I ran in a 5k road race a long time ago and, I swear this is true, finished behind the trailing police car. In fact, by the time I reached the end of the race, everyone was packing up and going home. Rather than embarrass the race organizers (and myself) I just kept running past everyone as if I was out for a light jog and just happened upon an actual race. I played it off to perfection and nobody noticed me dodging around the volunteers as they folded up the tables and chairs. I have not participated in a 5k since – that is, until this past Saturday.
God built some people to be runners – just not me. I was born into a world where I required husky diapers and extra wide Red Ball Jet tennis shoes. I inherited my dad’s short, stocky legs and my mom’s asthma and somewhere in my lineage a pair of flat feet. I’m not sure why God created me this way – but I’ve grown to accept that I will never weigh 160 lbs. or be six-seven. And, I’m OK with that. I just can’t run.
This past Saturday, in honor of our grandson, Lincoln James McFarland, (who passed away soon after he was born last November) and to support CareNet, a local organization dedicated to pro-life principles and practices, I walked in a fund raising 5K alongside Lincoln’s parents, our son Justin, and our daughter-in-law, Lori. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But, let me repeat – I walked.
At 57 years old, in need of a knee replacement and about thirty pounds overweight, I don’t run anywhere. That ship has sailed. In fact, that ship is usually anchored to the softest cushioned chair it can find. I have many friends who run, some run a lot. To be honest, I’m not sure some ever stop running by the looks of their Facebook posts. These people run great distances and wear tight spandex and high dollar watches that provide them all the necessary data runners today must need. These are serious runners who show up an hour before the race to run a couple of miles as a warm-up and then a couple of more after the race to “cool down”. Personally, I like to “cool down” with ice cream. But, I digress.
Upon arriving at the race site, I immediately felt out of place as I was the only one wearing jeans and not feeling the need to stretch or bounce up and down in anticipation of the start. My only impulse was to go back home to my cushioned chair and have another donut. But, I knew the cause was right and in honor of Lincoln, I would gladly do whatever my broken down, out of shape body would allow.
The race started and we, the slow walkers, maneuvered ourselves to the rear of the pack. The initial pace set by the other walkers was a little faster than the normal, grocery aisle speed I was accustomed to and as my hamstrings started feeling the burn after the first two hundred yards, I was already looking for a back alley to dart into. Surprisingly, the pain soon subsided and at the first mile mark, I was actually feeling better.
Despite the arthritic pain in my left knee, cramping in my flat feet, lower back stiffness and swelling of both of my hands flopping and swinging at my sides, I felt pretty good. I had even managed to pick up my pace and actually passed a couple of what looked like grandmothers pushing grandchildren in their strollers. Heather had brought our grandson (Conner) along and I even offered to push his stroller for most of the distance. My thought was that if I finished dead last, at least I have the excuse of pushing a baby carriage.
At around the halfway mark the walkers bringing up the rear were given an unexpected reprieve when a train blocked our path for about ten minutes. My hunch is the race organizers had no idea the Union Pacific would pass at that exact moment putting me behind schedule and undermine any hope of breaking my personal best 5K mark of one hour and five minutes. But, to be honest, the train could not have passed through at any better time. In fact, if I ever walk another 5k in my lifetime, I’m going to plan it according to that train schedule.
Following the train break came the most humiliating moment of all. As my group of walkers neared the last part of the race, runners circling back from a completed part of the course that the walkers had yet to experience, felt it necessary to blast encouraging words to all of us slow pokes as they passed by. Their shouts of “Good job!” and “You can do it!” rang out and I never felt like a bigger loser in my life. Could it be any more humiliating than having people nearly lap you in a race and as they pass shout, “You can do it!”? Do what? Walk? It seemed a bit odd to have these joggers yelling “Good job!” to me since I didn’t think I was really doing anything. I have never had the inclination anytime in my life to roll down my car window and yell “Good job!” to someone walking down a sidewalk, carrying bags of groceries to a bus stop or pushing a baby carriage – any of which could possibly get me arrested. In fact, the only thing I have been less inclined to do is actually run in a 5k and yell “Nice job!” to the poor shmucks walking in last place.
Despite the train delay, cramps, and stupid comments, I made it to the finish line, although I had to dodge the runners in their “cool down” jog coming toward me to get there. They (apparently) wanted all us losers in the back to notice they were still running long after the race was over. Well, congratulations, Pegasus!
The final insult came as I passed through the finish line to the over-exuberant cheers of a couple of participants still running in place as if their legs may fall off if they stop. Trust me – they will not.
My son later told me I had finished the race seventeenth in my age group. Not bad, I thought. Then he broke the news that was out of eighteen. To add insult to injury the race organizers posted everyone’s time for all to see. Let me suggest next time listing only the top three times from each age group. I see no real need in telling the world that it took Steve McFarland a day and a half to finish a 5k. Just saying.
Well, at least I did not finish in last place and I did manage this time to stay in front of the trailing police car. Maybe I’m making progress.