So I’m walking around at Lake Johnston, which has a lovely 5K circuit, getting ready to run.
I like running Lake J because it has one mile flat, one mile hilly, and one mile I-may-die hilly. AND a fabulous 100-yard boardwalk across the lake finish. Nothing like hearing your footfalls echoing across that last football field’s worth of planking to finish your run.
I notice two men, both about 20 years old, stretching out as if they are about to start the circuit. One is 6’2″ and scrawny, with what looks to me like a runner’s body. He’s not wearing a shirt, and he clearly has no body fat. The other is maybe 5’11”, trim, fit, and looks like a Marine. I decide to wait on both of them to begin so I can get them far enough ahead of me that I’m not bothered by their presence. I don’t like for other people to run on my personal private course, hah.
The tall scrawny one drops in and heads up the course. I nod and wait until I can’t see him on the path any more, then glance sidewise at Marine Guy, who is actively moving around, but isn’t headed for the path. Dammit, I’m ready to run and he’s wasting my time.
So I casually stride toward the start of the circuit, and begin a slow walk up the way, hoping he’ll jog over and head out in front of me.
Once I pass round the first curve I still don’t hear him behind me, so I break into my warm-up pace, and start bouncing out my demons, one at a time.
This is a process I go through nearly every time I run. I have to fight the part of me that offers up the same damn excuses for why I can’t or shouldn’t run today. Gotta pee, it’s too hot, there’s too much pollen in the air, I have a lot to get done, my knee aches, etc., etc., etc. It’s boring, repetitive, and I clearly have not matured enough to stop doing it, so instead I mentally go into my head and patiently kick the ass of every excuse in there until I have clear space in which to operate.
About the time I finish this process, Marine Guy pounds noisily up from behind me. He’s breathing too loudly for still being inside the first mile, indiscriminately chomping up the yards like a hungry dog in a garbage can. A wicked grin creeps across my face and I feel my inner competitor take his measure. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m gonna take him down.
I continue my steady pace and wait to see what unfolds.
Sure enough, I cross the marker at the end of the initial mile, lean into the first steady incline, and as I come around the curve there he is, walking just ahead of me. I crank my pace just a touch and steadily reduce the distance between us. Marine Guy steps off the path as if he needs to stretch, and my inner genius gleefully rubs her hands together. She knows he Can. Not. Stand. To be Passed. Too bad!
I decide to keep my slightly increased pace just to rub it in. I feel awesome. I am in the zone. There is no effort involved in my run.
And to my complete delight, I drop over the top of a hill and see Scrawny up ahead, also walking!
It’s clearly time for Stealth Ninja Mode. I’m still not even breathing through my mouth, and my footfalls are essentially silent. As I creep up on Scrawny intending to pass, he starts to run again. I don’t care because he’s still in my sights. With as much of a head start as I gave him, he should have been way ahead by now.
I evaluate his form. He tosses his right foot out to the side when he runs. Needless waste and goofy-looking to boot. Long legs, though, of that there’s no doubt. He’s steadily cutting away the trail with giant, bent-scissor strides.
Marine Boy pounds up behind me again, and blows by on his bid for Scrawny’s place. I feel a spurt of anger, but tamp it down and hold my pace. The third mile will kill him and I will wait. Scrawny is the real prize here.
I pass Marine Boy again just before the end of the second mile; even these minor hills are too much for him. I do not grin or laugh, because I can see that Scrawny has increased his lead by a fair portion. I’m going to have to work for this one.
When Scrawny and I are in a straight-away, he commits a shameless sin: he looks back at me.
Hah! Let him see that a 45 year old harmless little mother of three is about to kick his ass! Oh, he should never have done that. Now his humiliation will be complete. I begin diverting a small stream of energy into a reserve tank; this battle is going to happen in the big hills of the third mile and I’m going to need some extra. I can hear Marine Boy galloping along behind me like a blown rhinoceros, but his sounds are fading. He’ll be lucky to take third, and he’ll only get that if a granny with a walker doesn’t pass him first.
We cruise into it, Scrawny and I, and on the second killer hill of the third mile I am within 20 feet of him. 20 feet! He crumbles into a walk and I dig my toes in, taking tiny steps, trying to keep running, but I know that if I pass now I won’t be able to hold onto it. I seethe and drop to a walk because I can cover more ground that way. Scrawny looks back at me (again!) as he tops the hill and disappears instantly over the other side. I grind my teeth.
When I come over the hill I can no longer see him. I increase my pace to see if he’s just around the bend, but I run the next quarter mile — including the worst hills of the third mile — without seeing or hearing him. I swear colorfully to myself and decide that he’s able to make his bid for the finish well before I can. He had more stamina than I thought. I comfort myself with knowing that I gave him a scare, anyway. With the head start he had, he should never have let me catch him at all.
I am still planning to finish strong on the boardwalk, so as I come into the final quarter mile I am ready to tap into my reserve fuel. And what do I see? What do I see?
There’s Scrawny, walking his sorry ass on the boardwalk!
Oh, this is gonna be very bad for him, very bad indeed. He’s already 25 yards down the bridge, but he’s walking. I really, really want this for my early birthday present, I do. I open the fuel lines and lengthen my stride, dropping onto the boardwalk with an interior war cry.
The instant he hears me driving toward him, he breaks into a run. He’s slower than before but he’s moving. He doesn’t waste energy looking back; he doesn’t need to. He can feel my approach. A startled fisherman looks up at me and I impatiently blow by a woman yakking mindlessly on her cell phone. This is my bridge.
Scrawny feels everything I’m doing. I’m hoping he’s tapped out, but he keeps running. I am way above my regular pace but I can’t take it up any farther. I close the distance to 5 yards, but in the end he holds on. He finishes ahead of me, and cuts sharply away from the trail toward the boat dock.
I’m furious and happy at the same time. He had to work hard for this run, and nearly had to confess on the stage of the world that twenty-five years and a solid headstart were not enough for him to run a three-mile circuit faster than a 45 year old woman. I curve around into a wide circle, wondering if I’ll see Marine Guy drop onto the boardwalk today. This week.
When I glance back I see that Scrawny has continued to walk ahead to the start of the circuit again. You ought to, I think triumphantly. If I were your coach I’d tell you run it again, just to make up for nearly losing to me the first time.
I stalk proudly toward my car. I am ruthless. I am relentless.
The Lake Johnson ducks scatter from my path.
Image by lululemon athletica on Flickr.