Back in the early days of television Groucho Marx loved to ask, “So, tell me, sir have you stopped beating your wife?” Typically, the unsuspecting victim of this loaded question was unsure how to answer, but I’m not. If Groucho were to ask me this I would not only say that I’ve stopped beating her but that she has taken to beating me. She did it again early on Labor Day right on the grounds of Koka Booth Amphitheater in front of hundreds of witnesses. Despite my best efforts she beat me. Again.
I have been running races with my darling for nearly forty-years and for ninety percent of that time it was a foregone conclusion that I would indeed beat her. Three decades ago we ran a 5K together and I finished six minutes ahead of her, running my 3.1 miles in eighteen-and-a-half minutes compared to her just shy of twenty-five.
Did I beat my wife? You bet! Soundly and regularly, but no more.
The Koka Booth Labor Day race offered both a five and ten-kilometer option; the goddess opted to run the ten while I sand-bagged the five. I was confident that my time would be less than hers, after all, I was running half the distance, but would my pace be quicker than hers? Only one way to know and that was for the two of us to toe the line and hammer down the blows in a winner-take-all pugilistic extravaganza!
The Carying Place Labor Day Race For Home held at Koka Booth had racers queued up in a snaking, five-hundred-deep line that asked race participants to self-seed based on expected pace. Starting from the front of the queue placards read, “Five Minute Miles,” and progressed to “Six,” “Seven,” “Eight,” “Nine,” and “Ten,” followed by a sign reading “Joggers” and culminating in that ignominious race label, “Walkers.” Even though I hoped to beat my darling I chose to queue at the “Joggers” sign, so, after a good-luck and fare-thee-well-kiss she flowed up the incline to the “Nine Minute Miles” sign.
I was anxious to beat her pace but still far from confident.
The queue was crowded and became more so as the eight-o’clock-gun-time approached. Scattered through the line were youngsters wearing light blue shirts that bore the words Road Runner Club. Directly behind me stood a young man of perhaps twelve years and his slightly younger female companion. The boy began to repeat the phrase, “It’s so crowded!” over and over, his voice rising in volume and exhibiting a bit of agitation. The girl hushed her companion with zero effect and the boy continued his self-medicating mantra. I turned to the girl, smiled and said, “It’s okay. He’s not bothering anyone.” I said that, but I knew it wasn’t true. The young man was bothering someone, he was bothering his sister.
His volume rose, he began rocking backwards and forwards from the waist and then patting my exposed shoulder. The girl was aghast, but I looked to her, steeled myself and softly said, “It’s okay. I’m autistic too. I understand.” And I did. I understood both his discomfort and hers and wanted to cry, did cry, because of the embarrassment the girl was feeling. It’s hard having a sibling who’s different. It’s also very hard being that sibling. Choked up but wanting not to display discomfort I stared straight ahead and waited to wind my way up the back of the snake to its open maw where we would spew onto the race course.
Race time. Let’s go!
Self-seeding is nice, it’s comfortable. Done properly it surrounds you with like paced companions that neither challenge nor infringe. It’s also not conducive to best effort. I sighted a faltering runner ahead and attacked as a lion does to a gazelle, willing myself to capture and consume my prey. This was a battle primeval, the most elemental of all actions, victory and life or defeat and death. I slowly reel her in and as I pass she smiles and says, “Good job!” little realizing that her words have saved her from becoming my SECOND BREAKFAST!
We race along. I labor.
The course is a five-kilometer loop that the ten-k folks will run twice. In addition to wanting to best my wife’s pace I also want to finish ahead of all the 10-K racers. My goal is to finish five kilometers in less time than the fastest ten-K racer. The 10,000-meter record is held by Kenenisa Bekele with a time of 26:17.53. Running 6.2 miles at a five-minute-per-mile pace is fast and there are few runners who can achieve this. I’m hoping none of the 12 mph for 6.2-mile elites show up at our little race-day fundraiser. Since I started sixty-five seconds behind the enthusiastic elites, my imaginary twice-as-fast-as-me nemesis only has to average just under five-minute and eleven-second miles. Did I mention ignominy?
As I run I encourage those who are faltering. I encourage, but I also hunt them. Passing runners is like a non-lethal Highlanders game. Every racer that I pass is dead to me, the power he or she once possessed now runs through my veins, muscles and sinews. I will be victorious!
I approach the penultimate turn and see my wife, the great and feared goddess Durga, approaching from the opposite direction, three of six hands outstretched, demanding the high-five ritual of paying tribute to her power. I slap one, two, three hands, screaming, “Go, Durga! Go!” as we slip by one another. I race past the finish, completing my 3.1 miles before any of the 6.2 Mercurian Gods complete theirs, and note my time: Thirty-minutes, fifty-five-seconds, a pace that is the inverse of my long ago 18:30 five-k. I am spent. I am finished. I walk off my fatigue, grabbing water and bananas before returning to a position where I can lie in wait of my goddess, a place where I can cheer and hope and dream.
The goddess Durga approaches. The stopwatch tics. Durga crosses the finish line in 59:28, a time 22 seconds per mile faster than my pace. She is again victorious.
Today’s race is complete but there will be more. Perhaps someday I will be able to say, “Oh, no! I have most definitely NOT stopped beating my wife.”