Single-Serving Dad - Page 2
Race morning Tom was signing in runners. He rounded up me and his dad, Bob, and said, "Dad, why don't you and Rachel go ahead and check out the trail. You can wait for me at the first aid station."
We'd met a few weeks before at a 50-mile race. Bob had read my book on running and said nice things about it. Naturally, I liked him.
Bob led the way up a steep incline. I scrambled to keep pace. He was carrying a bulky army-issue canvas pack and wore running tights and a cotton shirt from the Le Griz 50-miler, a race he'd finished 11 times. He was shod in racing flats. I was bundled like the Michelin man, and still shivering.
We reached the first aid station and watched as the lead runners passed. We'd taken off about a half hour before the race's start . Bob had a smile and an encouraging word for everyone. I watched him eat a gel, and said, "Let's go."
He said, "Aren't we supposed to wait for Tom?" I said, "I don't like to wait. Let's go." He shrugged and said, "OK."
There are people who are obnoxious in their friendliness. Often it's a way of compensating for being uncomfortable, of not feeling at home, of not wanting to appear frightened. I've been at races with men who reach out like politicians, glad-handing the volunteers and other runners. They crack unfunny jokes, wax too familiar. There's something weird that happens when men get together to suffer. I don't mind a little perkiness. I can deploy it myself at strategic times. But over the course of many miles, it can get wearing.
Bob and I got into an easy rhythm. I would let him lead on the ascents. He was unfailingly upbeat, but never irritating. I made him tell the story of his life, and listened with real interest as he described his home-coming from the war, his long marriage and the death of his wife and how he had come to take up ultrarunning relatively late in life. The day was clear and chilly; the scenery—classic Montana natural beauty with big sky and diverse trees and meadows and shale-showered ridges and wild flowers—made you want to cry. Runners would come up behind us on the singletrack trail and I'd call out, "Let's let them by," and Bob would step off to the side. Many people knew him. He'd sometimes stop to chat. For the race's early part, I let him do this.
They would ask what we were doing at the front of the pack and not wearing numbers. "We're sweeping," Bob would say, laughing. "I don't know what we're sweeping, but that's what we're doing." They would be appropriately confused and carry on, telling us, "Good job," or that we were looking strong. And indeed, we were.
At the next aid station I told Bob not to linger. "Did you have a gel? Did you drink?"
"I have my mother here," he said to a volunteer and pointed at me. He took off his big pack and told her that he had some sandwiches in there; she was welcome to them.
"Hurry up," I said, "you're dawdling." "Okay," he said. He left his pack behind and took off at a good clip. I sprinted to catch up.