Today I had the pleasure of running a 5K race (3.1 miles.) It was for a good cause and it was right here in my own neighborhood, who could say no? I’ve been a runner for several years now, however, not always a very enthusiastic one. As a result of my lack of enthusiasm for the sport, I’ve never really gained that Killer Competitive Instinct which all other runners seem to have. They will joke and laugh with you at the starting line but when the gun goes off it’s all business, take no prisoners.
My goal for the very first race I ever ran was to not die and to not come in dead last. I managed both, but just barely. I was comforted by the fact that it was largely sponsored by a doctor and backed up by the staff from our local hospital. After a few more 5K’s, I got used to racing and am no longer intimidated by the sleek, muscular legs of everybody else, or their barrage of gadgetry that makes them look professional. I don’t bat an eye when I see people wearing arm warmers or running tights. As far as races are concerned, I consider them just another workout only with more people and at a slightly faster pace. I try to put forth just enough extra effort so that my time is just marginally better than it is when I jog around on any other day. That means instead of running a mile in, say 11 minutes, I may kick it up a notch and run it in…10:55.
Even the speed of others, although enviable, does not motivate me to try harder. You would think being so far behind in the pack would become disheartening. Perish the thought. There are advantages to being pokey and here they are:
1. 1. The EMT car is usually right behind you. If you collapse they will be literally 2 seconds away. The speed weasels at the front of the pack will have to wait a heck of a lot longer for help to arrive than I will.
2. 2. You can goof off. Today I actually stopped, drank my water, walked it back to the garbage bag and waited for my friend Wendy to catch up. It was her first race ever and far be it from me to put personal success ahead of my pal. Besides, I was so slow I was certainly not setting any PR’s (Personal Record for those of you not familiar with running lingo.) The little girl handing out water was screaming for me to GO- JUST THROW IT DOWN & RUN!! (the water cup) but I was in no hurry. I should hire that little girl to be my running coach.
3. 3. The volunteers along the way give you more encouragement. I think they feel bad for me because I run so slow. I try to explain that it’s alright, I just lack the desire to try harder and they just clap and say “Good Job! Keep it Up!” anyhow because they think I’m being modest instead of truthful.
4. 4. When you finally get to the end, everyone else has already completed the race and therefore a larger crowd has congregated at the finishing chute to cheer on those who are just now arriving for the party. It makes me feel like Rose at the end of “Titanic” when she walks down the grand staircase once again and everyone on the whole dang ship has lined up to clap and cheer for her while Leonardo DeCaprio takes her hand and escorts her to the bottom. Only I’m extremely sweaty (even minimal exertion makes me sweat like a man), there’s no hot man waiting to take my hand (usually just a race volunteer who does nothing more than rip off my info at the bottom of my race bib) and Rose never bent over and threatened to throw up on her own shoes.
5. 5. Food. While the serious racers are busy pacing back and forth in front of the results, waiting and waiting to see where they placed, I’m up to my armpits in bagels and bananas. FREE GATORADE- WOO HOO!!! I pillage and plunder the free buffet while they nervously await their time. Not me, I don’t care, I’ve got a poppy seed muffin in one hand and a blueberry muffin in the other, life is good my friend.
6. 6. It boosts the self esteem of others. I figure, if there is some new person who’s never raced before, more than likely their goals are similar to what mine were the first time. (Not die, and not come in dead last.) So what I’m actually doing is helping them meet their goal. They don’t finish last, I get muffins, it’s a win/win for everyone.
7. 7. I can huff and puff as loud as I want and not have to worry about distracting the serious runners. (I have been asked by people passing me if I’m ok before. My response is usually: NO- who’s dumb idea was it to run this?!!) When I am in the back, no one can hear the loud breathing as I labor towards the finish line.
8. 8. I’m proving Newton’s third law: To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is a fact that in the world of running, some races hire what they call a “rabbit.” The job of the rabbit (which is actually a person) is to set the pace of how fast the race will go, as pre-determined by the race directors. Bet you didn’t know that, but it’s true. (“Steve, today you will be running at the speed of a gazelle about to be eaten by a cheetah.”) I won’t go into all the intricate details so if you don’t believe me, just look it up. Only the rabbit doesn’t get to finish the race. Instead they sort of disappear somewhere in the middle and you will never even notice them. But they have done their job because the competitive runners will continue running at the pace the rabbit set, unaware. I am the self appointed Turtle to the Rabbit. *Note: there is not a rabbit at every race, usually just the high profile races.* I am the opposite reaction to the rabbit. They go quick, quick like a bunny. I see their quickness and raise them one slowness. They don’t finish the race, I do. Opposite.
9. Rabbits get hit by cars more often than turtles. It's much safer to be a turtle. Turtles don't dart out into traffic. They're already in the middle of the road when you come upon them, and usually, instead of running them over, you get out of your car and try to help them along. Who doesn't love a turtle?
So if you’ve been thinking of dabbling in the weird and wonderful world of running, come- join us! If it is a race that I’m also in, I can practically guarantee that you won’t be last. And if you are, think of all the fabulous benefits listed above that come with the territory. If after some time, you also fail to develop that need for speed the majority seems to possess, my brother and sister turtles will welcome you with open arms into our shuffling community.