Pass Me By

Running Scared-12 copy

Pass Me By – A Story of Pride and Pettiness

by Patrick Reed

It marks my character. It repels the carefree. It pervades chambers of power. And turns off ladies of sincerity. Pride. And I seem to be imbued with an extra measure.

Then it is no surprise that – as I have mentioned in previous posts – once upon a time I prided myself on never having been passed during a daily training run. This silly and self-centered claim needs some clarification. Of course, I had been upended by countless teammates who raced from behind in endless intervals throughout the years. And in track and cross-country practices throughout the years, I have been tracked down like an injured rabbit by ravenous wolves who later claimed to be my peers. I have been beaten by ladies in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler and dropped by the likes of training buddy Jim Hage (who himself accomplished a 17-year running streak) during terrible 20-mile workouts on the C&O Canal in Washington, DC. These defeats do not comply with my claim. Mine is a stake in the soft earth of boastfulness which has nothing to do with organized team workouts, nor with race-day efforts. Instead my claim of hubris was that I had never been passed by another runner during a solo training run out on the roads. Not until a recent day, mind you. But save that for later.

How this infatuation with competing with unaware, fellow-runners began I am not sure. I only know that when, during a 10-mile tempo run, I was surprised to hear the footfalls of a ‘competitor’ charge up from behind, kicking up all sorts of autumn debris on the wet and winding GW Parkway bikepath outside of DC, I picked up the pace. No way, I knew, could whomever this is who has dared to enter into my personal training space, hang with me if I dropped the pace another 30 seconds per mile. The intruder inevitably tapped along behind me fiercely at first, but then began to lag and lurch, tiring from both the effort to have caught me to toss down the gauntlet in the first place and exhausted by the sudden understanding that I “would not go down easily!”

When I recount these stories to my wife, she just shakes her head and wonders at the male competitiveness gene. Who cares if some random dude passes you on the bikepath, Jana’s look beckons. And I stare intently and then blankly back – already caught up in the rerun of the “game-day tape” in my mind. Whew! Dodged a bullet on that one, I think to myself, now shaking my head.

Once I had realized that I was not willing to be passed during everyday training efforts, and seeing that I had actually accomplished a fair number of years without having “faltered,” I began to do a bit of figuring. If I was just about to begin a run, and a speedy runner just happened to turn onto my street, cruising along in full stride, I would wait — feigning a few more stretches. If, on the other hand, another desperado dared pull up to the stoplight, as it were, and rev his engines and say, “Let’s go!” I had to be ready. Precisely this happened on more than a few occasions – as if the stars aligned and two of us, two fools filled with bravado, happened upon each others’ lairs at precisely the same moment in history — then it was “Game On!” As if the starter’s pistol fired, and we both had been sharpening for this championship duel, prepped for this day, we raced. Footstep for footstep, stride for stride we pushed, revved, surged and waited, parrying our best with destiny’s adversary. If the game got heated enough, the duel might end in… conversation – the pace and tempo becoming too fierce and one of us would break the prideful breathtaking silence with a “Hi, name’s Patrick.” And the pace would lessen, the egos would chill just a bit and a friendship might be forged. In this case, a friendship built on mutual respect.

On other occasions, on a day when just to limp the course would suffice, suddenly that speedy straggler was upon me. Like an exhausted parent, I could only muster a bit of enthusiasm and match stride for stride, hoping that the attacker lived on the next street so that my slow agony could abate. Mostly, as with the more speedy encounters, I was up to the challenge of holding off my adversary for just long enough, and all ended well. Then, I could again enter the house with head held high, affirm my masculinity in meeting the questioning gaze of my wife head-on – despite her shaking head.

But there was one morning run when I ran out of options. It was the day after, actually the morning after, the longest run of my life. I had run 78 kilometers, completing the course only 16 hours before this morning’s run. I was consigned to an early run because of our day’s travel plans. We were in Davos, Switzerland, altitude 5,000 feet. Hours before I had run over 1.5 vertical miles during an ultra-distance race that spanned 2 Alpine passes and nearly 50 miles in distance. And here I was, set to continue my 5k a day running streak. 3.1 miles. I can do this. I was oblivious to the challenge that awaited me in moments…

I thought I would run to the Davos track where I could limp through a couple of miles on flat, soft consistent surface. My initial strides were more feeble attempts to “go airborne” than real strides. My quads were toast, my calves seizing. I shuffled with hiccuping strides every few feet, lurching down the street in the cool Alpine air. Making it finally to the track – I suppose that first mile was closer to 20 minutes than to 10 – I painfully hopped onto the tartan and began my laps. It was comforting – always is – to be “back on the track.” All of the years of competing at the mile, 2-mile, in relays and watching teammates lay it down for the team during endless, infinite afternoon trackmeets. It all came back. Always does. And there I was again, in that familiar place — despite being thousands of miles from the tracks of my youth. Round and round I ran, the strides getting a bit easier as the minutes passed. I was recovered enough to begin to reflect on yesterday’s race: 7 hours and 43 minutes, 48.8 miles, two huge mountain passes. A race well-run. Truly, I was ecstatic from the day before’s heroics. And not only mine, but also those of the many, many disciplined and ultra-tough runners with whom I had the fortune to run with for a day….

And so it was, that as I coursed my way back to the hotel from the track that all systems alarmed when I looked back and noticed a woman, a grandmotherly woman, “surging” in her track shoes behind me. She was probably doing at least a 12-minute mile — which for me at that moment may as well have been Usain Bolt himself flashing his golden spikes and pointing heavenward as he decimated a field of the world’s best — and Grandma kept coming. Relentlessly. And all of the sudden it dawned on me that my hour had come. My streak of never having been passed during a training run — according to my strict legal definition — was about to be decimated itself. And with it, no doubt, my pride would tumble from its imagined heights. And I would not be able to meet my wife’s stare. I tried to push. I limped faster. As fast as I could. I quickly adopted a hitching gait – which entailed a hop, drag the tired left leg and hop again to bring it forward. But it was no use. I was done.

I relented. Put my head down, not to push faster any more, but instead in a bow of respect and shame. I was about to be beaten – by an octogenarian… I closed my eyes and waited for it — swimming forward in my painstaking coast towards my hotel which now I could see. Shall I make a mad dash for the hotel? I final kick… No, I had nothing left. I was faltering. I looked over my left shoulder, knowing that just as that first perpetrator had surged into my ego-sphere all those years ago on that leave-strewn bikepath, she would be surpassing me in a strong measure.

But… she was not there. She was gone! I looked over my other shoulder and couldn’t believe my good fortune. Grandma had at the very moment she would have overtaken me, turned off up some other street — maybe to her and her hubby’s decades-shared flat. With a comfortable fire and tea prepared already, like clock-work, like every morning as she returned from her run. And I … I had escaped — and survived to breathe life into my silly pride for yet another day.

Afterword: I was finally passed earlier this year, the story of which I shared in a post entitled: “Are You Afraid To Jog” — check it out today!!


~Coach Patrick