It was not my fault. I did not do it on purpose. I got sucked into the whole thing by a friend. Peer pressure. You’ve all met her in Chris Cox’s columns, his “around the bend crazy” wife, who, unfortunately for me, is a fantastic person. We’ll call her “Tammy.”
The problem was that she knew my schedule. She knew that once school started, I would be available early on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so when she asked, “Do you want to run with me?” what could I say? She knew I didn’t have other plans. There was no excuse.
I put up a feeble protest, “I’ve never run before in my life.”
Her standard answer: “Oh, come on! You’ll be great! It’ll be fun!”
I fell back on health reasons, “I’ll die before we can make it a mile.”
“We’ll go slow. It’ll be fun!”
I didn’t want to commit, but I was out of ideas. “I don’t know ....”
“So you’re in. I’ll meet you Tuesday at 8:10. You’ll be great! It’ll be fun!”
The pressure was too much for me, and I utterly caved.
We met. We ran. And it was fun. At least the hanging out with her was fun. Running 2? miles with cinderblocks tied to my feet was another story altogether.
We ran as necessary through the next couple of months. Our route was not too hard. It was very flat except for one hill at the end, and I figured out how to go around that hill. Tammy was always very encouraging. She laughed the whole time and would say things like, “You’re doing great! We’re almost there! Isn’t this fun!” and I kept going. I didn’t have to be carried away in the ambulance a single time.
Things went on swimmingly until a couple of weeks ago when she said, out of the blue, “Are you busy Saturday after next?”
I immediately recognized that this was a very dangerous question. “Why?”
“Before I tell you, you have to promise you’ll do it.”
What could I say? “All right, I’ll do it. What am I doing?”
“We’re going to be in a race! It’s a 5k! Won’t it be fun!”
“Do you realize that I’ve never run that far in my life? I don’t even know how far that is?!”
“We’ll go slow! We’ll train! We’ve got two weeks! You’ll do great!”
And so we trained. My son got sick and I spent the next week and a half in training, sitting by the couch, changing the cool washcloths on his aching forehead. Very good preparation for a race. Then he was better, but there were only two days before the race. Bad cell phone connections, missed voice mails, etc. etc. and our total training, in the end, consisted of “Let’s meet at 7:30, and we’ll ride out there together.”
And so we did. The race was to begin at Bethel Middle School, and when we went in, I was overwhelmed by the amount of physical fitness around me. Everywhere I looked people were wearing athletic clothes, stretching, drinking sports drinks. Everyone was thin. I realized that I would probably lose 10 pounds just by being near all these running machines. I considered running away (Run, Forrest, Run!), but Tammy grabbed my shoulder, and I missed the opportunity.
When it was time to start, all of us athletes strode out to the starting line, which happened to be next to a farmyard with an assortment of animals. The chickens watched us with interest as they pecked around. The turkey was focused on the hens and seemed unaware of the large amount of physical fitness coming towards him.
But the donkey noticed. He started braying. Clearly, he was not prepared for all these athletes. It was the crack of dawn, and he had not had his coffee. He trotted closer to inspect us, braying all the while. But all the sweat bands and sports drinks were more than he could handle. A tall, lanky runner stretched high into the air and then reached down to touch his toes. That was the last straw. The donkey glanced down at his own round belly and took off. Everyone around me laughed. I thought the donkey was showing remarkable foresight in getting away while he had the chance.
The moment drew near.“On your marks! Get set! Go!” and we were off. I don’t know how long we ran. It was 5K, but I’m still not sure how many miles that is. Someone said that it was around three or over three or something. One heck of a long way is the only part that I’m sure about. The flat part was all right, but then we got to a hill. It wasn’t steep, but it was long. At the very beginning of the hill, the cinderblocks glued themselves to my feet again.
But like always, Tammy was right there, “You’re doing great! I’m so proud of you! Isn’t this fun!” again and again. She told me the story of how, in her last race, she had burned herself out too quickly and had had to walk for three minutes. Somehow, with her stories and encouragement, I managed to keep going. The top of the hill came slowly, but it came at last.
It was downhill from there, and when we were nearing the school, she told me of her friend who had said that when you see the finish line, you give 150 percent. That story distracted me from my aching side for a minute, but when we got near the finish line, and she yelled, “Let’s go! 150 percent! You can do it!” I realized that she had been serious. I gave it all I had but the cinderblocks had not yet fallen off, so it wasn’t much. When we were at the finish line, she pushed me over the line in front of her.
Our time was 29 minutes, 28 seconds. I was too ignorant to know if that was good or bad. Tammy, on the other hand, was ecstatic. We had done it in less than 30 minutes, better than a 10-minute mile. Way better than she had expected. At the awards ceremony, a little while later, even I figured out that that was pretty good. I came in third in my age division. I was a winner. How about that!
Tammy didn’t win. The second and third place times in her division were both around 27 minutes. But she was so excited for me. “You did great! You were amazing! I am so proud of you!”
At some point I asked her what her time had been in her last race when she had had to walk for three minutes. It had been 26 minutes, and that included the three minutes of walking. It didn’t take much math to figure out how fast she could have been in this race, or what place she could have won if she had not been running with me.
At the awards ceremony, I stepped up to get my award. I wasn’t sure how I had gotten there. In that quiet moment waiting for the photographer to snap my picture, I rather thought that my being there was a miracle. Then I thought better. It wasn’t a miracle at all. It was Tammy.