What began as a bad joke a few months ago just resulted in five of us forming a running team and running a marathon relay last week.
A marathon relay is a full marathon run by a team of five carving the course up into five mile stretches. The idea being that we can all bask in the glory of a marathon race without actually having to run any more than our usual pathetic lunchtime circuit. A relay also sets up five hand off points along the course which means an ambulance isn't ever that far away. Not that we took advantage of that but I've run races shadowed by a worried EMT crew, pointing and frowning.
A bad joke is of course, self-explanatory.
We run for fun. Let's face it, while we stay marginally fit, we're all middle aged guys and the economics 101 chapter on diminishing marginal returns that we didn't get in sophomore year is suddenly clear and comprehensible. Running is a social activity for us. As long as there's enough breath to go around, we're talking about the baseball season ending, football season beginning, who's new at work, who's been handed the same fate as a Chilean dissenter, whatever catches our interest.
The race started at seven in the morning and the first complaint came from Dave who had to come into town from his house out in a county that probably has three complete sets of teeth in aggregate amongst all its residents.
"Seven a.m? We running or going fishing?"
He had a point. At least if we were going fishing we stood the chance of being able to feed ourselves and, failing that, we could be drunk by noon.
I was going to start the race and run the first leg. Amongst our group, Jim and I are the more hard-core runners, which is to say, ones without a lot of common sense. But one of us was going to start us off fast and the other was going to finish us fast. Chris would take a middle leg, the one with the only hill in the course. He chuckled and said he'd be fine since he knew the course and it wasn't that much of a hill anyway. Dave and Gary took the second and fourth leg respectively although they promised to run it in no such fashion.
Because of an injury and Jim being a better distance runner, we swapped out legs. The course had undergone a last minute change (something possibly involving a Superfund site, the details were unclear) and Jim took the now longer first leg. No problem, I took the last but shortest leg. Chris was still committed to the hill and chuckled that anyone would worry about that small of a hill.
On the way to the race we passed a fellow we knew would be running. He works for a large running magazine in the area. Gary stomped on the accelerator and declared that we should remember the moment: It would be the only time we passed the guy all day.
After we got Jim started with the usual words of encouragement, support, which attractive female runner to use as a pacer, we went back to the car and decided whether or not to see this thing through. Figuring Jimmy would probably think he was meant to run two legs we could be safely home by the time he'd figure he was on his own. The promise of a dry bagel and all the half ripe bananas we could eat post race kept us in the game and we were off to the first hand off.
I wasn't sure if there was a physical hand off for the race. Like a baton or perhaps a live rattlesnake just to keep the ratings up there with Survivor. I thought that a live grenade on a three hour timer would keep us fast and honest. When I pulled the last leg though, that idea was quickly discarded. The actual hand off was a high five between the finishing runner and the starting runner and Jim magnanimously kept an open palm even after the morning's taunting from Dave justified a more closed fist approach. Dave was off and we headed back to the car to drive to our next relay hand off point. This would be the third leg, the one with the (chuckle) hill that Chris was to take on. I was having a fine time of it. After all, I was in a race but was in actuality just driving around in a car wearing a pair of shorts.
Did I mention that the sun was now up and it was a lovely cool morning?
The next hand off spot was tucked away in some neighborhood well off the beaten path. Gary knew how to get there, Chris knew how to get out and on to the next drop point, the rest of us, well you could point guns to our heads and we couldn't lead you to anywhere that had anything to do with the correct direction of the race.
We waited for Chris. And waited. And waited some more. I stopped to use one of the portable toilets that had been placed alongside the track such that you had to watch how far you opened the door for fear of cold cocking a passing runner. The lines for the toilets were relatively short, maybe twelve people or so but once inside it was a little disconcerting to read the capacity warning. Apparently the thing was made to max out at about ten people a week before becoming unsanitary. I reckon we maxed them all out during the first half hour. Pick those things up gently boys, no tipping.
At last Chris came around the bend with an expression not unlike one would have if one had just been dragged by horses for the last five miles.
"Hill." He panted. "Hill." "Wrong." "Freaking." "Hill!" Which was the five minute last gasp of air way of saying the hill he had reckoned on was not the hill the race organizers had delivered.
It was just the wrong freaking hill and a little steeper the way a circular saw goes around and around just a little faster than a carousel does.
Did I mention it was a fine, warm, sunny morning?
Gary was now off and Chris announced that his wife was here to pick him up and he would be leaving. At this point, Jim, Dave and I surely shared a facial expression not unlike having been given a coordinated ice water enema. Guns to our heads, there was no way we were going to find the last relay point.
So Chris agreed to drive the next leg and we all ponied up for a few counseling sessions should he ever need them. We parked the car at the first available lot and ran up to the crossing monitor to ask where the exact hand off point was. It was about a half mile up the road. No problem, we'd jog there. The jog covered the same track that the actual race was being held on and we got to the relay station with much fanfare and encouragement from the spectators only to stop dead in the middle of it all. This concerned the audience. Why were three runners giving up simultaneously. It also concerned the race crew who logged our team split time and then had to back everything out of the computer when they realized we weren't handing off just yet.
The three of us, I waiting for Gary's hand off, Jim and Dave waiting for Gary as they were still as lost and clueless as to where they were as when Chris drove them here, were all killing time now. Jim and Dave began to point out some of the more interesting audience members, most, no let's be honest, all of whom were younger females.
What is it about us guys that immediately draws us to younger females? Aside from the obvious, I guess its an opportunity to stretch the imagination for those of us who are happily married but like to wonder "what if" just for fun. That's not me. I'm single and its not so much a game of stretching the imagination than it is of learning to define and accept one's boundaries.
In other words, "Yeah, she's cute and I guess if I were younger, taller and actually attractive, I'd walk over and start a conversation."
Gary showed up, handed off and I was off on the last leg of the race.
Did I mention the sun stood blazingly high in the sky, the temperatures had soared and there wasn't a breeze in the county? Yep, I drew the shortest but hottest leg of the race. Also the one that emerged from the canopied woods onto a bike path that led right into the city center where we ended. Not my finest hour. Nor my fastest. But we finished without too much undue embarassment.
Good time of 3.31.10 which, had we been one runner would be impressive indeed. All the more for if we were one runner and our ages were added up, we probably would have been around for Jefferson's first term. Of course, we really are one runner in spirit, ability, determination and goal of going home and really thinking it through before we ever sign up for this sort of thing again.