At No Cost - Page 2
I walked the trails and GPSed 2.9 miles. I hoped the turns would be obvious and that my runners would get to run an honest race. But the course turned back on itself and if not marked well enough, they’d miss a turn. The uphills pushed back and the downhills grinded you to a nub. The strawberry flies were more bloodthirsty than Dracula. Perfect.
That night I went to bed with eyes wide. Would they show? Would they have fun? Would they get lost? I barely slept.
So, at 5 a.m., three hours before the “gun,” I crafted signs and tacked them up, the last at a confusing crossroad they would encounter twice. I’d have to tell them to ignore the sign the first time, to turn left instead of right.
Eleven showed. Ken, Alex, Renee, David Jones, AJ Allen, Jonah Allard, Jon Stillman, Lisa Soeller and her son Gary, Edward Cody and Jillian King.
They gathered around me, I showed them the map of the course and explained the confusing fork.
“You guys ready?” I asked, as the pack lined up. “Go!”
Twenty-two feet bolted, a cacophony blitzing over root and rock.
Ken led with Alex close behind. Ken handled the descents with a fearlessness Alex lacked, yet they remained tightly packed.
I waited at the start/finish line and saw Ken and Alex coming by for the first time … from the wrong direction. They missed the turn I feared. “Serious?” Ken asked.
“Go, back, take a left where you took a right, about a quarter-mile back,” I said. They jetted. Three minutes later the rest of the pack came by for the first time … from the wrong direction.
They laughed. “The good news is everyone made the same wrong turn,” I said.
“It’s like choose your own adventure!” David said.
Soon I saw Ken from the correct trail. He muscled for the final loop. Alex trotted, 15 seconds behind Ken, bludgeoned by the trail. They had just about two-thirds of a mile left.
Then, shockingly, Alex came charging up to the finish, “Where’s Ken?”
“Haven’t seen him,” I said.
“Ken took a wrong turn. I’ll wait for him.”
Alex collapsed on the ground 10 yards shy of the finish. Two minutes later Ken charged up. “What are you doing? Ken asked.
“I didn’t finish yet,” Alex said. “You took a wrong turn. Go finish.”
Ken crossed as the victor in a time of 23:16. He ran closer to four miles instead of 2.9.
The rest of the field finished together, Renee leading the pack.
“My group ran 3.6 miles!” Renee said. “We decided to stay together. ‘Which way do you want to turn?’ It was turn by committee!”
I awarded the winners six packs. They jawed about the race, smiling. It cost them nothing. Just time. But they are runners and that’s what they do. Runners run.
“It really is about the roots and spirit of running,” Beidleman told me. “There’s something very pure about that notion, not too commercial, not too organized, not too thought about, just go out and charge it and have a good time. Then it disappears, like a wave in the ocean.”
Brendan O’Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara.