Sunday, September 17, 2006


I was planning a 6 mile long run as part of my training for the Tufts 10 in October when, the other day it hit me: why not sign up for a 10k this weekend? I'm planning on running the distance anyway, there are water stops and support along the course... makes sense to me.

So I signed up for the Run by the Sea 10k at the JCC in Marblehead. The weather was beautiful, a race course along the ocean - what more could a girl ask for?

Apparently I could ask for volunteers that give a flying fart in a dixie cup for the slow, fat old ladies at the back of the pack.

But I'm a little ahead of myself here.

I was a bit nervous about signing up because I looked up last year's results and there weren't a whole lot of folks at my speed... but it looked as though there were only 100 people listed and I've seen it before where the results of the first xnumber are posted but there were others behind them.

There were about 150 people at the start and it was clear the roads weren't closed (except for the initial start when traffic was held up for a few minutes until the pack thinned). Not good signs, but the guy with the bullhorn said, "Go out and have fun" after reassuring us there were "volunteers at every intersection" to make sure we were headed the right way.

So I start towards the back of the pack, as I usually do, and it isn't long before I'm the last runner. I'm not too worried because I now know from experience that plenty of people do run/walks or go out to fast and do recovery walks along the way. I can handle this right?

About 14 minutes in and not seeing a mile marker (maybe it was behind that group of people on the traffic island? But that didn't seem like a mile? Perhaps at the bend where the clam shack is...), my knee started to complain a great deal. I suspect it never really fully healed from twisting it a month or so back, but I did wear the neoprene brace today after last week's 5 mile run left it a bit sore.

Across the road I see a 5 mile road marker, so I figure I'm probably around the 1 mile mark and decide to take it easy on myself... run a mile, walk a mile, run a mile again. Between the knee and giving blood, I wasn't out for a PR or anything like that, just get my 6 in and work from there.

Finally a water station is looming up ahead. The woman who I keep trading places with for last now passes me so I'm last again. I lose sight of her because I can't tell if the two people taking up the whole sidewalk in front of me are part of the race or just walkers. Not to mention the people out jogging, walking their dog and everything else that happens along a busy stretch of public beach front.

I make it to the water table and grab a glass. The guys ignore me and I see a runner go off to the left, so I follow. About a half mile down the road, someone in a volunteer shirt calls out, "Are you running the race backwards?" as she sees me coming up the road.

"No," I reply, "I'm just the last runner."

"I think you're going the wrong way."

I screech to a halt.

"Excuse me?"

"You're going the wrong way, didn't they tell you at the water table to go right?" She pulls out the map and, sure enough, the route went to the right around the neck and looped down the road I am now running the wrong way on.

I could have sat down and cried at that point. I was already the last person. Not only that, because I know have to go back and loop around, I know there's no way I can catch the pack at all along with adding up to another mile to my run. The volunteer looked concerned - she could see I was upset and, to be honest, she was too.

"You could try running down to the point and back - that's probably the same distance and you won't be lost on the course at all."

I do my best to keep my composure as I say - "That's OK, I guess it just wasn't my day today," as I turned around to walk back to the start/finish. As I walk off - OK, as I stomped off - fighting back the tears and anger and emotion that's welling up inside, I see a new water station across from the one where they ignored me before.

I then did something rather childish, I took off my number and said to the woman there supervising the teens (the ones who ignored me) and said, "Do me a favor, in the future if you're not going to tell the fat, old, slow runners where to go on the course, then pick a spot where you don't have to tell anyone where to go."

She was only slightly apologetic... I understand as I probably wouldn't have wanted to been a stranger engaging me at that point. I tossed my number in the trash bag there and kept walking/stomping back.

I went into the registration area to get my bag as they were doing the kid's race registration. I looked at the guy behind the desk and said, "Look, I need to tell someone this and you're probably not the right person but someone with this race needs to know..." and told him what happened. He did apologize profusely and asked for my name and phone number so he could have the race director contact me.

I headed off to shower (one of the perks of this race was they advertised showers would be available) and, now that I had traded my previous huff for a brand new snit, headed out. I got to the entrance where they were breaking down the finish line - 1.5 hours after the race started. I figured the woman I was trading places with must have crossed and figured I'd take a drive to see how far I did make it.

I hadn't gone a half mile when I spotted her walking up the road - so she would finish with no time, no applause, no fanfare... only her personal sense of accomplishment.

Turns out that I logged 4 miles today - 2 running (including the off course part) and 2 walking back. I also realized that I had walked those 2 miles at a 15 minute pace.

I realized in that moment I walked 2 miles as fast as I used to run them a few months ago and over 5 minutes faster than what I think of as my walking pace.

This is where I need to cue the spooky music because fate had a funny little kick in the pants for me. Mr. Bear had left a Grateful Dead CD in the car stereo and just as I realized that I am now walking faster than I realized, the chorus of the song "Estimated Prophet" caught my ear:

Like an angel standing in a shaft of light
rising up to paradise, I'm a gonna shine.

This is where I start thinking about personal accomplishments, progress and labels. I have been OK with the fact that I am middle-aged, slow and fat. Being able to see myself in that light has been good for me, but am I becoming more of the label? If so, how do I change it so that it better suits who I am becoming? Who am I and all that...

It struck me at that point that I am a strong woman - I've had to be for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that's how my mother trained us girls to be). I am growing stronger on a number of different levels. Maybe it's time to think of myself differently. Maybe I need to start seeing myself as a healthy woman who is growing stronger and faster rather than slow and fat.

So, I used that to toss my new snit. Yes, I'm still upset - I didn't get to run my race and that bites. I have my first (and hopefully last) DNF, which makes me feel like a quitter. Even though I know I'm not. Even though I don't feel like I did anything, I really did accomplish something by getting out there. It just doesn't feel that way right now and that hurts.

I'll run my six miles either later this week or next week, I know that... it's just I didn't expect to have my race shut down that way.


Pat Monahan said...

Pika you're a winner. Much better to DNF than to DNS (Did not Start). I DNS'd for 44 years, as did many of us. One or two DNF's won't kill either of us.

Hooray Beer, Pat

***Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.~ Winston Churchill

ravenclawprefect said...

I am sorry you had such a sucky race, there is no excuse for volunteers to ignore a runner. I don't care if you are hours behind the lead runner, you are just as important as the elite runners are.

Don't let this leave a bad taste in your mouth. You score a big victory for all of us old, fat, slow runners today.

Nini said...

Pika, you rule just for getting out there. And I love that you're not going to be slow, fat, and old anymore... but rather, healthy and getting faster :)

I'm really sorry that the race didn't go well... as you know, I'm more than familiar with disappointment on the race course, but don't let it get you down... get back out there and do it again :) It's ALL GOOD.