Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

My once-a-year race, complete.

I finished Sunday’s Hall of Fame 2-Mile thinking that it
was a good thing I’d had nothing more for breakfast than a slice of toast with
peanut butter and a glass of water, because if I had, I most certainly would
have puked.

And it was a good feeling.

Feeling like crap for awhile after crossing the finish
line means I put everything I had into my once-a-year competitive run.

The downside was that I somehow lost about 13 seconds off
last year’s time, finishing in 15:16:60. It’s not going to win me any medals, I
know, but I was in the top fifth overall (142nd out of 823) and being a 36-year-old who’s always been better at Galaga than most any athletic activity, I’ll take it. 

The tough thing for me to admit at this point is that if
I’m serious about improving my time, I guess I have to do two things: One, run
more often and quit making excuses not to. Two, be willing to push as hard as I
do in practice as I do on race day. My last run before the race I did a 17:45
on a route that’s about two and a quarter miles, and while I was winded after
the closing sprint up the street, less than 10 minutes later I was hanging out
with my brother and talking. Recovery never comes that fast on race day, not by
a long shot.

My little brother Adam (eight years younger than me, a
former football player and consistently in the top finishers of his age group)
and I have done the HOF 2-mile four
of the last five summers. One year we did the North Canton 2-mile because he was going to be out of town during the football festival run.

Every year on race day, we get up early and head down to
the HOF about 45 minutes before the
race, walk around and see people we know, do some jogging and stretching and,
every year, we talk about how nervous we are.

I don’t know why Adam gets jittery: He’s
always been the family athlete, used to competition. Me, I haven’t played a
competitive sport since about fourth grade, unless you count one casual season
of club soccer in high school, and I was never a runner. 

This year, Adam and I talked a lot before and after the
race about the mental battles of the run itself. I swear that every year my
“Good God This Sucks Why Do I Do This” moment seems to come earlier. Seriously
– there are times when I full-on hate what I’m doing on that course and I just
want to effing quit because I’m so freaking miserable. Those are the stretches
of “just keep going, and you’ll be done in less than 10 minutes and then you’ll
wonder what the hell you were whining about.”

The funny thing for me is that the toughest part of the
course from a physical standpoint is where I mentally explode with energy. The
finish line is up a steep hill, and a few years ago, I adopted Adam’s strategy
of focusing enough to try and pass at least one runner during that stretch. 

So this year, I come past the mile mark at just under
seven minutes (my second half has always been a bit slower – something else I
need to work on), with the subsequent half-mile stretch becoming one huge “just
keep going” battle.

I turn onto the bit of road that leads to the final hill
and try to keep close to a group in front of me, but they pull away steadily
and the hill gets closer and I think, “Screw it. I’m not gonna be able to catch
them.” 

And then the bottom of the hill comes into view, it’s like they run into a brick wall. They
all seem to almost stop as they begin their climb, and my adrenaline
suddenly surges because, dammit, I’m not a runner but one day a year, and this
is the part I live for.

Only once have I half-assed it across the finish line,
and it bugged me for the whole year until the next race. Since then, I’ve made
it a point to run head-up, spit flying, gasping for breath, legs on fire to cross
the line full-tilt.

So I see those runners slow down and I start kicking, and
it’s like when you shift your bicycle from first all the way into tenth gear
and you suddenly feel that resistance and the power and speed it generates. And
I pass one runner.

And then another. And another. And another.

It registers – barely – that as I’m charging up the hill
with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Fawcett Stadium as a backdrop, the announcer calling the
race sends my name echoing over the loudspeaker.
Either that’s never happened to me before, or I’ve just never heard it, but it
was pretty cool.

And then it’s just me and one other guy who’s poured it
on, too, and though he gets past me by a couple seconds, I cross the line and
its over and I feel like barfing and collapsing and I’m dizzy and spent and it
feels absolutely great because for one more summer, I won that mental battle with myself.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m still a little sore.

But I feel like running.

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July 31, 2007 - Posted by | Sports, Travel

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