PR’s, weight loss, negative splits, final kicks…all words that revolve around the mind of a runner. It has taken many years for me to understand what all of these words meant, and today, I realized that in some instances you just have to not care about any of them.
I finished dead last in the race I ran in today.
Two years ago my wife and I discovered a fun, secluded road race near the border of Missouri and Iowa. In a town that was no longer considered a town; all that stood was a rural high school and an abbey. The race, named Abbey Trails 5K, started at the abbey and was a quick 1.5 out and 1.5 back. With large, electricity generating windmills moving in the distance, the roads were closed, and the run was peaceful. The race was won by a man pushing a two seat stroller.
That was two years ago. I had no idea that in 2016 our experience would be anything but normal.
It started by arriving at the race locating at 7:15 AM; meaning that my wife and I had to be out the door of our house no later than 5:45 AM. When we rolled up into the parking lot we made a discovery. The race didn’t start until 9:00 AM. I had misread the instructions; mixing up ‘packet pickup’ and ‘race start’, resulting in a 90 minute delay.
Through this time my wife and I had discussed the plan; she was going to run the first mile and afterwards break up the miles in half by walking and running. Personally, I was going to run, see if my calf held up, and make an attempt to get on the podium for my age group. If my calf wasn’t going to work properly, I was going to spend my time with my wife running her ‘plan’.
There is something that you need to know about this race. Something my wife and I had forgotten in the two years that had passed. Small town races are dangerous traps. Unlike large spectacles that bring out thousands of runners; small town races are similar to the town. Small. Meaning a potentially smaller field. The trap is to assume that since the field is smaller you, by default, have a better chance at medaling. That’s the trap. Because what is scary about small town races is there are few people that have the ‘runner look’, they are just there to try their best.
What that means to you=Prepare to be crushed.
The monk blew the horn to start the race. I can’t remember seeing a start that was so fast in many years. Three runners took off in a dead sprint for the first 400m. The pulse of this race had been set; it was going to be fast.
For the first mile I frolicked around the pack, passing up hill, like I’m not supposed to do. By the 1.5 turnaround I started to realize that placing in this race was going to be extremely doable for my age group. My leg was holding up well, I was hydrated, and I was still moving at a quick pace. However, by mile two I hadn’t seen my wife pass by (remember; down-and-back) me. This caused some concern, and frankly, guilt. My wife hates racing because she hates being alone in a group of people. She has expressed that to me on numerous occasions, but still humors my passion. Nearing the end of the race I saw her; she was last in the entire race outside of a girl that had hurt her ankle.
I had two choices; run for place or turn around in the middle of the course, add a mile to my distance, and stick with my wife for the rest of the race.
I turned around.
As I caught up to her and started to walk with her, something wet hit my head. A raindrop. What is a raindrop? Nothing in the world of running. What is something is the lightning bolt that ripped across the sky shortly after that drop followed by echoing thunder. We were at the first mile marker, on top of the tallest point of the course, in the country, with no one else around us. Maybe I’m a fool, but I didn’t appreciate the hair standing up on my arms. I jumped in the ditch. My wife came with me.
So, to set the stage here. My wife and I were 90 minutes early to a race that was located 73 miles away from our home. While I had the intent to push myself to hopefully a medal position, I wound up tracking my wife on the course. Upon locating her, lightning streaked across the sky and both of us hit the ditch.
It is pouring rain, my wife and I are crouched in a ditch, there are no other runners. We are the last ones on the course. We just sat there for a while, getting absolutely soaked. It was a scene from The Notebook with zero romance, just silence. The small, pesky storm passed by and my wife made our way through the course towards. A mile away from the finish line a Missouri State Trooper pulled up next to us. He let us know that an accident had been called in on the major highway twenty minutes from this race. Because of that all MSHP vehicles were leaving the course. This meant the farm road was open to public traffic, and with no shoulder on this road, we found ourselves in the midst of a game of Frogger.
Nearly one hour later, ten feet from the end of this race, I slowed down. While the competitive nature of my heart was damp because of my choice, the other part of my heart was happy that my wife wouldn’t be last. With five steps left until the finish line I pulled up solely so my wife could cross before me.
I finished dead last in my race today.
I have zero regrets.
Medals are shiny, hardware is nice, and personal records are always enjoyable. However, none of those can surpass the joy that someone shows because you chose them over your own ambition.