And The Winner Is…

Me!  Well, at least in my age category.  I placed first in the 10K Female, 40-49 in the YMCA’s Rockport Father’s Day Race.  My overall place was 44th.

I arrive at the site at 7:30, per the instructions on  the website.  A handful of race staffers rush around, setting up tables and unpacking cardboard cartons of water bottles, Gatorade, and fresh fruit.  I look around for all the other runners, but it’s just me.

“Hi.  Aren’t we supposed to be here at 7:30?”

“Are you registered?”

“I am!”

“You only have to come this early if you’re going to register today.  What’s your name?  Let me give you your number and tee shirt.  You can come back in an hour or so.”

I look around for Sue but don’t see her anywhere, so I take my number and my race tee shirt and walk back home, occasionally looking down at the safety pins I’ve put through the laces of  my Nike Free sneakers.  I want to wait to learn how to pin my number onto my running shirt the right way when I go back to the start line.

Sue calls around 8:15.

“Where are you?”

I tell her, then hop in the car with my hubby and he drops me off, taking time to snap a few pre-race photographs of us with our numbers pinned to our shirts, ready to go.

Sue knows everyone.  She introduces me to many of the women who will be running and share our age category.  We rush off to the bathrooms and pee about 5 times before we are instructed to line up for the race.

I don’t hear any gun shot or whistle sound, but suddenly everyone around us is running.  Then, we are, too.  My tinge of nervousness melts away and all I feel is excitement as we take off.  The sounds impress me the most.  Hundreds of sneaker-clad feet hit the pavement in a crazy rhythm that makes me think of heavy summer rain on my porch roof.  I can hear breathing, too.  Light, at first, then labored and intense, then even panting as runners begin to pass us.  I can already hear “hobo blows”— runners blowing their noses onto the sidewalks.  And lots of hawking and spitting.  I smile to myself— we’ve only just started and already there’s that much mucous exiting bodies!!!

Men and women of all ages struggle to find their place as we head down the street and make the first turn.  I am in running heaven, surrounded by running angels of all shapes and sizes.  I feel good.  Ready.  Sue wants to start off slow and I think we do, but when we hit the first mile marker, our time is 7’50” and I turn and grin at her.  We’re off to a good start.  The day is sunny and hot.  The air is thick with humidity, and sweat is already trickling down my back and face.  We catch up to one of the women Sue introduced me to and run with her for a few minutes.  We pass her and press on.

We stampede down South Street.   Runners are all over the road, which is not closed.  Cars crawl by; runners part like water to let them pass.  We go left at the fork towards Cape Hedge Beach, then down the steep hill at Penzance Road onto Pebble Beach.  I can see runners way up ahead, right in front of me, and I have to look back for a second to see more coming from behind.  We are overtaken by two men who are running barefoot.  They seem to float above the sandy, rocky beach road, the soles of their feet dark brown and thick.  I am jealous, wishing I had been able to accomplish barefoot running well enough that I could be just like them.  They make it look easy, and I will my calf muscles to behave the next time I run barefoot.  Next year, I tell myself.

We run behind a father-daughter team and they become our pacers.  The girl, probably about 13 years old, has a hard time on the hills.  Her dad is sweet, encouraging her to keep going.  I can see the sweat ring along the neck of the back of her pink tee shirt, and watch the ring spread down her back as we press up the long, slow hills on Marmion Way.  We pass a bed and breakfast, and the smells of bacon, sausage, and maple syrup turn my stomach.  I am flooded with relief as the smell is replaced by the clean summer scent of privet hedge in full bloom a few yards beyond the B&B and my energy returns.

Sue and I stay together.  I can see she is struggling a bit today, and think it must be the heat and humidity.  Part of me wants to run ahead, but a bigger part of me wants to stay with her.  She is my running partner, and we have conquered so many of my fears and challenges together that today, on my first race, I think we should stay together.  I want to race, but more, I want to run this race with her.

I’m so caught up in watching the runners ahead of me and their various gaits and running styles that I have not really noticed the scenic beauty on the route today.  There is so much going on that it’s hard to pay close attention to anything at all.  I do manage to wave to some of my neighbors as I pass their houses, and am stunned by how quickly the time has gone by— that I am already running past my own house and the end of the race is near.

Sue and I ease down the steep hill on Atlantic Ave., and she’s a couple of steps behind me.

“When we get to the big hill, you go on ahead.”

“No, I want to run with you.”

“No, you should just go.”

“No.”

But then, partway up the hill, I see her falling behind.  I turn and look over my shoulder again and I call back.

“Okay!  I’m going!”

I sprint up the hill, picking off three runners in a row.  I reach the top and make the turn, passing two more people— a woman and then a man.  I can’t see exactly where the finish line is, and I turn again to see if I can see Sue.  She has not come around the corner yet.  I want to cry because we are not together, and I want to shout because I can see the end of the race.  I pick it up once more and see her husband right before I cross the finish.

“Where’s Sue?”

“Right behind me!”

And it’s over.

I walk along the yellow plastic ropes that create a narrow lane,  marking the very end of the race.  An ambulance and several EMTs stand at the end, looking closely at each runner as they make their way along the path.  I’m fine, and grin at them as they scrutinize my face and then move on to assessing the runner behind me.

Sue comes in, and we grab water and Gatorade.  We are grinning.  She doesn’t seem to mind that I ran ahead at the end.  We stand for pictures again, my husband clicking away with the camera, us laughing and wiping sweat from our faces.

“Let’s go see our times!”

“How do we find out how we did?”

“Oh, they post them on the wall over there.”

The 5K race is already posted, but runners are still coming in from the 10 K.  We wait around, chatting, until we see someone with paper and tape next to the wall.  A small crowd gathers, and I press my way to the front to read the small print.  I turn to Sue.

“Is it by number?  By name? Are the numbers in order? Oh! Wait!  What does 44— 1/9 mean?”

“Who is it?  Who’s 44— 1/9?” Vicky asks.

Sue’s friend Vicky is right behind me, looking over my shoulder.  She’s asking the question we all want the answer to— which one of us got first place?

“Me.  My name’s there.  With those numbers.”

“That means you came in 44th overall, and first in your category. Congratulations!”

I am surprised and pleased.  Yet, even as it hits me that I placed first in my age group,  there is a hollowness in my victory.  I feel that I let my friend down by sprinting ahead that last 1/2 mile.     She told me to go ahead, and I did, and she really seems okay with it.  The rest of my day is filled with congratulations from family and friends.   And although I receive a framed photograph with 10 k Female, 40-49, 1st Place printed on the front, and yes, although I chant “I won!  I won!” about a hundred times to my husband and kids, inside myself  I am sad and disappointed, too.  I feel like I let both Sue and myself down by not finishing the race together.  I honestly think that if I was having a slow day I would have told her to go ahead, so why do I feel this way?

Is it like being born and dying?  That in the end, we have to do it alone?

There’s so much to think about and learn in life— I am stunned by how much of it can happen while I am running.

I can hardly wait for the next race.

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8 Comments on “And The Winner Is…”

  1. Debbie Says:

    I’m so proud of you Elizabeth…..Way to Go!!!!

  2. Sarah Says:

    Woo-hoo! Congratulations Elizabeth!

  3. Sharon Says:

    Such an accomplishment for your first race!

  4. Craig Says:

    What a quandary! Even though you might have been bursting to swoop out and pass everyone, gazelle-like, you felt that devotion to stick to your trusted running mate. I love you for those decisions.

    Post some pictures, girl!

  5. Judy Says:

    My fleet friend! I’m so thrilled that you’ve run – and won – your first race! Don’t be sad that you ran on ahead of Sue; you’re a child of summer who relishes the heat. You two will share many more races and maybe she will be the speedier on one of those freezing cold days that you (don’t) love so much.
    Cheers to you both! Woo hoo!

    (And yes, pictures please!)

  6. Laura Says:

    Congratulations!! I proud of you!

  7. lise Says:

    Wow…I’m so proud of you my friend for that and because you accomplish every goal you set for yourself. Yay for you….and please don’t hold Elizabeth back…yes you are a warm, loving, generous friend and that won’t change or be diminished if you let the real Elizabeth be who she is…even when she is being fast as the wind. love you.


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