When the alarm went off at 3:15 AM, I couldn’t quite believe I used to do this almost every weekend.
It’s been a long time since I ran an in-person event… and if you’re a regular blog follower (and who isn’t?), you’ll know it’s been 551 days since I ran the Los Angeles Marathon to a BQ time that wound up not being Q enough.
Schlepping down to the start line, I was worried about my potentially broken toe and more about the cobwebs and butterflies that had settled into my being. And while I was looking forward to returning to a race day experience, this is not the race day experiences of old… and yet some things never change.
I had to pay $15 to park. The guy in front of me balked and didn’t want to pay… but ultimately he relented. I didn’t want to pay either but I paid right away… it’s the cost of running these events.
But let’s not kid ourselves, the real reason people put on these events? Merchandising.
And while the world has changed… and we are all supposedly worried about Covid transmissions particularly in not-well-ventilated closed spaces, you just can’t have a race without a line of Port-a-Potties.
Surf City is typically held on Super Bowl Sunday, the early morning hours of the February air never being the cooler temperatures today’s emcee would have us all believe. As he prattled on about this first ever fall event and warned us that the temperatures were not going to be conducive to a personal record, I found myself shaking my head behind my mask or bandana in disagreement.
I did wear a mask to race-day packet pickup; I wore a bandana it in the corrals waiting for the start. And it was only somewhere around mile 2 when the field spread out into their natural paces, that I pulled down my bandana. A lot of people had long since ditched their masks and made zero effort to distance themselves or work with the masked volunteers manning the water aid stations. It was disappointing to say the least… but I have consistently been disappointed in so many people’s illogical reactions to the social contract and social responsibilities inherent in being out and about with other people.
My pace slotted me somewhere between 3:05 and 3:15… that is at least until Mile 8 when I was somewhere between 3:15 and 3:30… that is at least until Mile 25. Because I wasn’t adhering to one of those goal times, I was able to have my own socially distanced buffer zone. There’d be passing back and forth (mostly forth… wait… what would it be if other people were passing me… because I didn’t pass many people). But for the most part I was able to run with my admittedly not-FDA approved bandana pulled down. I’d pull it up at each water station as I mentioned above trying to thank volunteers through the mask or before or after hitting their stations and only pulled my mask down to drink once I had passed the last volunteer.
Or at least such was my plan until the dreaded 16 mile turnaround. I’ve always kinda hated this course for this 10 mile out and back stretch along the public footpath adjacent to the Beachwalk. It’s open to walkers, strollers, bikers, people tailgating at their RVs, people crossing with giant surfboards, and also apparently to go kart enthusiasts (one banana shaped cart passed me… and, no, I wasn’t hallucinating). Because of the close proximity of all these people “sharing the road” I really *should* have donned my bandana… but I just couldn’t. I was huffing and puffing and sweating profusely. There was nary a cloud in the sky and little to no sea breeze, making the ever-rising sun bake me like a gingerbread man running away from… um… who does the gingerbread man run away from? Somebody, right? And I mean obviously some body but I mean *Somebody* as in a named figure we should be mindful of. It’s not a witch from Hansel and Gretel (Agnes? Agatha? What was the witch’s name in Hansel and Gretel? I bet those Grimm Brothers didn’t bother naming her… sexist jerks).
The point is even in my best intentioned social contract efforts, I hypocritically gave up when it got hard. I did still pull the bandana up for aid stations but made little effort otherwise. So take my “well, I never”s! with a sheepish grain of salt. I shouldn’t be so quick to criticize others when I fail so easily. And yet… I choose to criticize!
In any case, it was somewhere on this crowded yet oddly lonely mind squisher of a ten mile loop that I kinda crashed and burned. I kept slowing and ultimately walked as I just didn’t have it in me. It was surprisingly not due to my toe, which besides the initial one-off stabbing pain of putting on my shoes this morning proved remarkably non-noticeable. Instead it was as I suspected it might be — eighteen months of wine, food, and Covid-related ennui taking a toll.
Ultimately I will say this — given all that came before, the cancellation of races, my inconsistent training regimen, a broken toe scare that then cancelled more races, and just the general vibe of the day (did I mention it was the twenty anniversary of the September 11th attacks and how that already made this whole thing feel weirdly off-key and tone deaf… especially given that our country is perhaps more divided now than it has been in 150 years), I was happiest for having found the finish line. It wasn’t a PR, it wasn’t even a particularly fun or enjoyable running experience. But I went out and ran and muddled through, sometimes waddling, sometimes with a cadence of old.
And while I was shocked and saddened by the potential super spreader finish line festivities and the general ostrich heads to the ground attitude of the runners to covid protocols, I tried my best to adhere to some semblance of moral code, social obligation, and general human decency.
All we can do is try. Even if it seems like a lot of other people aren’t… or have decided that trying for them means recreating the “normal” as much as possible.
Today I tried. I didn’t set the world afire… nor did I spread a virus that has and continues to spread like wildfire when preventative measures aren’t taken.
I do wonder if it was the wrong thing to do – congregating in a large clump of people, all sweating and shedding possible virus strains.
Whatever I should have done, this is what I did do: I tried. I came. I ran. I found my finish line.
Besides, what is “normal” anyway?