Sunday, June 12, 2011
Marriage 301, Lecture 659: The race
I think you guys know I made the stupid, stupid decision to run the Summerfest half-marathon with SH. He proposed this in March, in the dead of winter, and July 10 seemed so far away and running outdoors seemed like a fine idea when it was something I couldn't actually do because of the cold and the snow and the ice and the fear that I might slip and break my ankle and be an invalid for months, having to navigate the slushy, icy parking lots between car and grocery store and library on crutches.
I wanted to encourage SH to exercise more than he already does with his current "walk from the second-floor office to the basement where he has hidden the dill pickle Pringles from himself" regimen, as I need him to be somewhat heart healthy and in decent shape. He gets the AD&D portion of his life insurance only if he dies in an actual accident. His dying of a heart attack or stroke would not benefit me financially so much.
SH and I have been training for the race. At least, SH has. I continue my plonking short runs with the idea that if I have to walk 13 miles, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer in the true spirit of Summerfest, I will.
SH, however, is consumed with the desire for Authenticity and wants to run the entire 13 miles.
I have run 13 miles before. I did it shortly after I graduated from college, back in the days when I was running four miles every day after work and eating whatever I wanted, which in retrospect was really probably not that much as I was using 11% of my pre-tax income every month for student loan payments and couldn't afford that much food. Perhaps the reason I was able to keep a trim figure had more to do with the fact that I took only a peanut-butter sandwich and an apple to work for lunch every day than with the running.
In any case, one Saturday I decided to see just how far I could run without stopping. I went around the campus loop three times, plus a little extra. That was 13 miles.
I spent the next day in bed. Running 13 miles can take it out of a person.
When I moved to Memphis, I somehow decided it would be a good idea to complete a triathlon. This was before I owned a house and when I obviously had way too much time on my hands.
I am a very competitive person. I hate losing. Hate it. Which is why my decision to compete in an area where I am so ill equipped to compete is such a joke.
This triathlon had a quarter-mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride, and a four-mile run.
I was the absolute last person to finish. Not the last one in my age group. Not the last one of the women. The absolute last person. I was passed by a man in a wheelchair. All the cheerers had abandoned the water stations that lined the hot Mississippi road where the bicyclists flew by. Not one person at the water station in the woods where the trail went up, up, up in an Escher-print like impossibility but where my dismay at the abundance of rise and the lack of lower was overshadowed by my fear that I would trip on one of the thick tree roots that protruded from the loamy ground and there would be nobody to hear my screams.
When I arrived at the victory tent, where there were supposed to be snacks - watermelon, oranges, BBQ - paid for from my entrance fee, the food was all gone. They had already announced the winners and people were going home.
You would think in light of that auspicious beginning that I would have said, You know, I think triathlons and competition really aren't my thing, but you would be wrong. Nothing like suffering a humiliating blow like that to make one more determined to suffer on a larger stage.
I don't know why I was so set on proving myself in this environment. I already know I'm a crummy athlete. I was the last one picked for kickball in school. The one time I actually hit the ball during fifth-grade softball, I hit it too late and hit it into my face. I had come to accept my non-athleticness and had focused on my ability to cook, instead. Everyone has to have something.
Yet I signed up for another triathlon the next summer. This one had a half-mile swim, which I already did almost every morning before work at the JCC by my office. Twenty-five mile bike ride. Six-mile run.
On the back of the calf of each competitor was inked the person's age and his race number. The swim portion of the race was a staggered start - we went in order of age from younger to older, with three seconds between every group.
I started with the 37s, three seconds after the woman with the number ahead of me. The swim was awful - in a lake with a bunch of thrashing people who were not necessarily good swimmers who were churning up the water, making breathing during the crawl practically impossible, forcing me into the breaststoke as I am incapable of holding my breath for the time it takes to swim a half a mile, which is about half an hour for me under ideal, in my own lane, perfect-temperature pool circumstances.
The ride - a little better, although riding a bike wearing shorts over a swimsuit is not the most comfortable way to travel.
No I did not buy special triathlon clothes. This was my last triathlon. My only objective was not to finish last. It was not to be comfortable while I didn't finish last.
I wasn't last. But during the run, during which I sweated and tripped and swore and was horribly uncomfortable in the July Memphis heat and humidity, which still can't hold a candle to Houston so don't think I am complaining about Memphis weather because I would take it over snow and ice any day and really I probably wouldn't have been so hot if I hadn't been wearing a heavy long-sleeved t-shirt over my swimsuit but I really don't want those leathery, brown-spotted forearms that Women Who Tan Too Much get.
I think I lost myself in that sentence.
During the run, a man passed me. This is not an extraordinary event - remember the guy in the wheelchair passed me in the first triathlon. But this man was 76 years old and based on his race number minus my race number times the three second intervals between the starts and then the rest of the math, he had started 20 minutes after I did.
As in, I had a 20 minute head and 40 year head start.
And he was still passing me.
This is why I don't compete.
I didn't finish last. But I was not impressed that a man 40 years older than me had trotted right on past me.
So why now, ten years later, I think it's a good idea to run a 13-mile race? The only race where I've ever had success was the American Heart Association 5k that I did with Megan, Steve, and Leigh, where, when we arrived for the warmup, we saw people wearing jeans and smoking cigarettes. Steve looked at them, then looked back at us and announced, "We're going to win this race." Which we very well may have done had the course been marked and we had not run an extra five blocks.
I am doing this because I am dumb and because I want to have a hobby in common with my husband. But I suspect it will be a disaster not unlike the triathlon. I will do it. It will be done. And then I will never do it again. And I am not joking about the beer and the cigarettes. I will start drinking and smoking just to give me something to do for 13 miles.