I was reminiscing a few days ago about a strange, yet enlightening race I participated in a little more than a year ago. It was summertime on a hot and sunny day with a course that was not exactly spectacular. Half marathons are usually exciting for me and despite the heat, I was looking forward to having a good run. So off we went and within a mile I picked up a “shadow”. A thin man about my age decided to run alongside me and I was happy for the company. Soon he began to carry on a conversation about racing and general running topics. If you know me, you would understand that I like short sentences followed by long periods of silence. Still, it’s nice running with someone to keep you motivated. By mile 3 his incessant jabbering was beginning to annoy me but I decided it was too hot and too early in the race to pick up my pace in an attempt to get away. In the distance I spied a water station and the talkative runner decided to move a little faster and leave me behind. “Thank God!” I thought. Unfortunately my relief was short-lived when I realized he was walking through the aid station and looking back as if waiting for me to catch up. As I grabbed my water and kept moving he jumped in alongside me once more. My patience was wearing thin.
Turn after turn he stayed right with me doing the same thing at each water stop. To make the situation worse, he never seemed to sweat as he waved cheerfully at passerby’s and enthusiastically thanked every volunteer working the race. I started to lose my cool with his overly pleasant demeanor combined with a scorching and insipid course. My complaints about the lack of scenery, water stations and the temperature were starting to slip out. Ten miles into the race I finally turned to him after he thanked yet another volunteer and snapped, “Stop being so damn cheerful! It’s f@*c%n& hot out here!” That’s when he laughed and asked me if I had ever suffered a running injury. I replied, “Nothing serious.” He then began to tell me a story about how he had experienced a terrible injury that sidelined him for quite some time. He explained he was just happy to be out there running again. Needless to say, this made me feel about 3 inches tall as well as aggravate me that he had made an exceptionally valid point.
The next couple miles we ran in silence. Approaching mile 13, I kept my shadow in view as he decided to run ahead. The final water station appeared over a hill and I watched as he began to walk. This was my opportunity to run wide with some other runners and skip the break in an effort to elude him once and for all. He looked around but didn’t spot me. My memory of the last mile gets a little blurry for me due to the heat and exhaustion. I do recall runners struggling to finish and to be honest, I lost track of my upbeat sidekick. Across the finish line I staggered and received my finish medal. Looking back, he was nowhere to be seen.
The “after” party was spectacular and it wasn’t long before the results were posted. Scanning the age groups, I found my name. 4th place by a few seconds???!!!! Right above me in third was my shadow who, as it turned out, was exactly my age. Needless to say, this infuriated me! Still, I had not learned my lesson and blamed the guy with an unusual last name for throwing me out of my zone. I was acting like a poor sport for the first time and made no attempts to hide it. After 20 minutes of childish pouting they re-posted the results which somehow reversed our positions and gave me third place by 2 1/2 seconds. For a moment I was elated, but within seconds a feeling of embarrassment crashed over me like a wave and I knew that receiving my medal would feel undeserved and hollow. I never saw “the shadow” after the race or ever again. A search online for his name turned up absolutely nothing in the way of past results. Strange.
The moral of the story is this: Conditions may be adverse at times, life will treat you unfairly and your future may appear bleak, but our lives are made up of choices. We can choose to be happy in the face over overwhelming hardship or choose to surrender and be miserable. Sometimes we forget this lesson and it takes an outside hand to place an exceptional person in our path who helps us understand our shortcomings and challenges us to be better people if we stop resisting and pay attention.
Run for fun but race to place everyone!
© Copyright 2013 The Hornet, All rights Reserved. Written For: Adventures In Running