Let’s face it: Every distance runner secretly dreams of winning
a race. However, for most runners, such wishes are tempered with the reality that they will forever base their performance on the number of refreshments that remain when they ultimately cross the finish line, or the number of cars left in the parking lot.
I, too, was resigned to never hearing the frenzied cheering and rhythmic applause of the crowd as I sprinted toward the outstretched tape at the finish line. That is, until this past Fourth of July. That’s the day my dreams became reality. Well, sort of. Reality is a relative term, and even more so with me as I’ve been accused of sometimes living in a parallel universe. But, for this event, the old adage timing is everything couldn’t have been more appropriate.
That July Fourth morning I decided to go for an eight-miler. It was also one of those days that I refer to as my grab-bag training run. You know those times when you’re not entirely certain of your body’s capacity until you’re a mile or so into the run. It’s then that you discover if you have the ability to make it a hard tempo run, or if the best you’ll have is a slow, easy run. You don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until you open the package.
Looking for a little diversion on my run, I plotted a course that would take me by a neighboring town’s holiday parade. When I arrived, the sides of the streets were lined with spectators. I didn’t see any floats or marching bands coming up the street, and I figured they were behind schedule.
I ran along the parade route, and while discovering I had the ability that day for a fast-paced run, I became aware of some light clapping. I quickly assumed impatient spectators were trying to signal that the parade should begin. Before long, the few clapping sounds increased into mild applause and I thought the crowd must have been getting really restless.
Someone then yelled, “Way to go!” —obviously a sarcastic reference to the city’s inability to start a parade on time. I couldn’t explain so easily why someone then shouted, “Keep it up,” as nothing appeared to be falling down. I began to sense that eyes were focused on me, and I tried to nonchalantly check to make sure my running shorts were still in place.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. Someone had erroneously concluded that there was a running race associated with the parade, that I was the leader, and that the parade would begin as soon as the race ended. Once one person started clapping, it became contagious, with the applause spreading down the street like falling dominoes.
Not ever wishing to discourage any admiration (earned or not), and not wishing to disappoint my newly discovered fans, I continued to run down the parade route.
As I savored the moment, I gave my best interpretation of an elite runner. My pace quickened, my shoulders reared back, and my chest thrust out as I displayed an enviable look of sheer grit and determination. I shot a quick glance over my shoulder, pretending to see if another runner was gaining on me. My stride lengthened and my arms swung hard back and forth as I sprinted toward what apparently only I knew was a nonexistent finish line. Such trivial details didn’t really concern me.
The crowd believed there was a race, the crowd believed I was winning, and I had a new motto: Live for the moment; or, in other words, Who cares if there isn’t a race when you’re winning it? I pressed onward, giving a thumbs-up signal to no one in particular, and pretended to check my watch with a look that said, Yes, I have just confirmed I am indeed on world-record pace.
I knew I was approaching the area where the parade was to begin as I saw the floats and cheerleaders lining up. With the crowd’s outstanding support, I mustered the ability to kick it into another gear and enthusiastically thrust my fist in the air as my chest lunged toward the imaginary finish-line tape.
The crowd behind me was ecstatic. Several parade organizers stared at me with a look of bewilderment, some with a look of concern for my mental status, and others with an embarrassed look that they had not been informed of a race associated with the parade. I stopped just short of demanding postrace refreshments and a trophy. I figured it was best at this point to jog home without granting interviews.
That day I learned that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, but can go to the less fleet of foot (especially when they are the only ones running). I also began looking forward to the next holiday parade. I was thinking that maybe, if I timed it right, I could plant my brother in the crowd to clap a few times as I went by and yell out, “You’re looking good!” and then see what happens.
Hey, just a thought. Nothing wrong with creating your own running reality from time to time.
Republished with the permission of Runner’s World/Rodale Press