T.I.L.T. #138 — And the Winner Is . . .

Hello, sports fans from around the world. This week I’m happy to report that Mr. and Mrs. Tortoise successfully completed their first 5K running race last weekend. Both of us managed to run the whole time without stopping or walking, so in that sense we were both winners.

On the other hand we were both in last place in our respective categories, but we really didn’t care since we’re not pros looking for sponsors.

A fun addition to the race was that we were joined by an old friend of Mrs. Tortoise, a very athletic and competitive person, who we will call Miss Hare. We trained for ten weeks and were happy to just to finish in whatever place we might be. Miss Hare did not train at all, but bolted to second place in her category since she simply cannot bear to lose. She originally planned to hang back with us, but once the race got going, and people started passing her, there was just no holding her back.

And that was the most interesting part of the experience: the transformation of the generally solo act of running, into the communal act of racing. Not focusing on how I am running per se, but how I am running compared to other people.

The beginning of the race was in a way the most challenging. About 150 people poised in a mob wearing all sorts of brightly colored, high-tech fabric outfits, and fancy watches and quantifying gadgets of all kinds, eagerly awaiting the shot from the starting pistol. Ok, there wasn’t a gun, but rather a strange-looking, large wooden clapper contraption that seemed more like something you’d use for a radio theater sound effect. But it had the desired effect — bang! And they’re off!

At first the race is actually slow for the majority of the mass of runners because only the runners in front can actually start running right away. Those of us in the back of the pack, where we cleverly placed ourselves to reduce the risk of getting run over, started by walking, then slowly jogging, and then bit by bit as the crowd starts to spread out you begin running at your own pace, trying not to step on the person in front of you who might be a step slower while not getting stepped on from behind at the same time. You also start to maneuver left and right, trying to find your lane at your speed, passing some, being passed by others.

I felt sort like a lemming or a cow must feel, running along pulled by the herd mentality, dumbly ready to go over the cliff in a rush if one would happen to appear. Luckily we’re in north Germany where the land is relatively flat and there are no cliffs.

The first kilometer or so was about sorting out the crowd and finding your rhythm and pace, then the adrenalin kicked in via some ancient fight or flight mentality from running with the others, and I ran faster then I actually wanted to. I passed a few people feeling excited, but within the next kilometer they passed me again, leaving me in the dust, so I relaxed and told myself to just focus on steadily running my own race: to just be the tortoise I am. The goal was to finish and run the whole race, not win.

This was particularly challenging since despite our best efforts and preparations, we brilliantly drank too much the night before the race. This was a stupid thing to do of course, but it was Mrs. Tortoise’s birthday, and well, what’s another bottle or two or three of celebratory champagne the night before the big race?

Ha, ha, ha. It was like running in a desert without water. The dehydration kicked in as soon as we started running. We’d done our best early in the morning to compensate by loading up on a big breakfast of calorific Eggs Benedict and lots of water and juice, but race day had perfect sunny weather beating down on us and, well, champagne quickly felt like damn pain, so let’s hope we learned a lesson!

As I loped along, trying to ignore my parched throat and pounding head and feet, and seeing where I fit compared to the other runners, I discovered a natural comparative or perhaps judgmental nature creep into my thinking. I was in a pack of a random collection of people from different categories, specifically, runners from different age and gender classifications. Old ladies, old men, some kids, a couple of middle-aged slow pokes like me. I kept looking at them and thinking, “Certainly I can run faster than that little old lady with the limp?” Or, “That little kid can’t beat me.”

Again, ha, ha, ha. As the race wore on, the pack thinned and thinned and the little old lady with a limp and the little kid left me far behind.

Then there were some super runners who seemed from another planet. There I was, huffing and puffing along, trying to gain a step on the grandma in my sights, when a pack of top runners came galloping by. They too had a spread of age groups, the only commonality being their unbelievable fitness and speed — whoosh, and they were gone in no time!

That’s when I realized to call the motion I was doing ‘running’ was rather a stretch of the word. I was jogging at best. Those people were running, knees high, legs pumping fast – it was a sight to behold. Clearly they’d been doing this for years, but it was fun to be out there with them, thinking that maybe, just maybe if I keep it up, I too might some day be able to run like that. I’m happy to say that the man who won the 5K was also from the same middle-aged category as myself, so maybe there is hope for me yet.

Of course he ran the race in just over 16 minutes where I took 31 minutes — double the his time — so I doubt I’ll ever get to that level, but, hey, you never know. Maybe if I just hadn’t been hungover, I could have kept up with him!

Yeah, right.

The biggest lesson of the race came at the end. I was tired, pushing myself to try and sprint the last hundred meters. I’d made it, yes, success in my sights, and in my excitement I decided to make a dramatic finish and stomped and leaned forward and my last step across the finish line as if it were a record-setting photo finish.

Ha, ha, ha. All I managed to do was over-extend my knee joint and pull a muscle — on the last step of the race! Genius. Mrs. Tortoise who was only a bit behind me sailed in gracefully, making no such silly mistake. Well, I’m recovering well enough, so it should heal by the next race.

Yes, in the euphoria of our post-hungover-birthday-race success we immediately signed up for the next 5K race in a few weeks. I guess we really are runners now.

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