One of the best-run, best-attended and least-known gems of My Home Town is our summer fun runs.
They're organized and supervised double-handedly by Bill and Lynda Peer and are fun runs in the truest sense. People are given their times and the results are published in the Enterprise, but that's as fancy as it gets. There're no entry fees, prizes, t-shirts, split times, fashion shows or egomania. People show up, run, shoot the breeze, pat each other on the back and just have fun - as they're supposed to.
And when I say "people," I mean all people: There's even a half-mile run for the tots.
But don't get the idea that the runs can't be competitive, because they sure can. A lot of folks race against the clock; others race against each other. A case in point: Even though I've been only a leisure runner for all the runs' 12 years, I once pulled out the stops, put pedal to the metal and went for broke.
It was about five years ago and I was in the 4.2-mile run. The courses vary from time to time, but this one was a certified P.T.A. (Pain, Torture and Agony). It went from Riverside Park, up Riverside Drive, around Indian Pass and then back again. If you know the course, you know what it's like. If you don't know the course, all you need to know is, except for the first and last half-mile, it's all hills - and some heartbreaking hills at that.
So there I was, at the end of the pack per usual, plodding my way down Birch Street with about a mile-and-a-half to go, when I saw someone part way up the first of the last three hills. The most amazing thing was he was walking! (To save him from public embarrassment, I'll henceforth refer to as X).
X was about 10 years younger than me and had always finished far ahead of me. Plus not only was he a good runner, but he looked like one. He was tall and lean, with cut, ropy muscles. On the other hand, I at 5'4", 175 lbs., look like if I play any sports, it's darts, shuffleboard and five card draw.
Anyhow, it didn't matter what he looked like or what he used to run like. If he was walking up that hill, he was now in almost as lousy shape as me. I was both shocked and inspired - shocked because I couldn't imagine him so deconditioned, and inspired because it looked as if maybe, just maybe, I could actually beat him.
In my prime, when I'd been a competent runner, my forte had been running up hills and I rarely got passed. Going down hills was another story, though, and I often got passed on them by the runners I'd breezed by on the way up.
Since X had clearly hit the wall on the uphill, I decided to see if I could get to the top before him. I speeded up (as much as the word "speed" could be used to describe me) and beat him to the top of the hill. Then, as I'd expected, he passed me on the way down.
Almost immediately, we hit the second hill. Again, I crawled by him on the ascent, and again he came by me on the descent.
Now all that was left was the last hill and the final three-quarters of a mile.
The last hill was a monster. It's long and steep, and coming toward the end of the race, it's a burnout's worst nightmare. Certainly, it was this burnout's worst. No matter, I bravely soldiered on and passed X about half way up. Then, once I hit the top of the hill, I decided to go into my legendary kick.
Unfortunately, at that point, my legendary kick was just that - legendary - because it was at least 30 years in my past. I was light-headed and gasping, my legs were on fire, and was about to lose my lunch.
I stumbled on, and with half a mile to go, X came by me again, got about five yards ahead and stayed there. But he wasn't on cruise control either: I could hear his breathing and it was as ragged as mine.
OK, I thought, I'll hang right behind him and then pick it up in the last quarter mile.
I was half-right: I maintained the pace, but had no extra energy to pick up anything - including my tongue, which was now waggling on my chest.
The little Dope's big gun
We came pounding down Riverside Drive, step for step, desperate and oxygen-deprived, I realized the only way I could beat him was if I brought out my running arsenal's big gun - The Dopey Deceit!
I closed the gap and hung just off his right shoulder. And there I stayed as we got to the beginning of Riverside Drive and the final 100 yards.
You've heard of the famous runner's high, but you've probably never heard of the runner's down. Well, suffice it to say I was in the middle of one great big one. Everything from my neck down was in agony. The only reason nothing from the neck up hurt was because I was obviously brain-dead.
When we crossed the Lake Flower bridge, he sped up and so did I.
Now we only had a right-hand turn into the park and the finish line, maybe ten yards beyond it.
We got to the turn; I started the Dopey Deceit.
And when I did, X did exactly what I'd hoped he'd do: He made the ultimate runner's mistake of looking behind him.
Of course he looked over his right shoulder, expecting to see me, since I'd been there dogging him for the past 15 minutes. Instead, all he saw was the wide open spaces. That's because when we made the turn, I passed him on his left side, exactly where I had not been.
I knew he wouldn't be puzzled for more than a second, but I figured that was all I needed. I sprinted for all I was worth, hearing his footsteps hitting mere inches behind mine.
When I crossed the finish line, he was right behind me. And while I can't remember our times, I remember his was one second slower.
Funny thing: Sometimes a one-second gap can be too short, and sometimes it can be too long. But that time it was perfect.