When people ask me if I'm a good runner, I say yes. I say yes because I assess all attributes on the "diner comment card" scale: Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Excellent. I am medium at running. Moyen. Meh. My strengths as a runner lie somewhere between John Goodman and Oscar Pistorius (though I'm afraid my strengths as a murderer rank only fair at best). I make up for in persistence what I lack in raw talent, and what I lack in persistence I make up for in peanut M&Ms. Who's with me?
One thing I have little interest in is entering races. I am paid (almost nothing) by the hour, and I see no sense in forking over mad money to do something I'm going to do anyway, only paying to do it, and much, much earlier in the morning.
One thing I do have interest in, however, is a bargain. And that's how I found myself, some time last week, credit card in one hand, $10 off coupon in the other, signing up for the Columbus 10K. The race was $25, and 10 bucks more if you wanted the t-shirt. In a moment of idle chitter-chatter, I asked a representative from the running store sponsoring the race if one, hypothetically, could use the coupon to get a free t-shirt. The question sparked a talmudic debate among the staff, who agreed after twenty minutes that yes, in order to save one's own life, one could, hypothetically, eat pork. And yes, I could get a "free" t-shirt.
"Well, let me get my sign-up sheet here, and will you be paying with cash or credit?" asked the assistant rabbi.
They had me. I didn't want to seem like a lazy jackass by saying, "Oh...neat! Gosh, you all sure did answer that question, you did! Ta ta!" So I paid to do something I would anyway, except much, much earlier in the morning.
Having run only one other race in my life-- the Charlottesville 10-Miler-- I was psyching myself up for all the cheering and fanfare and donut holes and water stations and music I have come to expect when I wake up early to go for a run I have paid for.
And the Columbus 10K was pleasant enough. Nice route through downtown. Nice cops stopping traffic so we could scuttle through intersections, but the race was furiously, deathly quiet. The streets were not brimming with onlookers, and the ones who were there, just sat and stared. No music. No donut holes. Not so much as a "whoooo!" or a "work it, girl!"
Did they think I was doing it for my health? I knew I couldn't start singing, because that's unconscionably obnoxious. So I started cheering for the bystanders. To one group of people sitting on coolers, watching from the sidelines, I yelled, "LET'S MAKE SOME NOISE!!!" and clapped like a gym teacher. It felt good to let off steam. To another, I hollered, "YYEAAHH SPEC-TAY-TORS!!" Middle aged women got a hearty "YOU CAN DO IT, LADIES!" And the funny thing is, it worked. Cheering for the lazy dingbats actually sped me up in the second half, so I finished with what the pros call a "negative split."
By the time I neared the finish line ("ALMOST THERE-- WE CAN DO IT," I screamed at a silent group of children), I was all pumped up and ready to do it over. Tomorrow. And later in the day. And for free.