The Jackass Kick
Indirectly relevant photo by QuietDelusions courtesy of Flickr.
A burst of speed at the end of a marathon is exceedingly rare, but it happened to me once. Usually, one can’t summon late race heroics from weary muscles. But there I was at the Myrtle Beach Marathon feeling relatively fresh at mile 24. As I passed fading runners, I began to sense an excellent finish. You’ll just have to trust me. This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.
Positively ebullient, I passed the 26-mile marker, primed for excessive celebration. That’s when I saw her. As I rounded the final corner, twenty yards ahead, mercilessly taunting me by her very presence, was a white haired old woman in Asics and a singlet.
She was going to beat me.
Defiance rose from deep within the arcane recesses of my masculinity. Flush with what I assure you were entirely natural performance enhancing intoxicants, I surged forward, determined to finish before this usurping senior citizen. I remember literally screaming to myself, “No way grandma!”
But then, my practical sense emerged from the biochemical fog. Was I really racing an older woman? To be sure, she was fit and quite capable. A 3:30 marathon is nothing to sneeze at. But let’s face it, she could collect social security and something had to be done about that.
As we jostled for position, I heard two distinct sounds rising from the crowd. Wild cheering overflowed for the white haired woman. Malevolent boos and derisive insults were hurled at me. No amount of hormones could save me now.
Consider the unmanageable difficulty of my situation.
Anyone who would pass an old woman in sight of a marathon finish is, by definition, a jackass. There’s just no way around this. However, anyone beaten by an old woman in an endurance race must be hopelessly feeble. This horrible realization makes one want to pass old women in the first place. To pass or not to pass; both options are wholly untenable. Worse, the consequence of one choice makes the other choice totally necessary, so there’s simply no way to win. It’s Heller’s Catch-22 for runners.
I had only a split second to make my choice. Like any red-blooded, hyper-competitive marathoner within sight of the immortal finish line, I bolted. Grandma ate my testosterone-laced dust.
In Chariot’s of Fire, Eric Liddell ran and felt God’s pleasure. That must have been nice. As I dashed forward, I could feel the mordant stares and quiet disgust of outraged spectators. As I crossed the finish line, the enormity of my blunder became clear. I had blatantly, unashamedly run down kindly Carole Findley, 66 of Raleigh, North Carolina. I felt like the devil incarnate.
Carole of course, finished to thunderous applause despite struggling through the final hundred yards (I suspect she may have been playing to the crowd, but I can’t prove this.) In the finisher’s chute, I sheepishly received my ill-gotten medal. I finished the marathon with rare strength and couldn’t enjoy it, even slightly. Avoiding eye contact with the masses, I skulked away.
Since then, I’ve cultivated a healthy grasp of competitive etiquette. I wish I had shown greater maturity at Myrtle, particularly in light of one painfully salient fact: Carole ran the half rather than the full marathon that day. Had I known this at the time, her 3:30 would have seemed a tad less threateningly impressive and the whole day might have gone differently. As it stood, I beat down an older woman who ran 16-minute miles (probably a personal best) in an entirely different race. And I had to kick into high gear to pass her. Even my act of strength revealed weakness.
So Carole, I apologize for my callow buffoonery. I’d like to make it up to you someday; perhaps we can meet for dinner at the Piccadilly Cafeteria and enjoy Bingo afterward… my treat.
APPENDIX: OFFICIAL RESULTS
2007 Myrtle Beach Half Marathon
Carole Findley – Age 66 (Really, not old at all)
2007 Myrtle Beach Marathon
Dean Schuster – Age 36
3:28:52 (PR at the time)
Sylvia Collins – Age 65
3:31:21 (Whew, I’m glad I beat the amazing Sylvia.)