Four Mile Shuffle

It was dark outside as the alarm sounded at 5:45 a.m. and it was hard to believe that I was about to roll out of bed and shuffle into the history books even if the book was one of my own writing. Despite my best efforts at sleep it had been a long night as my brother’s words of caution had echoed throughout the recesses of my brain while one wakeful hour passed into the next. You see I wasn’t about to run my first race but I was about to do it with a head cold.The contents of my bathroom hinted at a night of misery … ibuprofen, Nyquil, nasal spray, decongestant tablets and cough drops. And then there were the frozen juice bar wrappers that littered my bedroom floor their contents having provided only momentary midnight relief from a scratchy throat and constant state of thirst.

I was preparing to run my first race, and I was going to do it in spite of a cold. Not that there had ever been an option. My enthusiasm in recruiting others to accompany me through the misery of 12 weeks of training had shadowed the reality of accountability that would inevitably accompany the commitment. I was going to run the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler and they frankly didn’t care one iota if I had to do it while pushing a hospital bed in front of me. And so it was that under cover of darkness I slunk to my morning shower then dressed with the enthusiasm of a six-year-old headed for the dentist to have a cavity filled.

As Karen made a morning meal out of complex carbohydrates and nutrient enriched beverages, I contemplated the significant although temporary boost I would gain from a breakfast of two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Glorying in the memory of smooth chocolate melting away to reveal the velvety richness of the sugar infused peanut butter, I instead reached for the box of Mrs. Butterworth’s Pancake mix adding a bit of ginger for extra kick. Karen and I both ate silently hardly able to comprehend what we were about to attempt. It wasn’t exactly an ascent of Mt. Everest but for one whose sole means of exercise had been reaching for the snooze alarm more than once each morning it might as well have been.

The ride to Foxfield Race Track was quiet, and I reveled in a sunrise and cool morning breeze that was better enjoyed from a stationary position atop a deck chaise lounge with a tall mocha late and the morning paper. Parking the van among what would be some 2,000 vehicles of 1,850 race participants and their spectators, I stepped down into the wet grass and grimaced as my still pristine white running shoes became covered with a vast amount of lawn clippings. The race itself would not be my greatest challenge. It would be the walk across the field every step of which soiled my precious $90 running shoes that until that time had been spared anything more than a dry track and occasional stretch of concrete.

With number 551 securely attached to my shirtfront, I began to make the long journey to the starting line. The serious athletes had taken their position at the front of the pack appropriately attired in wicking material and displaying an obvious body mass index that even the leanest cut of meat would envy. It was somewhere near the back, along about the 13 minute mark that I decided to conduct my now perfected shuffle-trot technique.

I had hardly reached my starting position and taken my “I-could-be-at-the-front-if-I-wanted-to-I’m only-here-at-the-back-to-accompany-Karen” stance when the gun sounded. It seemed nearly two minutes before the ripple of movement reached the back where my gum chewing self was waiting impatiently. I ashamedly admit there was no rush of adrenaline and no enveloping pride as my movements began. Even as I looked ahead enthralled by the snaking throng of women progressing through the rolling hillsides of Charlottesville, my only thought was that I was yet unable to spot a water station where I was certain that it was appropriate to slow my speed and pause momentarily.

I won’t bore you with details of each successive mile of the race but suffice it to say that I set no records yesterday. As I was completing my second mile with two miles left to conquer, the true athlete’s were crossing the finish line with their wicker material hardly showing signs of perspiration. My race time was almost triple theirs at a total of 52 minutes give or take and I think I had another mile in me if for the promise of cheesecake at the end.

There was no afterglow of accomplishment when all was said and done only a cold that had settled in my chest and will keep me bed bound for most of today. But something happened yesterday there is no doubt of that. This was evidenced when, with mocha latte finally in hand, I suggested to my running posse that we continue training for the Charlottesville half marathon to take place in April of next year.

It’s hard to come in last or rather nearly last most especially as I know I gave it my best. Nevertheless, as someone once said, “The miracle is not that I finished but that I had the courage to start.”

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