IMC 98, Part 8

Picture yourself jogging along a broad, clean thoroughfare three lanes wide in the middle of a medium sized downtown area. Three- and four-storey buildings line the street, colorful banners strung from their upper floors, and throngs of cheering people fill the sidewalks. The sun shines brightly in a brilliant blue sky, your feet slap lightly upon pavement chalked with names, numbers, and messages of encouragement. It is 3:10pm. You are in Penticton.

You run on the left side of the road, cyclists stream by in the other direction on your right. A motley array of runners in various stages of well- and not-so-well- being loosely surrounds you. Some, like yourself, jog contentedly at the speed of a happy tree sloth. Others opt for a vigorous walk, while still others exhibit the determined plod more commonly seen at the end, not the beginning, of an Ironman marathon. Then, of course, a handful of aliens lope along like gazelles, completely unaffected by the dastardly conditions; these people could probably run in Death Valley at high noon and never break a sweat.

You run about two miles on Main Street, encountering two or three aid stations where you pause for water, AllSport, fruit. You ask for extra sunblock on your right ear and the side of your face where the sun, gradually beginning its westward descent, pounds mercilessly. Twist your running cap a little to the right, do what you can to mitigate the impact of the angry yellow ball in the sky. Whew, it's absolutely merciless.

The crowds thin out as you progress up Main Street, but they cheer no less enthusiastically. Spectators look up your number in their race programs as you approach and cheer you by name. A fellow running beside you is from Germany; as they figure this out, the spectators call out, "Go, Herr Spiegel! Hop, hop, hop!"

As I reach the Cherry Lane Mall section of Main Street I'm trying to figure out how to pull out of this race. I feel fine, but there's no point in doing more than a couple of miles, right? On the other hand, I can't bring myself to do it in front of all these incredibly supportive witne...uh, spectators. How do I explain to two miles' worth of people that I am calling it a day because this race in their beautiful little town is less important than a race that's 4,500 miles and 5 weeks away?

Until I can figure out how to do this I'll go a little further. Hmmm, how 'bout until I see the race leader? Then I can turn around and head back and see the top finishers in the home stretch. Yeah, that sounds good, let's go with that.

Make the little jog across Main to hook up with Eastside/Lakeside Road and you're out of downtown. Imperceptibly, you've increased your pace as the legs adjust from bike to run mode. It's pretty toasty, but you feel reasonably good. You smile and wave to spectators and cheer the other racers around you. "Lookin' good, lookin' good, you're rockin' dude! Whoa, you go, girl! Keep it up! Hang in there, just keep moving." Etc. etc. etc.

Approaching one happy group of locals near Lakeside Park you inquire jokingly, "Hey, has anybody got a spare pair of legs? Anyone? Anyone? Spare legs?" This elicits some hearty laughs, but also generates a tremendous dousing from the kid with the supersoaker who apparently only heard the word "Legs."

Uh-oh ...ummm, thanks, I guess. Sure, it feels good but...wet legs = wet feet = wet shoes = wet socks = blisters = trouble. Not good. Hmmm. Well, don't sweat it; you won't be running much longer anyway.

I'm genuinely surprised not to have seen the leader yet. I've covered nearly three miles, where could he (whoever he is) be? I wouldn't have long to wait. Christian Bustos comes screaming along the road at an obscene clip; heck, you'd have thought the headless horseman was on his tail, when in fact he could have had a two-mile tail and still had no one on it. After hollering "Go, Christian, woohoo!" I eagerly scan the road ahead in search of his pursuer(s). Nothing. I keep running. Still nothing. "My god!" I marvel to a fellow athlete, "there's nobody near him! He's obliterating the field."

This poses a problem for TriBaby. My plan was to turn around as soon as I saw the race leader heading in; I suddenly realize that it would be tres uncouth to obstruct the path of the second and third and fourth (etc.) place finishers with my plodding person. Time for reassessment and a new strategy. Guess I'd better keep running a little longer and figure out what to do. But where the heck is the rest of the field??

After what seems an eternity an exhausted-looking athlete appears up the road, heading for home. It was Chuckie V, though I couldn't tell at the time. All I knew was that whoever he was, Christian (and the conditions) had cleaned this guy's clock, but good.

At absurdly long intervals the third and fourth place athletes dribble by, each looking pretty whipped, hanging on like grim death. The gaps between them boggle the mind. How could the elites have gotten so spread out? Clearly, this has been an exceptionally tough day for everyone. In light of this I begin to reconsider my opinion of my "lousy" bike ride. Perhaps it really hadn't been all that bad.

A few more athletes trickle by, followed by a commotion up the road. A couple of spectators shout, "It's the women's leader, here she comes!"

"Who is it?" I inquire excitedly.
"It's Lori, and she is hauling. Seventh place overall!"

Yep, here comes Lori! You couldn't mistake that awkward but astonishingly effective stride anywhere, and yep, she is hauling. Compared to the male runners preceding her Lori looks like a race horse freshly sprung from the gate, pure energy in motion. Heat? What heat? Fatigue? What's that? Not something she's experiencing at the moment. You immediately sense that you are witnessing an historic performance as this sleek filly gallops by to the deafening cheers of everyone in the near vicinity, racers and spectators alike.

Behind Lori--- virtual silence. Nobody, nada. This is too weird, where is everyone? Come on, a few more have to come by before I turn around, this is ridiculous. Where the heck is the second-place woman anyway?

Eventually a few more men trickle by. I'm keeping up a steady jog but beginning to wilt. And, as direly predicted, a blister begins to form inside my wet sock. Uh oh. At least 4 miles to get back to the transition area, this isn't going to help. Better stop and put some SportSlick on it.

Perform minor roadside repairs in someone's driveway, including a quick squeeze-dry of both socks. Upon resuming my jog, I generate the next version of Ditch-This-Run: Wait until you see Joe. What the heck, you've come this far, you might as well witness his Kona-grab firsthand and cheer him on to a stellar finish. Let's see, Joe was aiming to come in under ten, and I started the run at 8:08, and have been out here for about 50 minutes, so we're nearly at nine hours. I should probably see him in the next 20 minutes.

Twenty minutes. That's a long time.

It's hot, I'm tired, I've got a blister starting on my right foot. I've already gone over 4 miles, so we're looking at close to 9 for the day right now.

A couple of miles back I spotted a racer who had stopped running and stood happily at the side of the road with friends cheering on other runners. I asked him what he was doing, and he replied, "I'm going to Kona, so I'm done for the day."

"Oh, me too! I'm planning on stopping soon myself."
"Good idea, don't go too much farther, you don't want to beat yourself up."

Uh huh.

OK, that's it, I'm done now. Turn it around and haul it home, kid; your Ironday is over.

I scan the road for approaching runners before crossing to the other side and beginning a contented, easy jog back to town. I've run a lot farther than originally intended, but aside from a little normal fatigue I feel strong. Bodes well for Hawaii, don'tcha think? I sure do feel sorry for the poor suckers heading out on the other side of the road; they have a helluva long way to go, and many of them don't look too good.

I can honestly say one thing: When the conditions are this tough, it's a lot easier to call it quits. No qualms, no regrets. I'm done.

Continue on to Part 9...