Liz Smith called it the toughest 10K in Michigan. The Indian River Summerfest 10K. Eighty-five percent uphill, through rolling country roads and dirt trails ending in (historic?) Indian River. When plotting the Liz Smith Immemorial 10K, I had no intention of running an organized 10K. It’s not the $20 (though paying money to run seems absurd) but the idea of pitting myself in a contest of fitness against anyone. This is why I don’t try to race people in my Honda Civic or have push-up contests against men with large pectoral muscles. I don’t feel like setting myself up for failure.
The field for the Indian River 10K was 40 deep. Broken into age categories, I was among the eight male competitors in their 30s to test their legs over 6.2 miles (it was actually closer to 6.4 according to a handy app I had on my phone, but who’s quibbling). The decision to run was a rash one, my preparation non-existent. Sure, I run two to three miles per gym visit and then do the elliptical, but that’s a lot different than running outdoors. Treadmill running is bouncing. Outdoor running is actual locomotion. Big difference.
I drank a free Monster energy drink (PLUG!), signed up for the 10K and immediately had some ice cream. Which I followed with a number of Miller Chills (PLUG!), a Budweiser (PLUG!) and hotdogs for dinner. I woke at 6:45am, drank two cups of coffee, ate a peanut butter sandwich and two more hot dogs. At 8am I queued up my running playlist and bounded down the backroads of Indian River (are there any other kind in Indian River) to the indifference of the cottagers walking down their front walks to grab the morning paper.
I started strong, my friends. I disrecall the songs I listened to for the first mile and a quarter, but the tunes, coupled with my hotdog strength, kept me below a 10-minute mile, keeping pace with Ms. Liz Smith. Her boyfriend Donnie was near the head of the 10K pack battling for an actual medal. He would finish in third place overall, averaging a 6:30 mile. That’s obscene. I don’t even want to get into it.
I stuck on Liz’s hip until the 10K and the 5K split off. The 10K went left and up a giant hill and the 5K split right, down a gentle slope, through a Wendy’s and a Dairy Queen and a full-service massage parlor. Liz pulled away from me and then the shin cramps started. It serves me right. I betrayed my body (beer, hotdogs, nail biting) so it struck back by making it impossible to plantar-flex my left foot. I sagged. People passed me. The pain increased but more than anything it was the inability to bend my foot that made me stop. And walk. At mile two.
I was angry. Like throw rocks into the woods angry (I didn’t actually do that, but I wanted to). I flexed my leg and watched one, then another person pass me and felt shame and embarrassment and little bit of fear. What if I had to walk the rest of the four miles on a bum leg? My time was climbing past 20 minutes and I knew that Donnie (showoff), Liz, Rachel (running the 5K) and her parents would be waiting for me at the finish line. And waiting. And waiting. A little kid and her dad passed me. I swatted at a fly buzzing around my head and slapped myself in the face.
I won’t drag this out. The shin relaxed. I started kicking back into gear and eventually I hunted down a grizzled woman a half-mile in front of me (it turned out she was 50+ – still, VICTORY!) and then I spotted the kid and her father. The little girl would run, then stop, run, then stop, while her dad chugged along at a slow pace, looking back to make sure his daughter didn’t wander into the woods or get hit by a jet ski on a trailer.
I zeroed in on the little girl. She was 10 years old cholesterol levels of an eight-year-old. Showoff x 2. I caught her on the final hill, then turned onto Main Street for the final 75 yards. I saw Rachel and her family and Donnie (not even sweating by now, psh!) and they were all cheering. I removed my headphones. I heard their happy, encouraging cries. Their cheers rang in my ears. For the little girl. The little girl gaining on me. Sprinting hard in her little running shoes and gaining on the tubby man from Canada. She crossed the finish a few steps in front of me to finish 37th overall. I took the popsicle stick with a 38 written on it (no microchips here) and high fived my little competitor. Maybe I threw the finish – maybe not. Atlantic City will never know. But her father will. SHE DIDN’T BEAT ME MR. CROFOOT! YOUR DAUGHTER IS THE 37th FASTEST 10K RUNNER IN INDIAN RIVER IN 2012. GOOD LUCK GETTING THAT CROSS-COUNTRY SCHOLARSHIP TO CENTRAL MICHIGAN NOW!
Other than a big blister on my foot, I was no worse for wear. My shin was relaxed, my nipples unbloodied and it wasn’t until the next day that my quadriceps felt the thousands of micro-tears I’d inflicted on them. I conquered the toughest 10K in Michigan and didn’t puke. And lost to a little girl. Allegedly.
Who wants to race in my Honda Civic? I’ve got nothing to lose.