the last jalapeño

I finished last in a race. Again.

As I have become increasingly snail-like, I find myself turning to the solace of trail runs. It’s easier to disappear into the foliage as the runners fly ahead. That’s what led us to the 10k trail run in San Antonio. That, and the promise of beer and breakfast tacos at the finish. Priorities, you know.

The course for the  jalapeño del sol was an easy trail as trail runs go. Lots of smooth dirt, virtually no elevation change, well marked. Mo ran with me for a couple of miles before the inevitable surge to catch a rabbit running on the trail ahead.

I toddled along (yes, that’s a real running term) over the miles. I found a flattened armadillo for jenster but my iphone was too wet to function. Mostly it was just an hour and a half of wondering why the hell have I driven 2 1/2 hours to cover a race course this slowly? And then.

With about a half mile to go, I came to a junction in the trail. I could either go left, on the sign saying 10k this way, or go right, on a trail with no marker. My famously bad instincts said to go right. What to do?

The trouble is, the sign on the left appeared to be the same sign we had come across a mile into the race. The trail to the left forked, with the 5k going one direction and the 10k another. I was certain that if I took this trail I would be heading out for a second loop of the course. I did not WANT to go out for a second loop of the course.

I stood quietly forever contemplating what to do. The trail to the right had no indication that it led to the finish. But it was marked with the race’s orange tape, which seemed promising. I thought back to the race director’s instructions before the race. “You need to pay attention blah blah blah important course directions blah blah blah not a road race blah blah you can get lost blah blah blah.” Had he said you should turn right at the end of the dam even though the trail isn’t marked? That must’ve been what the important instruction was.

So to the right I went. Orange marker, orange marker, orange marker. This had to be right. Then a sign. But the sign faced the other direction and said 5k this way. This couldn’t be right. There was no 6-mile marker and I’m almost 6 1/4 in. So I turned around.

Back to the split. Followed the 10k course direction against every instinct. Pondered how the hell can you get lost on a city trail in the middle of San Antonio on a sunny Saturday morning people are drinking my beer at the finish there will be no tacos left i hate life why did nobody ever recognize clark kent i think the dead armadillo just passed me.

I went along this trail forever. It obviously was leading me back into the 10k loop. dammit dammit dammit. This had to be wrong. The only solition: I turned around and headed back. Maybe if I got to the intersection, a helicopter eventually would rescue me.

And then.

Mo was coming down the trail in the opposite direction.

She had finished, gotten bored, and came back out to see what I was doing. I explained I was going the wrong direction. No, you’re not, she said. Yes, I am, I replied. No, you’re not. Fine. Whatever. I turned around and headed out the wrong direction.

Five minutes later, I was crossing the finish. The race director, who had started the awards ceremony, looked up — startled that anyone was still on the course. “Let’s hear it for the incredibly slow loser,” he announced over the PA. Maybe not quite those words. I was tired. My mind tends to wander.

Last place. I remember when I was a kid I ran an 18-mile race in Menard. It was the longest race I had ever attempted. I was 10th out of 10 runners. They were all really fast. Nobody ran 18-mile races back in 1980 unless they were fast. Last place, and I had never been happier. Fast guys gave me a Pearl Light after the race. Closest thing to water, they said. Best beer ever.

This time? I don’t know. I’m slow. I’m learning to deal with it, but it stings. They say the last-place guy still finishes ahead of the guy sitting on the couch. But I think the guy sitting on the couch passed me at 8k, being pushed by the armadillo. Is it silly to pay money to be embarrassed? Is it dumb to go to all this effort for an exercise in futility?

I thought about it as I dined on my long-delayed beer and breakfast taco. And I guess I still love it. Racing is all relative, even if mine is now the weird uncle who lives under the stairwell and constantly sings the Scooby-Doo theme. Mo got hardware for finishing third in her age group (no bonus for rescue), and the race director said “Mo Sheppo. I like that name. I like that name a lot.” Me too.

I guess I’ll keep doing it. Because it’s what I do, and I’m not sure what I’d do otherwise. Races are still my life, even in slow motion. I show up, I do my best. And that’s good enough.

Maybe it’s just Menard coming full circle. Last place.

I was still happy.

Best beer ever …

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mo and the big fish

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Or maybe it was her blue snow cone

Mo ran one mile on the magic fountain loop and got a big hug from a woman who said that if everyone was as nice as her the world would be a good place. I ran 4 miles and got a loud growl from bob the crazy homeless guy.

Shorter runs must be the key.

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72 hours of muskrat

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Buster

 I’m at a nudge over 30 miles into the run. There’s only one thing I’m absolutely certain of in life: I don’t want to do this anymore.

I’ve been out for most of the day seeing how many miles I can scrape together for the 24 Hours of Muskrat. It’s been a pretty good day, but I’m done. I’m old, my knees don’t work, I can’t run, there’s no point in being out here.

And then.

Up ahead of me, an old guy (meaning a guy my age?) pulls a wagon out of his pickup. Sort of a Radio Flyer on steroids. As I come up on it, I see it has a blanket and a pillow. What gives? I don’t see a kid.

And then.

He carries his dog out of the pickup. He’s old. Really old. The man sits him lovingly in the wagon. The dog leans his head over the edge. I am totally smitten.

I ask if I can take a photo. He says sure, but the dog buries his head in the blanket as I approach, in that “if I can’t see him he’s not there” sort of way. That’s a favorite of mine as well. I love this dog.

The man explains. The dog’s name is Buster. He has always loved to walk along the bayfront, but he’s too old these days. So the man pulls him in the wagon. My heart melts.

I look back a couple of times as I stroll ahead. Buster’s in fine form now, head propped up, observing the world from his perfect perch. It’s a sunny evening and there’s much to see. I bet he loves this time.

If it’s good enough for Buster, it’s good enough for me. I finish off another 5, bringing the total for the day to 35. It feels good. Mo hangs with me for the last couple. We have snow cones. I try to get her to pull me in a wagon. She declines.

I realize Buster and I aren’t that different. We’re both slowing down, but both lucky enough to still be out here doing what we love. Maybe not in quite the fashion we would have hoped for, but we’re still here nonetheless. Isn’t that all you can ask for?

Thanks for helping me remember, Buster. Long may you ride.

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life is funny, part 356

day 1 — You run on a course that passes a snow cone stand. You think, “My, a snow cone would be delightful right about now. But not blue. That’s just creepy.” Sadly, you have depleted your Emergency Crazy Homeless Guy Fund on a guy playing a pretty good Stevie Ray (you’re almost certain it wasn’t actually him) along the course. You are sad.

day 2 — You bring cash. Not enough for the $5 “Texas size” (which you suspect isn’t actually shaped like Texas anyhow), but enough for the medium. But not blue. That would just be creepy. The medium should still be plenty to drip all over yourself, causing a big red stain on the front of your singlet for crowd sympathy, and sticky fingers just right for handling the Garmin. And then: Everyone else in town gets in line just in front of you. Memorial Day, you know. Thwarted. You continue without. You are sad.

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day 3 – Memorial Day is over. The crowds are gone. You have the beach to yourself. You have cash. This is finally going to happen. Hot and tired, you arrive. To this. Oh, well. You probably would’ve gotten a blue one by mistake anyhow. Still. You are sad.

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Day 4 — You give up on the beach altogether. It’s just too hard to go by that damn stand every day. You run around the neighborhood instead. It’s hot. It’s not so much the heat, it’s the humidity. No, it’s not so much the heat or humidity, it’s the stupid alpaca beanie. Whose idea was that? Four miles and an aching knee later, you call it a day. Going into the apartment, you look hopefully in the pantry to see if Mo has a Gatorade stash. She does!

And you notice. Blue.

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And you know what? It’s pretty dang good, whatever flavor blue is. You are happy.

Life is funny …

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things i wish i had said, part 43

My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.

– maya angelou

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