Nowhere to go but upSeptember 21, 2008
About 100 meters into the men’s invitational section of Saturday’s Sundodger cross-country meet, I found myself in dead last among the 100 or so participants.
This sort of thing does happen to me every so often. At the 2003 PNTF cross-country championships, I initially trailed all 14 of the other runners before advancing to 9th. Back in 1997, I started and finished 4th in a four-man 800-meter event. And then there was the Little Three (Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams) cross-country race in 1991, when I had food poisoning. I remember my coach yelling “Way to move up!” about halfway through that 5-miler, even though I was still in last. I suppose what he meant was that I was getting closer to the 2nd-to-last guy, whom I ultimately passed to secure 28th place in the 29-man field.
But back to Saturday. My workouts for the past month have been so dismal — about 15 seconds per mile too slow — that I was not particularly surprised or angered to find myself playing the caboose. My attitude was one of morbid curiosity: would this get even worse? Would the five Seattle U. freshmen just ahead of me pull away? Or could I salvage something from the race with sensible, even pacing?
Similar thoughts apply to my fall season as a whole. I’m off to a start that can only be described as dreadful, with no guarantees that things will get better. But what do distance runners do in these situations? Occasionally the discomfort and the sense of failure overwhelm us, and we quit. But mostly we keep going, hoping that if we stay smart and stay focused, we’ll eventually get our reward. We keep running, rightly or wrongly, out of habit.
On Saturday my habits carried me to 68th place with a time of 26:15 on a flat, fast 8K course where I had clocked 25:34 in 2005 and 24:57 in 2006. Three athletes stormed by me in the final straightaway, although one eased up just before the finish and I passed him back — a small but tangible payoff for my persistence. Perhaps larger ones lie ahead.