Sunday night when I returned home from a Memorial Day party, I looked at my new shoes and decided to take this debacle all the way. As my Grandma used to say, "Anything worth doing wrong is worth doing wrong right." Grandma's wisdom always keeps me centered.
The time was well past midnight and I had to wake up early for a race. Five and a half hours would have to do.
Sometime that night after I had eaten a hamburger, a bratwurst, a large glom of my mother's world famous potato salad, a piece of extra-sugary birthday cake, some homemade pizzels and standing with my who-knows-how-manyenth Labatt Blue (that, or Great Lakes Dortmunder), my friend who BQ'd at Cleveland the week before asked me, "So is this how you prepare for all your races?"
What was that supposed to mean?
Later, my brother asked me, "When do you stop drinking before a race?" I cleared up any confusion and told him the race started at 8 a.m. I have never run a 5K healthy or sober. Why start now?
To add a little drama -- and to totally repeat myself -- I looked at those new New Balance 767s. I had meant to break their cherry last week, but I thought it would be a bad idea to take them to the track Thursday. And then I ruled them out again during my 10-miler on Saturday. Monday morning, I thought the time was nigh.
I awoke cockeyed at 6 a.m. I was supposed to give a wake-up call to a couple other drunk racers to set up a ride. I wanted to get there early because I had not registered beforehand. I poured a glass of water and downed it fast. A shower would help straighten me out, I thought. I nearly had to cover one eye to navigate my living room.
At 6:30, I sent a text message as a gentle wake-up and to say I'd make the pickup at 7 a.m. I reheated some day-old coffee and poured a half-glass of electrolyte beverage. After no response to the first attempt, I sent a second text message at 6:45. Still nothing.
Just before 7, I called. Voicemail. I took care of some bowel issues and 10 minutes later made another call. Nope. At 7:20, I was out the door, calling to say I'd be there shortly. Shortly thereafter I was there and calling again. Nothing. Now, I was cutting it close. I left without those preregistered laggards.
The race was about 10 miles away and I had about 30 minutes and about 30 traffic lights that I had carefully planned to stop at before I arrived at the registration table with five minutes to spare. I waited in line, realized that I had to fill out a form first, got back in line, handed the woman my last $20, received my numerologically lucky number and tried to pin my bib on while trotting to the starting line about 100 yards away. I eventually had to stop to pin the bastard on, but I made it to the start with plenty of seconds to spare. I spotted my mark and prepared to race.
While getting dressed that morning, I had a race shirt etiquette dilemma. I have yet to wear my Cleveland Half Marathon shirt except for immediately after the race. But should I wear a half marathon shirt to a 5K? The answer: no. I decided it would be like bringing an M2A3 Bradley tank to a food fight.
My mark was wearing last year's Cleveland Marathon shirt, and I was going to make him pay for his faux pas. However, he weaved his way nearer to the front of the starting line. I had to snake through the slow crowd during the first mile and lost sight of Mr. No Manners.
I hit the first mile marker at 7:30. Cruising! Approaching Mile 2 at around 15 minutes, I had The Offender in my crosshairs. ("Stay on target! Stay on target!") I caught up and ran at his hip until the next turn, where I edged past him.
The turn afterward was toward a steep half-mile uphill. This is where I chose to separate. I started passing other runners, which led me to believe I had left Bad-Shirt-Choice McGee in my wake of doom. At the crest of the hill, I let up to prepare for the final kick. Ill advised! My target reappeared at my side and got past me a few strides later. Unfazed, I picked up my pace and passed him again.
At Mile 3, I was too distracted to hear the split called out as the S.O.B. made another push to pass me. However, the finish line was in view and I finally found my kick. I wish it would have come sooner, but it was enough. I left behind my mark and another guy who had been in front of me.
When I passed the second guy with about 200 feet to go, I heard his wife say something like, "Awww! Well, good job anyway!" I assume I crushed his soul and it showed. He finished behind me and my prey behind him.
While we were in the finishing chute I had to choke back my puke to avoid vomiting on the kid in front of me as he almost stopped to fiddle with his race bib. He was lucky I was too spent to say anything because his vocabulary surely would have grown and his mother would not have been proud.
Now, I wonder, should I have said "good race" to my mark? I considered it, but then decided to leave our unspoken competition unspoken.
My new shoes felt great, another running myth busted. To celebrate, I enjoyed a pint bottle of Dragon's Milk, an 8.5 percent ABV, oak-barrel aged strong ale from New Holland Brewery in Michigan.
My time? Oh, right ... sigh ... another PR. I shaved almost a minute off of last year's time with 23:28, which is more than two minutes off my last 5K. Ooh, razor burn!