It was a brutally hot day, and we were all struggling a bit. None of us was in great shape, drained physically and psychologically by the Nashville summer. By the end of the run, I was just glad to be done, feeling totally flattened by an easy 6 miler. Afterwards, Ted asked again if I was up for racing. "Maybe," I said.
|Put it on the line.|
"Sir?" Really? The kid did look pretty young, I guess.
The usual feelings returned standing in the box waiting for the gun. Nervousness, acid in the legs, thoughts about pacing. The starter gave a set of instructions. It would be a two-count start; the old familiar words: "Runners set!" The gun. We were off.
Most everybody took off quicker than I did, although I set out quicker than I usually do, trying to stay in contact. I could smell the bodies as we trampled through the first 600m, across a narrow bridge, around the first turn. It had been forever really, since I had found myself in this situation: in a thick pack of runners. I let myself be carried along, and in an instant we were through the first mile. Somebody yelled out: "5:25!"
The pace felt fast, but I felt good. I concentrated on moving up, since I knew many runners would have gone out too fast in this first race--particularly the new freshmen trying to impress their teammates and coach. Sure enough, I steadily passed people the whole second mile, kept running hard. I was at the back of the middle pack of runners, moving up closer to the middle. The front runners were kicking up the light layer of clay and dirt that covered the summer-baked ground. I was literally eating their dust.
I missed the second mile split, but it didn't matter. Nothing left to do but run hard. The last mile heads downhill and through the crowd. I did what I usually do: faked feeling strong, faked running hard, convincing myself over and over again despite all evidence to the contrary--dust caked throat, burning quads, cramping calves, hollowed vision--that I was feeling great.
|A half mile to go.|
|Ted kicking hard.|
In the chute, there was the gasping and jostling, the ripping of tags, the whirl of oxygen depletion. We staggered out into the crowd. Ted had finished 30 seconds ago and was still doubled over. My sweet wife brought us cool water. The race was run. It was really fun.