I once read that as we get older, we keep thinking we're at least 10 years younger than we are, and I believe that's true. And as a result of this self-delusion, I found myself Denver-bound, to attempt a half-marathon with one of my besties, EmJ.
EmJ (nee Hayes, now Rowe) and I have a long running history. We've been friends for 40 years and we've run together, on and off, almost the whole time.
But the dynamic has changed. Back in the day, when I was a slim-hipped speedster, EmJ was pretty much a rookie. Not that she didn't run: She and I ran 10-mile races and we even did a Whiteface race, back in the late '70s. But there was a great disparity in our times and endurance: I could easily run a 7:20 mile for 15 miles; she, on the other hand, ran no faster than 10-minute miles, and almost never went farther than four miles.
The Diva and the Dope
But, oh, how times done changed!
I'm now a 12:30 plodder, while she easily turns out 10:30s. Plus, she regularly runs 6, 8 or 10 miles, while I think I deserve a Silver Star if I hobble two-and-a-half.
So what was I thinking last fall when I agreed to run the Colfax half-marathon with her? Most likely, that she'd forget it. But if that was the case, I was sorely mistaken. Not only did she not forget, but as the months passed, she reminded me more and more.
Well, if ya can't fight 'em, join 'em, I always sez, so in February, I signed up for the race, booked my flight, and started my training regimen. Signing up for the race and booking the flight were easy; training (at least in any serious sense) was something else.
On the plus side, I ran more than I had in a long time. On the negative side, I didn't run very much at all and certainly not enough to guarantee I'd finish the cursed thing - especially because of the altitude. I mean, they don't call Denver "The Mile-High City" for nothing.
Getting' ready and steady
The race was last Sunday and I arrived on Tuesday night, figuring I'd have time to acclimate, but it didn't seem like enough time. The first two days we went for 4-mile runs and I was burnt from the get-go. Just couldn't maintain my pace or catch my breath. On my last pre-race run, I jogged only two miles, and even that was a drag. Things did not look good.
Because Denver gets hot in the summer, the race started at 0600, so I'd finish (provided I did) before 0900. It made perfect sense. What didn't make perfect sense was getting up at 0430 in order to eat something, swill a bunch of coffee and make it to the start on time. But EmJ, her husband and team chauffeur Merrill, and I managed admirably, arriving at the starting line with a half-hour to spare. And there's where brilliant prior planning came in.
Denver is hot in the summer, and by the afternoon of marathon day, the mercury hit 80. But because of the elevation, it's cool at night and early morning. The predicted temperature for early Sunday morning was in the mid-40s, which presented another problem: How to stay warm while waiting to start. Luckily, I'd anticipated this brilliantly.
On Friday, EmJ and I traipsed off to Goodwill, where we bought warm-up outfits. Hers was pretty ho-hum basic, run-of-the-mill black cotton schmattas.
Mine, on the other hand, was spectacular. It was a classic '80s jogging suit - a sunburt orange number with two white stripes on the sleeves and legs. It was made of some kind of polyester with the half-life of U-238, and had thick elastic cuffs on the wrists and ankle. And best of all - it was at least three sizes too big. But I figured it'd do what it had to, plus at $4 (not counting my senior citizen discount), it was The Bargain of the Century.
When we got to the starting line, I might not've looked as chic as 99 percent of the other runners but I was a lot warmer.
Finally, the countdown. EmJ and I peeled off our suits, hopped up and down a bit, and gave each other thumbs up and a "Ding How!" When "Go!" came over the loudspeaker, she bolted like a thoroughbred. I trotted like a nag.
Now, something no runner knows, but all non-runners know too well: The only thing more boring than hearing a runner talk about their race is reading about it. So I'll spare you all the race details - especially the ones I think are exciting. You're very welcome.
All you need to know is the results: Both of us finished -?she, in amazing time; me, in time for lunch. Suffice it to say, we were both delighted with our showings, but I had one major disappointment: When I went back to the starting line to pick up my jogging suit, it was gone.
I hadn't read the race packet instructions, for in them it said if you didn't check your warm-up clothes before the race, then any clothes left at the start would be given to Goodwill. I accepted this not only as a fine act of charity, but in my case, recycling at its best.
That night at dinner, EmJ, Merrill and I were chatting about the race and Merrill asked what our biggest surprise in the race was.
For EmJ, it was the firehouse. It was at the 7-mile mark, and since its huge front and back doors were up, we actually ran through the house, Plus, the firemen had formed two lines and when we ran between them, each fireman gave each runner a high five.
"Yeah," I said. "They were real spirit-boosters."
"They were something else," said EmJ.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Real hunks," she said.
"Didn't notice," I said.
"Good thing," said Merrill.
Then they asked me my biggest surprise.
"That I actually did it," I said. "Truth is, given the altitude and the lousy shape I was in, I'm amazed I didn't stroke out at the start."
"It's all for the best that you didn't," said EmJ.
"Dunno," I said, "It would've had an up side."
"What's that?" said Merril.
"I would've made the front page of the Denver Post."
"Yeah," said Merrill. "And I know what the headline would've been."
"What?" I asked.
"Well, with the length of your beard and your choice of warm-up gear, there's only one thing it could have been."
After a moment's pause, and completely deadpan, he said, "'Homeless Man Found Dead at Starting Line.'"