the just-don't-puke-just-don't-puke-just-don't-puke bargaining, the how-did-that-seventy-year-old-man-just-pass-me depression, and the I'm-really-going-to-die-right-here-on-this-flippin-road acceptance.
This past Saturday was my hometown 10K run. It rained throughout the race and I got nipple burn like never before and spent the rest of the weekend walking around with Band-Aided areolas (areolae?).
For those of you who have never experienced it, nipple burn falls just behind being kicked in the privates and a colonoscopy/STD swab/having a catheter inserted on the list of the most intense pains of a man's life. Just ahead of never winning your father's approval/your favorite ball team losing a big game.
Anyhow, I finished 3rd among the aspiring Medicare recipients. The two guys ahead of me must have absolutely no life whatsoever! Seriously, we're talking no kids, rarely go out on weekends, probably have a blog and haven't been inside a movie theater since 2012.
(What's everyone looking at?)
I thought of something Saturday as I was struggling to not refund my breakfast of chocolate chip cookies and a Sun Drop (you amateur runners, don't try that at home). And that is, all the races I've ever run all have certain types of runners -- characters, if you will -- in common.
So with apologies to Mitch Albom, I now present the five people you meet when running a race:
1. Circle-Back Guy
Circle-Back Guy finishes the race in the top five overall, then as the rest of the field is still far from the finish line, they meet Circle-Back Guy jogging the course backwards. Occasionally, he might offer words of encouragement. But really, he's just letting you know not only did he beat you, but he's had time to grab a beverage, have his picture made for said antiquated newspaper, and jog a half-mile or more the wrong way to where you are coming to grips that your life is most likely going to end right here on this wretched 10K course.
It's a real life #humblebrag is what it is.
Sometimes I like to pretend CBG locked his keys in his car so he has to jog all the way home from the race. (Because he can't afford a locksmith and doesn't have any friends or family he can call?) And if I weren't in the midst of struggling for my final breaths upon this Earth, that would make me smile.
Oh, and just in case you're wondering, I AIN'T no circle-back guy. Hey-o!
2. The Can't-Pass-Me Kid
The start of a race is like an obstacle course. You're weaving in and out of people, trying to avoid those putting down a 12-minute mile, occasionally hurdling small children (or elbowing them out of the way, "accidentally" of course).
This is partly because a certain number of the younger kids will start off running as fast as they can. By the half-mile mark most of them are out of breath. But inevitably, there is at least one kid who lasts a little longer than the others. And even though you've been gaining on him (it's almost always a boy) for a while, when he sees you about to pass him, he finds a second wind and goes back ahead of you.
I'm quite sure it is this kid who one day grows up to be the driver who suddenly speeds up just as you're about to pass them.
3. Looks-Like-Tarzan-Runs-Like-Your-Grandma Guy
Or as I like to refer to him, Edwin Poses. This guy has all the latest gear: $200 running shoes, knee-high compression socks, heart-rate monitor, Garmin GPS Forerunner, maybe even a personal hydration system. Looks like he came right off the pages of Runner's World magazine.
You see him before the race, you're thinking this guy's gonna be a contender. Then you pass him around the three-quarter mile mark, huffing and puffing, but still with perfect posture, checking his pace on his Garmin. Uh yeah, that's a 10:30 mile there, Edwin. With negative splits on the way.
4. The Unwitting Motivator
Alas, this goddess of pavement and polyester normally (and unknowingly) makes herself known to me after the first mile or so. Once everyone has settled into their pace and all the kids have been shoved out of the way like the parting of the Red Sea, this asphalt angel appears ahead of me, ready to lead me to the promised land. She becomes my reason, my motivation. Because I gotta be honest, seeing my name in print in a dying media sometimes isn't enough anymore.
She can be older, younger, or indeterminate. Really anyone with a ponytail and a sub-9-minute-mile pace will do. Besides, I find that the girls all start looking like Kate Upton around fainting time.
(Pause to Google-image Kate Upton.......)
Aaaaand we're back.
5. The Social Runner
The last person on our list of the five people you meet when running a race is likely one of the first persons you will encounter on race day. This social butterfly makes the rounds before the race, introducing herself and making small talk with anyone and everyone.
It's 7 o'clock in the morning and she's just a little too happy to see everybody. WTF? Did she load her personal hydration system up with Red Bull? Are they giving pre-race B-12 shots over in the medical tent?
Sometimes, she's even social during the race, especially the first couple of minutes. And it always makes me wish I'd worn my "Back off, effer! I don't like people." button.
I mean, if I had such a button.
I would like to close today with a PSA brought to you by NURPLED, which stands for Nippular Understanding Regarding Pain which Leads to Eventual Discharge:
Also, my apologies for some of the language in this post. Horse hockey, effer, and flippin' are not words I use in everyday dialogue. However, I felt they were necessary to convey the true feeling of various aspects of this story.
*** Readers who enjoyed this post also enjoyed the 2010 near-classic, Thursdays With Bone. And be watching for The First Text You Get From Your Mom, the next post in my anthology of Mitch Albom tributes.
Is tributes the right word?
"Few times I've been around that track / So it's not just gonna happen like that / 'Cause I ain't no hollaback girl..."