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.
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 …