Some time back I signed up to do a 5km running event around Lake Pflugerville, Texas.
5km being a fairly modest distance, I gave the event barely a thought leading up. But when last weekend the big day dawned – and I awoke tired, with a sore back, and horribly cold – I felt as inclined to do this run as leap out of bed to get singing to the lord at Sunday church.
I arrived at the lake. And when I hopped out of the car, and my bone marrow filed for divorce courtesy of the wind blowing with the sort of chill that could make a polar bear lose faith, there was not a cell near or far that was happy to be here. But warming my heart, as it were, as I gazed around the 400-strong Kenyan-less crowd – as much an assembly of Olympians as myself a ballet dancer – a solitary thought rose: ‘I could win this thing..’
After half an hour of small talk with the locals, the front-page headline being how each was going to regain the power of their fingers when they got home, the event coordinator hollered into his megaphone. ‘Slower runners at the back! Faster runners at the front!’
‘Fast runners?’ thought I, the delusions of grandeur setting in. I felt so smug in fact that I stood not just near the front, but was the very first person at the start line. ‘Ready, set…’ – the man’s starting gun failed resulting in him crouching down and farting about with it like a weakling trying to remove a jam lid – ‘goooooo!’
Like greyhounds out of the gate we were off, and as I streamed out front the only company I was interested in sharing this run with was the five little guys in my headphones, them being Iron Maiden. ‘Run To The Hills’ galloped wholeheartedly along, as I, by hook or crook, counterfeited the same. I quickly looked behind, taking in the sight of the rumbling throng a good distance behind. The first kilometre was gone, time – 4:00. I was in good form. ‘Just four more of those and I’ll do something I’ve never done before – win!’
I’ve often been asked if I find running to be a lonely endeavor, but with the council in my head always, during running, jumping at the opportunity to commence open debate, the answer has always been, most certainly no. This time was no exception, and as I clicked over the two kilometre mark, time – 3:58, an old voice rose again. ‘Wait up for Davo!’
The comment, relayed to me by schoolmate Xave McMahon some ten years after we finished school, was in reference to when in Year Nine the class would go cross-country running, and sports teacher Gerry Brown, heading the run, would instruct the group of some 50 teenage boys to stop at the top of Rose Hill Road and wait for the class running dunce – me. I never knew it at the time, and regardless of my marginal running improvements over the remainder of my sentence at the Christian Brothers penitentiary known as St Bernard’s, Xave McMahon, Simon Lynch and Julian Senserrick always remained the Bob Hawke to my John Howard: one step ahead with looks, popularity, and namely, running. ‘Wait up for Davo ey? I don’t fucking think so!’ thought I, on this day of the lake run as I looked to my left and my right; my eyes filling, in turn, with the most exquisite of sights – nobody.
The 3-kilometre mark ticked over, time – 3:59. My delusions of grandeur were officially turning into concrete certainty. ‘This thing, this every-so-foreign thing known as victory is mine! It’s mine! It’s all miiiiiiiiine!’ I wanted it so bad, I wanted it good, and I wanted it in every way I could. But it was then, the disbelief rising in me like a Sunday morning curry, that the most dreaded of sounds made it to my ears – alien footsteps. I looked to my right – nobody, I looked to my left – nobody. But when I looked behind, I saw a guy, younger than me, with a fire in his eyes as red as his t-shirt.
Like a threatening rhythm, his footsteps grew louder from behind as I pushed hard, as hard as I had, decreasing them by a decibel or less as we crossed the 4-kilometre mark, time – 4:02. Just one more kilometre! I would not let him deny me this most paramount of birth rites. But it was then that a glimmer of red t-shirt appeared in the corner of my eye.
With sweat steaming off me like dying racehorse, I accelerated with the last of what I had, grunting like a lactose intolerant swine as he came up alongside me. I thought about tripping him over, or claiming the long overdue retribution of probable-relative Nancy Kerrigan and clubbing him in the knee. I looked to my left, to fleetingly take in the image. This lad, terribly confident, was less man than gazelle.
He inched in front, exhibiting the logo on the back of his red t-shirt, whereupon I learned he was no stranger to a full-length marathon. ‘But neither am I..’ thought I as I hit the gas – everything I had equalling a gain of neck and neck. The two of us were panting like wild animals as the finish line came into view. I would not be Michael Keaton denied my Oscar! I would not be Birdmanned! I would not! I would not! But it was then that the clouds broke open and God looked down and laughed – ‘Tis you my son! Tis you! You are the second coming! Not the first, but the.. (he belly laughed aloud) second!’ Like Keanu reeves in Point Break, I felt the world’s longest annunciation of the word ‘noooooooooooooooooooo!’ pierce my heart as the red t-shirt wearing gazelle – probably thinking ‘wait up for Davo!’ – swanned past to claim 1st place. ‘Fuckety! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’
The man with his megaphone – still farting about with his starting gun – announced my name as official 2nd place runner. My official time was 20:19. The medal ceremony was soon after, and spoiling hopes that I could swing by Home Depot on the way home and make right the wrong by way of a can of gold spray paint, I was awarded not a disc-like medal, but a small silver trophy in the unmistakable shape of – No.2. I scanned around for the Royal Box, but with Her Majesty nowhere to be seen I was bestowed with my trophy a lukewarm round of applause from the icicles present (family and friends still battling the cold) and, more prestigiously, a hotdog. The 1st place runner looked over and smiled. ‘Wait up for Davo ey?’
By David Kerrigan
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