Fat Man Running
I am not an athlete; I had my moments when I was younger, but you would not look at me today and think, “Oh, he has a runner’s body”. The only way I’d have a runner’s body today would be if I kidnapped one and kept it in my basement (I am not advocating kidnapping, I’m just saying). With that known, what happened next made little to no sense.
My nephew, Joe, who is in the Navy and stationed in San Diego (poor kid) called my sister and told her that he signed up to run the Avon (New Jersey) 5K in June and that she and Uncle Al (me) should run it as well. When I was told of this it was several months away, so I said, ‘sure’, knowing full well that, like diets and true love, it just wasn’t going to happen.
And then a funny thing – it was happening. My nephew signed us up, along with my two sons, three nephews, and a girlfriend thrown in for good measure. Even with that, I had an out. This was a walk/run. I just had to walk the 5K, not run it. For the last two years I did an hour on the elliptical six times a week; I should be able to walk that distance without embarrassment. Just to be sure, there is a park not far from my house, so one night, I decided to go for a run. With cell phone, headphones, and iTunes account in hand, I took off on this new adventure.
After about twenty yards into the run my entire body screamed at me, “What the fuck is going on here!” Body parts jiggled that hadn’t moved in years; my heart pounded as it crept up into my throat; my lungs, which had escaped my chest, tried to flag down a police car to tell them how that fat, sweaty, red-faced man stooped over in the park had kidnapped them.
Walking a 5K appeared to be my only option.
Over the next few weeks I continued to run, getting slightly better over time, but nowhere near able to run this race.
The day of the race fell in the middle of a family vacation down in Belmar (one town over from Avon). All our participants were together the night before; we were serious about this race so we stopped drinking about 12:30 a.m. Up at 6:30 that morning, we were greeted with a fairly heavy downpour and ominous sky. Undeterred, we arrived forty-five minutes before start time, and prepared ourselves for this challenge.
Surrounded by real runners, I realized just how unprepared I was. There were people that actually ran over the bridge from Belmar to run this race. Who runs to a race to run in a race? Real runners, that’s who. To contrast, we drove over in two cars, and arrived early because we wanted to park close so we didn’t have to walk too far.
With the new realization that we were out matched my sister worried that we would be the last ones to cross the finish line. As we lined up I turned to her and said, “I think I’m going to try and run it”. The whistle sounded and off I went. As I distanced myself from my sister, I didn’t know that she had plans of her own. If she lagged behind too much she was going to rip off her number, glide stealthy to the sideline, then cheer everyone else on as just another spectator.
In the middle of the pack I turned the first corner and within seconds the hamstring on my right leg froze. Pulled to the side like a lame horse out of the starting gate, the rest of the group easily passed me by. Stretched the muscle for a minute or so and got back in the race.
With wireless headphones in, the iTunes classic rock radio station my soundtrack, I plodded along. The first mile clocked in at just over thirteen minutes. Not knowing if that was good or bad, I kept moving.
The second mile clocked it at just over thirteen minutes as well; at least I was consistent, but I was getting tired. A mom pushed a double-wide stroller passed me in a brisk walk like I was going the other way.
The last leg of the run I could see the faces of those that raced toward the home stretch. I spotted my two nephews, Joe and Jack, their faces frozen in fierce competition (they would finish with a one-tenth of a second difference between them).
As I headed toward the end, I walked for a bit, determined to run that last long stretch to the finish line. I approached the end of the race, and thought just how surreal. Two months ago this was an event that I had convinced myself I would never participate. But here I was, and with the crowd behind the finish line, and as my family cheered me on, and with the large digital clock that counted each pound of my heart, I broke into a ridiculously broad grin.
I crossed the finish line with a time of forty-one minutes fourteen seconds. Was it a world record? Your damn right it was.