Last Friday, I paid thirty-five dollars for a Hanes Beefy T in a sleeve-draggingly huge men's size, one screenprinted with an anthropomorphized running reindeer whose back was arched in a way that suggested either rapid motion or a recent spinal injury. I was staring at the drawing, trying to understand how something without hands could lace a pair of sneakers when the smiley face on the other side of the table tapped his pen to get my attention.
"So that's Julie, is it?" he asked, inking the wrong vowels onto my race number.
I knew what was coming. He didn't disappoint.
"All right, Jelisa Actually," he said with a wink. "How old are we, Jelisa Actually?"
He winked and asked my age within a two second span. Add a plate full of beets and a reference to sleeping with my ex and he'd be a denim-clad version of everything I hate.
"We would be thirty." I grabbed a handful of safety pins from a small cardboard box beside a stack of race entry forms, wondering how many I could ingest before he finished ballpointing a three and a zero beside my name.
"All righty then," he said, dropping the number into a plastic bag along with four pins and the excess yards of fabric that comprised my t-shirt. "That's gonna be thirty five big ones."
I pulled a wadded personal check out of my back pocket and took the pen from him before he could dot the i in my name with a heart. With that thirty five and 00/100 I passed across the table, I was officially registered for a 5K, my first race since my Achilles tendon broke up with me during April's Boston Marathon.
"You'd better have a good run, Jelisa Actually."
"And you'd better not cash that check for another week or so."
When my alarm started bleating in the darkness of half-past fuck you on Saturday morning, it was a crisp thirty-five degrees and the local radar was blanketed with sickly splotches of green, like Linda Blair had just spewed all over Super Doppler 12.
As I stood at the window watching puddles collect on the sidewalks, I wondered what would happen if I bailed, if I threw my shoes back in the closet and dropped my head back onto the dent in the pillow.
But I didn't.
I'd like to say I was motivated by a Chariots of Fire-ish montage that flickered through my prefrontal cortex but it was really just seeing the Krispy Kreme logo on the back of the t-shirt. The thought of a post-race pair of original glazed donuts was enough to make me zip up my Gore-Tex and wriggle into a pair of spandex pants that were so tourniquet-tight that everyone on the race course would know that I was ovulating.
I loitered inside the gym until the final announcement for the 5K runners to get their asses outside. The Star Spangled Banner was almost over before I made it to the start line, but that still left plenty of time for freezing cold water to collect in the thin soles of my racing flats, turning each sock into a Build Your Own Blister Playset.
"How bad can this be?" I asked myself between the words Ready! and Set!, which is the same attitude I take to every race, all buffet restaurants, and most Nicolas Cage movies. I popped my knuckles and mashed the play button on my iPod, giving my angriest Danzig-fueled snarl to the competitors stacked on my right, a group of third graders all wearing floppy felt elf hats.
With a GO! and one muffled shot from the starter's pistol, we were off. I spent the first verse of "Mother" weaving through the clump of people who insisted on starting at the front of the pack. Hey, here's a tip: if you're wearing cargo shorts and a rain-soaked Coors Light sweatshirt, you probably don't need to line up beside the regional cross-country champion.
The 5K [3.1 mile] course was essentially an out-and-back, with each steep hill matched eHarmony-style with a complementary downhill. About halfway up the first incline, it became obvious that my finish time was going to be almost as disappointing as my personal life. My first mile was a glacial 7:14, but I explained to my brain that we lost a lot of time trying to sidestep both people and puddles. Mile Two was a wretched 7:25, a more terrible sequel than anything this side of Three Men and a Little Lady.
Despite a final 1.1 miles that had two major downhills, the total damage was a dismal 22:50, more than two minutes--TWO MINUTES!!--slower than my typical 5K finish. The only crumb in the Plus category--if I'm even forced to recognize the Plus category--is that now at least I know how far I've fallen and how far I've got to go to get back in shape. This is probably how Lindsay Lohan feels when she sees clips from Herbie: Fully Loaded.
As I stomped and brooded my way through the finish area, a teenage volunteer in a yellow poncho handed me a finisher's ribbon decorated with that same cheerfully deformed cartoon reindeer. I crammed it into my pocket with my earbuds and car keys and trudged toward the parking lot. It was barely 9 a.m.
When I got home, I stripped out of my gear and tossed the entire Fail-scented mess into the washing machine, which was a great idea until the hot water ran out mid-shower, well before I finished crafting the perfect shampoo horn. After toweling off, brooding, slipping into the sexiest of sweatpants (the ones without ice cream stains on the thighs, obviously) and brooding again, the washer shrieked to announce that it was finished.
How delighted I was to discover that everything--including that $35 t-shirt--was stained with angry streaks of red, like Hester Prynne had exploded in my Maytag. After digging through a wet clump of synthetic fabrics, I realized that my finisher's ribbon--still buried in my jacket pocket--hadn't survived the spin cycle.
"The hits keep on coming," I thought to myself, pouring another cup of detergent into the machine. "But at least I beat the kids in the elf hats."
Well. Most of them, anyway.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009