Two months ago my darling wife Pat said to me, “I’m signing us up to run the Kiwanis Adventure Run; do you want to run the five K or the five mile race?” Phrased differently her question might have been, “How long do you want to torture yourself? Half an hour, or more like an hour?”
For well over two decades I have declared, “I’m going to live through three centuries,” which, when translated, meant that I had every intention of keeping myself as fit and youthful as possible and holding out until at least January 1, 2101, aka the start of the Twenty-Second Century. To achieve my goal I just needed to live a bit under 140 years. I was born in the last half of the 20th Century and need to survive until the first day of the 21st in order to have lived through three centuries. Crazy? I didn’t think so then but I do now. I used to love staying in shape, running races and taking reasonable care of myself. No, really, I did. But now pain accompanies me with nearly every physical endeavor. Somehow, fifteen months ago I became old overnight.
Pat and I are only seven months apart in age. She has been a gifted athlete her entire life but for the thirty-six and-a-half years that we’ve been together I’ve done a good job of keeping up with her; at least, until 18 months ago. Now she has to push me to do much of anything because it’s hard to exercise when the joy is gone, when I am doing something solely because it is good for me rather than fun. I now exercise because I know how much more I will hurt if I don’t, where I once exercised because (shudder) I liked it. Bearing this in mind you might guess that I chose the 5K. (If you didn’t guess that you’re not a very good guesser.)
“Okay,” she said. “But I’m going to do the five miler. They start at the same time so you won’t have to wait around very long.” (Implied message- she will be running faster than I will.)
“Okay. I bet I beat you,” I said with a wink and a laugh. “Hey, maybe I can even beat your pace.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she replied. “It’s out on Honey Moon Island on the nature trail so it’s all off road. Should be fun.”
“Yeah. Right,” I said, nodding.
Sunday January 8, 2017 is race day and on Friday night a cold front hit the southeast United States plunging the temperature in the Tampa, Florida area nearly to the point where water is no longer liquid. Freezing? In Florida? What madness is this? Pat expressed concern over the weather while I stated joy at the prospect of running in the cold. “This should be great!” I declared as we headed to the race. “Temps in the mid thirties!” (Okay, the temperature wasn’t quite freezing, but it was really, really close.)
After getting our race packets, timing chips, etcetera we lined up for the race start. We kissed, wished one another luck and when the gun went off surged ahead. (Okay, she surged, I jogged.) The course began as hard packed sand with lots of tree roots and because of this and a strong desire to not go “SPLAT!” on the ground I kept my head down. Because I was looking down I was surprised to find myself running right behind my wife. “HA!” thought I, “Maybe I can beat her pace!” And with this thought in mind I snuck around her without uttering a word. (Though I likely gave myself away when I patted her butt twice as I ran by.)
The race was on! I was determined to beat Pat to the locale where our two paths diverged, I was going to do my best to complete my 3.1 miles at a faster pace than she completed her five; at least for the part we ran together, after that, it was all up to her.
The first mile was fairly hard packed and I got to the mile marker in ten minutes and five seconds. Again I said “HA!” to myself. “If I can run the first mile in just over ten minutes then I think I can finish the 3.1 miles in under thirty-one minutes,” an optimistic, energetic but realistic goal based on the first third of my race.
The hard packed sand gave way to very dry, loose sand that made movement harder and speed slower. I arrived at mile marker two with my stopwatch reading twenty-one minutes, a nearly ten percent drop in speed for the second mile compared to the first. Determined to do my best (and stay in front of my lovely) I pushed on, only seeing her once when I literally grabbed the cup of water from a volunteer’s hand as Pat reached for it. (It wasn’t on purpose, just luck of the draw.) I didn’t see her but I heard her and I was determined to beat her. We kept running.
The soft sand lasted a bit over a mile before we returned to the harder packed ground. Remember when I said that my exercise has fallen off a lot in the last 15 months? That was no hyperbole, no exaggeration. I run once or maybe twice a week (I also swim a bit and cycle) for about two miles. Three point one miles is about 1.15 miles longer than I usually run and the extra effort plus extra distance was taking its toll on me. Fortunately I had people in front of me and my desire to pass them was great motivation and knowing that Pat was hot on my heals was also driving me forward. I reached mile marker three in just over 31 minutes.
Crunch time! Just one-tenth of a mile to go and I can hear the race announcer calling out people’s names as they cross the 5K finish line. I dig deep, pick up the pace and finish in 31:58, a time I would have laughed at before my fall from fitness but a hard fought achievement none-the-less. I had done what I could in my quest to best my better half, the end result, who would have a quicker pace, me, running just 3.1 miles, or Pat, running five miles. Now, all I could do was wait.
And eat second breakfast. The Kiwanis Club included pancakes, sausages, eggs, grits, fruit and coffee at the end of the race. I grabbed some grub and sat in the sun. (The air had warmed and so had I but it was still a chilly 4o degrees out there!) My table mate had finished the five mile course and I asked him if the last two miles were as soft as the ones I had run on. His answer? “Oh, no! It was really nice! Hard packed sand along the water’s edge? Almost like running on pavement.”
‘Almost like running on pavement’? Great. There went my hopes for victory!
I cleaned my plate, walked to the finish line and looked at the race clock. Forty-nine minutes elapsed time. I looked to my left and here comes my beloved chugging away.
Now, I had laid down a challenge. I had told her I was going to beat her pace. If she continued charging to the finish line my dream of victory would be squashed. I looked at Pat and started screaming encouragement. After all, schadenfreude is nothing to nurture a marriage on. I cheered and Pat passed under the Finish Line arch in 50:37, or a pace of 10:07 compared to my 10:19 pace. She beat me fair and square!
My race was fun. I did my best, sad as my best may be, and I rejoice in having a wife, a mate, who pushes me to do my best. I don’t think I’m going to wake up tomorrow and find that I’ve reverted to the old me, that I’m raring to go and excited to face challenges again, but maybe I will continue to live the reality that movement matters, that exercise can be fun and that friendly competition, like Mary Poppins’ spoon full of sugar, helps the medicine go down, because regardless of where we are on the fitness scale it’s important that we all MIMIB!
(That’s move it, move it, baby!)