i’m running along just a few hundred meters into the race when i see him up ahead. silver hair, lean physique, dark tan, million-mile legs, no socks, old skechers. it has to be Don Freaking Winkley.
plus, the back of his shirt says Don Freaking Winkley, which is sort of a giveaway. but still.
longtime readers will recall i have seen him a few times over my six years in corpus christi at the gym. he was one of my heroes when i first dipped my toes into ultramarathons. he was always doing insanely long races. sometimes he’d win, sometimes he’d burst into flames. but he was amazing and crazy and fearless. and still is. and here he is.
he’s 73 now and still running stupid long distances, so i guess this 5k is just goofing off for him. meaning that while i am already in total aerobic debt, i’m able to keep a few meters behind him as he chats with a friend.
it’s an out and back course, so as he goes along he’s getting an endless series of greetings and waves from the other runners. local legend. i get a few MOVE OVER YOU MORONs, which i assume is a form of admiration.
at the turn, he’s still there. i’m just a little back, sitting on his shoulder. he’s wearing the 2005 spartathlon shirt, a 150-mile race in greece. i’m wearing some 10k trail run shirt from west of austin. oh, well. i’m holding my own.
we keep that same position, him leading the way, me comfortably drafting, until the Hill of Death at about 2.7 or so. i suck it up, figuring this is my chance. i turn on the jets and watched as he pulls away. i probably need to read the instructions on my jets more closely.
and then it’s over. i’m ok with my time, considering i was giving up running forever a few days earlier. someone asks him how he did. “oh, i was just pretending to run,” he replies. i totally bought it.
my mind races. he’s just a few feet away, chatting with someone, and then he starts to walk away. i can catch up with him and introduce myself at last.
what to say? how i had torn open ultrarunning each month to see the latest installment of his race across america? his crazy australia jaunt with jesse riley? the six-day sri chinmoy runs? trans gaulle? tennessee? how i’d almost met him once at the gary cross 6-day in sierra vista till the logistics didn’t work? how i’ve been a fan forever? like 30 years forever?
i found out at the recent race where i rediscovered willie that sometimes you just have to put aside the shyness and do it. i walk up to him.
and then keep walking.
maybe it’s better to keep your heroes at a distance. maybe they should serve alcohol at the finish. maybe i suck.
but for the record, i was within striking distance of running legend Don Freaking Winkley for almost an entire race.
bring on the spartathlon, Don Freaking Winkley. bring it on.