Making a Run for It


By Neil Offen

This is a true story.

I recently ran a 5K, a short enough distance that even beginners have a chance of finishing it without major cardiovascular issues. (Five Ks, for the uninitiated, is equivalent to 6.2 Euros.)

I’d have preferred a 1K or a 2K, but they don’t exist and actually sound like the names of breakfast cereals. So, I ran the 5K because I thought it would be a good way to gauge my fitness level if I do, in fact, have one. I chose a local race that attracted thousands, believing that would increase my chances of not finishing dead last or worse, last and dead.

At the front of the racers were the most competitive runners, the 20- and 30-year-olds who appeared capable of running effortlessly for years on end. They wore shirts that showed they had run in races like the Death Valley 500 and the Everest 3,000.

I found, instead, the group of runners who looked like they spent most of the past couple of years browsing the Häagen-Dazs store. If they wore shirts that promoted something, it was the 1973 Grateful Dead tour.

These were, I felt, runners like me who had taken up exercise because their blood pressure was too high or blood sugar too low or they were worried their arches were too flat. I figured I’d run alongside them, and if things went just right, I might be able to beat some to the finish line.

Then, just to the right of me, I noticed a runner in, yes, full metal armor. The guy in armor also was carrying a lance. (Runners sometime dress in costume for holiday-themed races. This weekend, for example, many will dress as a terrifying senatorial candidate.)

In any case, I figured that the guy in chain mail carrying the lance would have to be slow and plodding and thus running at my perfect pace. My plan was to stay near him, as long as I didn’t run directly in front of the lance. Then, at the end, I’d put on a (relative) burst of speed and shoot ahead. It would be nice, I thought, to at least beat someone to the finish line.

The starting gun went off. My wife, there to cheer me on and to remind me to be careful and don’t do too much and for God’s sake, be careful, waved excitedly at me. I stopped to wave back, immediately falling behind every single other runner, some of whom, I think, had already finished the race.

Yet, despite my inauspicious start, as the Ks rolled by, I started feeling good about this, thinking I might actually finish without much damage to my body or psyche. As we rounded the final turn, I accelerated, a poetic metaphor for not going quite as slowly as before. I was able to cross the finish line seconds ahead of the guy in armor.

I exulted in my victory, shouting out, “I’m number 764!” Then I saw the guy in armor whom I had beaten being greeted at the finish line by another guy in armor who had already finished long ago and was eating an orange. Really.

Next time I run, I want a lance.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has written humor pieces for a number of different publications, in a number of different countries. His column appears twice monthly in The Local Reporter.

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