I hoped to just finish the 5K Race Against Poverty in downtown Chambersburg, June 3, 2011. It was my wife’s birthday and she had asked folks to sign up to walk or run in lieu of a party or gifts. That is an awesome woman! I had run some in preparation for the race, but jogging alone on known turf is not the same as racing on unknown footing on Boro streets. On the way into town we stopped at Ruby Tuesday’s for an early dinner. I had the salad bar because I did not want a heavy load on my stomach as my metabolism came under attack from running like mad later.
After the late registration and 5K walk was done, a couple of hundred runners stretched and preened in the parking lot off W. King Street, just before the starting line at the bridge. I tried to stretch a bit, though I was more concerned with not wasting any energy. I knew I was overmatched. Real runners were doing exercises I had never witnessed before now. They had youthful toned bodies that had been carved by endless roadwork. I looked for older guys with loosely tied dirty sneakers who were pudgy. Those were my people. I sensed that I could probably do okay for the 50 plus category. I knew I could take the guy in the wheelchair and the one with the walker.
We bunched up to hear the starter blare out instructions via a bullhorn. A shot– BAM! and away the horde went like a swarm of ants around the first turn onto Main Street. As I came around the corner, I felt the relief of being able to spread out a bit. I could see the field straight ahead of me as we kicked it down Main Street. I noticed several folks I knew casually from town and began to move ahead in the column of runners. I knew that I could not keep the pace I was running, but it felt awesome to pass so many folks, especially younger guys. “Pace, Dude. You have to pace yourself or you’ll burn out your lungs.”
I was not wearing a watch and had no idea what my pace was, so I looked ahead for a runner I could match up to and use as a pace bunny. Two or three hundred yards ahead I spotted young Pastor Kyle from our church. He’d run a marathon or two that year and was keeping a nice pace. I figured if I could keep up with him, I’d finish in decent time and company. Maybe even get into heaven.
The column thinned and turned right into a housing project on the south end of Main Street. I could not see Kyle. I was sure that I was keeping up with him, however. “Steady, steady. Pass on the decline. Conserve energy.” People were coming back and crossing over the road. I realized that this was a cul-de-sac. Kyle was coming out and I had to try and measure 250 yards by sight around a circle. I thought I was keeping up with him, but it was hard to tell when I could not keep an eye on him.
I came zooming out of the housing project and onto the rail-to-trail paved pathway. It was six feet wide and further thinned the runners’ column to two abreast. Having once been a railroad bed, there was little incline to overcome. I was feeling strong and hardly believed that the race was nearly over. It wasn’t. We had not covered two miles yet, and I mistakenly believed that the finish line was ahead. Lots of folks crowded around the big digital clock and cheered. Some ran alongside runners to encourage them. Others handed out water bottles that had Bible verses on the labels. My bottle said, “though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…”
Actually the finish line was right there; however, the runners needed to run one more mile in a circle and then scoot under that big digital clock. Dang it! I thought that I had an amazing time of 15 minutes and change. The real runners were legitimately crossing the finish line, so it was confusing. Heck, I was only a mile behind the winner of this race. I looked for Kyle and spotted his frame turning off the paved trail onto Commerce Street. I had to gain ground but felt like walking. My labored breathing could not defeat my foolish pride yet. I motored on, scanning for Kyle’s back.
Up the crumbling sidewalk on Commerce Street the runners scambled for two blocks. Then another right turn onto Main Street brought us a few blocks from where we had started about 18 minutes before. I saw Kyle far ahead of me as Main Street doglegged to the right. I knew that I would not catch my pace bunny, but that had not been the goal. The goal was simply finishing. The downhill slope helped my legs fall forward. A kid I had in school fifteen years ago ran past me; cheered for me; and told me her name without losing her rhythm or breath. It was nice to be noticed, but I just focused on breathing now.
The final right turn took me onto King Street and across the bridge where we had started the race. At the crown of the small bridge Pastor Kyle was stopped, bent over the side retching into the stream. He looked like he’d been hit by a mortar in the belly. I stopped to see if he was alright. He urged me not to, “Go, go ahead. I’ll be fine.” Bits of partially digested lasagna and gastric juices dribbled down his chin and neck.
I pulled out a blue hankerchief for him to wipe his face. This scene had a faint resemblance to the final battle in Saving Private Ryan, only now it was Saving Pastor Kyle. ” Go, don’t wait for me.” It sounded pretty dramatic to me. I was about 300 yards from the finish line, and it really didn’t matter if I ran 26 something or 30 something. This was not the Olympics. Besides, I had finally caught my race bunny. I trotted to the finish line as Kyle cleaned himself off. “What was I thinking? Lasagna before a race?”
As I walked to cool down, the REM song “Losing my Religion” came to me, so I hummed along, changing the lyrics to fit the occasion….
“That’s me in the footrace,
that’s me in the big fast crowd,
and I don’t think that I can do it,
Oh no I ate too much,
I didn’t wait enough. I set it up.
That’s me on the bridge,
that’s me on the apex ..
losing my lasagna.”