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Monday September 2, 2019

Despite his heavy breathing and aspirated enumerating Joe heard Misty’s shoes patter down the sixteen hardwood steps that led from their second floor but he didn’t see her. Joe didn’t see her because his eyes were closed as he counted to eighty for the fourth time that morning. Not seeing her, he startled as she touched his right hand, a hand that, though thrust as high as he could reach, measured a mere meter off the ground. The enumerating and his hip high hand were both predicated on counting off right-leg oblique leg-lifts that followed his two sets of crunches.

“Good morning, beautiful,” he declared, smiling at his bride of 33 years, breathing hard as he struggled to rise from the eight separate but interlocking, two feet square, blue, foam exercise mat that filled twenty-four square feet of the Kleen family-room floor. 

Rising, they kissed and after unlocking lips Joe asked, “What time do we need to leave again?”

“Seven-ten,” Misty replied. “Race starts at eight.”

Joe’s brow knit as his left eye squinted shut and his head tilted to the left. “Why so early? It’s at Koka Booth, correct?”

“Yes,” Misty conceded, nodding and sighing gently, “and the road closes at 7:30 so we need to leave at 7:10.”

“Okay,” Joe replied, shrugging, “no problem. There’s coffee, you just need to turn it on.”

“Thanks,” Misty replied, rewarding Joe’s everyday courtesy with a heart melting smile.

Misty, cup in hand, drifted back upstairs as Joe performed a single set of push-ups before spending another five minutes doing lower body stretches prior to climbing the sixteen steps to the master bathroom where he brushed his teeth, shaved and finished getting dressed.

Seven-twelve found the Kleens placing four brand-new, fluffy, white pillows in the backseat of Misty’s Camry and by 7:13 they had transitioned from garage to driveway. “Oh! I forgot my sunglasses!” Joe declared, garage door descending on its electrically powered track.

Misty stopped at the end of the short drive, asking, “Do you need them?” her foot on the brake and her index finger poised above the garage door remote control.

In response to Joe’s, “No. I’ll be fine,” Misty gave her husband a brow raised, head tilted look of skeptical interrogative. “No. Really,” he insisted, adding, “I’ve got this,” as he touched his visored running cap. 

“Okay,” Misty replied, turning left and beginning the two-and-a-half mile drive to Koka Booth and the Carying Place race through the light, early morning Labor Day traffic.

At Koka Booth Misty parked in a far rather than near lot and each Kleen grabbed two pillows. As they walked the tenth mile from car to venue the crowd thickened and a man asked, “What’s up with the pillows? Planning to take a nap halfway through the race?”

“No,” Misty answered, looking at him but not slowing her pace, “they’re donations for Carying Place.”

“Oh,” the joker replied, chastened, “I didn’t know they were looking for donations.”

“Yep,” Misty said aloud, continuing ahead, “it’s in the in the race info,” then adding sotto voce, “just gotta read,” as they wound their way to the race start.

Having completed the race last year the Kleens were aware that the race start headed up a narrow chute. Young volunteers stood along a fifty meter fenced in walkway holding signs intended to segregate the wheat from the chaff. Looking at the signs that started with Sub Six Minute Mile at the head of the line and proceeded down the wide sidewalk sequentially to Six Minute Miles, Seven, Eight, etcetera until ending at Ten Minute Miles but followed by Walkers Joe asked his wife, “How fast you planning to go?”

“Nine minute miles. You?”

“Twelve,” Joe replied with a sigh, “which I guess makes me a walker in their books, huh?”

“Like Chuck Norris?” Misty asked with a big grin and small kiss. “Don’t let it get ya down, Cordell at least you’re out here doing it.”

“Yeah,” Joe replied wistfully, “but definitely getting my butt kicked rather than kicking butt. I’m heading down the chute to run with the other geezers,” he added, kissing his wife, winking and adding, “I expect a podium finish out of you, Alexandra Cahill.”

“I’ll do my best, sweetie. Have fun!”

The race begins and those in the back walk up the hill: The chaff deciding that jogging so far from the start mat is more effort than they wish to muster. Runners with strollers had been extolled to begin in the back and within two minutes a long line of parents with children in running strollers begin to overtake Joe. He continues, turning left from the parking lot onto the street, his eye and will focused on two white haired age-mates, one in a green tee, the other in blue, that pass him and slowly proceed to pull away. Within a quarter mile first one then seemingly a dozen runners pushing adult or older children in long, lean, sleek, large wheeled racing strollers pass him. Joe smiles and waves at the disabled passengers within the sleek, human-powered chariots. He continues.

The first water stop appears and most runners continue past but Joe, hand outstretched, asks, “Is that vodka? That’s just what I need if it is.” The young woman who hands him his cup of water peers at him with incredulity. He continues down the hill.

Joe searches for race course mile markers but finds none. The path around the Koka Booth lake has tiny markers but Joe had expected to see larger signs designating progress. None. He continues and twelve minutes into his run he passes a very large man who’d caught his eye as he was queued at the eight minute mile sign. “Hmm,” Joe grunts and continues on.

The course serpentines through the park and at a U-Turn he checks his watch:18:32. “If that’s halfway guess I’m not going to make my goal,” he subvocalizes.

Another water stop and Joe takes a cup. No joke this time, merely a grunted, “Thanks.”

Victory for Joe is predicated on not walking. Twenty-five minutes into his race he finally passes a walkie/runny woman with whom he has yo-yoed back and forth. Joe is buoyed. Joe passes the green-teed, white-haired gentleman who’d run around him early in the race. The course turns up a slight slope and many of Joe’s pace-mates shift from slow jog to slower walk. Joe perseveres. Blue shirt has transitioned to walker with the ascent. Joe is within striking distance but as he prepares to pass, blue shirt again begins to run. Joe is undaunted.

There is a quarter mile to go. Joe digs deep and passes blue-tee and gives his all in an attempt to catch a beautiful African-American woman who has transitioned back to running after walking up the hill. With perfect hair, nails and a stylish running kit Joe has dubbed the woman Fashionista. She is at least a generation younger than Joe and try as he may he cannot catch Fashionista before crossing the finish line. Joe clicks his stopwatch and, chest heaving, walks away from the crowd to catch his breath, calm his spinning head and slow his racing heart.

Joe returns to find Misty waiting for him. “How was the race?” she asks.

“Good. Hard. But I beat my time. Thirty-three forty-six. Sub elevens. You?”

“Twenty-seven-fifty,” the love of Joe’s life replies.

“Beat your time,” he replies. “That’s, what, eight-fifty-nine per mile. Way to go WW.”

“Did you have fun?” Misty asks.

“Yeah,” Joe replies wistfully, “I did. Do they have any food around here?” he adds with a smile.

Image may contain: Keith Kenel, standing and outdoor