Saturday, June 7, 2008

No. 136

After maneuvering through some side streets, back alleys and full parking lots in the heart of Fontana, I found an empty spot a short walk from City Hall. I was early but there were already hordes of people crowding the sidewalks and spilling over onto blocked-off Sierra Avenue waiting for the day's races to start.

I made my way to the check-in station for the Fontana Days 5K Run and was handed bib No. 136, along with a bag of assorted goodies. That really made it official. It was the first time I'd been in any sort of organized athletic event ever, and that bib sealed the deal.

How do you put this thing on?

Well, there was that little issue. I guess I'd never had reason to figure that out. I noticed people had attached theirs to shirts or shorts using safety pins and quickly scanned for some. There were piles of them everywhere so I grabbed four and attached it to the midsection of my shirt.

I had to trek back to my car, though, since I had forgotten a key part of my jogging attire. I wasn't sure if the race allowed for the use of iPods so I'd left it in the car. But as I walked up to check in, I noticed plenty of people wearing one and I wasn't about to run three miles without one if I didn't have to.

Once I had my iPod and strapped it on my arm, I felt much more comfortable. I went over to wait for a bus that would take people up to the starting line.

And then we've got to come right back here.

Well, not exactly right back but this would be our destination. There was the sign that said FINISH LINE and I figured that at some point that would serve as some motivation. I had made it a goal to finish under 25 minutes and while I thought that was a decent goal I wondered if it was attainable. I'd never really run outside with the use of a watch before.

That's because you don't have one, dork.

I made it on the first bus. It was a school bus, actually, and I didn't remember school buses being so small when I used to ride them. Then again, I was 11 or 12 the last time I rode on them regularly, so that might have something to do with it.

We drove up through Sierra and across several intersections before crossing over the 210 Freeway. The bus driver took us a bit further than we'd intended to go on accident but nonetheless it seemed like a lot longer than three miles.

Yeah, but you've run three miles plenty of times before. And besides, it's a school bus. Those things crawl and make everything seems to take a lot longer than it should.

I wasn't really nervous or anything. In fact, I was just anxious for the run to start. Unfortunately, since I was on the first bus, that meant plenty more busloads to follow. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Went to the bathroom, even though I didn't have to. Then I waited. Sat on a curb. Thought about stretching. Jogging, perhaps. Lightly.

Yeah, you don't want to run cold. Heck, usually you walk five minutes before starting to run.

This week I had, because I'd gone to the gym. Usually I walk 20 steps before starting to run. Regardless, I was happy that I had my iPod as the Smashing Pumpkins soothed me and kept me from losing my sanity. I stretched and then jogged lightly, ever so lightly, light enough to get my heart rate up a bit but not too heavy. I didn't want to burn myself out. It helped. Both to pass the time and get warmed up. Probably did it five minutes too early, though. Oh well.

Finally, after much deliberation and many more buses filled with runners and walkers, it started. Everyone bunched up at the start line, a lot of runners. How many? 300? 400? More?

Gotta switch up the music.

I'd been playing my songs softly because I wanted louder music to help me during my run. I switched over to the one playlist I made specifically for running. Moments later, the horn went off as Flogging Molly's Swagger sounded in my ears.

I wasn't that close to the start line, and a lot of people in front of me took off. I didn't want to take off hard and then lose steam so I stayed back. If I wanted to win, that would have been fatal. As it stood, I wanted to meet my goal.

And pass up a lot of people too.

Well, there was that. I wanted to start slow and finish strong, so I figured that I would zoom past some stragglers as I got closer and closer to the finish.

Here we go. Over the freeway.

One landmark after another came and went. First, it was the freeway. Then, it was Miller High School. Afterward, it was Foothill Boulevard.

Funny thing, though: I wasn't passing as many people as I thought I would. In fact, I was the straggler. The mass of people moved quickly in front of me at the start and only got further and further ahead. Every now and then I'd move past some people but mostly I was going slow. I wondered if I would meet my time.

Probably not. You'll probably finish closer to a half hour.

I got closer to the finish line. I knew because even from a distance I could make out the words FINISH LINE. The mass of people had crossed it probably five or 10 minutes ago.

Time to pick up the pace.

I had actually alternated speeds during the run. If I was at the gym I would have probably been between a 6.0 and a 7.0, but now it was time to hit that top gear. I had lowered the sound on my iPod and wanted to see if I could spot my wife and girls. They were there, somewhere amidst the suddenly large number of spectators. We'd passed a few people watching the race from their front lawns along the way but now City Hall was teeming with people. My three were there somewhere.

Hey, what the hell?

As I picked up my pace, someone else thought about using me as a marker. I got passed up some 50 yards from the finish line by someone I'd already passed up. Actually, he got by me before and then I passed him up again. I remember him because he was a little heavier and I remember wondering how long ago it had been since I looked like that.

He can't beat you.

Damn straight. I hit the top gear, the highest gear I had. My legs responded. I blew past that jackhole as if we were fighting for the last spot on the last helicopter out of Hanoi. I could feel him picking up his pace as I zoomed past him.

Forget it, buddy. I got you dead to rights.

And I did. I finished in front of him. Nevermind that dozens upon dozens of people finished in front of me...

Anyway, I'd finished the race. After reveling ever-so-briefly about my blazing fast finish, I scanned around for my wife and girls. It took me a couple of minutes but I found them, all looking at the other stragglers for me.

Come on, man. I'm not that slow.

They congratulated me and I showed them my medal. We walked over to see if the results were posted. I didn't expect them to be but there were a crowd of people around a board that read RESULTS so I figured that maybe they were up after all.

I started at the bottom. The people who finished at 29 minutes. I was surely among them. My heart jumped when I saw Luis but my last name isn't Cerda so it wasn't me. I scanned the entire page and the one before it, where it had the results for more stragglers but I couldn't find my name.

It took you more than a half hour? Wow.

I figured I'd wait until the others were posted but after comparing times with my wife I realized it was about a half hour from the start of the race that I saw them. So I had renewed hope that my name was up there, closer to the front, closer to my goal.

There it is! Look! I see it! I see it! There it is!

Okay, well it wasn't quite like Vern Tessio stumbling across Ray Brower's body but I did find my name. I made it over to the time and...

25:05?!? What?!? Oh no!!! Five seconds?!?

Oh well. What are you going to do? I finished in 181st place, ninth out of 20 in my age category. I suppose I can feel good about myself for having ran it, and maybe now I can spend some money on a watch.

After all, there will be plenty more runs in the future.

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