It’s been more than two days since the U.S. National Masters’ Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon. I can’t help smiling about what a wonderful time I had. And I can’t help thinking to myself that I made the right move going on that four-day venture, even if others don’t really understand.
Today, a couple of my students naively asked, “Did you win?” When they heard I didn’t finish first, they quickly quoted Ricky Bobby’s infamous, inaccurate line from Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
They have no idea how wrong they are.
Actually, for the record, I finished 278th out of 306 finishers. I got lapped by the majority of the field on this 2,000 meters, five-lap course. And, much to my dismay, I ended up taking two very short walks up a very steep hill on the last two laps, mainly because I was really struggling — the hill was that tough. I justified the walks using the logic that I was expending significantly more energy running up the steep incline than I used doing a quick, choppy walk.
So, while you can quantify it and conclude that I am a loser, just like Ricky Bobby would, here is why I left Bend yesterday feeling like a true winner:
- I ended up meeting and hanging out with some terrific, competitive guys and gals from Club Northwest, the premier running club in the greater Seattle area. These people took in a complete stranger who contributed nothing to the team in terms of placement and points and made him feel absolutely welcome.
- I wore the neon orange singlet of Club Northwest that elicited many cheers for me even though I brought up the tail end of the meet. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I heard, “Go, Club Northwest,” as I slogged by. And every time it brought a smile to my face and I impulsively gave a “thumbs up” in acknowledgement.
- I overcame any trepidation I may have had about competing at such an elite level and pushed as hard as I could for 51:53. And, while that time may suggest otherwise, I really did push to the threshold of my current conditioning. In fact, compared to how I did at the Seattle qualifying meet a month ago, I’m actually closing the gap on the big studs that lead Club Northwest’s “Over 50” group. I know I’m still 13 minutes behind the top Club NW guys, but that’s not the point — I’m closing the gap. And that’s the beauty of long-distance running.
- I picked up some valuable training and racing tips from guys who really know their stuff. By virtue of CNW’s “Over 50 A Team” placing second in the team score, you know these guys know how to take care of themselves and train well. I’m sure they can give me many more tips on how to improve my performance.
There were times in the last couple of weeks when I seriously questioned my decision to do something that seems somewhat impetuous. But, truthfully, I’ve wanted to do this meet for more than two years now — ever since I turned 50.
This was my chance. And I took it.
In many respects, I felt like the luckiest man alive over the weekend. As the warm sun shone Sunday morning in Bend and the Deschutes River babbled under the foot bridge on the hotel’s property, I went for a light walk — I was in no condition to run after doing my first 10K in more than 20 years. With some time to reflect before the team left for the return to Seattle, I thought about how every decision we make has consequences.
My only regret is that I didn’t make the decision to join Club Northwest 20 years ago. Twenty years is a long time between 10K races. And 13:00+ is a big chunk of time to make up. Still, I think I can keep closing that gap.
Next year the U.S. National Masters’ Championship is in Pennsylvania. I think President Lincoln said something about “Four score and seven years ago…” in some spot in Pennsylvania. If it takes me that long to catch the top masters runners in my age group, that’s fine.
Just like Lincoln, I believe “all men are created equal.” (I know Jefferson wrote that first, but Lincoln also did in that famous address). Heck, we all put on our racing spikes the same way. Who cares if the other guys in the race probably put them on faster than I do?
Ricky Bobby has it all wrong. It’s Lincoln who got it right. I’m looking forward to seeing those 277 guys who beat me in Pennsylvania, especially if the guys at Club Northwest have my back — it’s nice to have friends in high places.