I'm OK, You're OK, at the Local 5K
Ran the suburban 5k today. It’d been awhile. There was the familiar sight of serious runners in good enough shape to actually jog a mile or more before in preparation. They are the "diehards”, as my mom calls bikers who go to the trouble of wearing helmets and skin-tight Spiderman outfits before hitting the local bike path. (By contrast, I just try to find shorts that don't have holes in the crotch.)
Before the race runners are engaged in a collection of nervous tics that pass as stretching exercises. Superstitiously I do a few stretches even though it seems like the stretches make me sore before I even start the race. Maybe I’m doing them wrong or too strenuously.
I line up in back because I’m getting over flu-like symptoms and am treating this (at least in the official discography) as more of a training run than a race. I start behind a porcelain skin'd girl who hadn’t been out in the sun much. I think: man she’s exposing a lot of skin to the sun’s unforgiving rays. It’s a 4pm start, really hot, and our master of ceremonies (aka the starter guy) worries aloud about getting us all back healthy. I say if it’s your time, it’s your time, let’s get on with it. The crowd is so young I almost feel like Creed on NBC’s The Office.
The starting gun, or what passes thereof, goes off and I start slow and taper off. Actually I start slow because there are a few hundred people in front of me and I have no choice. But when the crowd thins I decide I like the slow pace and continue it awhile. My plan is to go slow the first couple miles and then sprint the last mile and tenth. Or better yet go slow the first 3 miles and sprint the last tenth.
But then I remember Richard Nixon quoting St. Thomas Aquinas. Nixon, in his book "Seize the Day" or something like that, mentioned that Aquinas said something like a ship's purpose is not to just sit around in harbor.
It’s an out & back course so I spend the end of the first mile constantly waiting for the out & backers to come back. I want to see the leaders, I want some inspiration damnit. Finally they appear and I’d like to applaud but quash it since the energy that would take might add a few seconds to my time, as if that mattered. The apples-to-oranges principle states that one must not do anything differently in this 5K in order to compare it validly to 5Ks in the past.
During the race I can’t help but notice that I’m not passing quite as many runners as I’d expected and the runners I am passing are rather elderly. I’m starting to see the advantage of youth. It’s real. When I was younger I thought that races were mostly the result of your training. Input = Output. You train hard, you race hard. But in this race it’s deeply suspicious that all the early leaders were young and we trail-unblazers were middle-aged or older.
As we came to the home stretch I found myself comfortably enscounced between guys about my age. I felt the whip hand of the slow start and began dramatically picking up the pace. I passed a struggling runner but tried to do so as unobtrusively as possible. But he noticed, perhaps because nothing is more obtrustive than unobtrusivity, and my passing him proved his inspiration. He found a second wind and easily passed me. He began a very strong sustained sprint-like sprint. I decided to try to stay with him since I was curious to see how long he could go with it since he was seriously dragging when I passed him. I didn’t catch him.
Come to think of it, he was younger than me.